Tuesday, August 28, 2007

THE GRIZZLY BEAR IS HUGE AND WILD,
IT HAS DEVOURED THE INFANT CHILD,
THE INFANT CHILD IS NOT AWARE,
HE HAS BEEN EATEN BY THE BEAR.

A silly bit of doggerel I found written inside the cover of an old book from my school days which I am chucking out in the pre-move declutter.


READING:

I must be mad, here I am trying to de-clutter the house prior to moving in five weeks time, and what do I do, I come home with MORE books! I went into the local Oxfam Bookshop to give them three boxes of books, and as I was leaving I spotted Animal’s People by Indra Sinha on one of the shelves and promptly bought it.

Animal’s People is on the Booker long list this year, and the snippet I’d read about it intrigued me. It was very different from what I expected, and at first I found it hard to get going, the language is lively, coarse to the point of crudity, and seems a jumble of English, Hindi and pidgin phrases (namispond-jamispond = spying, because "name is Bond - James Bond") which took time to get my head round, but suddenly the story gripped me and I couldn’t put the book down.

Set in the fictitious town of Khaufpur in southern India (a very loosely disguised Bhopal) the narrator is a 19 year old orphan called Animal because he walks on all fours, severely crippled by his twisted spine. He is, needless to say, a beggar, a scrounger, a scavenger, seeking scraps of food from the waste bins of restaurants and houses, competing for such scraps with stray dogs.

By the time the book begins, years have passed since the terrible night when the big factory on the edge of the city - owned by an American chemical company (the Kampani) – had a massive industrial accident and the soil, water and air of Khaufpur were poisoned. An American woman doctor Elli Barber comes to the city and sets up a free clinic for the local people; but they are suspicious that she is doing dirty work for the Kampani who have spent years, and millions of dollars, avoiding any responsibility for the accident, and are still not paying proper compensation to the victims. A local pressure group to which Animal has become attached, leads a boycott of the clinic and this has huge repercussions through the whole community.

Animal is a young man who is growing up longing for a good life, education, sex, and marriage - even wishing Elli could ‘cure’ him. His fierce affection for “his” people shines through everything he does – and he does some hair-brained things – and the love he shows to the old French nun who looked after him as an infant and who refuses to return to the mother convent in France, is extremely moving.

Despite the fact that I thought this book was extraordinary, and a powerful portrait of people living lives of abject poverty, and though I was completely engaged with Animal and all his people I would be surprised if this won the Booker Prize.

After I finished the book, I googled Bhopal, and was horrified that much of the appalling behaviour of the Kampani in Animal’s People mirrors the behaviour of the real American companies who owned, maintained and profited from the factory in that city. If such a ghastly accident had occurred in Britain, Europe or the USA how different it would have been.

Rated: 3.5*


RANTING:

TV Celebrity Chefs - please no more! been there, watched that, bought the recipe book.

Jamie did his bit for school food and that was genuinely interesting, but after the dust has settled, anything much changed? Gordon Ramsay made us all realise we don’t ever, ever want to work in a restaurant kitchen when he is in charge; Gary Rhodes was too precious for words, John Burton-Race told us all far too much about his marriage and his family – and now he has walked out on them; Anthony Worrall Thompson irritates me and I keep wanting to smack him ….and now Marco Pierre White is strutting his stuff. He hasn’t cooked in any restaurant for eight (8!) years… is this meant to be a specialist reality show? Because it sure as hell isn’t about cooking.

These guys (and some gals) should feel the heat of the TV studio and get out and go back to the kitchen. TV loves them, partly I suspect because they are cheap TV, it doesn’t cost a fortune to make a chef show, whereas a documentary which has been well researched is difficult and costly, and as for TV drama, that is an expensive option, but what is the point of them? You and I are not likely to be opening a restaurant any time soon, so we have just been cast in the role of kitchen vôyeurs.

As well as the celeb restaurant chefs, there are also the other TV cooks, Nigella, Delia, Nigel Slater et al. Delia and Nigel pass my test for ‘proper’ cooks who can really teach the rest of us something, and they were writing about cooking long before they were wooed by the small screen. Nigella though, I harbour deep suspicions about her. She was a journalist, not a cook, and her so-called home cooking is no better than many of my friends who have not been given a contract by some TV company. Mind you, she is able to pay for recipes, and for folk to cook them for her, and then she does it all on camera in red satin with suggestive fingers in the mouth….

And whilst this whole foodie-fest with chefs galore continues on TV, Joe Public is overweight, eats junk food, and can hardly warm up the pizza he eats whilst glued to the TV cookery progs, so the programmes are next to useless in helping those who need to learn basic skills. Let’s clear the slate and get rid of all those overheated egos.


RECIPE:

How often do you cook chicken for a family meal? fairly often I'll bet. Sometimes it seems difficult to find a recipe for chicken that is just a bit out of the ordinary, and so when my dear friend EJ served this for a post-theatre supper I begged the recipe from her. I don't make it regularly, but every time I do, I wonder why I don't make it more often as it is simply delicious.

PARSLEY CHICKEN CASHEW CASSEROLE

100g creamed coconut (block)
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
Large bunch parsley, finely chopped to give at least 6 Tablespoons
1.250Kg boneless, skinless, chicken breast fillets or thighs
4 Tablespoons plain flour
2 Tablespoons ground coriander
2 Tablespoons ground tumeric
2 Tablespoons ground cumin
60g salted cashew nuts
Salt & Pepper
50g butter
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
500ml chicken/vegetable stock
Sunflower oil for frying

Mix together the flour, spices and seasoning in a large bowl. Dissolve the creamed coconut in 150ml boiling water, stirring until it forms a smooth cream. Trim the chicken of all fat and sinew and either cut each fillet into two pieces lengthwise, or cut each thigh into three pieces. Dip each piece of chicken into the flour/spice mix, so that all the pieces are well coated, shake off any surplus..

Heat 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil and the butter in a large pan and when hot, fry the chicken pieces, in batches, removing them as they turn golden brown and set aside. Add the onion and 50g of the cashew nuts to the pan with a little extra oil if necessary, saute until golden brown stirring frequently. Then stir in all the remaining flour/spice mix together with the coconut cream, stock, 5 tablespoons of the parsley and the lemon juice. Mix everything together and then return the chicken pieces to the pan. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently for approx 20 minutes until the chicken is quite tender and the sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Just before serving stir in the remaining parsley and cashew nuts.

This needs plenty of rice to soak up all the delicious sauce. It can be made a day in advance, cooled and kept in the fridge, just re-heat and finish off when you want to serve it.


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