Monday, March 24, 2008

W.C. Fields
Sometimes I can empathise with that quote.


When I was out in South Africa last month at least six different people asked me if I’d read
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and when I said no I hadn’t
, the usual response was something like “well you MUST, you really must read it.” They had all loved the book.

Being an obedient sort I have now done so.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a successful New York writer and journalist, who (aged 34) goes through a painful, soul destroying divorce, followed by an intense rebound romance which ends badly. Feeling emotionally battered she decides to take a year off and go travelling to find balance in her life. Eat Pray Love is a memoir of that year of travel.

Gibert starts her year of travel in Italy, Rome to be precise, where she learns to speak Italian and eats, eats everything and anything, from risotto ai fungi and Tiamisu to newborn lamb’s intestines.

After several months in Italy she moves on - to India. There she intends to spend six weeks at the Ashram of “her” guru, a famous Indian woman to whose teachings she had been introduced back in New York some months before; she hopes to find spiritual solace whilst meditating at the Ashram. It turns out that six weeks of trying to meditate is not enough for her, and she ends up staying at the Ashram for all the time she is in India.

Eventually it is time to move on again, and she sets off for the exotic island of Bali to try and locate an elderly Balinese medicine man she had met four years previously. Whilst in Bali she makes friends, observes Balinese life, and falls in love with a Brazilian man some years her senior and her own life takes a whole new turn.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a frank, informal writing style - almost chatty ; she is self deprecating and often very funny indeed. I particularly enjoyed the first part of the book when she is in Italy, but the middle section where she is in the Ashram dragged on and on, and I began to find her emotionally adolescent and self absorbed. To be honest, the whole Ashram thing annoyed me, as I saw it as being run as a commercial business for like-minded nu-age westerners who perceived the east as being the only place to find spiritual truths, and yet Gibert didn’t seem to see that at all.

The time she spent in Bali was fascinating about Balinese life, but again I found myself becoming impatient as she seemed incredibly naïve – when suffering from as serious urinary tract infection one of her local friends, a woman who runs a health restaurant, gives her a vile concoction to drink and hey presto, she is completely cured within two hours – oh yeah? If that were really possible, every mega pharmaceutical company would be beating a path to Bali to register and market the potion.

After finishing it I did wonder whether this was a very carefully calculated account of a year which was always intended to be the basis of a commercially successful book, rather than a true spiritual and emotional journey.

Having said all that,I did find it an entertaining read - it was not slushy at all, which is what I’d expected when I picked it up, and very different from my usual reading material. Which can only be a good thing!

Rated: 3.5*


Last night I had to take my DH to the A&E department of our local hospital - he had managed to slice his right ear in half (don't ask). Anyway, being Easter Sunday at 11pm the place was moderately busy as you would expect.

DH was seen very quickly, the injury was worse than

either of us had realised, and after being cleaned etc, we were shown to a cubicle to await the surgical registrar. We had taken work/books to read, and the time went by. People came and went in the adjoining cubicle.

At one in the morning a very articulate 11 year old and his dad were there. Being a child, he had jumped right up the queue (and thats fine with me), a doctor arrived to see him almost

immediately. As all were speaking very loudly I couldn't help overhearing everything.
The boy was suffering from Ringworm, which he said he had had for some two months. He had been taken to his GP who had prescribed various anti-fungal creams and tablets; these

had not had much success so he had seen the GP again who had changed the medication - some three weeks prior. He listed all the medications he had been given, some of which he was still using.

The A&E doctor asked why they were there in the early hours - and the father said that the boy was going abroad on Tuesday for a week's holiday and they wanted the ringworm to be sorted out there and then! This father was an articulate middle class man who proceeded to throw a wobbly when it was very politely pointed out to him that ringworm was neither an Accident nor an Emergency and that he should take his son back to the GP and get an appointment with a consultant Dermatologist.

They stormed out, the father raging about the inequities of the NHS and how it was failing them. But the reality was that they were abusing the system. Hospital A&E departments are not for general ailments, they should not be used as an open-all-hours doctors surgery. The whole episode took 20-30 minutes of a busy doctor's time, time that could have been spent on others who needed her care there and then (and I do not include my DH among them - he was seen and sutured by a terrific registrar, who hailed from Ghana, about an hour later).

Imagine the scene I overheard being repeated once or twice a night at every A&E department up and down the land, and then you realise why the waiting times in casualty departments are often very long.


