Category Archives: Bookshops
Leaving Trapani proved a little more troublesome than we’d anticipated, mostly because of the downpour that drenched us minutes after leaving the wonderful little Cantina Siciliana, where we’d refuelled in anticipation of an afternoon packed with activity. Just before the deluge began, Monsieur and I had been happily photographing Trapani’s buildings. We dashed between dripping awnings all the way back to the car where we sat for some minutes dabbing at wet faces with inefficient paper napkins. No, we wouldn’t be going to Segesta today. Greek ruin complexes + rain = mega-uncomfortable.
“So what next?” asked Monsieur, somewhat unhelpfully. You see, Monsieur books the flights and I come up with full itineraries of where we go and what we do, including plan Bs in case of uncooperative weather like today’s. I didn’t really have a plan B. Yet. But in a place like Sicily, teeming with interest and culture (and gelato), how hard could it be to come up with one?
This wasn’t to be as easy as I thought. The nearby town of Erice, on cliffs overlooking coastal Trapani (where we now sat steaming up our car windows for all the wrong reasons), would have been an obvious alternative to Segesta. Our guidebooks raved about a couple of pasticcerie, and strange rituals of ‘sacred prostitution’ once practised in the Venusian temple now buried beneath the castle ruins, made us intrigued to visit. Alas, the best part of visiting Erice, which sits 750 metres above sea-level, is the view. Usually, you can see Erice from Trapani. With the current rainfall, the town was completely obscured by low, grey cloud. There wouldn’t be a lot to see in Erice today, besides which we’d eaten far too recently to take full advantage of the town’s renowned cannoli. In summary? Plan A – abort. Plan B – ditch. Plan C? Crikey. Whatever could we come up with now?
In the end we settled on a drive down the west coast to Marsala, home to the sweet Marsala wine. The drive was unexpectedly interesting, taking us along the SS115, which follows the line of the sea. It is here that the salt with the best reputation in Italy is produced, big, white piles of it lining the road, the salt pans lying flat to either side.
Around this point I started my own game of Count the Ape. An Ape (ah-pay) is a small three-wheeled workhorse of a vehicle much favoured by Italians, especially those in rural areas. The typical Ape is a flat-bed in miniature, with room for one person only at the wheel. En route to Marsala we spotted so many Apes that I had to stop counting. Piaggio, the Ape manufacturer, must really like Western Sicily, and I ‘m sure the local salesman does, too.
It was pouring in Marsala by the time we found our way into the town. Some local chaps at a stationery store kindly helped us do our scratchy parking card, before we set off in search of interest. We were only a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, yet getting there took a while in the rain. As we dashed along the side of the Cathedral towards its front entrance, a gush of water from the overloaded gutters above splashed directly onto our heads. Monsieur looked at me with that “Are you okay?” frown, but he needn’t have worried. I was completely sodden now, as was he. All we could do was laugh like a pair of bedraggled hyenas.
The Cathedral itself was a bit disappointing. It was so large and cold that it felt unwelcoming and empty. No, we wouldn’t stay here. Running past the twinkling Christmas tree in the piazza outside, we sheltered in the Caffeteria Grand Italia, in spite of its reputation as a magnet for octogenarians. Apparently all the octogenarians were wiser than we were, sat safely in comfy armchairs at home. A couple of espressi were now required, as was gelato, a small reward for braving the rain.
Once we’d dried ourselves with yet more malabsorbent table napkins, we set off to visit one of Marsala’s museums, but in spite of the posters stating that it would be open, it was firmly closed against us and we were wet once more. So we dashed from shop to shop in an attempt to stay dry. I bought a Tiziano Terzani book in a small libreria, where we were treated like unwanted foreigners until I asked the right question about the right author. Then the shop clerk couldn’t do enough to help me.
