To escape the books I went to the theatre last night (Love's Sacrifice at the RSC - brilliant) which made me want to sort out all my old programs, which led to opening up The Trunk where things go out of sight and out of mind. After an hour and a half I'd sifted through 15 years worth of old birthday and Christmas cards. Many from people I really don't remember. They're going but all this sorting is getting out of hand so I've retired to the kitchen and contemplation of Anne Shooter's 'Sesame & Spice'.
I've had this book for about a month now so writing about it is somewhat overdue - I blame the urge to get organised (which normally disappears quite quickly, but not this time). I was attracted to it by the tag line 'Baking from the East End to the Middle East' and the pomegranates on the cover. My family mock me for my love of pomegranates as an embellishment to just about anything but they'll come round eventually... I'm also a fan of sweet things, but increasingly it's the kind of sweet that involves fruit and nuts. Cakes rich with ground almonds and soaked in scented syrups, baklava's, sticky concoctions filled with dates and prunes, and plenty of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom- all flavours and textures I love. A book that promised Middle Eastern inspired baking sounded like a winner.
It is a winner, and also much more than I expected or hoped for. What I hadn't initially realised (from the cover - it's clear the moment you start reading) is that Shooter's heritage is Jewish which means her food references span Europe and and America as well as the Middle East. It's a rich heritage and one that resonates with me based, as I am, in the middle of Leicester - a city that's been described as the most multi cultural in the world. I don't know if that's actually true or not but there's certainly a good argument for it. Leicester was a Roman city, the Vikings made it here and left their mark in place names, and it now has an ethnic majority. Basically we've been absorbing different influences and cultures for millennia.
The first recipe I tried was for the really delicious Citrus lavender syrup cake (it was also the bake that made me realise my old oven had to go) it was nutty and tangy and altogether good with the lavender providing a subtle twist that transformed it into something really special. The second recipe was for a spiced date loaf which is fat free and wonderful in thin slices with a cup of tea.
Obviously it's possible to have to many baking books - even when you're a keen baker - but this one definitely earns a place on my shelves for it's combination of practical recipes and exciting flavours. It's a really nice mix of tradition from Shooter and what feels like innovation to me but very much in tune with the city I live in.