Food in fiction #amwriting

When you love food as much as I do, it’s not surprising it turns up a lot in my writing. As a freelance copywriter, I pounce on jobs that have a food element to them—I’m currently writing a lot of copy about mushrooms for one client, and I’ve written and edited a few books about diet and lifestyle.

In my other blogging life (I’m sorry to say I two-time you, dear reader, with another blog), I create a lot of low-carb recipes for those who want to follow that way of eating. But where I get the most pleasure writing about food is in my fiction. There, I create the best versions of chocolate cake, cheese-topped pizzas, crisp, triple-friend chips, risottos and more. Call it food porn if you will, especially as I often write about the dishes I don’t eat that often what with the type 1 diabetes getting in the way.

Anyway, here are a few examples of the dishes I have featured. If I’ve done this properly, once you’ve finished reading, you’ll find yourself desperate for cake/pizza/risotto or whatever. Two of my favourite food writers are Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, whose descriptions of often very simple dishes are mouth-watering. If I can write about food half as well as they do, I’ll be delighted.

Pizza and chips

From Highland Fling: When the pizza arrives, I’m not sure what to do. Should I eat it with my fingers or a knife and fork, or do we just dig in and rip it apart with our fingers? Ryan was funny about sharing food. He hated me taking chips from his plate and if I ever asked for a taste of anything he was eating, he would sigh, spear up a tiny bit of it with his fork and dump it on my plate. The pizza comes with chips wrapped in fake newspaper and a garlic dip.

You go first, Gaby,” Jack says, and I pretend lady-likeness. My mum once told me that when she was a teenager, girls weren’t meant to eat very much and especially not in front of men. Jack watches me spear a chip with my fork. He shakes his head and tips half of them onto my plate, dolloping spoonfuls of garlic dip on top and handing me the slice of pizza that is most generously covered in melted cheese. Oh heck. This is doing nothing for the campaign I wage where I persuade him Kirsty’s his one true love. I count up the chips he tipped on my plate and realise it’s not half the portion, more like two thirds.

He gave me two thirds of his chips, Katya. My best friend gets it straight away. Jeez, Gaby. He’s a keeper.

From Highland Fling: I grin at Ryan. Chips are our nemesis. He ordered them. I didn’t, therefore the chips are solely, exclusively Ryan’s. Last time I nicked chips off a man, he gave in with good grace. I move the bowl towards me and he yanks it back before remembering himself. It is pushed, begrudgingly, back. I adopt the same beaming smile and dig in, ignoring the tic in his jaw as I bite into and swallow chips number four, five, eight, ten, the last used as a stick to swirl through garlic mayonnaise, scoop up the biggest blob of it and plank it in my mouth.

Cake and chicken wings

From Highland Fling: Pink icing, the exact colour of the Blissful Beauty branding, holds together five layers of dark sponge, the lot covered in a ganache that sparkles with edible silver glitter. The chef has studded the top of the cake with stars made from white chocolate and piped a perfect BB in whipped cream on the top. We pick up the cake forks in unison, waiting for someone to fire the starter pistol.

Katya breaks the cake stand-off, using her tiny fork to scrape off a ginormous helping of cream and chocolate ganache. Mhari and I follow her example, and the three of us are silenced as smooth, rich cocoa flavoured with hazelnut, vanilla and what might be brandy hits the backs of our throats.

From High Heels and Pink Glitter:

Still sniggering to himself, Ryan headed back to the kitchen. There was a packet of coated chicken wings in the fridge that only needed heating up in the oven. He tipped the lot out onto a roasting tin and then decided one was not enough. He added the second packet to the tin and shoved them in the oven. He’d once been at the flat when Matt and Jamie embarked on a drunken discussion about the amazingness of chicken wings, and whether the ones you got from the supermarket could ever match those from KFC or Wetherspoon’s. Conclusion? No. The discussion had lasted roughly 15 minutes.

Seafood and fish

From Artists Town: I’m gonnae try out a new dish of the day today,” Mick said. “Would you two taste it for me?”