The next shop clerk we came across was even more unpredictable. We’d run into a Marsala wine specialty shop, disturbing the sole proprietor who had the malady of mobile phone permanently attached to ear, as shown by the fact that when we’d passed him earlier, he was chatting away and was still now in the state of permanent chat. It must have been a slow afternoon for him because when we entered, he cut the call short and focussed his full attention onto us. Bearing in mind that he looked strangely like Hutch from Starsky & Hutch, only with the deep orange skin of a fake-tan addict, it was difficult to take him seriously. First he tried to steer us away from the Marsala wines which are now owned by big liquor companies, thereby losing their seasonal variance in favour of the supermarket shelf-friendly reliability of mass production. Then he allowed us to taste three or four different breeds of Marsala, feeding us morsels of bread with some of his cupboard wares – tapenades heated in a terracotta bowl over a tealight and a creamy garlic sauce. Our new curly-haired friend was a little too attentive to me, however. He asked me how I knew Italian, so I explained that I’d lived in Venice for a while.
“Ah, Venice. Beautiful place. Have you been anywhere else in Italy?”
“Yes, all over,” I answered,
“So if you love Italy so much, then tell me, how come you are with this Frenchman?” he asked, grimacing unsubtly in Monsieur’s direction.
“Because I love France, too.” I replied, keen to get Monsieur away from perm-head as quickly as possible, in case he’d understood.
We left leery Mr Hutch with a bottle of Marsala, some tapenade and garlic sauce, which we’d started to assemble just before his studliness got out of hand. Paying up we wasted no time in getting out of there. The rain was now subsiding, but we dashed away from that shop and Mr BadFakeTan almost as if the rain were still torrential.
It was completely dark, the roads slick with wet. Now we just had to get back to Palermo. Our map looked straightforward enough, but the route was far from. With a combination of impossible signage, lousy back roads, windy ways and a lack of street lighting, the next couple of hours were to be the most stressful of our Sicilian adventure. When we finally found the way to a decent autostrada, the relief of being back on a well-lit road was truly something else. We wouldn’t be taking the Sicilian motorways for granted again.
For the true grub-loving gastronome, the most fatal by-product of enjoying our food has to be weight gain. Monsieur and I are no different, loving our food as we do and engaged in a constant battle of taste versus calorific content. It was therefore serendipitous to catch a tweet from Quadrille Books, asking for bloggers to review Lighten Up by Jill Dupleix.
I admit that Dupleix’s name was relatively new to me, so for a girl with shelves plural devoted to cookbooks, I have had to ask myself why this is the first of Dupleix’s fourteen books to break into the Epicurienne fold. As I learn more about this seasoned kitchen whiz, I am astounded that her profile isn’t better known in London. I thought it might just be me, so I asked some foodie friends about Dupleix. Apparently, it wasn’t just me. It would seem that unless you’re a regular reader of The Spectator or The Times food columns, you may just have missed this writer, much like I have, and that is what I’d call an absolute travesty of gastronomic proportions. Here’s why.
Dupleix’s website profile tells us that she was born on a sheep farm in Australia, growing up with ‘good, fresh, no-nonsense home cooking’. (This sentence alone makes me nostalgic for the freshness of unregulated Downunder produce). But, in spite of a growing passion for food, Dupleix didn’t enter the realm of the food writer until she’d done a spell of copywriting, encompassing such non-food-related topics as cars and fashion. Then something happened along the way and a passion for food, cookery and restaurants overtook all else. Dupleix first took the mantle of Cookery Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, later moving to London to do the same job for The Times. Nowadays, Dupleix contents herself with freelance food writing and cookbook work, which is a good thing indeed, especially for foodies whose nightmares involve a set of bathroom scales.
Bring on Lighten Up, the latest Dupleix offering, first released in 2007. From the moment I first flicked through this brightly-covered paperback, I was a fan. Then I read the introduction and became a total Jill Dupleix acolyte. Once I proceeded to test the recipes for myself, I started daydreaming about hanging out with Dupleix in her kitchen, making Chawan Mushi.
So what makes this book different from its rivals? For a start, the inspiration. Dupleix has created a more easygoing, lighter alternative to the heavier northern hemisphere diet, which sees altogether too many antipodeans expanding sideways once they’ve landed in the likes of North America or Europe. There is proven, personal inspiration also, in the form of Dupleix’s husband, Terry Durack, a restaurant critic who, through his self-professed love of long lunches, cultivated quite an impressive girth. With the help of Dupleix’s lighter approach to eating, he managed to lose an admirable 38 kilos. Now, with Lighten Up, we can all benefit from Dupleix’s tasty, healthy food and a few lost pounds to boot.
