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).