Cookery challenge #1

Hamlyn All Colour Vegetarian Cookbook

Hamlyn All Colour Vegetarian Cookbook

I mentioned vaguely a while back that I had an idea for a challenge involving all the cookery books that I almost never refer to any more. My plan is to feature the books one at a time on this blog and each time I do that, to actually use a recipe from them! Simple, but hopefully it will widen my cooking repertoire and reinvigorate the fun that the kitchen used to hold for me but hasn’t so much lately.

Let’s begin at the beginning. When I was 13 I told my parents I wanted to be a vegetarian. Their response was to buy me the Hamlyn All Colour Vegetarian Cookbook. When I look at it now, it seems a bit cheesy and dated, but this was how I learned to make ratatouille, pasta bake, stir fry, curry and peanut butter cookies. (Don’t get the wrong idea, I wasn’t suddenly left to fend for myself; my Mum and I explored this book together to begin with, but also my desire to be vegetarian came with a surge of interest in what I ate and how to vary it more.) This book went with me to university and every house I have lived in since then, and it falls open at favourite recipes such as carrot and mushroom loaf.

Recipes

This week I was looking for a quick meal that would use some of the huge pile of vegetables from the veg box that was delivered Monday morning and I lit on a simple stir fry recipe in this book, blending British and Asian ingredients: chinese cabbage, brussels sprouts, leek, cauliflower, soy sauce. I amended it a bit to what we had available and voila: a variant on my favourite quick supper. Very tasty too. And I have a hankering to make carrot and mushroom loaf again soon.

Stir fry

Crime and Punishment read-a-long begins

read-a-long-plain-001

Today is the start of the Crime and Punishment read-a-long hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. After I tried and failed to read the Fyodor Dostoevsky classic back in December I really needed an incentive to try again, so this was brilliant timing.

If you fancy joining in, the sign-up post is here. We’re reading about 43 pages a week and the first discussion begins over at Unputdownables on Friday 8 February.

N.B. I am reading the Penguin Popular Classics edition from 1997. The translator is not acknowledged at all, which is very disappointing. I may have to borrow a different edition from the library if I don’t get on with this one.

Literature informs, instructs, it prepares you for life

A Novel Bookstore

A Novel Bookstore
by Laurence Cossé
translated from French by Alison Anderson

Have you ever dreamed of opening a bookshop? Have you ever planned what it would be like, how it would be different from all those other bookshops? I can’t decide whether this book would encourage or discourage such an ambition but there’s definitely some wish-fulfilment going on.

The novel opens with a series of attacks on seemingly unconnected people. I don’t want to reveal too much, but the link is The Good Novel, a Paris bookshop opened by rich booklover Francesca and idealistic bookseller Ivan. They discover that they share the same dream of a bookshop that sells only great novels, and pour everything into making their dream a reality, but their shop strikes a nerve in French cultural circles and comes under increasingly severe attacks.

“If I spent my money restoring a Roman viaduct or any other masterwork of our heritage, everyone would think it was a very worthy cause. What we are doing is no different. We are investing our time and money to support and enrich our literary heritage, which is being threatened by forgetfulness and indifference, not to mention disarray in taste. Our cause is undeniable.”

I found that I couldn’t grasp the tone at first. And then just as I was getting the hang of it, there was an odd switch from crime drama to the idealistic story of setting up the dream bookshop. But it’s a surprisingly enjoyable read considering all the action is in the first three chapters.

At the core of the book is the debate between high and low culture. Francesca and Ivan have pinned their hopes on high culture: their choice of “great” novels is primarily classic or overlooked literary works. They opt out of the bestseller lists and new releases, which isn’t the most effective business model and isn’t entirely popular with publishers and other bookshops – it does admittedly smack of snobbery – but of course it’s the authors whose books aren’t chosen for sale at The Good Novel who express the most anger.

“The essential problem raised by the notion of literary value is that this value changes with time. A work that might have been hailed by its contemporaries seems trivial a hundred years later, perhaps even thirty years later. Inversely, another work that was judged unpleasant or uninteresting may now be praised to the skies.”

Personally, I’m torn which side I’m on. Not that I condone the attacks on The Good Novel. And I love heartfelt book recommendations, such as are at the core of Ivan’s bookselling style. But I think getting people reading is always a good thing, and those easy reads and bestsellers – they’re a big part of that process.

“Literature is a source of pleasure, he said, it is one of the rare inexhaustible joys in life, but it’s not only that. It must not be disassociated from reality…There are grown-ups who will say no, that literature is not life, that novels teach you nothing. They are wrong. Literature informs, instructs, it prepares you for life.”

This book is jam-packed with references to “great” books and you could make a very long recommended reading list from it, though how many of them would be available in English translation I don’t know. The other thing it has going for it is a sub-plot that’s a sweet realistic romance. I kept expecting darker things around the corner but this novel’s beauty is its simplicity.

“He had no more imaginary space, nowhere he could escape to, no more expectations, all he could do was make himself available to the present moment, to what was immeasurable, the terrible profusion of moments that make up a day.”

Au bon roman published 2009 by Editions Gallimard, Paris.
Translation published 2010 by Europa Editions.

Source: Won in a giveaway from Savidge Reads.

Challenges: This counts towards the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge.