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The Alum Maker's Secret
The Alum Maker's Secret
by Stephen Chance
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.36

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange and poetic, 28 Nov 2013
This is a strange novel. It's set on the north Yorkshire coast several hundred years ago. It focuses on the alum trade (which I'd never heard of before) and dwells in detail on the truly bizarre method of making alum crystals, by mixing human urine with shale, setting fire to it in a sort of huge kiln and leaving it to smoulder for months on a hill. (Who came up with that idea?) The extreme harshness of the environment is matched by the desperation of many of the people who scratch and hammer a living there, and the book captures this brutal and fog-obscured world most convincingly. The characters are of few words and it's the world they inhabit and are trapped by that captures the imagination. If you like the idea of a novel set in a previously unrevealed and obscure corner of the past, written in a fittingly oblique and poetic style, then this is the book for you.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 29, 2013 3:55 PM GMT

by Yotam Ottolenghi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.80

11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of ingredients, time, and boastfulness, 24 Sep 2011
This review is from: Plenty (Hardcover)
This book got up my nose right from the Introduction. Discussing the origins of his magazine column in The Guardian, the author claims that 'Ottolenghi', his modestly-named restaurant, "had become famous for what we did with vegetables and grains, for the freshness and originality of our salads (read: my salads), and it only made sense to ask me to share this".

I think that 'What a tosser' is an entirely appropriate reaction to such boasting about salads.

So then we move on to the recipes. I have tried to make several of these. Observations:

- Such a pain to find "marinate for at least 60 minutes" sneaked in to the small print. Does he think we have all day to cook his stuff?

- A phenomenal number of different ingredients. 25 just to make leek fritters - why such complexity?

- Must he be so specific about amounts? What is 30 grams of basil, for God's sake - a handful, a tablespoon, a bucket? Does he really think we can be bothered to weigh basil?

- Biggest crime by far: the obscure ingredients. Trying to use up some spare courgettes, I turned to his courgette salad. But this requires cob nuts (or substitute with shredded coconut, thanks a lot), hazelnut oil, and purple basil leaves. What is he thinking? I live in central London and I can't get hold of most of this stuff. How is anyone else going to cope?

- Turn to another recipe, for marinated buffalo mozarella. Ok, got all that stuff; hang on, except for rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil? Why, for a minor variation on an Italian salad?

Just about every page in this book either asks for ingredients that nobody will have at home (tamarind pulp!), or are impossible to buy (verjus! Dried Iranian lime!). The recipes are extremely fiddly and time-consuming. And after all that, the results are pretty ordinary.

Compare and contrast the River Cafe's great cookbooks. These can be annoying at times (famously calling for "6 lemons, the freshest possible" in one recipe) but they are clear, simple, and the food tastes good.

Worst of all, the author is such a bighead. On page 38, someone who cooked his garlic tart (and who perhaps is financially dependent on him) calls it 'the most delicious recipe in the world', to which Ottolenghi says "What else can I add?" Since you ask, how about 'Sorry for being so up myself'?
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2014 1:54 PM GMT

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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good one, 23 Feb 2011
Very funny and a great gag gift. Plus it makes a useful notepad, which is more than most books do.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 3, 2011 2:59 PM GMT

Bent Objects
Bent Objects
by Terry Border
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.38

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly original, 3 Feb 2011
This review is from: Bent Objects (Hardcover)
A very unusual and funny book. You will never have seen anything quite like these pictures of everyday items and objects behaving in very human ways. It's the kind of offbeat, entertaining book you can keep dipping into many times. Terry Border also has a blog with the same name that is well worth a visit: recent gems include the can of sweetcorn throwing up its contents. The photos are highly original and strangely poignant. Why hasn't someone made a TV series out of it?

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