Thursday, October 4, 2012

When is a meal a telescope? Or, a tale of two Nigels

No grasshoppers, I am not teasing you with a mind dislocating koan. 

I love how books and meals can telescope ever outward. I’m thinking of how Frances Partridge’s diaries lead me to Selina Hasting’s biography of Partridge’s eccentric traveling companion, the novelist Rosamund Lehmann, and then onto her book The Weather in the Streets.
I’m thinking of my recent adventures in the kitchen. Giving up the fight against insomnia in the wee hours (when are the big hours, BTW?) I listened to a podcast in which Nigel Barden described a pasta dish of pancetta, sage, parsley and chestnuts, mmmm. I’m a big fan of the chestnut, which you can now get roasted, peeled and vacuum packed for those of us deprived of an open fire.

I used smoked bacon in the absence of pancetta. The sage came from the garden of the house I am leaving, which made me sad, but I took the occasion to invest in a pot of parsley I’m hoping will winter in the window of my new home. Definitely a dish worth repeating, but not two nights in a row.

So I turned to another Nigel, Slater this time and his Kitchen Diaries and found “a hearty vegetable supper for a windy evening”. A savoury crumble of courgettes (zucchini to us North Americans) and Lancashire cheese, I had nearly all the ingredients - including the windy evening - but not the walnuts. I was dubious about the walnuts anyway, and I had half a package of chestnuts. 

Weirdly I’ve just remembered another wonderful dish involving chestnuts and brussels sprouts by none other than Nigella Lawson. Is there such a thing as Kitchen Karma? Or is it three degrees of Nigel?

Robert Hughes, In Memoriam 
Robert Hughes, the art critic and writer passed away last month. I learned a great deal from his Shock of the New, which illuminates the historic and political context of modern art and hugely enjoyed his autobiography Things I Didn’t Know. I periodically checked to see if he had finished a second volume. I’m sorry there won’t be one. Then I remembered I had had a copy of The Culture of Complaint for years, but not read it yet. 

Written in the early 1990s, the book is as impressive for its foresight as its wit. Hughes anticipates the current state of the American right with uncanny clarity and provides the most cogent critique of political correctness that I’ve ever read. While Hughes didn’t believe art had any “moral effects” his criticism and analysis are a vaccination against cant and a spur to challenge received opinion. Long may he be read.