My DD and I have sometimes grabbed a quick lunch at Ottolenghi, the chic eatery where rich and fashionable Notting Hillbillies get their organic rocket salad and other delicious things. Some weeks ago I was idly surfing through the on-line UK newspapers and discovered in The Guardian that Yotam Ottolenghi (who is chef/patron of the aforementioned establishment) writes a recipe column for them. This was the recipe that caught my eye. I made it, and all I can say is that the man is a culinary genius - it is super-special, double-dipped divine. When you read the recipe it sounds quite fiddly, but is actually not difficult and the result is worth it. My guests were knocked out by warned, if you come to dinner here anytime in the next few months this is what you will be getting as a starter!


Serves 4-6

30g unsalted butter, melted
375g puff pastry
½ butternut squash (250g), peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm wedges
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled (this is a lot of garlic but trust me on this, it is not an over garlicky tasting dish)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
130g rich, creamy goats' cheese, rind removed
2 eggs
100ml double cream
100ml crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Brush a 22cm round cake tin with melted butter. Roll out the pastry to a square 3-4mm thick, then cut out a circle to cover the base of the tin and come about 3cm up its sides. Brush with more butter, line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Put into the fridge for 20 minutes, bake for 20 minutes, remove the beans and bake for 15 minutes more, or until the pastry is golden. Remove and set aside.

Spread the squash over an oven tray, sprinkle with a tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt, and roast for 30 minutes, until cooked through. Meanwhile, put the garlic in a small pan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer, blanch for three minutes and drain. Return cloves to the dry pan and add two tablespoons of oil. Fry for two minutes, add the vinegar and 180ml water, simmer for 10 minutes, add the sugar, chopped herbs and half a teaspoon of salt, and simmer for another 10 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the cloves are coated in dark, caramelly syrup.

Arrange the squash in the tart case, dot with pieces of goats' cheese and scatter the garlic and its syrup all over. Whisk eggs, creams, half a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and pour over the tart, plugging the gaps but letting the filling peek over the surface. Lay a few thyme sprigs on top.

Reduce the oven to 170C/325F/ gas mark 3 and bake the tart for 35-45 minutes, until it sets and the top goes golden-brown.

Eat warm or at room temperature with a crisp salad - sit back and wait for the compliments!


Charlotte said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love. It's been a huge hit at my book-club. There's something about her frank style and her journey that appeals to people.

My main reaction to her three months in the ashram was envy (very spiritual, I know). Imagine having that amount of time to work on self-improvement.

As for the caramelised garlic tart, I'd like some for breakfast. Right now, please.

Nick said...

I do agree with you about the boy with ringworm. Why can't intelligent people accept that A&E is for genuine emergencies? I gather A&E departments everywhere get a constant stream of these obstinate characters who don't have the common sense and responsibility to sort out the problem in a more appropriate way.

Mother of the bride said...

Isn't it a shame that there isn't an offence equivalent to wasting police time. It could also apply to people who think ambulances are taxis.
Hope the ear is mending nicely.

judithb said...

I am interested in your opinion of Eat, Pray, Love because it is similar to mine. I enjoyed it initially but as I read on I became turned off by her overwhelming self-absorption.

Agree with Nick & MOTB about ringworm boy. What's so hard to understand about ACCIDENT and EMERGENCY?

I'm enjoying your blog, by the way, especially the recipes.

ren said...

Great recipe, great Blog. I'm a South African married in Rome (also at Herschel briefly). Would you like to visit my Blog?

herschelian said...

Hi Charlotte, Nick and MoTB - The staff at the A&E were great and did an excellent job repairing DH's ear (external stitches were removed yesterday, and he looks less like an extra from a horror film). So by way of a thank you, I made a huge batch of Brownies and took them down on Saturday evening for the night shift at A&E to munch with their coffee.

Judith B; welcome to my blog, hope to see you here again.

Ren; welcome, I popped over to your blog - loved the look of the osso bucco. Living and cooking in Rome, what bliss, the markets are wonderful.

Jeanne said...

OMG, you weren't joking abotu that garlic tart - it looks phenomenal! I had never heard of Ottlenghi 2 weeks ago (never really hit Islington or Notting Hill eateries) and now his book is on my "most wanted" list (either that or I'd better start subscribing to the Guardian!). I'm making his chargrilled veg & haloumi salad tomorrow and I can't wait to taste it :)

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