Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Pooh Cook Book - Katie Stewart

It's been a dreich day here, which has matched my mood. There was sad news this morning and even before that I was finding it hard to settle. I had not anticipated how difficult going back into lockdown would be whilst the rest of the country is coming out of it. I thought it would be a continuation of the last 3 weeks, tiresome but not much more than that. Turns out it feels much more isolating when most of my friends are outside the lockdown zone. It's not what they're doing, but that they can start making tentative plans and I can't. But it can't go on forever and tomorrow will probably be better.

Whilst it was still sunny this morning A.A. Milne came up in a phone call with my mother. It turned out that I knew an impressive amount of trivia about him, almost all culled from years of reading Stuck In A Book. I think we had Winnie-the-Pooh books when we were children, but I don't remember much about them, haven't watched the Disney version, didn't finish 'The Red House Mystery' and haven't seen or read any of his plays or other novels.

I have had 'The Pooh Cook Book' for as long as I can remember though. It looks like the sort of book that was probably a very early present from my Godmother, and I have a great deal of affection for it. As a child I remember making the coconut ice and peppermint creams, and later using the pancake recipe.

It was first published in the early 1970s so there's a dependence on margarine that seems really nostalgic now. The last time I really cooked with it was in the 90's when I spent a year as a cook in a nursery. We used the cheapest possible margarine for cooking with, it was so revolting (smelt awful, felt awful, tasted awful and looked awful, it was full of pockets of oil - just disgusting) that I haven't used it since. To be fair if you want a good light sponge there's something to be said for a decent branded margarine though and maybe 20 years is long enough to have moved past that particular trauma.

Every time I look at this book I'm impressed with it. It's clearly designed to be used independently even by quite young children with the easiest recipes asterisked at the beginning. It starts with instructions for cinnamon toast intended for 'Smackereles, Elevenses, and Teas. Lunches and Suppers are slightly more advanced, but still written very much with a child learning to cook in mind. I love that there's a bread recipe complete with instructions on how to make different shaped rolls.

The inclusion of a cider cup for parties is intriguing; do parents still let their youngish children drink even very mildly alcoholic punches at parties? The recipe asks for 1/2 a pint of cider, 1/2 a pint of lemonade, 1/2 a pint of undiluted orange squash along with the addition of a few sprigs of mint and a sliced apple and orange. It's to be served with ice and says it will serve 6. I'm not entirely convinced by the squash in this, but with a bit of tinkering and carefully chosen ingredients it could be a decent low alcohol alternative to Pimm's.

Cocoa made with milk and honey sounds fabulous, and an old fashioned still orangeade excellent as well. I bet the honey and raisin scones are decent, and there's a peanut butter, chocolate and rice crispy concoction that I like the sound of too.

Unexpectedly for a book from the 1970s there's even a fruit centerpiece that actually sounds pretty in the Christmas section. It's for frosted fruit - you whip up some egg white, paint it in streaks down well polished apples or pears, and then roll them in castor sugar and let them dry. Grapes can be highlighted with little dots of sugar. I quite like the idea of doing this to some shiny red apples - would have loved doing this when I was a child.

Altogether 'The Pooh Cook Book' has aged really well. It doesn't have pictures of the food, but is full of quotes from the Pooh books and E. H. Shepard's illustrations so it still looks great. The honey based recipes for cakes, biscuits, and tarts, of which there are plenty, appeal to my adult taste buds, and it still feels like it would be a great way to get kids cooking. It looks like it's still in print too, which is somehow really reassuring.

Unfortunately the rest of Katie's books don't seem to have fared so well, if they're as good as this one I think that's a shame. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Lolly Willowes - Sylvia Townsend Warner

Despite having had a good proportion of Sylvia Townsend Warner's books on my shelves since pre blogging days, and a lot of enthusiasm, especially for 'Lolly Willowes', from people who I normally find my reading preferences aligned with it took Helen to really make me read her.

