Today is spent mainly at the home of my friend Alison who is hosting me, Douglas and Rob. Together we make up the writing group we call DARK after our initials. These meetings are often very intellectual as the other three all achieved the doctorate of management that we all studied for, and Rob is now an academic, and on the verge of producing a significant book about organisation development (OD) in real life.

When we meet we share pieces of writing for discussion. This time Alison has brought her thoughts on why and how she is writing what will end up being a beautifully crafted and significant book on writing and experience, experience and writing. Rob has brought what may be the final chapter of his important book on OD. Douglas treats us to what turns out to be an incredibly well-crafted and deeply-felt oration on the experience of having his latest novel critiqued in the FT, next to other writers who are already professional novelists, by someone who gave an awful lot of space to Douglas’s novel given that he seemed to be suggesting that Douglas wasn’t really a novelist because he was actually (also) a businessman. (I wonder if the idea of the renaissance (wo)man/polymath is dead and think that maybe it is!)

My contribution this time is the first few pages of this diary, which is one of the least intellectual things I have written for a while!

Harissa Paste in a tube

My friends say they enjoyed reading it and encourage me to continue. We wonder whether it could be a book. Perhaps I could placate my friend and publisher Dan with this, given that there is no way I will finish my novel by his preferred delivery date of end of October.

Douglas wonders if I could adapt the recipes of celebrity cooks in an amusing real-world-real-cook way. He cites a friend who, trying out a simple recipe with a small number of ingredients in a recent book by a famous chef, suddenly discovered that there was a secret sixth ingredient. Which was harissa paste. In a version that apparently costs fifteen quid a jar.

While he’s telling this story and I am getting his point, I suddenly sidetrack myself inside my head by wondering if Liz threw out my harissa paste with the other out-of-date ingredients. And then wondering how I will manage without harissa paste!

And I am embarrassed at myself. Some people are relying on food banks to get through the week and I manage to be so careless as to let things go out of date and then I worry about managing without harissa paste?!?!  Which I hadn’t even heard of until a few years ago.  What does that say about the sort of person I have become?

(I check when I’m back home and I do have some harissa paste. So that’s alright then! ??????)

I like Douglas’ idea, but I suspect that it may not be right for me. I agree that many recipe books require more ingredients and equipment than most of us have at our disposal. But some of the celebrity chefs produce wonderful recipes (or their staff do, I sometimes think). I don’t think I want to have a go at their penchant for difficult-to-find ingredients. I’ve been pleased to be introduced to them. Yotam Ottolenghi for example, is the reason I have preserved lemons and rose water in my stash and I am pretty sure that his work is going to be crucial to my ability to get through the stock cupboard challenge with some pleasure. (By the way I notice that in his books Yotam Ottolenghi gives ample space to acknowledging others – other cooks, his own team. I find I like him all the more for that.)

But I do get Douglas’ idea. A big way we experience good cooking these days is via our TVs. When I think about how rarely I cook a really pleasurable meal for myself or others–yes, the food itself matters, but following an exact recipe is not the route to a great meal with friends–so much else goes into that.  Not just what you are serving to eat, but the accompanying drinks, the table settings, the lighting and any music you might play, but most of all, the company. The company.

While I enjoy some of the cooking programmes on TV, I find others very hard to take while many people in the world do not have enough food at all.

In the light of that, my caper dilemma is actually quite shameful.