Tag Archives: newspapers

Reading, watching, eating

 

Cookery has been a growth area in publishing for many years. As soon as an amateur cook does well on one of the numerous television competitions or through a website, or as soon as a professional’s restaurant becomes successful, a personal cookery book is rarely far behind.

I admit to being part of that inflating audience. While I have read many fewer books in the past 20 years than in the previous 20, one subject which I have definitely read about more often is food and drink and cooking.

 

Rural France – Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny, photographed in 2005.

 

Urban France – Paris, probably photographed from the Eiffel Tower, in 1995.

 

In the 1970s, the highest status cooking in the UK was influenced by France, although the most commonly eaten food was probably Italian, or even Asian. Around that time my father did a good deal of the weekend cooking in our house, and consulted in particular two books, The Constance Spry Cookery Book and French Provincial Cookery by the more famous Elizabeth David.

My own first cookery book in the mid-1980s was a Delia Smith. One is Fun was on TV and much publicised but I remember it wasn’t that title, so it must have been one of the volumes of Delia Smith’s Cookery Course. It was a valuable source of particular recipes although soon enough I did gain enough basic knowledge not to have to refer to it regularly. I do remember her almost coy description of mackerel which seemed to betray the period in which she had grown up: “it has a strong taste which men like”.

Another TV programme which provided cooking ideas around that time was the first Master Chef – lower budget, less cool than the current version, with its Sunday tea-time scheduling and including some restaurant chefs as judges.

We were entering the era of the Celebrity Chef. Expert and/or professional cooks had been on TV for a while but this was the time when the term was coined and they were now more likely to be male. An episode of the Gary Rhodes series Rhodes Around Britain encouraged my wife and me to visit the wonderful area of St Ives.

 

St Ives, Cornwall, in 1994.

 

Soon after came the very first Jamie Oliver series The Naked Chef, with its pretend bijou city centre apartment, and for a long time after I copied a recipe of his for baked salmon wrapped in parma ham.

My biggest influence over the past twenty years has probably been Nigel Slater through his regular columns in The Observer newspaper. His recipe for a spicy aubergine stew, first suggested as an informal Christmas Eve dish for a large group, is perhaps the single recipe which I have used, adapted and shared the most often.

 

A few Nigel Slater recipes from over the years.

 

(Tangentially, I do miss the passing of the classic design of The Observer newspaper, once so weighty and authoritative, as it has moved significantly in the tabloid direction over many years, with many more and bigger photos and more light-weight stories in the front half of the paper. Its coverage of food and drink has definitely been one part of that “tabloid-isation”, with the Observer Food Monthly magazine and other frequent recipes supplements adding to the regular pages. But a modest periodic coverage of food and drink with accompanying photographs is hard to dislike).

As if there were not enough recipes already in books and newspapers and magazines along came the internet, full of more ideas and pictures from professionals and amateurs. Food and recipes are actually what directly led to the creation of Leaf Collecting: one particular piece of cooking research drew my attention to how many weblogs documented other areas of people’s domestic life and interests alongside the recipes and prompted me to think that I might do no worse!

Middle East food and drink has definitely become my most interesting experiment in recent years. Arto der Haroutunian’s book Middle Eastern Cookery (London: Grub Street 2010) is as informative on the history and culture of the region as on individual dishes.

Belatedly I came across the name of Claudia Roden, the Egyptian writer who was one of the first to introduce the British audience to Middle Eastern food in the 1960s. A recent article by Bee Wilson article opened with Roden’s discussion about how something she ate as a child in Cairo appeared in Australia later as “dukkah”  – which was clearly the same snack I was offered  myself at Ayers Rock last year, with its chunky bread, dry spice mix, olive oil and sparkling wine. That combination of taste and place was something I would count as one my own most memorable food experiences in recent years.

 

Uluru/Ayers Rock in Australia, at dusk.

 

 

 

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Taking it from the top

 

Recently veteran music promoter Harvey Goldsmith publicly stated his alarm at the dearth of pop/rock music acts famous enough to headline big festivals like Glastonbury.

