|Old books - Marja Flick-Buijs|
"I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tyre. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. It wasn't my fault, I swear to God!"
And that is my excuse for not posting anything recently, and I am sticking to it.
Well maybe not.
The reality is that I got sidetracked by life and some fabulous new discoveries in the world of literature.
When I first started this blog, I knew I wanted to write about food. I love to read novels but I didn't particularly want to write about them. I think there are others out there who do it a lot better than me. But I am a big reader and fortunately have a very supportive local library (Government spending cuts not withstanding) and there is nothing I like better than to bury myself for weeks with a pile of good books.
So, having put you in the picture, I am warning you that I now feel the need to wax lyrical about several new authors I have discovered. The first is not in fact that new, having been a writer for several decades, but has only been translated into English in the past five years or so. I am talking about Leonardo Padura, a Cuban writer of wonderful . . . well I could call them detective-thriller novels in that he has created a fictional detective, but they are as much about the island and its history, about a lost generation of people growing up in the '60s and 70s under a repressive regime (a sort of Stalinism with palm trees) surrounded by venality and corruption, both moral and political. It's about good guys and bad guys, but in particular a group of friends and their loves and loyalty to each other; they are the ones that were left behind.
Leonard Padura's novels are beautifully written, really quite lyrical and poetic. They are filled with humour tinged with sadness. And importantly, for me, they are brimming with descriptions of Cuban food, a subject I know little about, but now want to explore. Although I'm not entirely sure how I will get on with cows' knees . . .
Another recent discovery, are the books of Jason Goodwin, an expert in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Yashim is a retired Court Eunuch and the hero of a series of novels set in 19th century Ottoman Turkey, beginning with The Janissary Tree. While Yashim may be the hero, the other stars of the novels are the sensual city of Istanbul itself, with it's intrigues, palaces, harems and dodgy bars and markets, his eccentric vodka-swilling friend, Palewski, the Polish ambassador-in-exile, Preen (a transvestite dancer), not forgetting the Soup Guild Master and of course, the food.
Goodwin's descriptions of the food are mesmerising. And while I now have a desire to go off and find out more about the Ottoman Empire, I am more likely to head into to the kitchen to my onions, aubergine and olive oil. A nice Imam Byaldi with a pilaf is looking very likely. Delicious.
Fortunately, over the last few weeks I have still been cooking and have lots of recipes to post over the next few days, including some alternative ideas for Christmas Day (I am on part of the ABT party . . . "Anything But Turkey") and some simple ways of using up leftovers, far less grim than it sounds!