Friday, June 17, 2011

In Defence Of Gwyneth

Gwyneth Paltrow is one of those actresses that I kind of grew up with - you know what I mean? She was a real, proper glamorous star before all of that celebutard lunacy kicked in and Lindsay Lohan et al made the gossip mags week after week with their dramas and meltdowns. I always though that she was really elegant and understated - even though she was in madly 'sleb-ful relationships with Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt, it never got undignified. She does a mean English accent (Sliding Doors is a SUCH a great comfort watch), I thought that she made a great joy of portraying Sylvia Plath and, more recently, it was really entertaining to see her more fun side in Glee. Sure, she has a fair few turkeys on her CV, but don't most actors? People seem to see her as a smug celebrity who is quite irritating with her lifestyle website thingy and her kids' trendy names and that whole macrobiotic diet business, but I think that the Gwyneth-bashing is pretty snide and to some extent also quite mysoginistic. It's so easy to slag her off, and when it comes to her new cookbook, Notes From My Kitchen Table,  I find that really irritating. The main criticism of the book that I have been able to discern is that she is just too annoyingly perfect. This comes through so much more than any reference to the actual recipes in the book, and then there is a video on youtube where someone reads extracts from the book in a hammed-up poetry reading-style to highlight the pretentiousness of it. Yeah, yeah, ha ha ha, etc etc - but there are so so many cookbooks/food writers that you could do that with. And, having seen her on the Graham Norton show last month, I reckon that she probably laughs all of that stuff off. Check it out - here she actually does a mean version of Gangsta Gangsta, with the help of one of my favourite comedians, Jason Byrne. If you still think she's prissy and po-faced after that then there's no pleasing you. Anyhow - to the book: I love it! It was part of a cookbook-binge that I indulged in when I got a birthday voucher. It's simple, straightforward, unfussy cooking; very American, very family-oriented, full of healthy recipes while still not being preachy-preachy. There's a whole chapter on burgers and sandwiches that I'm particularly excited about tucking into.  I have it covered in sticky tabs and there's a ton of things that I want to try out - I started with grilled salmon teriyaki and polenta with fresh corn.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Gift Of Loveliness

By which I mean a gift that is lovely and also a gift from someone who is lovely. When the human ray of sunshine that is Nathalie Marquez Courtney said that she had bought me a cookbook that she was going to pop in the post for me, well, I couldn't have possibly guessed that it was going to be such a surprise and delight. What did she get me only the energetic and inspiring Ms Marmite Lover's new book, Supper Club! There is nothing quite like a parcel at the door that you haven't paid for and you hadn't quite anticipated. And the lovely thought that went into it, a very sweet note with it too. See, I have a million, billion cookbooks and I can never justify buying another, so when I get one as a present it is cause for much celebration, not to mention a few sessions with a load of sticky tabs and a shopping list. Essentially this book is a guide to running your own underground supper club, but even if you don't have inclinations in that direction there is still plenty to get you cooking, be it for dinner á deux, a bit of a get-together, or a simple solo effort. There are even some truly glorious themed menus, including a diabetes and/or cardiac arrest inducing Elvis menu. It's charming and personable and utterly usable - if you're like me and you need to justify each and every cookbook that you add to your collection then you'll find plenty of reasons to put this one on the shelf alongside the rest of them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Competitive Snacking

There is a heartiness goes along with outdoorsyness that I feel demands rewarding snacks of a wholesome nature. Admittedly, this opinion is derived largely from competitiveness with and jealousy towards the slightly-more-senior-than-us types who brave the cold of the 40ft for a brisk morning dip, followed by a major tea-drinking session. See, I've been going out there with my partner in outdoorsy crime Raedi* to get some decent open water swim practice in before my next triathlon (which is in - how did that happen - three weeks - GULP), and, in typically greedy and juvenile fashion, I've been wistfully eyeing up the treats that the oldies bring along. And while their flesh-baringness seems far more worthy of reward than our comparatively wussy wetsuitedness, our hearty half-hour swims surely merit celebrating through the medium of food. Such seemingly nutty behaviour is deserving of some nutty snacks.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Good Habits We Picked Up During The Whole Celtic Tiger Thing

Brunch - that was a bit of a Celtic Tiger era-adopted habit, wasn't it? Admittedly I was a bit too young and without income to be 'doing' brunch prior to that time, but I don't recall it being around pre-the late nineties/early noughties. Well, either we learned it from watching Friends or having fake credit card money stuff, but it has persisted long beyond the departure of those two particular phenomena. It's attractive on so many levels: it's technically two meals combined, therefore you get to eat more; the time is nice and flexible (like, any time really from 11am to 2.30pm) and there's a wide enough window there to schedule it comfortably around other activities without feeling rushed; it's spread over a long period of time, therefore you get to eat more; it's very sociable and relaxed, generally less expensive and fussy whether you're eating out or at home; there are both sweet and savoury options on offer, therefore you get to eat more. So, really my own personal love for brunch stems mainly from the fact that it's pretty much an excuse to eat twice as much as is usually socially acceptable, and even though it's supposed to be when you have both your brunch and lunch at the same time I generally manage to squeeze in a lil early brekkie and late lunch around the main event. Can't be going to hungry, now, it impedes the enjoyment of food, it's very important to remain topped up. When entertaining at home, I find brunch to be a far more chilled out endeavour than dinner. And even though going out for brunch is considerably less expensive than going out for dinner, I do find that my tendency to guzzle coffee gets a little bit pricey after cup number three. Not to mention the fact that I like to incorporate both a savoury and sweet element to proceedings, and I don't always find that menus quite accommodate that. So when the sun is out and a long, lazy bank holiday weekend is there to be enjoyed and exploited and just generally made the most of, what better way to catch up with pals than hang out and stuff face in the back garden for very chatty hours on end. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me

Things have been quiet round these parts of late, unlike in my actual real life, which has been pretty jam-packed - hence my absence. My efforts have mainly been concentrated on throwing a party to celebrate my thirtieth birthday and cleaning up afterwards. I'm not the only one who has aged this past week; my floorboards look like they fairly lived, quite a deal of food has passed through the door of my fridge and many glasses have met their fate in smithereens that I'm still finding in the oddest places. Rather than simply throw the front door open and invite my guests to come in and get drunk to mark my waving goodbye twenties and hello thirties, I figured I would make the festivities as food-filled as time would allow. Were I a more calm and organised hostess, this post would be peppered with pics of the lovely spring rolls that I made (for the first time - highly recommended - I'll be making them again), the crunchy, spicy Thai aubergine salad and the sticky honey & soy sauce marinated saussies, but there was no time or space for camera-wielding during my slightly frantic preparations. So, instead, the only documentation that remains of me eating my way merrily into my fourth decade (apart from an alarmingly rapid increase in the size of my thighs) is this lonely little slice of baked chocolate Oreo cheesecake. I had hit on the idea, you see, of making a cake for each decade; the chocolate ice-cream pie was an easy-peasy crowd-pleasy no-brainer; for those not so wild about chocolate, I decided to go for a lovely moist carrot cake - nice with tea or coffee for anyone who was deciding against alcohol; and since I'm quite a fan of a nice baked cheesecake I thought I would give this baked Oreo one another try, as I had already given it a go back in March and wasn't over the moon with the results. And so, while the sample slice in the above photo may seem rather jaded and forlorn, it is in fact a very triumphant little piece of cake that battled through the festivities of the night before to survive and become my breakfast the following morning. As for the rest of my culinary efforts, I feel that it is only fair I throw another party in the near future to share those tasty, picky little triumphs with you. Watch this space.