The book’s layout is so easy to follow that even a novice cook would find it difficult to make a hash of the recipes. The instructions are short and written in a brief, bullet point style, starting with the action required for each stage: SEAR, CUT, MIX, ADD, TOSS, TRIM, SERVE. The book is separated into sensible sections, such as Morning Food, Salad Food, Soupy Food, Spicy Food, Fast Food and Slow Food. These are interspersed with snack ideas using bananas, bread (yes, the Dupleix Way even bread-based snacks can be good for you!), Japanese ingredients like nori and miso, and perhaps not surprisingly, tofu. There’s a glossary of terms so you have no excuse for mistaking your tamari for tamarind, and if you’d like to know what kitchen accessories rate high on Dupleix’s list, you will find out in Lighten Up.
That’s the summary, but in practice, what are the recipes like? So far, so scrumptious. I’ve particularly enjoyed the ease of Fast Roast Fish with Anchovies, the Fresh Salmon burgers with dill pickles and watercress and Spring Onion Scallops served in their shells, which were so professionally tasty that friends might think you’d called in the caterers. Grilled Chicken with Salsa Verde has received exacting Monsieur’s seal of approval and I’m happily working my way through the little recipes in the Extras section. But what I particularly love about Lighten Up is that it’s time-friendly to the full-time working woman, allowing weight-loss to be quick in preparation with any sense of deprivation completely eliminated.
Still on food but with a whole different slant, here are some articles by Dupleix:
How I shrunk food critic Terry Durack, where Dupleix talks about transforming her husband from Mr Piggy into Mr Fit
Hollywood audiences must think we never eat, where Dupleix wonders why Great Australians are never seen eating on film
And if you want to try out some fantastic sweetcorn fritters, here’s a Dupleix recipe for you. Oh, boy, I’m actually making myself hungry now.
Lighten Up is certainly a worthwhile introduction to Dupleix, with the tantalising photography by Petrina Tinslay spurring me on to try more and more of the Lighten Up recipes. Next on my list will be Chicken Tortilla Soup with Avocado, Watermelon Carpaccio with feta cheese and kalamata olives and the Crab Salad with pumpernickel crisps. When I’m done with those I just might let have to pop along to Books for Cooks to pick up another of the thirteen Dupleix books I have yet to read. I have a funny feeling that Jill Dupleix will be popping up again on Epicurienne, so if you like her style, watch this space.
It’s always a relief to me when Christmas is over. Following all the over-eating, excitable families, pressure to spend, emotional blackmail to eat more, stay longer and be energetic, happy beings, in spite of any work-related year-end exhaustion, I find myself in desperate need of escape. Forget peace on earth and goodwill to men. Few people seem to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Take last Christmas, for instance, when Israel was wreaking havoc in Gaza. There was nothing peaceful about that. Extremist factions around the world favour Christmas as a great time to try to blow things up, and on Boxing Day 2004, a tsunami swept through southern Asia, killing over 200,000 people in 13 countries, so forgive me if peace is the last thing I relate with Christmas these days.
On reflection, 2008 was turbulent. A memorable year for all the wrong reasons, it had been a rollercoaster ride from start to finish and not in a good way; it was more akin to Expedition Ge Force than It’s a Small World. So, to recharge, Monsieur and I booked an end-of-year trip to Sicily (once we’d fulfilled all family obligations and celebrated Christmas not once, not twice, but three times over).
I hadn’t set foot on the island off ‘The Boot’ since I was a student in quite a different life. On that first trip, many of our group had been suffering from a nasty virus and I therefore coughed and sniffed my way around Sicily in a somewhat depleted state. This time I was determined to squeeze the most into and out of our New Year’s adventure, especially as Sicily was unbroken ground for my compadre, Monsieur.
The departure routine was the same as for most of our travels: washing and packing like laundry obsessives, to bed later than hoped, waking in the dark, groaning our way into readiness and repeatedly checking our bags for passport and ticket reference numbers in Frequent Traveller’s O.C.D.
