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Austerity Era Dining

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Another long weekend in London, another little trip to Persephone Books. This time I returned home with a selection of cookery-themed books from the 1930s and 40s. I say ‘cookery-themed’  because they are a little more than just recipe books. Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, for example, is full of entertaining and slightly satirical commentary.

For example:

Your spinster aunt will certainly accuse you of undue extravagance after she has partaken freely of your [Gigot de Six Heures].

Complaints of the difficulties one can have when one’s cook, “whose mothers so often specialize in sudden and disastrous illnesses” during the holiday season, leave and one is faced with an unexpected emergency. i.e. having to cook!

The recipes themselves are curious indeed, looking at them with a 21st century eye.  Gelee Creme de Menthe begins

Make a quart of good lemon jelly in the approved way, preferably with calves’ feet…

or shopping lists for the butcher that read

half a pound calf’s liver, half a pound veal cutlet, 1 sweetbread, 2 kidneys and a set of brains

So one book is rather liberally peppered with French recipe names – Potage a la Ecossaise? – well that’ll be Scotch Broth then – giving it a sense of belonging to the more privileged classes.

The other book is more prosaic. A wartime ‘make do and mend’ handbook for cheap and cheery, easy to cook, food. Although still with curiously named dishes like Jugged Hare or Junket and Cream. 

So this is my latest plan. Age of Austerity Dinner Parties. I will head down to Findlay’s in Portobello with my shopping list of liver, calves’ feet, kidneys and brains, guests should all come in frippery-free, 1940s style clothing, preferably with some homemade stout or equivalent – and we can all explore together, the joys of 101 things to put in aspic.

Followed by tinned peaches and a milk pudding.

p.s. photo was taken in Shakespeare and Co, Paris not Persephone Books, London


The Dukan Diet

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two can do the Dukan too

Seriously, if that isn’t already their advertising slogan, don’t you think it should be?

So I was more intrigued than anything else as to what a protein-only three day ‘Attack Phase’ would look like. Apparently, you can eat as much as you like from ’72 different foods types’. But let’s not kid ourselves here, we’re talking 72 ways with meat, fish and fat-free dairy. Dull, chewy and uninspiring – it is death by translucent cottage cheese. Slightly improved on the second day when I realised you could still use garlic, chilli, mint and coriander.

I had to celebrate surviving 36 hours of this regime with two very large glasses of wine (officially rendering my participation on Monsieur Dukan’s very un-french diet null and void).

Despite being on this regime for only the very shortest possible time I did still become fixated with the food I couldn’t eat.

But what surprised me was the specificity of what I was craving most. It wasn’t the sweet things, despite sugar being most explicitly interdit – not chocolate, ice-cream, biscuits, cakes – I didn’t crave them at all.

A nomadic Saharan once told the journalist Ryszard Kapucinski,

“The desert will teach you one thing. That there is one thing that one can desire and love more than a woman.”

“And that is water.”

Well three days on the Dukan Diet taught me that there was one thing that I could crave and desire above all others.

Pak Choy!

(the photo is of the pretty divine and very ‘un-Dukan’ Turkish Delight I made last week)

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April 12, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile

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I knew I was going to love this place way before I’d even stepped through the door.

It’s not quite a restaurant and is rarely open, it’s quite difficult to find and even more difficult to make a booking. You are heavily vetted by the owner on the telephone before you are allowed to reserve a table, required to arrive at exactly the specified time, to an unmarked, unlit building and who tells you, when you ask for directions, that if you’re not clever enough to find his place then perhaps you’re not the sort of guests he’d want after all.

Because guests you are indeed. In the home of a curious and fascinating and, as it turns out,  perfectly hospitable Armenian. There’s no heating, barely any lighting but there is a never-ending banquet of homely and hearty Armenian food delivered to your table, a limited but sufficient supply of wine and the invitation to join in some very interesting Armenian dancing – sort like the Hokey Cokey mixed with some high kicking and free-style breakdancing.

For a highly unusual and very memorable eating experience, Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile will be hard to beat.

If you can find it.

Eat ‘English’

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This just proves what contrary individuals we really are. After weeks, (and I do, literally mean weeks!) of eating the healthiest of healthy, homemade granola, religiously, every morning, with a cup of Detox tea to boot.

I awoke on Thursday morning to a radio report that said ‘Eat like the English and we could save 4,000 lives in Scotland, Wales and Ireland’.

I heard it. I sat up in bed. I thought about granola and rice milk and then I had what I can only describe as an epiphanic moment.

‘Jesus, I need a bacon roll’.

Yes, with butter. Yes, with ketchup. Maximum lard. Maximum satisfaction.

Loved every bite.




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November 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Saint Nectaire

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A rare glimmer of sunshine in an otherwise rain soaked overnight stay in Saint Nectaire.

We got to see Saint Nectaire cheese being made though which was really fascinating, although I think a cheese factory might be the second most honking food-related workplace in the world after a fishmongers.

“Mmm darling, you’re wearing your eau de sour milk again!”

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August 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Fruits de Mer

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A big part of any holiday for me is the food, especially in France, where even a service station sandwich has a degree of love and care put into it that puts our rubber cheese and cheap bread affairs to shame.

A new discovery for me this year was Sea Snails (thank you J & L for introducing me to them!). I had already decided I didn’t like snails after trying them for the first time recently at a restaurant in Edinburgh (yep, grass flavoured rubber snot – not that bothered, to be honest), but I even had my mind changed about them too this trip after trying them for the second time. Turns out, you’re wrong Gordon Ramsey, soaked in garlic butter IS the only way to go when it comes to snails.

But Sea Snails. They are something different. Sweet like lobster, texture like calamari, I really, really liked them. Here’s a pic of the fabulous Fruits de Mer we had with J & L, washed down with a delightful bottle of the best French champagne.

That’s the life, innit?

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August 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Lamb Chops with Capers and Garlic

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Lamb Chops with Capers and Garlic

Lamb Chops with Capers and Garlic

This is another Hugh Fairly-Longname recipe. My addition was to marinade the lamb chops in Pomegranate Molasses for about an hour before cooking which makes them sticky, sweet and shiny when cooked.

Firebomb a pan with as much garlic as you can find (well a whole bulb). Brown the lamb chops in the same pan. Put lamb and garlic in a dish that’s been heated up in a 200 degree c oven. Add two tablespoons of capers, large amounts of Rosemary and Thyme (preferably fresh from the allotment or stolen from a hedgerow).  Add a glass of white wine to the pan that you browned the lamb in and reduce. Chuck on top of the lamb and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Totally delicious.

Written by Spiller

April 17, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Food and Drink, Photography

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