East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Cooking is one of those skills that look good on a writer, a scientist, or an action hero.
Being able to put together some quality food out of raw ingredients is a show of mastery, and an essential skill.
Anyway, that’s my rationale.

9781906502904One year ago – give or take a few weeks – I bought a book as a gift for a friend’s wife.
The poor girl can’t cook to save her life (it’s not a mortal sin, mind you, just a fact of life) and she’s always been rather curious about my (supposed) cooking prowness.
So I went and got her a copy of South Wind through the Kitchen, that’s a sort of best-of compilation of recipes and food writing by the great late lamented Elizabeth David.
If I can do anything at all in the kitchen, I owe it to my mom, Len Deighton and Elizabeth David.
And as I could not give my mom to that lady as a gift, in doubt I went for the David book, because it’s sort of more dignified than Deighton’s by any means masterful Action Cook Book.
Also, I caught a copy in a local book store, which is always better, I thought, than having the book mailed through Amazon.
I picked it up and thought about wrapping it up in brown paper, like something out of a grocery store.
Something silly like that.

But as soon as I brought it home and started looking for a way to package it in a nice way, I found out the book was seriously damaged.
One page had a hole in the middle, as big as a dime, and two another were actually just two strips of paper, the top and the bottom of the page.
I went back to the book store but the lady there was very kind but also very firm about the fact that she could not take the book back or change it – it was the only copy in the shop and it was a special offer, so no refunds.

On-set during filming of The IPCRESS File, Len...

On-set during filming of The IPCRESS File, Len Deighton teaches Michael Caine how to break an egg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so I kept my book, ordered another copy through Amazon, and now the damaged copy sits on my shelf and, as all Elizabeth David’s books, it’s a swell read and a source of inspiration when I try and improvise some sort of dinner.

Like tonight, as I’m planning a special “bachelors dinner” for me and my brother – something rough and country-like, but with a twist.
Cheap food, but good, as a basis for a nice evening.
Sometimes a few eggs, some bread and some cheese is enough to make a party, if the spirit’s right.

Granted, when the David book is concerned, there’s the matter of the holed page, and the two missing pages, too, but I can manage.
And it has a story, of sorts.
It’s a book with a history, something that makes it special.
Also, browsing this one, I can keep the old old old copy of French Coutry Cooking hidden away – the poor Penguin paperback looks like something out of Tuthankamun’s tomb, and it could no longer stand the hardships of the kitchen.

In other news: my friend’s wife still cooks horrible junk – she never read the book in the first place, but it makes a nice display of itself on a small shelf in her kitchen, together with other pristine, unread recipe collections and assorted sourcebooks on culinary matters.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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