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.

close-up of a spider's web on bushes by Emma Baird

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.

 

 

 

White Chocolate Liqueur

white choc meltDo all creative writers like to cook? I certainly do. Cooking feels as creative as writing, even for something as mundane as making dinner every night.

Last week, I decided to combine a little craftwork with cooking (or rather heating and stirring, it wasn’t that taxing) and came up with these very cute bottles of white chocolate liqueur for my sister’s birthday.

I got the recipe from Prima, but I did find as I made it that I needed to do some adjustments to the basic recipe. The recipe I had suggested simply heating double cream and condensed milk together until just about to boil. Anyone who has ever made caramel for millionaire’s shortbread will know that it burns really easily so slow, gentle heat and continual stirring is a must.

Anyway, here is the recipe. Enjoy!

White Chocolate Liqueur

  • Servings: 30 small bottles, approx
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • white choc liqueur400g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 500ml double cream
  • 397g tin sweetened condensed milk
  • 400ml white rum

Place the double cream and the condensed milk into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring frequently (otherwise the condensed milk will stick and burn).

Put the finely chopped white chocolate into a bowl and pour over the hot mixture. Mix well until it has all melted. Leave to cool for five minutes.

Pour in the white rum and mix well to combine. Allow to cool completely. Pour into sterilised bottles, seal and store in the fridge. Will keep for up to a month.

 

I got my little bottles from Miniature Glass Bottles

Plan B – TV, Blackberries and Coconut

Young girls, chocolate and lots of, what else is going to happen?

Young girls, chocolate and lots of, what else is going to happen?

Always have a Plan B, eh? That’s what the wise believe, so my plan B career options currently involve tactics such as:

  • walking past occasional filming crews in my home city; this walk subconsciously translating to the crew (and indeed myself) my latent acting talent and this resulting in a moderately successful TV acting career
  • bramble domination – using the wild blackberries that grow in abundance around me to start a moderately successful cottage industry producing bramble jelly and a blackberry liquer which sells in vast amounts in deli’s, top-notch department stores and high-end hotels
  • winning the Lottery.

As option C is unlikely and not one to base the hopes of your life on, as blackberry supplies can’t be depended on and as my life experience so far has revealed no latent acting talents, an intelligent guess would negate all three options as money-making options. Time to think up something else instead in case the freelance writing gig doesn’t work…

[Incidentally, if any of you are being targeted by affiliate marketers – the folks who post up all the pics of themselves surfing, or drinking a beer whilst dressed in a tee shirt because they only have to work four hours a week blah blah – here is a quick explanation:

[Affiliate marketing for the uninitiated is where you place an ad on an affiliate’s website (someone you sorta know through internet acquaintance). If nothing happens, nobody loses out, in theory. If, as a result, hunners of folks head to your website from your affiliate ad, then bingo… But then you do have to share that exposure with your affiliate if you are an honourable individual. And if you have taken up an affiliate ad, but not checked out your source properly and they are a devious kind of cad who doesn’t pay you their due then, bummer…]

No, my plan B is rather more stellar. The other week I babysat. I opted for active babysitting, which involved the nieces and their assorted friends, and we all embarked on a little chocolate moulding and sweet creation. We came up with some Bounty Balls. Post my babysitting/choccie efforts, I learned that the family of one child so liked the Bounty Balls they would be willing to pay for them. Plan B is looking more achievable don’t you reckon folks?

BOUNTY BALLS

Recipe: makes a lot…

  • 1 x 397g tin condensed milk (it is just me or is that a really weird serving size?)
  • 350g desiccated coconut
  • 400g milk chocolate (you will have extra left over, but better to start with more)

Prepare a baking sheet with a layer of grease-proof paper. Empty the condensed milk into a large bowl and add the desiccated coconut and mix well. Roll into small bowls (about the size of a large marble) but bear in mind that you will probably need to wash your hands after every two or three rollings. Place the balls on a large plate or tray and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Melt the milk chocolate either over a pan of boiling water or in the microwave (see here for proper chocolate melting techniques) and, using a cocktail stick speared into each coconut ball, dip in the chocolate fully to coat and place on the prepared baking sheet. Leave to set (they won’t take long because of the freezing) and enjoy…

Want to Eat Well in the West?

The view from the Metropole

The view from the Metropole

Reader dear, a friend read my pathetic appeal for writing help and came to my aid. Step forward Ms Karen and take a bow. I owe you a debt of gratitude.

To recap, bored witless with my own witterings, I appealed to the generous blog reading public to guest post for me. I suppose my ‘niche’ loose as it is, is writing and food. Karen and her partner are keen foodies – in the nice way, lately the term has become something that is less than complimentary, implying snobbery and elitism. That is certainly not true of my friends who are as at home in a Wetherspoon’s pub as they are in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Anyhoos, Karen wrote me a lovely piece on her culinary adventures in Cornwall, with reviews of some of the places she went to. The tourism industry is alive and well in Cornwall, which means there are many, many places to eat.