It was Helen's blog where I first saw Warner's fairy tales mentioned, which in turn made me curious about them when they were re published by Handheld Press. They are one of the best things I've ever found, and I'm now quietly in the process of bestowing them on friends I think might be suitably deserving/appreciative.

For last years Sylvia Townsend Warner reading week I tried Mr. Fortune's Maggot which was a beautiful, melancholy, profound book which has stuck with me. For this year I wanted to try' Lolly Willowes' again. I started, and failed to finish this maybe as much as 15 years ago. I don't know why I didn't get on with it better at the time. It sounded like very much my sort of book,  but it didn't spark any enthusiasm in me at all, and I totally failed to see any of the humour that runs through it.

It might be that it was around the time that I was reading a lot of books about surplus women and the weird element of 'Lolly Willowes' jarred with that. If I was comparing her to F. M. Mayor (The Rector's Daughter, The Squire's Daughter, The Third Miss Symons"), which I might have been I can see why I might have struggled.

The start of 'Lolly Willowes' feels conventional enough at first glance - a shy young woman who not only fails to make a social success but fails to worry about it, from a genteel background, who goes from father to brothers house. When she settles with her brother the family give over the small spare bedroom to her (which is a wrench because it means having to wash the double sized sheets for stray single visitors) and she dwindles into a useful aunt passively joining in with all the family's activity and routines.

When Mayor takes a similar character in 'The Rector's Daughter' she makes the most of a similarly empty life in a way that I felt defied the reader to pity it's central character. Warner has Laura Willowes make a pact with the devil and become a witch. Had I read to the end first time I would have better understood 'Lolly Willowes' in that surplus woman tradition. It's touched on in the last few pages in a way that also recalls Virginia Woolf's 'A Room Of One's Own' albeit with a playfulness and humour that I do not associate with Woolf.

It's also a book that has a particular resonance at this stage of my (extended) lockdown. Laura's feelings about life in London compared to the country very much echo mine right now when the limitations of the city have never been more frustrating, even if in other ways it has been a gift for getting the sort of peace that Laura desires.

What I really can't understand though is how I missed the humour and sharpness of this book last time around when it's the first thing that hit me this time. It doesn't much matter because I got here in the end, which feels like the greatest good luck.

I'm really beginning to wonder if Sylvia Townsend Warner might be the most under rated writer though, and why that should be. It looks like she might be getting the Penguin Modern Classic treatment next year so that might help a little, and I wish I had something more intelligent to say about her beyond the very sound advice to read her books, but until I've actually taken that advice myself the next best thing I can tell you is to read what Helen has to say about her. She has read Warner widely, and her reviews are both insightful and accessible. Helen Macdonald, Harriet Devine, and Simon Thomas at Stuck in a Book are all also great places to start reading around her. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Lockdown in Leicester Again

Fair warning, this post is probably going to turn into a longish rant. 

I live just on the edge of Leicester city centre, quite close to one of the universities, which means at the moment with no students around my part of the city is relatively empty, social distancing has been easy enough to do, and for the most part rules have been observed in the immediate area (with a few exceptions, but even the committed drinkers that have colonised part of the local park at least leave plenty of space around the path through it, so you can still distance from them). There have been Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the city, one large one that I completely avoided, and a few smaller events which I've seen from a distance. 

I haven't wanted to be anywhere near even small crowds, but they've been easy enough to give a wide berth to when I've seen them, and almost everybody present that I saw was wearing a mask, and keeping some sort of distance. Much like the people standing in long queues for post offices and shops. There was some coverage of high rates of infection in Leicester over the last couple of weeks, but the centre itself felt safe enough - well organised, plenty of hand sanitizer (including on stands in the market place), and orderly.

The way rumour and reporting ramped up over the weekend was worrying, but as Sunday turned into Monday, and 5pm came and went with no announcements the speculation was very much that the worst of it might be that existing restrictions would simply stay in place a while longer. At 9.15pm we got the news that we were meant to be going back into something much more like full lock down, and that non essential businesses would be closed from the Tuesday.

