Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Favorite Cookbooks: Feast

Before Nigella Lawson was everyone’s domestic goddess – and truly, has there ever been a food writer more pulchritudinous? – I was a devoted admirer of her monthly food column in British Vogue. She has such a strong physical presence now that it is almost funny to look back and remember a time when she was a faceless journalist. Her writing voice was always very particular, though, and full of intelligence and enthusiasm. Each recipe was a personal narrative of sorts, well-peppered with opinions and anecdotes. I liked the way she preached a philosophy of avidity – as opposed to perfection. I also liked her culturally sophisticated approach to food. She could tell you how to do basic things, but she was also well-read and well-travelled, and that was reflected in her food descriptions.

I own all of Nigella’s cookbooks – except, inexplicably, Forever Summer (which happens to be Julochka’s favorite). It is difficult to choose my favorite amongst them, but my top two are definitely How to Eat (her first; and so exhaustive that she must have written it thinking it would be her only) and Feast. The sub-title of Feast is “Food to Celebrate Life,” and really, it does have an especially festive quality. Perhaps I have a soft spot for it because my mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas one year. I spent many happy hours under the duvet, with a mug of tea, poring through the recipes.

Holidays can be fraught for the family cook, but this cookbook gives lots of constructive advice. Nigella will tell you how to make a Christmas dinner from soup to nuts (or gravy to sprouts) – not to mention providing guidance for the more specialized holidays, like Passover or Eid. This book helped me conquer my aversion to Brussels sprouts – de rigueur for a British Christmas, but previously loathed by me. The secret? Pancetta, Marsala wine and lots of chopped parsley. Recipes for Rhubarb Crumble and Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies are now a part of my permanent repertoire, and someday I intend to take on the greater challenges of Hot Cross Buns and a Croque-En-Bouche

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve also been flipping through this book – simultaneously experiencing memories (like the time I made Massacre in a Snowstorm three times over the Christmas season) and desire (for all of the tempting recipes I’ve not yet tried).


julochka said...

i love that one too! and made the buche de noel (sp?) twice last christmas, tho' i was sick as a dog. it was stunning, even if i do say so myself. but it's because nigella makes things, even posh things, seem possible. and the pomegranates, oh, the pomegranates. sigh. i wish i was home cooking something from this one right now!!

beautiful! your writing was worthy of nigella herself.

Char said...

i love her but don't have any of her cookbooks - it seems that i would like them though. and cranberry/white chocolate cookies sound divine.

rayfamily said...

I've got a number of favorite cookbooks, but I see that I'll now be investing in more! Hmmmm your wonderful new blog is becoming expensive :) Can't wait to dive into this one!

Sammi said...

I envy anyone who has all of Nigella's cookbooks. I love her ;o)

Nimble said...

Bee, you made me look up 'avidity' and I found that it means 'greediness' which is definitely one of Nigella's watchwords. She combines cool and hot so pleasingly. I love her on the radio. That extremely correct accent talking about squishing things and deliciousness. I wonder if she's recorded any of her books? Hm, Amazon says no. I suppose it would be too tedious to recite recipe ingredients and instructions.

Anne said...

I don't have any of her books (yet), but every once in a while I used to be able to catch one of her shows on tv. I don't remember if it was on BBC America or Food Network. She's one of the few tv cooks whose show I enjoy watching; I just love hearing her talk about food.

Aaand now I've wasted half an hour watching clips of her show on youtube. :)

Bee said...

I am shocked that so many of you foodies don't have any Nigella cookbooks! You are in for a treat: she writes extremely well and her recipes are really easy to follow.

julochka said...

really bee, how can you not have forever summer? it's the one with the deep-fried bounty bars!


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