An Ode to Nigel

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A few days ago I decided to engage with Twitter again – I had opened an account in 2009 and quickly lost interest. I didn’t get the hype – I didn’t understand the lingo. To me, Twitter feels like you’re standing in a dark room, all alone, banging on a saucepan desperately hoping someone will acknowledge you – and then there’s the # hashtag- what’s up with that? Why is everyone using it – #whydopeopleontwittertalklikethishaveyounotheardofspacesoracomma

I was perplexed. Perplexed and disgusted. Surely there had to be more to it? So after a crash course in Tweeting by my kind and patient friends on Facebook, armed with sarcasm and new-found love for the hashtag, I returned to that little blue bird and began to follow a bevy of newspaper sites and celebrities. I also began to tweet – I didn’t have anything important to say – just me and my saucepan and a wooden spoon banging it out in Twittersphere to my 54 followers. And then I shut up and started to read other people’s Tweets, I gained confidence and retweeted – and then in that dark room, through which I’d been fumbling like a mad, blind woman I found Nigel Slater – that god amongst men, that kitchen alchemist. For anyone who knows me – Nigel Slater is one of my favourite celebrity chefs – his simple, unfussy and honest approach to food is instantly engaging and delightful – Nigel Slater can create magic with the leftovers from his fridge and he can do this while relaying anecdotes from his childhood.  He is articulate and passionate and so incredibly personable – and this he seems to achieve and communicate almost effortlessly through his books and tv shows.

The first book I bought of his, was ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ – in it, Slater takes us through a year in his kitchen, cooking what is fresh and seasonal. As I paged through it, I remembered feeling like I was partaking in a peculiar sort of voyeurism as though he had pulled open his kitchen curtains for me to take a peep inside – a bit like looking into stranger’s shopping baskets when you’re in the supermarket and wondering what they are about to cook for dinner or what they have lurking in their refrigerators.  I loved the conversational way he wrote about food – sometimes forgoing the standard recipe format and instead merely describing what he did in calming, fabulous, Nigel Slater prose.  I loved imagining his dinner parties and wished I could partake as he went on to describe his Roast pork sandwiches in mouth-watering detail:

“I carve the roasted meat and its amber fat so thinly that you can almost see through it, piling it on to a warmed plate as I go, then put it in the centre of the table with a basket of bread, a dish of salt and lots of red wine. Sometimes you expect everyone to dither, no one wanting to be the first to tuck in, but this time they all go for it as if they haven’t eaten in a week.”

It was after this introduction to Nigel Slater’s books that I purchased, what was to be, a seminal piece of literature to me – his poignant and beautifully written biography ‘TOAST’. Until then, I had never encountered anyone who’d come close to writing with such honesty, emotion and wit about food. It was a revelation. I suddenly felt less alone in the world – I began to understand my own deeply nostalgic, at times fraught, yet always passionate relationship to food – not only as mere  nutrition – but as a symbol of creativity and an expression of love.  TOAST was instantly comforting like a bowl of rice pudding or mashed potato with lots of butter and black pepper – it reminded me of times when I was sick, as a child, and my mother would make me toast fingers spread with lashings of butter and the finest scrape of Marmite, whilst still hot.  I remembered running our home, while my mother fought breast cancer, and how – through the stress and fear of the situation, I sought refuge in the kitchen cooking up all manner of dishes to ensure my family were fed – but more than that – nourished and comforted through a difficult time. I thought about my own relationship with food – a classic case comfort eater, I’d turn to food when I felt sore or sad – food would alleviate a host of everyday woes – and then, my fraught venture into bulimia – where food became the enemy -a source of shame and guilt that I purged daily from my body. Finally – my love of food brought me this blog and a means to write about meals I’ve prepared and the memories they have evoked.  I cried for days after reading ‘Toast’ – I still get choked up watching Slater on TV – especially when he recounts an anecdote from childhood, no matter how happy. From that moment on I was completely addicted to him and his wonderful way with food.

AND THEN SOMETHING FABULOUS HAPPENED ON TWITTER Icannotbelieveit# – Nigel (I freakin’ love you) Slater, tweeted a picture of some gardening tools artistically nestled in a wooden box – I was compelled to write – even though I cannot garden to save my life – and then….wait for it…(I do realise, for some of you, this may not be the revelation you were hoping for after the overuse of ellipsis and the carefully developed dramatic tension) Nigel (I freakin’ love you) Slater, tweeted back! Forgive my blasphemy – but it was as if the voice of God had descended from the heavens above – or at least how I would imagine that moment would feel were I not such a heathen. My heart was beating ten to the dozen, my hands were clammy, I wanted to jump for joy, I wanted to run into the street yelling ‘Nigel Slater has made contact!’ – I wanted to write back instantly and had to use every ounce of self-control not to – lest I turned into some deranged twitter fan – banging my pot and telling him how much I loved him and his lemon pudding.  What he wrote back is irrespective – he could have tweeted “JFLDFOIFKFHjfkdjlsjlsjf” and I still would have been on cloud nine – if not a bit confused.

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So apart from making my Sunday truly fantastic, Nigel Slater has converted me to Twitter. I also have come to realise, in the last day or so, that Nigel Slater is an all round decent guy and seems to respond to most of his tweets no matter how inane or psychotic – but you know what? I don’t care, we’ll always have Twitter.

If you wish to share the blue bird love – do come over and follow me on Twitter @StarfishWoman – I have a saucepan for you and a selection of spoons.

In celebration I have included one of my most favourite Nigel Slater recipes – Lemon amaretti cream pots.  Like Nigel, I love to serve this in individual ramekins accompanied by a palmier, shortbread biscuit or wafer. I have also made this pudding using granadilla (passion fruit) curd for a change – and it was just as delicious.

Nigel Slater’s Lemon amaretti cream pots

Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries

Serves 6

300ml double cream

250g Greek yoghurt

280g lemon curd, homemade or bought

100g amaretti biscuits

Pour the cream into a chilled bowl (I mean a cold one) and whisk gently until it starts to thicken. Do not overwhisk – as Nigel explains – you want soft billowing folds, not stiff peaks. Fold in the yoghurt and lemon curd with a large metal spoon.  In a plastic bag, crush your amaretti biscuits with a rolling-pin (i.e. beat them to death with wild abandon) and fold the different sized crumbs into the cream mixture. Spoon into little cups or ramekins and cover with cling wrap (I apologise, I know working with cling wrap is unpleasant) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving with a tiny biscuit to dip into the creamy goodness. I have also made this pudding excluding the biscuits and it was just as delicious. Eat with a teeny tiny spoon so it lasts longer.

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2 comments

  1. Superawesomestory# I can so see you banging your pot! … Is it non-stick, cast iron or stainless steel? 😉 btw I love that cookbook too! When I’m feeling down I just read a page or two and look at those lovely pics … They’re so nostalgic.

  2. AMAZING! 🙂 I remember my first ever follower on Twitter was Helen Zille. I know it is somewhat (infinitely) less exciting, but Twitter made me feel important one minute and shamefully boring the next. It’s a love-hate affair. #nigelslaterFTW


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