Which really isn't a lot of notice, and quite feasibly people would have been done with news for the day. I can only imagine the frantic phoning around employers had to do. Beyond that there was no clear idea of exactly where was covered by the lockdown zone, what it meant for people with jobs outside the city limits, how it might affect people on Job Seekers allowance, what it meant for social bubbles, or crucially why Leicester has such a spike in cases and where are they centred.

As of this morning (Wednesday) there's a postcode checker if you're not quite sure about if you're in the lock down zone or not - because that's just how vague it is, and it sounds like the council might finally be getting more detailed data. Sounds like, and might, are the key words there though.

It seems like single people and single parents can still stay in their social bubbles with another household, but it's not clear what that means if your other household is on the wrong side of the lock down zone. My partner is outside the zone, and I won't be seeing him, though the fact that I could and did see him in the days leading up to this, and considered packing a bag and heading over there on Monday evening sort of makes a mockery of having to officially keep a distance a few hours later. Or do we officially have to keep a distance? 

It's the sort of question there should be quickly available answers for. School's are closing again for all but children of key workers, tomorrow - because now apparently there's a suggestion that children are passing on the virus - there's a ton of unanswered question about that too, and difficulties for single parents who have to consider if their children should be moving between households which might be on either side of the lockdown zone, or how to explain to children inside the zones with schools outside it why they're home again. For people coming out of shielding the advice seems a bit hazy too. I'm guessing that effectively if you're somewhere near the boundary line the common sense thing is to carry on as before. All of it adds to the worry when it's so unclear how your friends and family are affected, even if you've more or less worked out your own position.

Meanwhile the level of traffic in the city does not appear to have significantly reduced, though the number of pedestrians has, there are builders working outside my window, on the other side of the road, and on the opposite bank of the river to me, and whilst the university is firmly closed to academic staff and students, maintenance and security are still very much present. 

County town councils are angry with the city mayor for stating the obvious about the chances of people heading out to them from the lockdown zone  - but there's nothing to stop them, no resources to police this, and absolutely no sense that there was a coherent plan from government about how local lockdowns might work despite knowing they were on the cards. This should surely have been planned for better than this? A lot of pubs in the county are now choosing not to open at the weekend because of their proximity to the city, some that are will be asking for evidence of local residency before they let customers in, but there's no indication that there's a wider strategy, or even advice, for businesses outside the zone. At least one hairdresser who lives in Leicester has been told that she's still okay to go to clients houses outside the zone after Saturday as planned. 

A lot of the commentary online around why this is happening to Leicester is blatantly racist and deeply unhelpful. Leicester is a very diverse city, and there are a lot of older people for whom English is a second language that they struggle with, but there's been a lack of public health advice in anything other than English. It's also a poor city (40% of children are estimated to be being bought up in poverty). The areas that are supposed to be most affected are generally ones of small terraced houses where multi generational living is common. Gardens are tiny, pavements narrow, local shops small and there shouldn't be any blame attached to that.

I am reading that there have been issues in some of the garment factories, which have long been known for exploitative habits, including paying as little as £3.50 an hour. There are articles about this in The Guardian and The Financial Times today. It seems they may have been forcing people to work in unsafe conditions. This is believable, it's also a situation that's been on the radar for years so there's also a big question about why so little has been done about it, and if even this will be enough to change things.

So altogether I'm angry. Not at the relatively minor inconvenience (to me at least) of going back into lockdown, not even at the frustration not knowing when I can see my family again, but at the lack of clarity and obvious organization. It seems likely these lockdowns are going to be a feature of the coming months, they need to be handled a lot better than this has been. I hope lessons are learnt from what Leicester is going through, but honestly there's a lot of it that should have been obvious, and it's deeply worrying that it's taking so long to address. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Summer Kitchens - Olia Hercules

It looks like lock down might be extended in Leicester, but not Leicestershire, which is not happy news from my point of view. Most of my dearest are outside the city limits, and last night I was sorely tempted to pack a suitcase and flee. Calmer reflection convinced me that I'm probably better off at home albeit alone. Suggestions that English visitors might have to quarantine for two weeks if they go to Scotland was even less encouraging. At this point I'd rather hear some hard no's instead of all the vague maybes that keep getting my hopes up.

