Toast, Asparagus, Birthday Cake

Toast is the title of Nigel Slater's childhood memoirs remembered through food. I first came across the book when I was teaching creative writing at the University of Kent and offered it to students as an example of how memoir can be shaped by theme. Toast might be told through the vehicle of food but, inevitably, it's about so much more. Our lives are woven around eating at home, eating out, the buying and preparation of food, the rejection of it, the pleasure it can bring. Our days are measured by it. The people in our lives are marked by their loves and dislikes of it. 

I like Nigel Slater. I mean I like the voice and insights in his writing and the personality he presents on TV. There's a low key, 'drifting down a river, strolling along a country lane, let's have a nice cup of tea' kind of mood to his books and programmes. It might sound strange but there seems to be kindness in the things he does: kindness towards the food itself (laying them on the top of my bag like a fragile bunch of flowers - talking about asparagus), and towards his audience (his recipes are cosy invitations rather than risk-laden challenges). He describes himself as a home-cook, a quietly enthusiastic and slightly greedy one. And how can you not love someone who says about their recipes: Short cuts are fine, rule breaking is fine. What matters is that the food we end up with is lick-the-plate delicious.

I have his Kitchen Diaries I & II propped open on my kitchen counter at the moment, reading his days as mine unfold. On Saturday June 1st (Volume II) he has a recipe for Asparagus Tarts that should come with a warning to eat them at the table. The butter puff pastry distributes itself in every direction when you bite into one on the sofa in front of the TV. The cat appreciated it: she likes crumbs of all kinds. 

I'd like to show you a photo of the puffed and golden, hot from the oven, ready to eat dish but I only remembered after I'd eaten them. But they looked, very satisfyingly, like the photo in the book, except Nigel Slater makes five long, skinny tarts from his sheet of puff pastry and my stumpy asparagus were better suited for quarters. 

Page 230 - The Kitchen Diaries II
I so love recipes that deliver their promise of deliciousness easily. I also love people who deliver promises of deliciousness and this is what my step-daughter, Zina, delivered to me on Sunday.

Zina's Carrot Cake
This wasn't any common or garden carrot cake. This was home-made perfection:  moist, carrot flecked sponge with a gentle crunch of walnuts and pecans and a hint of cinnamon, a cream cheese frosting with a zing of lime juice. And it was probably big enough to slice into 55 pieces, one for each year of my life! 

Zina's cakes and dessert are always magnificent celebrations. This is an arena where size really does matter and her Lemon Meringue Pies are sharp and sweet high pillows of dreams. 
Zina's Lemon Meringue

She said on the weekend that she'd love to have a cake-shop. We didn't really talk anymore about it so I'm unsure how serious she was. Perhaps it's only a dream for her but maybe there is a way for that dream to become a reality. Because when she bakes for other people she achieves Nigel Slater's lick-the-plate deliciousness every time.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about rejection.
Write about a river.
Write about an act of kindness.
Write about a birthday cake.
Write about something, or someone, delicious.


Caroline said…
Did you see the televised version of Toast? It interested me regarding his feelings towards his step-mother, who became a rival for his father's affections, but could cook. The lemon meringue competition was funny. He's my favourite TV chef too. The intimate way he addresses the camera and his relationship with the garden is endearing :) My god, your writing makes me hungry!
Anonymous said…
I loved his supper series, at least I think it was called that and he did favourite meals too. I like his approach, nothing too fussy, fancy, but achievable and not irritating like Nigella and her fake ooziness and sumptious language. I also hate anyone who pretends to cook a quick, cheap family supper in a cashmere cardi. Nigel all the way. I also love the look of the asparagus tarts, I shall make some with little parma ham underblankets and a few shavings of parmesan. By the way, the cake looks scrummy.
Lynne Rees said…
The Parma ham sounds good, Brenda. Nigel finishes his tarts off with a sprinkling of lemon zest and finely chopped parsley (but I didn't have either the night I made them...). I know what you mean about Nigella - it feels too posed and contrived. I also take an irrational dislike to her friends!
Lynne Rees said…
I didn't see the TV version... but when I was checking the publication details for the book I came across a Daily Mail article in which his step-sisters criticised him for the portrayal of their step-mother. For the Daily Mail it seems to be quite well-balanced! And the photos suggest a very different reality to the tv character too. 'Truth', if there is such an inviolate thing, is so subjective, isn't it? One person believes their version is right, someone else has a different story. Here's the link...
Lynne Rees said…
That should be 'their mother', of course!