Thursday, 22 January 2009

A Change is Gonna Come

I don't suppose anyone remembers back that far, but for the first couple of months of its existance this blog was about my (singularly unsucessful) attempts at budgeting. Well, I think the time has come for a similarly abrupt about-turn - I mean, there's only so much mileage you can get out of a knitting blog when you never actually knit anything (though I feel I've given the stretching-out-of-non-existant-content-to-full-length-posts approach a good shot). From a knitterly point of view, all I have to show for the last five months is a ribbed hat and an armless green thing, and much as I like to big up my own achievements I don't feel I've got an awful lot to work with there.

So! What am I going to write about instead, I hear you ask? OK, maybe not, but humour me. Anyway, one of my favourite blogs - in fact, probably my absolute favourite - is the encyclopaedic Sarah Discovers How to Eat, in which the eponymous Sarah (who you can also find over here) chronicles cooking her way through every recipe in Nigella Lawson's How to Eat within a single year. Admittedly said year was 2005-6, which means that not only am I geeky enough to go through the entire backlogs of blogs, but geeky enough to go through the entire backlogs of blogs which haven't been updated in over thirty months (a whole seperate category of geekdom, surely), but reading about someone you've never met moussaka-ing aubergines and beheading pheasants is strangely compelling. Which brings me - finally! - to what I'm going to do next: make every recipe in Jill Dupleix's Lighten Up. See, I love the idea of forcing yourself to cook every recipe in a book - being pushed out of your culinary comfort zone and having to try things you'd never otherwise have considered (and did you know that the average person only makes three recipes from each cookbook they own?) - but I can't quite face something as tome-like as How to Eat, and I'm not sure my cholesterol levels would recover from that kind of Nigella-onslaught. Besides, a lot of the recipes in How to Eat are geared towards entertaining, or at least towards feeding large groups of people, and, much as I love to cook for other people, most of the time it's just two of us. (And yes, I'm vaguely familiar with the concept of maths and realise that recipes can be scaled down, but quite a lot of the How to Eat ones aren't very scaling-down friendly, and...why am I justifying myself to a computer screen?)

Lighten Up, then, works a bit better with our lifestyle (lots of recipes aimed at two, and the rest are mostly for four but can generally be halved without too much difficulty), is more manageable than HtE (there are roughly 140 recipes, depending on how many of the stock/salad dressing extras at the end you count), will give my GP slightly less cause for concern, and will hopefully arm me with plenty of new ideas and techniques for healthy eating. There are a couple of snags though. Firstly, I don't like cheese. Really, really, really don't like it. This isn't as big an obstacle with Lighten Up as it would be with many other cookbooks - it's meant to be about eating healthily, after all, which cheese is a bit at odds with - and for those recipes which call for "2 tbsp parmesan" or whatever I'll do what I usually do and just miss it out. But I can see that "Sizzling Haloumi with Prawns" doesn't really work without the haloumi, and "Parmesan Crisps" without the parmesan would be similarly tricky to pull off. Jill Dupleix also seems to have an alarming fondness for beetroot, which crops up all over the place, and although my aversion to beetroot isn't as strong as my aversion to cheese, it still features fairly highly on my list of foods I'd be happy never to eat again. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the cheese/beetroot recipes - I feel I ought to make them in the spirit of the exercise ("cooking every recipe from a book" has more of a ring to it than "cooking every recipe from a book, except five or six"), but what exactly do I do - make them, but just for Mike? Make them and try a tiny bit? Get Mike to make them? Also, I still don't have a camera, so I'll have to see if my powers of persuasion are up to convincing Mike to act as photographer. (Gripping though reading about people beheading pheasants is, I do see that you need the accompanying visuals for full effect.)

Mike, as you've possibly guessed, is my boyfriend, and the only other person in the 'household', if that's not too grand a word for a flat with two people in it. He's gloriously unfussy - the only thing I've ever given him that he didn't like was a weird brand of MSG-free instant noodles, which did taste absolutely foul - but although he'll eat just about anything (and has been known to eat things like dog, which I attempt to discourage), he definitely appreciates good food, and has a slightly alarming taste for Michelin-starred establishments. Mike's chief complaint with my cooking is that I occassionally - the horror! - halve a recipe intended to serve four for the two of us - this is criminal in Mikeland, where recipe portion sizes are regarded with utmost suspicion (Nigella is the sole exception to this; her portions get the Mike stamp of approval).

Other than Mike, I cook for friends a fair bit (usually groups, but once in a while for individuals, too), and when I go to see my family (two parents, three siblings scattered around various parts of the country) I tend to inflict my cooking on them as well. Just in case you were trying to get your geographical bearings, Mike and I live in Edinburgh (a somewhat curious choice for someone as allergic to the cold as I am, but hey), and my family's based in a picturesque but out-of-the-way Kentish village, the kind of place which has five pubs but nowhere you can buy bread. (The last time Mike was down there he asked where the nearest cash machine was. I tried not to laugh.)

Anyway! That's probably a bit of an information overload for one day. I'm planning on starting on the 1st of February (tempting though it is to start right away, I've got three essay deadlines looming between now and then), and I haven't given myself a set timeframe for completing everything, but I'm thinking along the lines of six months - short enough to be challenging (allowing for holidays, and for cooking from other books once in a while), but long enough to encompass bits of most seasons and therefore allow me to cook most of the food at appropriate(ish) times of year. Incidentally, I've already made a few recipes from Lighten Up: Tuna Souvlaki with Tahini and Parsley; Salmon, Orange and Chickpea Salad; Spice-Grilled Mackerel; Aubergine Curry with Ginger and Chilli; Little Fruity Puddings and Zuppa di Pesce. The souvlaki, zuppa, mackerel and puddings were great, and the salmon and aubergine were fine but not very exciting - I'm going to be making them all again for the project, though, so they'll get a second chance. Oh, and if I do ever get round to knitting anything again I might just stick it in here anyway, as a random diversion.

See you in February!