Lock down at home does have it's upsides though, and one of them has been a run of really good cookbooks, the latest of which for me is Olia Hercules' 'Summer Kitchens'. This is another book I've looked forward to for a while, and which like Gill Meller's 'Root Stem Leaf Flower' has immediately far surpassed my expectations.

It's a collection of 'recipes and reminiscences' from every corner of Ukraine. I could stand to learn a lot more about Ukraine (I've actually looked at a map this evening, something which always makes me feel old, it's changed a lot since I sat in a classroom with a map on the wall*). The recipes look great and there's probably actually more of them that I'll use from this book than from either 'Mamushka' or 'Kaukasis', the photography is wonderful too. It really celebrates the people, food, and places the book talks about and is perfect for a bit of arm chair travelling.

It's the reminiscences part of the book that makes it really special though. Every recipe comes with context, and there are essays on a number of subjects - a discussion of traditional Ukrainian ovens (pich) including some of the superstitions around them has been a particular favourite so far, but I've got more to read. There's even a section of recollections that people had sent to Hercules which caught me unawares. I ended up so over emotional that I had to go and make a cup of tea and then a honey cake to get a grip on myself again. It's not a sad section, but an equally beautiful and generous addition to a book that is already both those things in spades.

The cake was 'Lyuba's honey and berry teacake'. I made it because I was seeing my mother and sister so a big slab of cake felt justified and it is wonderful. It uses lard instead of butter which is something I'm not yet used to baking with, and tastes even better in the couple of days after baking. It's not a sweet cake but the honey makes it rich enough to be filling, and it is indeed very good with an aromatic or herbal tea. I might share the recipe here sometime, but for now I'd say instead to buy this book.

Whilst life is still carrying on at a slower pace it's full of things you might want to eat, and it's a joy to read too. That's a great combination at any time, but I particularly appreciate it right now. It's not every cookery writer who gets better from book to book (though there are plenty who do) but Hercules is doing just that. There's a confidence and style about this one which I'm find particularly beguiling and reminds me of everything I love about Claudia Roden's writing. It really is a wonderful book.

*Our primary school was old enough to have a map with a good quarter of the world still shaded in red still hanging around, also outside toilets when I first started - which were freezing in winter, and spidery all year round. The old map was a curiosity in a sort of store room behind where we had art lessons, not one we were taught from.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Summer's Lease - Thom Eagle

I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I haven't read the universally lauded 'First, Catch' yet - though I do now have a copy which is near the top of my to be read pile. 'Summer's Lease' was my personal celebration that my local Waterstone's is open again and I can once more buy or order books locally with ease.

It's all to easy with books bought like this to never quite get round to reading them (I have shelves full of things bought with giddy enthusiasm but not yet read to prove the point) but fortunately the combination of weather so hot that all I've been able to muster any enthusiasm for is reading and actually opening the book, meant that I read it over two days. Which is why I've now bought 'First, Catch' - because 'Summer's Lease' is brilliant.

I might have read it a week before but that the first few pages sent me off to bake bread (in those days when it was raining a lot and cold enough to make that attractive) which distracted me, but there's no force on earth that would have made turning the oven on seem like a good idea in my little flat this week. Reading those pages again did make me wish for a really good bakery in Leicester city centre though. An M&S baguette (which I'm not knocking) is as good as I can find locally, it's not always enough.

'Summer's Lease' does have recipes in it, but in a whilst we're on the subject you could try this sort of way that is almost incidental to the main point of the book, which is to talk about the why and how you can make something of summer's glut whilst cooking without heat. It's a mix of philosophy, notes, opinions, memories, observations, and experience, it's also a page turner.

