Friday, 14 November 2014

My mussels, and Nigel Slater's "Toast"

 
 
My closest friends and family members will recall that I have a passion for mussels. My longstanding request is that my last meal on earth be mussels.  I have even written a rather heretical poem about this. (Ask me nicely and I'll publish it).
 
To my great delight our local "Whole Foods" is now selling frozen mussels, (sustainably farmed) and already shelled and cooked  (only $4.99 for a 1lb bag). 
 
 I fixed a mess of them the other day, in (store bought) seafood stock, with garlic, tomatoes celery and onion (diced), and sweet corn. Look above and let your mouth water.
 
Apart from today's meal (!) my memory of  the finest mussel meal  of my life, to date, was in Rimini, Italy.  My pal Joe S. and I sat outside a great little restaurant, and I had a dish of steaming mussels, straight from the ocean it seemed.  Such memories.
 
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Food and memory.
 
My good Anglo-American friend Diana put me on to "Toast". (Published in the U.S.A. by Gotham Books in 2004, in the United Kingdom by Penguin Books in 2003).
 
You can read more about Nigel Slater here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Slater.
 
Slater's Thesis is this: "Forget salt and pepper, garlic and lemon. The most successful seasoning for what we eat is a good pinch of nostalgia"
 
Of "Toast" the Wikipedia entry has this: Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger, a moving and award-winning autobiography focused on his love of food, his childhood, his family relationships (his mother died of   asthma when he was nine) and his burgeoning sexuality. Slater has called it "the most intimate memoir that any food person has ever written".
 
It is a "must read" for British folks who grew up with "not very good" cooking; with sherbet fountains, 99 ice cream cones, penny and ha'penny chews, dandelion and burdock soda, ice-cream soda, and with those nipply/breasty shaped Nestle (?)  Walnut Whip confections - a creamy-gooey inside covered in chocolate with a walnut on top.
 
Walnut Whip
 
 
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Slater is also funny.  He recalls that the family "daily", Mrs. Poole, disapproved of dandelion and burdock soda.
 
He writes  "I don't know how you can drink that stuff" says our daily, Mrs.  Poole, grimacing like a haddock eating mustard"
 
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In another place Slater writes "Forget scented candles and fresh brewed coffee. Every home should smell of baking Christmas cake. That, and warm freshly ironed tea towels hanging on a rail in front of the Aga. It's a pity we had Auntie Fanny living with us.  Her incontinence could take the smell off a chicken curry; let alone a baking cake.  No matter how many mince pies were being made, or pine logs burning in the grate, or how many orange-and-clove pomanders my mother had made, there was always the faintest whiff of Auntie Fanny.
 
Warm sweet fruit, a cake in the oven, hot retriever curled up by the Aga, mince pies, Mum's 4711. Every child's Christmas memories should smell like that.  Mine did.  It's a pity that there was always a passing breeze of ammonia."
 
"Toast"  (his mother always burned it) is a splendid, touching and funny book.

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