For these and other travel prep reasons, I find it’s a blessed relief to reach the air-side part of any airport terminal, especially as you never know whether security will ask you to remove boots, shoes, belt, jacket or hat (I always wear a little Phillip Treacy fascinator for travel, daaahling), or whether they’ll confiscate your perfume or evian from carry-on luggage, lest you turn it into an incendiary device and blow up the plane. (It would seem the instructions for making such things are on the internet somewhere – God bless Google.) Whilst we’re on the subject of confiscated items, have you ever wondered where those clear plastic bags of illegal on-board items end up? I imagine the guards split the take at the end of the day “there you go, Bob, you said you needed a new deodorant. Eileen, you like Number 5, right? Who needs toothpaste? Full tube, whitening… Old Spice anyone?”
On the particular morning that we set off for Sicily, Monsieur and I were both in need of books, so we found a bookshop, stood in front of shelves of what’s deemed as good holiday reading and yawned. Chick lit… murder mystery… murder mystery… Danielle Steele… more chick lit… footballer ‘auto’-biography. It seemed we’d read all the decent titles and neither of us was in the mood for tales of unrequited office crushes or dismembered bodies floating in the Thames. Dismembered bodies in Sicily, however, were another matter entirely.
And so, with that in mind I walked towards the plane with the sort of book I never, ever buy, wondering if I’d just thrown a handful of (devaluing) pounds down the Drain of Mistaken Purchases. As I burned my mouth on too-hot coffee in the departures lounge, out of the hand-luggage it came: The Last Godfathers, by John Follain. At the very least, the book had pictures. That was a start. Turning to the black and white collection of images, I looked hard into the faces of the men who’ve tortured, maimed, murdered and terrorised so many good Sicilian folk. They could have been anyone; there was nothing remarkable or particularly violent-looking about any of them. Food for thought. In the name of better understanding our destination, it was time to find out what this whole Sicilian Mafia thing was about, so I started to read. By the time we reached Sicily, via Milan, I was hooked. Little did Monsieur know that his one-time peace-loving fiancée would soon be recounting tales of disappearances and body disposal, peppered with details of why you have to be strong to garrotte someone and what sort of acid is best for dissolving human bodies. Needless to say, many of these revelations took place at mealtimes for maximum effect.
Wherever we went in Sicily, we saw people and situations that smacked of a Sopranos-on-location episode: grey-haired men with cashmere coats slung across their shoulders, flanked by ginormous muscle-men in suits with mirrored glasses as they ambled about in the New Year sun… there were plenty of such stereotypes about, looking like they’d just walked off the set for The Godfather Part 7, but perhaps Monsieur and I possess over-active imaginations and we were just observing double-glazing magnates enjoying a stroll with their beloved nephews. I leave it to you to decide.
One thing did take my breath away, however. As I sat watching Italian breakfast news one morning, I learned that one of the most notorious of Corleone’s godfathers, a man named Salvatore Riina, had not one but several Facebook sites in his name and other godfathers were being ‘honoured’ (if you can call it that) in the same social networking fashion. The pages were apparently set up by fans (Fans? These people have fans?) eliciting support for the release of Riina and his cohorts from prison where they’re serving life sentences for inconceivable crimes in both method and number. The Italian outcry had begun and soon spread to Facebook’s headquarters, where it caused great argument because Facebook says it doesn’t want to be responsible for censorship. The victims of such men do not agree. They view this stance as support of evil in our midst. Will we next see the godfathers blogging from their cells? Or should such rights be denied prisoners? The questions, the questions. Out of interest, if you stumbled across a Mafioso blog, would you dare post a comment? If so, what ever would you say? Well, I don’t know about you, but suddenly, I find myself in the grip of blogger’s block, quite, quite at a loss for words.
As for visiting Mafiosi on Facebook, well, what do you do to get a godfather’s attention, exactly? Poke him? Somehow that seems wrong. What are my chances of making it to the next birthday if I throw a sheep, instead? Or send tropical fish for the Don’s aquarium, or a round of pangalactic gargleblasters? Pass to all. I think I’ll just play the Facebook app called Mafia Wars, where I’m known as Don Epicurienne. Far safer.