Some of those places take advantage of the hungry hordes and trade off well-established names (ahem!) whilst others go out of their way to provide delicious, exciting food and are happy to cater for special diets. Karen’s a coeliac (celiac my American friends; your spelling makes much more sense*).

Take it away Karen…

The Metropole Hotel, Padstow

After spotting an advert in the local paper, we headed to this wonderful hotel for a spot of lunch and ended up having a 3-course lunch for £10! Absolutely amazing value and wonderful food. So good in fact, we booked for the following week…

Second time round, we both had mackerel pate on toast. As I hadn’t specified I need gluten-free, I just skipped the toast, but the pate was just delightful – just the right amount of seasoning and a lovely taste of mackerel.

For mains, my partner had fish which was cooked perfectly and well-seasoned, while I had gluten-free pasta in cream sauce, which was delicious – if rather heavy for lunch. I did mange to finish it though…

We both had lemon posset with blackberry ice cream and home made short-bread for pudding. I had a wee bite of the short-bread as it wasn’t gluten free, and it tasted delicious and buttery with just the right bite. The lemon posset was a revelation – smooth, creamy and very tangy too. It worked so well with blackberry ice cream.

We would thoroughly recommend the place. It cost us only £10 for three courses and our bill on both days came to only £26.20 as we had water and coffee at the end of the meal. Service was excellent, efficient and very friendly – the hotel is a must is anyone is in Padstow. It is a special offer though – and only on a Wednesday.

No. 6 Padstow

To start with we had a couple of cocktails: Dirty Martini for my partner, which was almost pure alcohol, and I had a Dry Manhattan which was exquisite, very drinkable.

Starters: My partner had smoked haddock with Stornoway black pudding. This was what he had the year before and loved it, but this year he was a bit disappointed as the chef had changed it slightly… (why, why do they do that??) The poached egg on top was slightly over-cooked and it didn’t run out like it did the year before. The dish was over-seasoned, although that could have been down to the fish.

I had goose and pickles. This was goose liver parfait with clotted crème brioche. Smooth parfait, exquisite pickled veg which were small pieces of cucumber, courgette, cauliflower and just the right taste of pickling liquor. The brioche (not gluten free) was melt in the mouth fantastic, definitely worth the tummy ache the following day (and that was only because it was not gluten free).

Mains: My partner had saddle of pork (served pink) with scallop and pea puree, and medley of hazelnut spring (peas, asparagus, green beans and raddish), and pork scratching. He was advised on ordering that the pork would be served pink. He loved it.  The dish also contained slices of apple (paper thin slices) to complement the pork and it worked really well. The pork was delicious and cut like a knife through butter, very moist and tasty.

I had Moorland lamb with hogget** pie, broccoli and salse verde and lamb reduction. Oh that was a divine dish! The real revelation was the hogget pie. I’ve never had hogget before and it was gorgeous, so full of flavour and the pie had pieces of lamb kidneys in it which is not something I normally like, but these were so tasty and complemented the hogget beautifully. The lamb was served pink and was very tender. It was a wonderful main meal, one not to be easily forgotten…

Desserts: We both had Chocolate “Cake”. This was recommended to us by our taxi driver and he was spot on. It consisted of pistachio and chocolate slice topped with pistachio nuts, chocolate ice cream on a bed of chocolate soil. There was also a chocolate sponge with a disc of Caramac on top.

When he presented the dish, the waiter poured hot Caramac sauce onto the disc and we sat there and watched it melt into the sponge to reveal a gooey chocolate fondant inside.  It sounds rather heavy but it was not. Surprisingly it all worked well and was actually quite light, but a definite chocolate lover’s delight.

We ended the meal with a cheese board which had six British cheeses on it. Our favourite was the Tunworth cheese. This is an unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese from Somerset and is full flavoured with a hint of cabbage overtones – sounds weird but it worked brilliantly.

A truly brilliant meal, well worth a visit. Paul Ainsworth has a great knack of putting ordinary ingredients together and turning out sensational flavours and mouth watering meat dishes.  Our bread was home made potato and rosemary and then onion bread (gluten free was not an option on that night as I didn’t want to miss out on anything). Bread was lovely and served with Cornish butter and cod roe, mmm

So there you go. Should you ever be in the Padstow area, you’ll now where to go and when. I like any place that serves up six different kinds of cheese for a cheese board, so pennies and time permitting, my next culinary destination may well be Number 6.

 

 

*Read Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series for his explanation of the missing ‘u’ from American spellings of flavour, neighbour etc. It’s hilarious…

**Hogget is the name for a sheep between lamb and mutton stage. A teenage sheep, I guess.