Archive for the ‘06. BOOKS/ARTICLES’ Category

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of Childhood in India
Madhur Jaffrey – pub: Ebury Press

Madhur Jaffrey first came to my attention in the 1980s, initially as an actress in the Merchant Ivory film ‘Heat and Dust‘ and then through her popular Indian Cookery Series on the BBC.  I still have and use the book which accompanied the series called, simply, Indian Cooking along with a second book, beautifully illustrated with colour plates as well as recipes, called A Taste of India and a slim booklet produced by the BBC for the series Flavours of India containing a few ‘taster’ recipes from the full length book.

Climbing the Mango Trees, a delightful autobiography containing black and white family photographs and a large number of recipes, tells of Madhur Jaffrey’s childhood in India around the time of Partition.  In this very readable book she introduces us to the world of her Indian childhood with its joys and sadnesses and shares many stories of the wonderful foods the family enjoyed.  She describes how she grew up as part of a large and wealthy extended family who lived in very close proximity to one another, bringing a long lost age back to life.  In particular Madhur Jaffrey shares memories of meals with her readers, from everyday dinners, lunches, breakfasts to foods eaten on special occasions, such as mass catered family weddings or picnics.  Many anecdotes in the book centre on the smells and flavours that take Jaffrey back to her childhood, such as the tart but spicy flavour of unripe mango, eaten straight from the tree and dipped in salt, pepper, red chillies or roasted cumin.   She tells of picnics in the foothills of the Himalayas with sultana and mint stuffed meatballs, ginger and coriander flavoured cauliflower and spiced pooris, a type of puffy bread, eaten with hot green mango pickle.  Partition brought changes as the political map was rewritten.  Schoolfriends and their foods disappeared as Muslim friends fled the country, taking with them their Keema dishes of spiced ground meat, to be replaced by the incoming Pujabis who introduced Tandoor ovens with their distinctive way of baking bread and roasting spiced meat.

At the back of the book are 32 family recipes and I hope to try many of them out at some point including: Potatoes with Tomatoes, Lamb with Spinach, Maya’s Meat with Potatoes, Bimla’s Chicken Curry, Everyday Cauliflower, Carrots with Fenugreek Greens, Savoury Biscuits Studded with Cumin Seeds and Fresh Limeade.

This was a book that I enjoyed very much.  Part biography, part food memoir, it taught me through the eyes of a young girl much about life in a country going through extreme change, but also the need to value that which cannot be altered: the enduring importance of family bonds and of shared food in keeping memories alive.  If you are fascinated by India or its cooking I hope that you too will enjoy climbing the Mango Trees in company with Madhur Jaffrey.

Listen to Madhur Jaffrey talking about her Indian childhood. You Tube link:


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Apricots on the Nile: A Memoir with Recipes
Colette Rossant
Pub: Bloomsburypbks

Collette Rossant recounts in memoir and in recipes a snapshot of her early life.  In 1937, aged five, she arrived in Cairo from Paris with her Egyptian/Jewish father and French mother. On the death of her father, her mother returned to France and Collette remained with her wealthy grandparents. At age fifteen she was summoned to Paris to join her mother, never to see her grandparents again. Before going to Cairo, even as a very young child, she loved the Parisien kitchen, but her maternal grandmother thought it was no place for her to spend time: “Une jeune fille de bonne famille ne fréquente pas la cuisine!” (A young girl of good breeding does not go into the kitchen!)  In Cairo entering the kitchen was not a problem. Collette recounts tales of the happy and seemingly carefree lifestyle of her childhood: the welcoming kitchen, where she learned so much from Ahmet the cook and her grandmother, the sights and sounds of shopping in the bazaar and the sumptuous meals she remembers. 

The final chapter of Apricots on the Nile tells how Collette, thirty years later and a journalist and food writer, retraces her steps.  She rediscovers the Egypt of her past, trying to find again the places with their remembered sights, smells and tastes. 

I loved this book with its honest account of Collette Rossant’s unusual childhood before and around the time of World War II, the sadnesses as well as the happy times, giving a window onto a world now gone for ever.   I loved too the unusual recipes, both Egyptian and French.  One in particular, Grilled Chicken with Sumac & Roasted Banana, we thoroughly enjoyed and my variation the recipe is included on this site.  There are many other delicious sounding recipes, including: Semit (soft sesame seed covered pastries) and Sambusaks (cheese filled pastries), Ta’miyya (like Felafel), Babaghanou (roasted aubergine puree, served as a dip), Stuffed Vine Leaves (filled with rice, lamb and cumin), Chickpea Purée and Traditional Hummus, Lentils and Beetroot with Swiss Chard, Fricasée of Fennel, Bean Soup and Apricot Pudding (a rich dessert of baked pureed dried apricots), plus from Collette’s time at the convent school, Soeur Leila’s Red Lentil Stew and Lentil Soup.

According to the Bloomsbury website, Collette Rossant has written two further ‘memoirs with food’, neither of which I have read, but I will try to track them down as I hope they are equally as enjoyable.
Return to Paris
Madeleines in Manhatten
I have also found reference to a book on Collette Rossant’s own website, supposedly the third in her series, called A World in my Kitchen: The Adventures of a (Mostly) French Woman in New York.   It is not clear whether this is Madeleines in Manhatten under a different title, or a new book.  Collette is also the author of several cookbooks, on a variety of subjects including Kosher Cooking, Japanese Cuisine and Slim Cuisine.

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LOOMIS Susan - Tarte Tatin
Tarte Tatin: More of La Belle Vie on Rue Tatin
Susan Herrmann Loomis – pub: Harper Collins

As part of our holiday to Brittany, France, we planned to spend several days in Normandy, so when I spotted Tarte Tatin on the library shelf it seemed a perfect book to take with me to get a flavour of  the region. 

