I love how some books take a long time to find you. Ever since seeing the Peter Greenaway film The Pillow Book in 1996 it has remained as entrancing as the first time I saw it. Then, as you watch the credits roll right till the end, you discover that it’s inspired by an actual text- The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon.
Sei was a courtesan living in 15th century Japan and her journal (which she kept in a hidden inside her wooden neck rest, or pillow) is one of only two texts that survive from this era. I recently found the Penguin edition in my favourite charity bookshop and it felt like something had come full circle.
It is a complete rarity to find unpasteurised milk in this world. I was lucky to stumble across a small shop that sells local raw milk in the small Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet. The Karoo is a mythical place. Encompassing a vast area of semi-arid landscape dotted with ant-hills and thorn trees, is known for its cloudless skies, extreme temperatures and fossils, some of which have been recently discovered to be whole new species that have never been seen before. A primarily agrarian area, the Karoo is known for rearing sheep for mutton, goats for mohair and game. In prehistoric times it was a vast inland sea and, prior to colonialisation the 1700s, it was the home of indigenous peoples, the Nama and Khoi-San (formerly known as Bushmen). In fact, the last time I was there I read a fascinating article about how some of their almost extinct languages are being brought back to life through a series of workshops organised by the Pan South African Language Board (Pansalb). And thus, I digress!
With all the recent focus on fermented foods it is all too easy to ignore the oldest of these: vinegar. It is my favourite fermented foodstuff, which I naturally gravitate towards using to add a sour note to savoury dishes. It was only after giving it some thought that I realised the reason: all great dishes contain a balance between sweet, salty, fragrant and sour – with the added magical note of umami. The latter is of course enhanced when the right balance is struck.
For over 25 years, millions of people all over the world have been inspired and transformed by TED Talks, made available for free online via TED.com. This has inspired communities and individuals all around the world to do the same, organising independent events called TEDx ‒ Technology, Entertainment and Design ‒ with the x signifying that the event is independently organised.
The tradition of making pâté is as old as the hills. Throughout Europe, pâtés, terrines and potted meats are still widely eaten today. Potted shrimp is such an easy favourite, you gently fry and season the shrimp before sealing it in a delicate blanket of melted butter so that it can be kept in a cold larder or still room for a lot longer than if left untended.
It was a bucolic time when The Two Fat Ladies burst onto our screens in a puff of cartoon smoke and bravado. And burst they certainly did, with Jennifer Paterson driving pell-mell through the British countryside in a glorious Triumph Thunderbird while Clarissa Dickson-Wright grinned benignly at us from the sidecar. In one fell swoop, they made the world realise that English food may have the reputation for being boring but it sure as hell doesn’t have to be. Echoing the devil-may-care eccentricity of Julia Child and the generous verbosity of Keith Floyed, these two friends made British TV cooks famous, paving the way for Jamie and Nigella to follow in their wake.
First published in Sunday Times, in The Accidental Tourist column
During our stay in Buenos Aires we were determined not be just your typical tourists. We wanted to really get to know the place. We ended up staying almost six months, walking the length and breadth of the city, tentatively learning Spanish and eating and living among the locals. In this way, we ended up staying almost six months ‒ walking the length and breadth of the city, tentatively learning Spanish and eating and living among the locals. Of course, as any seasoned traveller knows, quirks don’t go away while you’re in a foreign country ‒ they only get worse! And so it was that our keen appreciation (or rather unbridled obsession) for church fêtes and junk shops got completely out of hand.