The dish he presented to them looked beautiful, reminding Daisy of the food you got in French restaurants. When she told him this, the grin he gave her split his face in two. The dish was seafood crepes, thin pancakes folded over a creamy sauce with prawns and scallops and garnished with watercress in a balsamic dressing.

Daisy took a generous forkful. It was as delicious as it looked, and she didn’t need any encouragement to take another mouthful.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Daniel blushed faintly and then shrugged. He grabbed two thick slices of the bread that had been made in the shop that very afternoon and buttered them thickly. He added in the cheese savoury filling (a blend of grated cheese and home-made coleslaw with chopped onion) and added in an extra spoonful of mayonnaise and some sliced tomatoes. The poor girl |looked so thin after all.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Years ago, when Cate lived in London fish and chips had been a weekly treat on a Friday night. Her cabbie father would pick them up for the family at the end of his shift, if he wasn’t working too late.

She recalled those happy Fridays. “Catey gal I got fish and chips!” he would chirp as he came in. By that time, the minutes they had sat in a cab added up to ten or 15, and they were soggy. Cate never minded. She and her mother received those newspaper bags of sodden fish and chips gratefully. As an only child, Cate had been a daddy’s girl and that smell – fried fish and potatoes – reminded her strongly of her father and Friday nights.

She remembered vinegar-saturated batter and chips. Warm and steaming in the newspaper, she loved the starchiness of the batter and the taste of potatoes off set with tongue-tingling acidity. Even the mushy peas were a welcome addition to post-war rations lack of variety. With a liberal helping of salt and malt vinegar they made the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips.

Ten Little Stars and Half-Marathon Recovery

This week, I’m…

Recovering from the Glasgow half-marathon

Ladies and gents, I did it. It wasn’t fast, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but yours truly stumbled across the finishing line two hours and fourteen minutes after setting off.

Glasgow’s half-marathon is popular as the course is flat (ish, not quite as my rose-tinted ten years ago experience recalled) and many people achieve personal bests. I was thankful for its flatness, but speed wasn’t coming into it. Glasgow joggers run the gamut of weather types in late September, and the day was no exception – overcast and cloudy at first, then bright sunshine, heavy rain half-way through and repeat.

The crowds turned out to cheer us on. Little kids high-fived as many runners as were willing (me, every time), witty signs read Good Luck Random Stranger! This is great practice for the zombie apocalypse, and someone who’d drawn the poo emoji and asked if anyone needed one yet…

Grateful thanks to my support crew—my husband, my mum and her partner Neil, who cheered me on at the start and the end.

Eating pasta

A race always means a reward meal—I opted for a protein, carb and fat overload in the form of Beef and Mac ‘n’ Cheese. You can buy this, but have you ever eaten a shop-bought mac ‘n’ cheese that made you sigh in contentment? No, I thought not. Most manufactured versions stint on the best bit, when the dish should be more a case of, would you like some pasta with your cheese?

To continue the celebration theme, I washed the lot down with a decent helping of pink Cava.

Writing short stories

Ten Little Stars by Emma BairdIn an attempt to the ‘game’ the Amazon system, I’m putting out a book of short stories a mere thirty days after publishing the last book…

I’m not sure what this achieves, except that I’ve seen it written about in ‘places’. My search history* is too vast to revisit anything unless I remember to do so an hour later, so heaven alone knows where I read that or if it’s even viable. But I have read it a few times so here goes!

Book marketing experts also bang on about the importance of the mailing list—*sighs*—and this book might end up being my freebie incentive. Sign up to my mailing list** and you too could be the proud owner of this free book, kind of thing.

I’ve served up a mix of vampire tales, modern love dilemmas and a bit of historical fiction. The book is available for pre-order here and here.

Making spicy stuff

This year’s chili crop will outlast us. Good people, we grew a lot of chilies this year as you can see. And I’ve already made the rookie mistake—gosh, aren’t they small, better put a few of them in YEOWCH—so it’s one or two per recipe max. Thankfully, they freeze. Our house is about to become Curry Central.

Dieting the cat

Cat emotional manipulation expertise 1. Emma determined to hold out on number of feeding intervals 0.

