You could say I’ve had a bit of week. It began quite well with a bank holiday but ended shrouded in gloom. Two particular incidents have scarred the past seven days. The first was being on a train that hit some unfortunate soul who decided to jump or was pushed (depending on which social media platform you were looking at) onto the line at Horley. The second was our cat, Dino, dying suddenly. Yes, I know he was only a cat but it caused a fair amount of distress in the Bilton household. It’s the first time (although definitely not the last) my children have had to confront the finality of death. There were many tears and my eldest son was inconsolable for much of Friday.
It got me thinking about how much we take for granted. The electricity that powers our homes. Wifi. Supermarkets. The water we drink and the food we eat. The people (and animals) in our lives. Do we ever really stop to think about how these things come to be at the tips of our fingers?
It also reminded me of two books I was prompted to read recently after hearing the authors speak at the Book Lover’s Supper Club – The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson and Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson. The former explores the everyday ‘dramas’ of several protagonists – like a woman’s search for the perfect dress for Glyndebourne or a teenagers turmoil over a prank that goes wrong. It struck me that we are all so cocooned in the web of our own lives – our work, home life, keeping fit and so forth – that we loose sight of the really important things (support of our nearest and dearest, memories of our departed loved ones). It’s only when a catastrophic event occurs like a World War that perhaps we gain a bit of perspective. This is glaringly obvious when you read Virginia’s non fiction book on the experiences of the millions of women left behind to physically and emotionally support the war effort in the 1940s. Many of these ladies had a certain joie de vivre for life despite the atrocious consequences of war. They took nothing for granted.
One thing which I do believe we take for granted is our culinary heritage. A lot of people, myself included, bang on about how we no longer know how to cook. But there are still many people who throw dinner together without the aid of a cookery book or microwaved ready meal. These ‘recipes’ may be ones they have devised themselves although quite often they are things they have picked up from their parents or grandparents. They don’t have to be complicated (they usually aren’t) but they are part of our culinary heritage and will be lost if we don’t pass them on.
I rejoice when I do see evidence of this knowledge being put to good use as I did at the Book Lover’s Supper Club in March. The book element is organised by Melanie Whitehouse. The club, a group of people who share a love of literature and food, meets every six to eight weeks in Ditchling with different authors reading from their works. Supper is provided by Oz of Sultan’s Delights. Think Middle Eastern meze with goats cheese and butternut squash tarts, pomegranate studded couscous, minty stuffed vine leaves and the impossibly moreish roasted almond tarator sauce. It was the latter that really grabbed my attention partly because it tasted so good (rich, nutty with a pleasant garlicky punch) but also the story of it’s origin, in Oz’s life at least, which illustrates the point I am making here. She told me that it was just something her grandmother would whip up for her husband as part of a meze to eat while he played cards and drank raki.
“Since my dad and my grandad loved raki so much, my earliest cooking memories all about meze making,” explains Oz. “We used to sit on a big table and share all these tasty dishes with a lot of laughter.”
It is the essence of her childhood and a delicious one at that. These are the recipes and memories we should treasure and share with those we love. Fortunately, Oz has generously allowed me to share her family recipe for tarator with you. You’ll never crave shop bought hummus again after eating this.
If you enjoy a good read and fancy a chin wag with other bibliophiles over a great plate of food and a glass of wine then you’ll love The Book Lover’s Supper Club. Melanie always finds fascinating authors to speak at the evenings. The next event is on 18 June with Crime Novelist of the Year 2013 Sophie Hannah and Sarah Hilary discussing their books. Tickets are £20 and can be purchased from the Brighton Dome ticket office. Don’t forget to like the Book Lover’s Supper Club Facebook page for the latest updates.
If you can’t make The Book Lover’s Supper Club but love the sound of Oz’s food you can find her at Street Diner on Wednesdays at Hove Town Hall and Friday in the Brighthelm Centre Gardens a stones throw from Brighton Station.
Roasted Almond Tarator Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Oz from Sultan’s Delights
Serves around 6 people
- 100g walnuts or blanched almonds
- 2-3 slice of white stale bread crust removed (I used Pain de Campagne)
- 1- 2 cloves of garlic or more if you like a stronger flavour
- 150ml-ish olive oil
- juice of half to a whole lemon according to taste
- ½ tsp salt
- White pepper and cayenne to season
- Preheat the oven to 200℃. Place the almonds or walnuts onto a baking tray with the garlic and roast for 5 – 10 minutes until the garlic is soft and the nuts golden brown.
- Meanwhile soak the bread in water then squeeze out most of the moisture.
- Squeeze the garlic into a food processor. Blitz with the roasted nuts then add the remaining ingredients and process again until well combined. Season with white pepper and cayenne to taste adding more garlic and lemon juice if you like. If it’s too thick add more olive oil to loosen up. (Oz’s Mum used to add some water instead when she was watching her waist line!). This sauce should keep for at least a week in the fridge in a sealed container – if it lasts that long! Afiyet Olsun / Enjoy!