There are four chapters which discuss breaking, salting, souring, and ageing. It was a couple of pages into breaking that I went off to make bread, overcome by a want to hear the crust crackle as it came out the oven. I hadn't thought of the importance of breaking things apart, or breaking them down, in cooking but now that I have I feel like everything has changed. Simple things like why it's better to tear some herbs apart rather than chop them, or the advantage in tearing apart ripe fruit or tomatoes for a salad - the better to interact with the dressing, now make a lot more sense.

I hadn't much though about the best time to add salt to a salad either, but testing the theory on some ripe tomatoes last night has convinced me that t does make a difference. It's also convinced me that I really need to be prepared to get my hands dirty more, especially handling meat. The way Eagle talks about it you can feel the changes in texture that tell you something is happening, and also when something is ready. Again, I'm not sure that I've ever really seen this explained so clearly before, although that's possibly because I've never particularly wanted to make something like a steak tartar so it just hasn't come up. It might be that I'm still not interested in steak tartar, anymore than I am in raw oysters (I've tried, but I just can't), but that doesn't diminish the lightbulb moment of understanding why things work together, and what they're doing.

The big thing here though is just what good company Thom Eagle is in this book. He encourages experimentation in the kitchen, but also cautions against the desire to try and make everything yourself (whilst acknowledging how seductive the lure to do so is). There are plenty of fermenting and curing projects which would be both distinctly antisocial, and eventually yield results that won't be as good as the product you can buy. Instead the focus is on things that there's a genuine benefit for the home cook in tackling, along with an admission that things will go wrong and turn out badly from time to time.

As fermenting becomes increasingly fashionable this is a particularly useful thing to read and understand - I would have been happy to see a brief discussion about whether it's yeast or mold expanded on, but at least I have somewhere to start researching from (something nasty happened to previous sourdough starters that I'd very much like to avoid in future). I really enjoyed reading this, and expect to refer to it a lot more in the future - my moment of enthusiasm in Waterstones served me well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Woman in the Wardrobe - Peter Shaffer

'The Woman in the Wardrobe' is by the same Peter Shaffer responsible for Equus, The Royal Hunt of the Sun' and Amadeus - which surprised me a bit at first, but on reflection makes sense. 'The Woman in the Wardrobe' is from 1951 and feels like an homage to locked room mysteries, one that's quite happy to make fun of it's source of inspiration as well as show considerable affection for it.

There's no specific date suggested for when the action takes place, but the fact that the local hotel has been involved in a couple of seedy divorce cases gives it a 1930's kind of a feel (I've been googling divorce law and London gun shops for this - I really hope I don't end up on some sort of watch list - in 1937 cruelty, desertion, and insanity became grounds for divorce, so the need to prove adultery would not have been so pressing). Service revolvers are a plot feature too, but Wikipedia tells me that they're likely First World War ones.

I've looked all this up because part of the charm of the book is that it sits in the suggestion of a past rather than feeling like it's rooted in it's own contemporary world. A character like amateur sleuth Mr Verity, would always have to belong to an earlier time of larger characters than out own world (whenever it is) makes you feel are quite possible. 

Mr Verity is a wonderous creation, a fat man in his 60's, we first meet him carrying a mauve bathing suit heading for the sea. His hobby is collecting antique sculpture (with scant regard for export laws) and being right - the police respect him almost as much as they dislike him. 

The woman in the wardrobe is a waitress - Alice Burton. It's an awkward place for her to be found as on the other side of the door, in a room with locked doors and bolted windows, is the dead body of a blackmailer.

The whole book bowls along fueled by a mixture of wit and humour. There's definitely a theatrical edge to it, and the pace is such that you don't really have time to pick faults in the plot. The twist at the end is an absolute peach and very much of a piece with the general underlying humour of the book. It's a fun mystery that resolves itself convincingly enough but the real joy is in Shaffer's descriptions and details - especially on the subject of Mr Verity and Inspector Rambler. This is a tremendously enjoyable addition to the British Library Crime Classics series. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

House of Weeds - Poetry by Any Charlotte Kean, Illustrated by Jack Wallington

Sometime last year I made a resolution to read more contemporary poetry, and thanks to Isabelle Kenyon and Fly On the Wall Press I'm keeping that promise. She's sent me a few things I wouldn't otherwise ever have come across and 'House of Weeds' is one of them.

