The best thing about blogging is meeting people. People who share the obsession with food and people who work in the industry – as chefs, producers and writers.
One such individual I met recently was the charming and talented Josceline Dimbleby, at a lunch event for the launch of her latest book Orchards in the Oasis: Travels, Food and Memories. The event was part of the SW11 Literary Festival.
For more than 30 years, Josceline Dimbleby has been writing about food and is one of Britain's most respected food writers. She was the Sunday Telegraph's food correspondent for 15 years and her cookery books have sold in the millions.
Her previous book took her away from the world of food to write a biological family history. Covering 100 years, the story includes her great grandmother's secret relationship with Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. It was very well reviewed by critics and regular readers alike.
In the new book, she combines the two strands of biography and food with a third – the family photo album.
Gathered at Chez Manny restaurant in Battersea, we enjoyed a wonderful talk by Josceline about her life, sharing just a few of the many travel and food memories that have been included in the book. She's a warm, animated and intelligent lady and I found the talk fascinating. I also really enjoyed hearing about some of the things we have in common such as our keeping of travel diaries, our love of trying new ingredients, flavours and dishes around the world and our attempts to bring recipes and food ideas back home.
After the talk we ate a menu prepared from recipes in the book. My favourite was the Burmese fish curry, although the plum parfait, full of the flavours of the dawning autumn, gave the curry a run for it's money!
Meal over, we were invited to have a look through the book, buy copies that Josceline would sign if we wished and certainly to come over and chat to her if we had any questions or wanted to say hello.
Of course I wanted to say hello!
I was very pleased when Josceline said immediately, as I took a seat next to her, that she'd noticed my smiling face during the talk. Some faces, she said, were unreadable whilst others seemed to be frowning! It was really encouraging, she said, to be able to see someone nodding and clearly engaged in what she was saying.
I explained that much of what she'd said had really struck a chord with me and that I'd enjoyed her talk immensely.
Whilst I didn't spend chunks of my childhood living in foreign climes, as Josceline did, my parents have always loved to travel, so I was lucky enough to visit many exotic destinations (including India, where most of the family still lived) during the holidays. Food was always an important part of those trips, and still is today.
Josceline did make me giggle when she whispered, like a naughty school girl, that we might want to check on Amazon instead of buying the book that day, as they were offering it for a less than the cover price. Sssh, Josceline, don't let you hear your publishers saying that!
So, what is the book like?
Although I didn't write notes during Josceline's talk, I found an online video where she talks about the new book. She says:
In the 1980s, which was the early years of my cookery writing career, I wrote "to me food means sensual, visual and aural pleasure; creativity and discovery; fun and adventure; conviviality and friendship and, most importantly, the enjoyment of life". All these years later, that exactly describes the content of my new book, which is a memoir of my food discoveries and global travels and key moments of my life.
It begins in Syria where I was taken as a little child of diplomat parents in 1950. And it was there, due to the magical aroma of spices when my mother took me down to the souk, that my taste buds literally awoke.
Orchards in the Oasis covers a wide range of countries but they are all ones that have remained the most vivid to me, and particularly where the food I ate has inspired me the most. The recipes in each chapter are the result of this inspiration.
Josceline's writing on foreign places is a joy to read. Extraordinarily evocative and often poetic, I can actually see, hear and even smell the scenes and experiences she describes, even for places I've never been.
The photographs and recipes are woven into the narrative of her life, as presented through fourteen chapters, each one covering a specific place Josceline has visited. The recipes themselves each have an introduction… a story about when or where Josceline enjoyed the dish that inspired them, an explanation of their origin, how and from whom she learned them…
From the first chapter (on Damascus) I love the sound of Bloudan walnut soup and rose petal tart. From the chapter about the Andes, I can't resist Dum's chocolate pudding. From Lanzarote, a chilled almond and garlic soup that reminds me of one of the dishes I enjoyed at the Dock Kitchen OFM event some months ago. From New York I am tempted by the meat loaf with blue cheese filling.
And so it continues, chapter after chapter, charmingly written portraits of periods in time and place, anchored by food.
I haven't yet made a recipe from the book (though I've heard more than one person comment about Josceline's carefully tested and accurately written recipes that "they just work", unlike those of some food writers which often disappoint). I shall share with you all when I do try one myself.
Orchards in the Oasis: Travels, Food and Memories (hardback) is published by Quadrille and is currently available from Amazon for £16.99 (RRP £25).