Freddie’s vet visit and vaccination beckons, and I’d like to escape the annual lecture on the size of him. He’s bordering on moggie obese. So, a few weeks of strict portion control, no treats and definitely no sly helpings of ham.

Yeah, good luck with that one.

 

*And VERY confusing for Google.

**Which will of course be 100 percent GDPR compliant.

Beetroot, Books and Escapes to the Country

This week I’m…

white bowl containing borsht soup by Emma BairdEating Borsht. This year’s gardening triumphs include beetroot, which is darn decent roasted and eaten with a drizzle of sour cream and dill, but also makes a fab soup brim-bursting with veggie goodness.

I used the Hairy Bikers recipe minus the cabbage. Warning—peel beetroot with gloves on if possible, unless you want pink-tipped fingers and palms for a long time afterwards. For the same reasons, cut it on a wooden chopping board you aren’t too attached to.

a screenshot of The Art Guy by Emma BairdVOWING TO FINISH AN EDITING JOB. See the caps there? I put them in because this job has been on the to-do list for three weeks now, FFS. My typical editing and revising process when writing books goes like this…

 

  • Switches on laptop. Goes to email inbox and searches out an online chum who deserves a long, chatty email.
  • Finishes email and checks Twitter briefly. Looks for cute cat videos. Gets lost in a conversational thread or that day’s top trend.
  • Checks the weather forecast. Vital for walk planning (see below) and domestic scheduling—i.e. can I put the washing out today?
  • Buckles down to editing and revising book chapters. Re-writes a sentence into perfect prose before reading exactly the same sentence and word order three paragraphs down.
  • One chapter in, looks up something on the internet. It’s crucial to the editing process, oh yes it is.
  • Decides another chapter is needed which means abandoning the editing process altogether and doing a fresh piece of writing. (Hooray! Much more fun!)
  • Segues into despair and loathing. What once seemed like a half-decent book is now embarrassing, crass, cliché-ridden and fit only for the bin.
  • Repeats ad nauseum.

Cycle path and the old railway bridge photo by Emma BairdEnjoying country walks. You know my favourite bit of being a freelancer* (albeit one with a part-time job these days)? Going for walk whenever I feel like it. Near me, there’s a cycle path much used by dog walkers, cyclists, joggers and freelance writers escaping their editing responsibilities.

 

 

 

*Did I mention the afternoon naps? The lie-ins when necessary? The working from home wardrobe of trackie bottoms and a hoodie? That every day is take your cat to work day? The outside working when it’s sunny?

 

Harrogate, Literary Tours and Good Grub

This week, I…

Visited Harrogate! As any hardy British holiday-maker knows, sunny weather is never guaranteed but the gods of fortune smiled on us. The sun shone brightly. No jackets required. We did our fair bit of sitting out in beer gardens to support the local economy. I know. Aren’t we good ‘uns?!

Harry’s Free Walking Tours offers you a guided walk around the main attractions and explains the town’s history from Roman times to its best-known period, the late Georgian and Victorian era when it was THE choice for the hoi-polloi wanting to take the waters.

The Royal Pump museum details what a typical spa day might involve. No surprise to see that drinking lots of water and taking gentle strolls is the main point. For some patients, the advice stresses, massage might be better than exercise… Heavens, wouldn’t want the rich and far too privileged to over-exert themselves, would we?!

Haworth Museum

Yorkshire has plenty of literary connections; the best known being the Brontë sisters. The museum in Haworth feels perfectly preserved in its 19th Century past. This year is the bicentennial of Emily Brontë’s birth, and the original of Branwell’s famous painting (below) is on display.

Various theories abound about why Branwell painted himself out. The first is that he didn’t—his oldest sister ordered it years later because of his subsequent alcoholism and drug abuse, and the effect it had on the family. Experts at the National Gallery, however, have studied the painting and their view is that he painted himself out at the time.

So, perhaps he was too critical of his self-portrait. Or the composition didn’t work. If you step back from the painting, it’s easy to see that four people would make it crowded.

A Typical Teenager?