Now feels like a good time to be reading poetry - in this case because the individual poems, and even the whole collection, are short enough to be read even when current events keep sending my mind skittering off in other directions.

I particularly like the collaborative nature of this collection - each poem takes a weed and personifies it, with Jack Wallington's illustrations directing the reader to a particular image or association. They interpret Kean's words in quite a specific way, and I assume that she in turn directed Wallington about what she wanted.

Poetry with illustrations just like this isn't something I'm particularly familiar with and I've found the specificity of it interesting. The pictures impose a particular reading, without them there would be more room for interpretation. This way the author has much more control over the reader, and that in turn carries an increased challenge to agree or disagree with the combinations of word and image in front of you.

That challenge is further underlined by the personal nature of Kean's characterisation of her different weeds - some resonate with me, others are at odds with my sense of specific plants and the types of misfit she associates them with. It's the surprise that comes with being at odds that makes this collection compelling.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain & Ireland - Kevin Crossley-Holland

I think this is technically a children's book, Walker Books certainly specialises in publishing for children, and there's something about the illustrations that suggest that it's meant for younger readers, but there's nothing about it that isn't equally satisfying for the adult reader as well.

I had this on my wish list and a really wonderful friend (she has a habit of picking the books I most want off that list) bought it for me at Christmas - I've been enjoying it a few stories at a time ever since.

There's a quote on the back of the book from Philip Pullman that simply says "This great storyteller", and I can think of no better words to describe Kevin Crossley-Holland. What makes this collection so good (for young and old alike) is the way that he strips the stories back to their basics and then adds just the right amount of personality and poetry to make them not just come alive, but to sing for the reader.

Some are barely a couple of paragraphs long (Boo is particularly good - a nervous young woman alone in her fathers house secures doors and windows with all possible diligence, only to hear a voice say 'That's good - now we're locked in for the night' - how can a ghost story get better than that?) most run to a few pages, and there are some like Tam Lin which stretch a bit further.

There's everything here from tales of fairies, to ghost stories, taking in adventurous epics, love stories, and battles of wits along the way. Some feel ancient, others sound like they might be more modern in origin - but they're all good, and the long twilight of midsummer is my favourite time of year for stories like this. It's a time when anything sounds like it might be true and you can never be quite sure of what you're seeing. I can think of nothing better to read by the dying embers of a campfire (even if it's only at the bottom of the garden) at the end of a day. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Coming Out of Lockdown

It's been a difficult week, and as I'm writing this at 4.30 in the afternoon in the near dark with yet another thunder storm rattling around me (3 days of them now) it feels like nature is doing everything it can to add to the general sense of discombobulation.

Lockdown restrictions are lifting in a series of confusing ways across England, differently in Scotland (I really want to see my dad, I'm very homesick for Shetland, I'm hoping that it'll be possible to visit him before too long, but have no idea when it'll be deemed safe to do so) but even as things lift, what's obvious are the way things have changed.

The thing I'm currently finding hardest to deal with is he change in atmosphere around the city. The park which was a solace for most of the last 3 months isn't any longer. There's a group of up to 20, mostly middle aged men, who have taken over both sides of the path at the narrowest point in the park which is also the middle of it. They drink steadily throughout the day and though it would be unfair to say they're threatening, they are intimidating. Walking through them feels like an intrusion. Their music drowns out the birdsong, and whatever is rustling around in the bushes these days is larger than a rat. (They've been rained out by the storm, and it sounds like a few of them are having an argument under the archway that leads to the garages of this flat)

The city itself is busy again but people look like they're much more on edge - some carefully keeping 2 meters distance, others brushing past like you're invisible and ignoring the carefully laid out one way systems. Queues to get into the newly reopened shops are... long, I haven't really had this with the corner shop style supermarkets in town and after months of nearly empty streets it's proving hard to get used to. Some public toilets are open, but even between them and the deluges of rain we've had in the last couple of weeks there's still an overwhelming smell of urine in a lot of the alleyways too.