This has certainly become a problem at Glastonbury itself. Frequently in recent years the organisers have depended for their headliners either on older acts who have been regularly performing (Rod Stewart, Neil Young, U2, the Rolling Stones) or on older acts who have recently reformed (Blur, the Specials). Similarly worrying signs can surely be read this year both in the facts that the Who, 50 years old and with only half their original members extant, are headlining for the second time in eight years, and that for the second time a spurious fuss has been generated in the media about whether a hugely successful black American rapper and corporate executive qualifies as an appropriate headliner (Jay-Z in 2008, this year Kanye West).

Glastonbury is a cultural law unto itself and has created its own peculiar problems. Through 20 years of TV coverage and accompanying sponsorship it has chosen to enlarge relentlessly to the extent that its website is able to list nearly 100 separate performance areas, with about half a dozen included in the national TV coverage. It is presumably that TV dedication which has made it important to have well-known crowd-pleasers performing during the day just as at last thing at night. So one year an influential and popular 1960s/1970s musician (Paul Simon) appears in the Sunday afternoon “legends” slot, while in another an influential and popular 1960s/1970s musician (Stevie Wonder) appears not as a Sunday afternoon “legend” but as a Sunday night “headliner”.

It was a startling coincidence to find my personal musings on this topic overtaken by a real-life case study when the last-minute cancellation by the Foo Fighters of their Friday night headline performance at this year’s festival led to, yes, a media drama  about  who “could replace” them.  To me, with the event already a guaranteed commercial and media success, it seemed that no special measures were needed and that the solution was obvious: to promote the top three or four acts one further place up the bill and fill the empty lower slot from one of the dozens of acts available elsewhere on site.  As it turned out, the organisers followed part of that obvious solution, but not all!

Questions about who constitutes a suitable headline act are less pressing for other outdoor cultural events. The “boutique” festivals, to use the popular term for the those like  Green Man,  Wilderness,  LatitudeFestival No. 6 and End of the Road , have shorter histories with none of the same accreted cultural resonances, and aim for a smaller audience. Therefore, they appear comfortable to have less stellar names as the leading acts on their pop/rock stages, artists like St Vincent, Hot Chip, Bjork, Ben Howard, Alt-J, Belle and Sebastian, Metronomy and  Sufjan Stevens, who would be lower down the pecking order at Glastonbury.

This obsession with creating a list of which something must always be clearly on top is the consequence of the perceived need to feed a media which runs permanently 24 hours a day, but which has notoriously developed a short attention span and limited interests.

TV news bulletins themselves have always started and finished with headlines, but in recent times they have made much more of their own “top story”. This particular event or issue is usually and uncoincidentally  the one which their rival channels are also leading on. It usually describes a domestic rather than a foreign event, unless a foreign event involves UK citizens or politicians, or is a war or terrorism or catastrophe story which involves violence “which some viewers may find distressing”. Sometimes it is not something new at all but activities based around an anniversary of a past event. All elements which the modern news producer seems to feel will hold the modern news audience’s attention. Despite a world of continually changing events,  the “top story” often retains its status for hours or even days on end. As in “let’s return to our top story…”

Films in the cinema, on DVD and on TV have long been a reliable filler for every type of publication. More films are released to the cinemas per week now than in previous decades, which will lead to anguished discussion over how to allocate time and space.  This is probably the cause of the ubiquity of stars (in the sense of asterisks rather than celebrities) in film reviews: it helps the industry in advertising which in turn repays the media in aiding them judge a film’s importance – in that week of release, at least.

Around the start of this century, the Scottish Herald newspaper included films in a weekly, Thursday, arts magazine. The film section had both a star system and a “film of the week” which was allocated the greatest space. Over several months, I noticed that the “film of the week” was not always one which gained the most stars, in other words was not necessarily judged to be of the greatest artistic merit. How, then, could it be “film of the week”? I wrote to the newspaper about this conundrum and did get an explanation: that the “film of the week” was the one which was attracting the greatest popular interest.  Which almost certainly meant: it was the one which the film industry was publicising most to the media that week.

My sober conclusion after this far from scrupulous analysis? If only the TV news presenters  might use language less dogmatically, with perhaps more frequent use of the plural or the phrase “one of”? In other words, “one of the headliners…”, “our top stories are…” ?  Or if only I remember my own earlier post  that today most media professionals are well as audience are much younger than I am and have grown up with an entirely different set of rules and practices.

 

 

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