Sunday, 12 July 2015

Junk Food

The pop up restaurant scene in Edinburgh seems to be having somewhat of a revival. After the initial wave a few years ago, based in peoples homes, the second round is a little different - more in the form of themed takeovers in established venues, advertised through word of mouth and social media.

My friend Steph told me about the Real Junk Food project as she knew it'd be something I'd enjoy - and she wasn't wrong. The project "intercepts" food that would be discarded as waste by local small businesses and social enterprises, and refashions them into a communal meal, inviting diners to "pay as they feel".
This weekend, the venue was the Edinburgh Larder Bistro, a relaxed little spot in the heart of the Old Town. The menu was simple - three options for starters and mains, with a choice of two puddings. I was impressed by how much the cooks had managed to create a variety with such limited resources (vegan and coeliac friendly options were both available).

I picked the garlic mushrooms and the cauliflower and romanesco cheesy bake, followed by the brownie (chocolate courtesy of a restaurant that didn't get through their supplies before the "best by"). I helped myself to some of the delicious organic bread to soak up the sauce, which had been rescued from a local independent bakery. It was heartening to hear about local companies who were willing to hand over their leftovers, and served as a little reminder to me of how fantastic Edinburgh's independent retail provision is. The stovies and crumble also looked rather good (my friend was a little, er, possessive, so I didn't get a taste!).

I really enjoyed the evening - good food and good company in a relaxed setting - but I did find myself wondering what the "point" was. My gut feeling is that most of the folk at the dinner are probably quite like myself, in that they already have an interest in the ethics of food and where it comes from. But generally, if it gets people thinking about waste and leftovers then that's no bad thing. I also really enjoyed the ethos of paying what you could, with some people making small cash donations towards keeping the project going, others providing musical accompaniment to the meal, and a few folk helping to wash up as their contribution. It certainly opens up eating out to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford a pricy city centre meal or an exclusive supper club ticket. I'll be keeping an eye out for their other events in future!
For more information on The Real Junk Food project, visit their website:

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Books: June Fifty Two in Fifty Two

"Have books happened to you? Unless your answer to that question is yes, I'm unsure how to talk to you" Haruki Murakami

48. Michael Robertson, The Baker Street Letters. 1/5.
I love a mystery and I love a Sherlock Holmes so it was inevitable that I would give this a go when I saw it in the library. I was sorely disappointed. 
Two brothers, both lawyers (cue stereotypes) rent 221B Baker Street, on the understanding that all letters addressed to the famous detective are saved. When one if the brothers opens a letter from a girl whose father has gone missing, a transatlantic adventure begins. 
I was so disappointed by this - as an initial concept it had so much potential but it quickly became clear that the author was using the Sherlock connection as a marketing opportunity rather than part of the plot. The lead characters were all very one dimensional and frankly unpleasant, and its pretty telling that a month after reading it, I can hardly remember a thing.

49. Jane Austen, Persuasion. 5/5.
After starting and stopping a couple of books, I decided to go back to an old favourite as a comfort read. Persuasion is probably my favourite of Austen's works, probably because it explores the characters and situation in so much more depth than some of her others - and because its hard not to feel her sadness and anger radiating off the pages. 
Anne Elliot, our heroine, a spinster at 27, was stopped from marrying Captain Wentworth by her father. Now that their house is bring rented out to his family, a reconnection is inevitable. 
The romance is really a side note in Persuasion, which is rather scathing in its critisicm of misplaced snobbery and the role of women in the upper middle classes. Accusations are frequently thrown that Austen only wrote about love and rich people but Persuasion dispels that myth. Numerous rereads later and I still love it.

50. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White. 3/5.
After reading and enjoying a couple of 'classics' recently, I thought it was time to have a go at The Woman In White, which has been on my shelf but sadly neglected for at least ten years. I loved The Moonstone when I read it a few years ago but I was disappointed in The Woman In White. 
Walter Cartwright, a drawing tutor, is employed to teach two wealthy sisters - and on his way to Cumberland, makes the acquaintance of a woman on the run - dressed in white. Inevitably he falls in love with one of the sisters (not the dark haired sensible one. Oh no.)... And his banishment from the house is where the mystery begins. 
I don't know if its because I'm a bit immune to Victorian 'mystery' but I struggled with this in parts. It was long, overly so, and there were too many subplots to make the ending satisfying. The characters were, again, Victorian stereotypes, and I guessed the major twist about half way through. Not bad, but probably one of those classics where watching the BBC adaption will suffice. 

51. Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. 4/5.
I started reading this by accident after a case of mistaken identity, but found myself really enjoying it. It a gentle tale of a widower, the eponymous Pettigrew, and his everyday battles - with his obnoxious son, his angry sister in law, and his opinionated neighbours. Initially I wasn't convinced, I struggled to find anything likeable in the Major, but Simonson did a fantastic job of drawing his personality out as the tale went on, and he transformed from a snobbish and grumpy man into a principled and honest lead character. I found myself rooting for him as he befriended Mrs Ali, the widowed convenience store owner in his village, and as he supported her troubled family. 
A gentle but really lovely read, if a bit slow at times. It would lend itself to a cinematic portrayal well, and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets the Marigold Hotel treatment soon.