My husband’s theory is that having three teenage sisters pissed seventeen-year-old Branwell off sometimes. He painted himself with them, took a hissy fit one day and thought, “Sod it, I’m not immortalising myself with those b****es.”

Works for me…

Harrogate’s literary connections involve Agatha Christie, who turned up there in 1926 at the Old Swan Hotel following a brief disappearance and country-wide manhunt. She claimed amnesia. Most theories for the disappearance relate to her husband, whom she divorced two years later.

In 2006, biographer Andrew Norman said he thought her disappearance related to ‘fugue state’, a rare, deluded condition brought on by stress or depression.

Writing Festival

The Old Swan Hotel is still there, and in July writers will gather there for the annual Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. I’m willing to bet the room Agatha spent her week there in 1926 is booked months in advance, if progress didn’t demolish it.

In another (sort of) literary connection to my holiday, I met up with an online chum. Caron Allan edited my book, The Girl Who Swapped, last year, and we struck up an online friendship. As a writer you spend a lot of time in your own head, battling voices that tell you, why oh why oh why do you think you can do this? Fool! Email exchanges with someone who shares your plight are invaluable.

Caron has also been very successful this year, and her story is hugely inspirational. She’s done all the right things—she has a website, she’s writing a popular genre (crime) and a series, and she’s figured out what works on Amazon advertising. We met at the National Rail Museum café and the three hours flew past in no time.

Gorgeous Grub

Finally, Sandy and I are greedy guts one and two. And by ‘eck (to use a local expression) did Yorkshire serve our unregulated appetites well. Thanks to its spa past, beautiful location and many conferences and festivals, the town’s well-served for restaurants, cafes and pubs. If there was a doozy, we never saw it.

The most famous of Harrogate’s five-star places is Betty’s Tea Rooms, a fairy-tale looking place from the outside, its windows displaying rainbow-coloured piles of macaroons. We, er, didn’t go. However, my standout meal was from the Blues Bar on Montpelier Parade. Yorkshire tapas are new on me, but blimey it makes sense to offer folks a small sample of imaginative interpretations of local dishes, doesn’t it? If they over-order as a consequence, on their heads be it.

My favourite was their Yorkshire rarebit mac and cheese, carb heaven for someone who avoids them in daily life. The resultant high blood sugars were well worth it.

 

 

 

Cakes, Sausages and Quality Street: You Know it Makes Sense

If I knew you were coming, I'd a baked a cake, baked a cake

If I knew you were coming, I’d a baked a cake, baked a cake

Granted that most of us in the developed world eat for many reasons – few of which are hunger and the necessity of refuelling with nutrient-dense food – my family decided to use food as the basis of celebration and remembrance today.

My nephew came up with the idea of a ‘grandpa’ foods day, as today is the third anniversary of my dad’s death. I suspect that the motivation behind ‘grandpa’ foods day may have been the idea that it was a licence to eat Dairy Milk chocolate all day. My nephew is eight after all. Nonetheless, a meal which showcased all of my dad’s favourite foods was greeted enthusiastically by everyone, including those of us considerably longer in the tooth than eight years old.

The menu was thus:

My own contribution was the Coffee and Walnut Cake. Here’s the recipe:

  • 225g Stork margarine*
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 75g walnuts, chopped finely (the Pampered Chef vegetable chopper makes this really easy)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 50ml boiling water and allowed to cool

ICING:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 1tsp instant coffee, dissolved in 2tbsp boiling water and allowed to cool.
  • 8 walnut halves

1 x 20cm loose-bottomed square cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the margarine and sugar together with an electric hand mixer for five minutes. Add a tbsp of the flour and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. You can add in one or two extra tbsps of flour to make this easier. Add the vanilla extract, the cooled coffee and the flour and mix well to combine. Add the finely chopped walnuts and mix with a wooden spoon until distributed equally throughout.

Spoon into the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes (if you insert a skewer into the cake, it should come out clean). Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, until turning out onto a wire rack and leaving to cool thoroughly.

For the icing, cream together the butter, cream cheese and icing sugar for five minutes and then add the cooled coffee mixture. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Ice the sides and top of the cake and decorate with the walnut halves. Serves 12-14.

