I have been bewitched by Nigel Slater. So far John is only vaguely aware of this. He is reading Why Does E = mc squared, an exploration of Einstein’s famous equation by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. Either he thinks my grunts in response to his comments are just a normal reaction to the subject matter, or that it is all old hat to me. The truth is I am in thrall to Nigel, privately devouring the likes of meatballs, “cooked in the middle and nicely brown and stickily, sensuously glossy on the outside,” and the “darkest, stickiest” chocolate cake. Sumptuous recipes are threaded together on a narrative of shopping and gardening and I hang on Nigel’s every word.
It began when we first set sail back in 2013. I downloaded an electronic version of Kitchen Diaries, with the thought that Nigel’s television style of few ingredients put together with little messing about would be well suited to galley cooking, and also that the e-book would take up no space and carry no weight. The format soon proved pretty useless. Impossible to dip into an electronic cookbook or easily flick through letting the tantalising colour photographs exert a siren song. The kindle has no friendly way of easily falling open at familiar favourites. The pages are not helpfully splodged with dabs of sauce to show the colour you are aimed for. There are no homely annotations. Without an index I was very hard pressed to find a recipe for any given ingredient. I tried using the word search for a recipe using butternut squash. For a seemingly gentle soul it is surprising how often Nigel squashes things. In the end I gave up and the book lay languishing at the bottom of my e-library. Then last week we bought a really excellent pair of aubergines and I thought I should give it another go in their honour, aubergine being a much less ambivalent term than squash. I was still unable to find a match between our shopping and a recipe, but was engaged by a story of Nigel dashing out to buy baked beans and oven chips because the cupboard was bare. The fact that he also bought beer seemed to me the mark of genius. I began to read a bit more. Then I zipped my finger back along the timeline and started from the beginning. As a cookbook it was a nonstarter, but as a novel the e-format was a page- turner and I have been turning them at every possible opportunity ever since. I have even found myself sneaking things into the shopping that I think Nigel would approve of.
So far none of this obsession has translated itself onto our plates. Today my lunchtime salad of tomatoes anointed with freshly torn basil leaves and tremblingly soft mozzarella could not compete with the smell of sausages being barbecued off the back of the boat behind us. Still my cookbook is now peppered with bookmarks and I am inspired to make more of the food we prepare. I may be compelled to download Kitchen Diaries Volume 2.