“Or maybe you’d rather have coffee. Three spoonfuls of ground beans in the bottom of the cafetiere, water just off boiling, and the bold crema that emerges when you press the plunger down, all glass and silver and daringly continental. I take mine black, first thing. Black and back to bed – and perhaps that’s a good rule, for the morning: however you begin, take it back to bed. I set the alarm ten minutes earlier just for this. Some people meditate; I make to-do lists in bed with a mug of something hot. Propped up against the pillows, cup in one hand, pen in the other, contemplating the day ahead: it’s sort of like a battle plan.”
All glass and silver and daringly continental.
Before she died, Nora Ephron wrote a list of the things that she was going to miss. Unsurprisingly for the author and filmmaker whose debut novel centred on a female chef, food figured pretty highly.
Nora said that she would miss bacon and waffles and, crucially, the very concept of waffles. Butter, too, was going to be sad to say goodbye to. “Dinner at home just the two of us.” Pie.
I thought of this list when I read Ella Risbridger’s Midnight Chicken, part memoir and part food diary. It’s an annotated list of recipes, sure, but it’s less of a cookbook in the sense that you might expect and more of a manifesto for life. These are recipes worth living for, Risbridger says. The kinds of things and ingredients and meals that scoop you up on your lowest days and remind you how wonderful the world can be.
Risbridger talks openly in the book about her depression, all the evenings when she came home from work and sat on her kitchen floor and cried. It was food that helped her through all of this, or more specifically, cooking. It was salting the pasta water and stirring the sauce, it was splashing in a little bit of wine and mopping up the stew with a fist of crusty bread. It was taking the coffee pot back to bed in the morning and dipping a toast corner into a swollen glob of egg yolk. It was making carbonara after eating an entire block of cheese with someone you knew was about to become your best friend.
Risbridger talks openly in the book about her depression, all the evenings when she came home from work and sat on her kitchen floor and cried. It was food that helped her through all of this, or more specifically, cooking.
I don’t know how versed you are in the world of food Twitter; if you’ve managed to avoid it thus far in your life I recommend keeping it that way. But there’s this trend at the moment online of criticising recipes that come with a big cinematic preamble before them. You know what I’m talking about, long swathes of introduction and lyrical waxings on the best brand of preserved lemons and the first time the author tried harissa. (Etc, etc, and so on and so forth.)
People hate those introductions. They hate them so much. You can’t log onto social media without seeing someone complaining about how those poetic paragraphs ruin the point of a recipe, which is to say, the method itself.
I’m not sure I agree. For me, the story will – and must – always come first. Read a book like Midnight Chicken and you’ll understand why. The recipes in it are great and I’ve enjoyed making the ones that I’ve tried. But more importantly, Risbridger takes the time to explain to you not only how to make this thing that she loves to make, but why making it soothed and nursed and nurtured and changed every corner of her life. This is a book about comfort food, in the truest sense of that phrase, and how much comfort there is to be found in food, too.