 

*I know, I know – purists would favour unsalted butter (preferably organic, preferably from grass-fed animals) but Stork is the baker’s secret. Light cakes every time! Don’t you reckon?

Honeymoon Heaven: Food Glorious Food

Petals, I am about to embark on a delayed honeymoon. It’s going to involve a motorbike, a visit to the Culloden battlefield, a spa treatment or two and loads and loads of lovely food.

Nights one and two feature a six-course taster menu. Day three will include a stop over at the Hungry Highlander in Braemar, a fish and chip shop popular with bikers possibly due to the ginormous portions it serves up. Day five will take in the Michelin-starred delights of Sangster’s in Elie – I’ve drooled over the menu; seared scallops with lentil and coriander dhal to start? Or twice-baked cheese souffle? Seared monkfish tail for the next course and what about course number three – cheese with truffle honey, grapes and apples or a warm chocolate fondant? Mmm, mmm.

Our culinary tour ends with a stop-off at the world-famous Anstruther Fish Bar.

The cat attempts to join the motorbike tour honeymoon...

The cat attempts to join the motorbike tour honeymoon…

We’ve taken an annual trip to the Anstruther Fish Bar for the last three years and we’ve always been lucky enough to land there in good weather, which means you get sit on the harbour walls eating your fish and chips. I’ll revert to cliches, but vinegar-doused batter and chips tastes so much better when eaten in fresh sea air, so here’s hoping for a fourth year of sunshine…

Marital Bliss in 30 Minutes

Today, with just under 11 weeks to go till I wed, I am going to share with you the secret of making a man happy…
[If you would like this in more detail, please purchase my ebook, where for a mere £79.99, you can discover the key to long-lasting marital happiness. Guaranteed. Hurry. This is a limited offer.]*
So, drum roll… It is, ta dah, the following recipe. Create, present to your man, enjoy happiness in excess quantities**.

Potato and Bacon Bake (serves 2)
500g new potatoes, sliced finely
300ml double cream
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Dried thyme (tsp)
125g lardons
60g Edam cheese, grated
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Put the potatoes into a heavy based saucepan with the cream and the thyme. Lightly crush the garlic and add to the pan. Bring to the boil slightly and then turn the heat to the lowest. Cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop sticking.
Fry the lardons in a non stick pan until lightly browned. Add to the potato mix and add salt and pepper to taste. Tip the whole lot into an oven-proof dish, top with the grated Edam and cook in the oven for 25 minutes. Serve with green beans and salad.
*Reader, I mock. Sorry, you will have to forgo the wisdom of moi.
**Erm, do not feed this to anyone on a regular basis. It’s possibly not the healthiest of choices…

Lordie… January Blues…

Image

Doing double time on the detox – cakes and wine are playing a much less significant role in my life these days, money spending is at a minimum (I’ve got a wedding to pay for, for heaven’s sake!) and, as I’ve been fairly organised so far, I can’t even write any more lists for said wedding.

Dull, dull double dull!

So, post-work I’m forced to find other ways to entertain myself, such as tidying up the kitchen cupboards. Most of it was tedious, but the ordering of the baking cupboard was joyful and it is now a thing of beauty, which leads me neatly on to another top ten list (thank you Lesley Carter) – the baking essentials:

  1. Digital scales for precise measuring

  2. Cup measures so you can easily use American recipes as well as British ones

  3. Vanilla extract/paste for delicious flavouring

  4. 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate (so many lovely things to create with it)

  5. A good, solid mixing bowl

  6. Condensed milk (see dark chocolate above)

  7. Soft brown sugar

  8. Icing sugar

  9. Stork margarine – use half and half with unsalted butter for lusciously light cakes

  10. ANYTHING from Lakeland.

The (Mucho) Joy of Chocolate

Ridiculously proud of the shine on those chocolates…

Friends, I experimented with the idea of home-made favours. I took my Lakeland chocolate mould, I made whisky truffles and I filled said chocolate mould (beforehand coating the moulds with a thin layer of plain chocolate) with the truffle mixture and I sighed in a Nigella Lawson style domestic goddess ‘I make my own’ stuff type contentment…

I did NOT. Yes to filling the chocolate mould, yes to the making my own truffles, but absolutely no to the ‘sighing in contentment’ thingie. Two-thirds of the way through lining the chocolate moulds I got bored and shortcuts were taken. The blasted truffles did not seem to stick together. My hands got seriously dirty. Chocolate worked its way underneath my nails and made me look like a dedicated gardener (reader, that could not be further from the truth).