This second book, I discovered, follows on from Loomis’ first book, On Rue Tatin, which I am now hoping to track down and read as well.   On Rue Tatin tells of how cook and writer Susan Loomis and her artist husband moved from the USA to Normandy and settled into an ancient property in need of renovation in the village of Louviers.  (The village is close to the cathedral city of Rouen, famed in particular for its connections with Joan of Arc.) 

This second book, Tarte Tatin, has plenty of local colour and character in its tales of village life, with tales of shopping in the local market and enjoyable meals shared with a jolly sounding group of friends. With the family, now numbering four, having settled into the community and putting down roots, the dream to open a cookery school finally becomes reality.

The book is filled with food related information with plenty of recipes to try out, most feeling French but with an American twist.  On return from holiday I made Loomis’ Raw Beetroot Salad, which I have already posted: an extremely simple recipe which was a great success. There were plenty of other recipes that caught my eye and which I hope to eventually try out.  Corn Bread, Allspice Ice Cream, Ginger Madeleines, Rosemary Baked Potatoes, Three Nut Biscotti and Winter Fruit Tarte Tatin caught my eye in particular.

Susan Loomis has also written recipe books, including Farmhouse Cookbook, French Farmhouse Cookbook and Italian Farmhouse Cookbook.

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fair_trade_logodivine-cookbook-Collister-coverNice book, shame about the waistline!

Divine: Heavenly Chocolate Recipes with heart‘ by Linda Collister – www.absolutepress.co.uk

I had a birthday recently and my brother and family bought me a copy of this book, along with some Divine Fairtrade chocolate bars. A sort of starter pack to get me cooking, I assume.

The author has long been a supporter of fair trade and has collected and created the recipes in the book using Divine chocolate, which uses quality cocoa beans grown by the farmer members of Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana, West Africa, who get an internationally agreed fair price for their product. The story of this cooperative, who also co-own the company and share its profits, is told in an illustrated introductory section. Also in this section is a guide to the unusual Adinkra symbols which feature on the cover of both the book and Divine chocolate wrappers.

Once past some basic ‘how to’ pages the recipes start, organised into nine gloriously mouth watering chapters. Some are reasonably simple: ‘Luxurious Flapjacks’, ‘Divine Brownies’, ‘Chocolate Stuffed French Toast’ or ‘White Chocolate Strawberry Cream Cake’. Others are a little more complicated: ‘Black Forest Roulade’, ‘Creamy Cappuccino Cheesecake’, ‘Bourbon Street Beignets’ or the ‘Deliciously Different Christmas Cake’. And of course, there are those with intriguing names: ‘La Torta di Cioccolata’, ‘Orange and Chocolate Jackson Pollock Cake’, ‘Zebra Mousse’ or ‘Red Hot Chilli-Pepper Chocolate Cake’. Towards the end there are even a few savoury chocolate recipes, including ‘Mole’ (the famous Mexican dish of chicken with bitter chocolate sauce). There is something here for all types of chocoholic, whether ‘quick fix’ or more adventurous!

world-of-cocoa-map-ghanaAll royalties from the sale of the book and sales of Divine chocolate benefit the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo and their company, guaranteeing a fairer deal for thousands of cocoa farmers. Divine is available in bars of Plain, Milk or White chocolate.

‘Sticky upside down chocolate pear gingerbread’, anyone?!

This review was written for and first published in the Parish of Walthamstow Magazine.

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Hot Sun, Cool Shadow: Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc – Angela Murrills – pub. Allison & Busby

Putting a passion into words, explaining why you are smitten with anything – a person, a job, a country – is never easy. But in the case of the Languedoc, the land speaks for itself. The appeals of its thyme-scented garrigue (the rough scrub that covers the inland hills), idyllic pastureland and sun-baked valleys are self-evident, but it’s the abrupt flashes in temperament that delight us, the distant mountain crags that suddenly encroach on a serene valley, the fertile plains that give way to flawless beaches, the eerie flat landscape of the Camargue and the coastal lagoons known as ètangs.

Food critic and writer Angela Murrills along with her husband, Peter Matthews, an artist who charmingly illustrates this fascinating book, recounts their journeys of discovery through Languedoc in the South of France, whilst searching for a French second home. We discover the people of this region with their ancient customs and language and Murrills recounts its long and sometimes troubled history. I was particuarly interested in the information she gave about us about the Cathars, persecuted for their Protestant beliefs, who held out in fortress strongholds such as Montségur in the Pyrenean foothills; about the building of the Canal du Midi, an impressive feat of engineering started in 1666, linking the Mediterranean with the River Gironde, which runs into the Atlantic Ocean; about the life of the locally born artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and about the places which caught the eye of painters such as Henri Matisse and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of whose paintings they find semi-forgotten on the wall in a small hotel. Murrills takes us through Languedoc not only area by area but dish by dish too as this is also a culinary journey and she gives information about regional wines and drink, food preparation and the varied cuisine, including some local recipes for the reader to try at home.

Just before my holiday I had wandered into our local library – in case they had any Langudoc guide books I had missed – and was fortunate to discover this newly shelved foodie travelogue. This type of book helps to bring a holiday alive and ‘Hot Sun, Cool Shadow’ certainly helped us discover, and try, the regional delights, both culinary and tourist, of the Languedoc. I had intended to just ‘dip’ into the chapters covering the area where we were staying but in the end the book was so good I read it all!  (I also gave a copy to my sister-in-law as a gift as she has friends in the Languedoc who she visits from time to time.)

(This review was first posted on 8 September 2007 at my original blog Meanderings along the narrow way)

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