Now that I can go out I've never wanted to stay in more.

That edginess is even more obvious online, it's probably cowardly to stay quiet on some topics but equally now doesn't seem like a good time to try and speak out on sensitive subjects when you can't do it face to face. To try and keep myself from falling down rabbit holes on twitter I spent most of the last few days binge reading my way through Sarah J Maas 'Court of Thorns and Roses' series. It sounded promising, though I hadn't realised they're aimed at young adults.

I don't really have much to say about them - there are interesting ideas which could have been better
handled, the quality dips as the books go on, but it's possible the rest of the series might get better (I think there are more books planned). I wanted something fairly mindless that I could bury myself in, and I managed to do that, but I was also hoping I'd find another Naomi Novak (I'm thinking of Uprooted and Spinning Silver) or Katherine Arden, and didn't. They were neither good or bad enough to say much more about here. 

The relative break from everything did help me step back from all the crap though, and I do feel more able to deal with everything, and that's a better place to be in than I was last week. Now I just need the storms to blow over. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Root Stem Leaf Flower - Gill Meller

I'm struggling with the lack of nuance on social media this week and how much general frustration and anger is on display (I'm thinking specifically of a spat sparked by a picture of a colourful roundabout in Musselburgh that Chris Packham posted - it got jumped on because many of the species were non native). I'm absolutely not immune to it - as I worry more and more about what my job prospects are and see more friends facing redundancy and continued uncertainty - it's really hard not to lash out, or fall into pointless argument. I'm not always succeeding at avoiding these things but I'm going to try really hard today.

One thing that's not causing either anger of frustration is 'Root Stem Leaf Flower', I've been cooking from this book a lot over the last 10 days or so and it's every bit as good as first impressions made me hope it would be. So far the only downside is in being unable to share the things I'm making.

The recipes are arranged seasonally but because I'm buying my veg rather than growing them I'm not following it particularly seasonally. Availability is relatively limited at the moment, Leicester Market never quite closed through lockdown, but it did contract. It's slowly expanding again but the variety isn't there. That's down to a combination of wholesale prices being too high with vendors not feeling they can pass on the increases, and goods just not being there - the effects of the wet winter were already obvious in the price and quality of Lincolnshire produce back at the start of the year.

It's been harder to keep track of time through lockdown anyway, and realising that the fruit and veg I see for sale hasn't changed anything like as much as it would in other years has added to a general sense of stasis, and also a nagging unease. This post keeps veering off in ways I was not planning on; what I meant to say was that the wintery baked leeks and dill were delicious, and so were the autumnal roast peppers and shallots (although the leeks felt wintery, roast peppers are great whenever).

I think my favourite recipe so far has been the aubergines and roast tomatoes for everything though - it sums up all the things that I'm loving about this book. It's simple both in terms of the ingredient list and what you need to do with them. It's delicious - and economic which is always a bonus. And it stands out thanks to the addition of some crushed fennel seeds. I guess there's nothing especially revolutionary about fennel seeds, but they would never have been an obvious choice for me to use and they're the thing that turns a try of agreeably roasted veg into something memorable.

My favourite thing about the book is that it's absolutely full of recipes that do the same thing - either taking a vegetable that I don't normally get very excited about (I'm looking at you broccoli) and making it sound great, or something that I like (hello carrots) and turning them into total stars. The last time I felt this enthusiastic about brussels sprouts was reading Anja Dunk's 'Strudel, Noodles, and Dumplings'.

Despite my best intentions to reduce the amount of meat in my diet I haven't always done very well at finding recipes that inspire me, but this book really does. That it's come at a time when I'm spending more time in the kitchen and have re-found my enthusiasm for cooking feels like an absolute gift amongst the general wreckage of 2020. I can't recommend it highly enough.