In short, the whole exercise was a lesson in why people buy chocolates for their favours. Mind you, in true chef privilege style I did taste some of the truffle mixture and it was a bit wow-ee. It’s pretty easy too so here goes…

225g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids and above naturally)

75ml double cream

3tbsp whisky*

1 tsp vanilla essence

Finely chopped hazelnuts (or other ideas, see below)

Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a non-metallic bowl in the microwave. Put on for 30 seconds at a time until the chocolate has melted. Stir well, add the vanilla essence and leave to cool till room temperature. Add the whisky, then use an electronic whisk to beat the mixture for five minutes until it seems lighter and is paler in colour.

Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so until firm. Roll the chocolate mixture into balls (about walnut-sized shape) and then roll in either cocoa, chopped nuts, grated white chocolate or icing sugar. Eat within four days. They should be kept (covered) in the fridge.

If you do make them, please let me know and tell me what you think! You can substitute the whisky for Cointreu or Bailey’s too.

 

 

*I want to love whisky. It’s such a romantic drink. Think whisky, think sitting in front of a roaring log fire having hiked four or five hours up and down hills, think ancient clan chiefs sneaking the distillery away from the excise men (and Rabbie Burns was one!). Unfortunately, it still tastes pretty cough mixture to me.

Eat Out; Be Happy Together

On the Twitter-sphere a few months ago was a post about the five things you need to say to maintain a happy relationship – Can I Help You? I Love You. I’m Sorry. You Look Great and Let’s Eat Out*.

Simple but true? You must explore it all for yourself and work it out, but commenting on the last one – why definitely! As one half of a couple and so speaking for myself, I LOVE food. For example:

  • I plan meals and menus all the time
  • I find cooking incredibly soothing and relaxing
  • I get a kick out of writing the weekly shopping list (no, really)
  • our TV finds itself tuned into Channel 260 a LOT (the Good Food Channel through Virgin Media)
  • I buy food magazines a lot
  • I read cookery books in bed.

As a two-some, eating out is a big part of our life. I find myself pitying celebrities – so many of them are on such restrictive diets that the joy of regular eating out is a no-no. I’d say 75% of our relationship is made up of food – the talking about, the sharing, the cooking for each other and the eating out.

And we eat in a lot too – yes, I know well of course we eat in regularly really, but it’s such a joy to make it a special occasion. You plan a special meal, buy the ingredients (even if it involves trekking out the way of your usual food shop of choice) get dressed up and light candles. I’m also my mother’s daughter – she had a horror of TV dinners and I too would rather eat at a table (though we switch on the TV to watch in the background, sorry mum!).

I’ve been lucky enough to eat out a lot in the four years I’ve been with my partner. It’s not a luxury available to all so I so know how fortunate I am. We’ve had some brilliant experiences (Charcoals, New Lanark Mill Hotel, Fifteen Cornwall, the Ashoka Ashton Lane, Tulloch Castle… I could go on) and some not so brilliant – I won’t list them here, as it’s better karma to write nice, not nasty things. I always feel very cheated though, if I order food that I could have made myself in a much better way.

Yup, the way to a man’s heart – sticky toffee pudding and red wine…

And when eating in, some of my cooking experiments have worked incredibly well (Good Housekeeping, BBC Good Food and Delicious magazines all do fab, almost fool-proof recipes, as does darling Delia Smith). Some though – and they tended to be the ones where I thought, “only one tsp that’s a bit mean” and started wandering off ingredient-list – weren’t so great. But y’know tomorrow is another recipe!