I’ve owned Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes since I was a child. According to the introduction by Felicity Dahl, it is ‘an interpretation of some of the scrumptious and wonderfully disgusting dishes which appear in Roald’s books’. It features recipes like ‘Strawberry Flavoured Chocolate Coated Fudge’ from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Frobscottle and Snozzcumbers from The BFG, and Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake from Matilda. I confess, I haven’t actually tried many recipes from the book – dishes like ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ or ‘Mr Twit’s Beard Food’ are not necessarily well-suited to a normal weeknight meal, although I imagine many of them would make an excellent weekend project if you want to entertain some Roald Dahl fans.
The recipe I chose to try was ‘Wormy Spaghetti’ from The Twit’s, which is based on a part of the story where Mrs Twit serves spaghetti to Mr Twit into which she has mixed wriggly worms. She serves it in tomato sauce to disguise the worms, with cheese sprinkled on the top. The reinterpretation of this for a children’s cookbook is basically a standard recipe for spaghetti in tomato sauce, but the worms are represented by tricolour spaghetti and curly spaghetti. The tomato sauce is a can of tomatoes cooked with parsley, a bay leaf and some grated carrot, making it flavourful and slightly sweet. I added some cooked bacon to it as well, just to add some extra protein.
I often think that recipes aimed at children are some of the best. This was fantastic with a generous portion of grated cheddar over the top and made for a perfect weeknight tea, whether you’re serving it to children or a couple of nostalgic adults.
Nine years ago, I spent a month in Vienna and completely fell in love with the city. I had a fantastic time, eating lots of food, meeting lots of people and speaking lots of German. A few weeks ago, I returned for a holiday. Here are a few highlights:
This hotel is a little refuge in the centre of the city. It has a handful of rooms arranged around a central courtyard, but we were lucky enough to stay in the garden room. This was a separate building to the rest of the hotel and came complete with garden terrace, log burner and a good selection of teas. The breakfasts here were excellent, with the traditional Brötchen and other breads, cold meats and cheese, fruits and yoghurt. It sounds simple, but the extremely high quality of the ingredients as well as the care taken in their presentation made it really special.
Possibly my favourite thing about Vienna is the coffee houses. I love the culture surrounding them, the fact that your hot drinks come with a little glass of water, the waiters in suits, the newspapers on little wooden frames, the pianos and the fabulous cakes. Café Diglas, near Stephansdom (the cathedral) is a great example of a typical Viennese Kaffeehaus. There, I ate my favourite Austrian dish, Kaiserschmarrn. This is basically pieces of thick, fluffy, shredded pancake covered in icing sugar and served with a plum compote. It was delicous.
This is the imperial summer palace and is an excellent place to spend a day in Vienna. The tour of the house is informative, detailing much of the history of the most well-known members of the imperial family and the grounds are a great place to have a wander. They include a maze, an orangery and the Gloriette, which has stunning views across the city. There is also a little café which makes excellent apple strudel. We returned in the evening for a concert held in the gallery, which was a really evocative location. The first half of the concert focused on Mozart and the second focused on Strauss, featuring well-known pieces by these composers. The second half featured a lot of audience participation and was great fun, making it very accessible for those of us who know little about the music of the period.
From a culinary point of view, my Easter weekend was a spicy one. It started out with Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday, which included orange zest, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. I used Nigella’s recipe. They were yummy, but I need a lot more practice when it comes to forming the crosses on the top. Hot splodge buns would be a much more accurate description.
Coincidentally, I used some of the same flavours in the main course for Easter Sunday – Turkish Lamb Pilaf from Meat Feasts by the Hairy Bikers. I wanted to try out something a bit different to a roast dinner, but that would still be a celebratory meal. I’d never made a pilaf before, so this was a bit of an adventure. It basically involved making an intensely flavoured stew with lamb, stock, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, cinnamon and saffron. Once the meat is tender, you drain the juices and use them as the cooking liquid for the pilaf. Dill and pine nuts are added near the end. This makes for a really richly-flavoured dish that was great for a special treat. I learned a new technique, cooked with saffron for the first time, and got to play with my pestle and mortar.
I should, however, mention that the weekend wasn’t entirely about sophisticated spicing and complicated techniques. I also made this simple and very addictive Easter Cookie Cake from Glasgow Food Geek. I substituted the creme eggs for Oreo chocolate eggs, which was a very good decision. It was a great taste of sweet, nostalgic indulgence.
(The Annals of the Parish, John Galt)
It’s always exciting to read a story set in a place you know well, and The Annals of the Parish fits the bill for me. I spent a lot of my childhood visiting Ayrshire and, although the location of The Annals of the Parish is fictional, it feels familiar. Published in 1821, it’s the fictional memoirs of a Church of Scotland minister, dealing with the years from 1760 to 1810. Rather than presenting his personal history, the author/narrator focuses on the events that occur in the town. It is therefore a fictionalised history of a small town that would rarely make it into the history books.
Wider global events are engaged with only as they affect the residents of Dalmailing. So, for example, the Napoleonic Wars are addressed, because they induce fear in the locals. The American Warsof Independence is discussed because a character arrives in Dalmailing after fleeing it. The development of the textile industry in Scotland at the time has a highly significant effect on the narrative, given the major changes that result for the local residents. It’s really interesting to see this perspective on history and how bigger events affect the lives of ordinary people. Although, of course, it’s important to remember that this is a fictional told by narrator who may not always be entirely reliable.
Overall, this book wasn’t a page turner, but I enjoyed reading it. It was a fascinating window into Ayrshire life during the late eighteenth century and has inspired me to seek out other classics of Scots literature.