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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

One of the good things about not drinking is how it reinvigorates your interest in good, real food.

I'm not talking burgers and chips here, with fading, heat-sealed pictures on the wall, but proper food eaten as near to where it's grown as possible.

A neighbour of mine in a lovely, self-sustaining valley outside San José once told me he believed many of the world's problems (i.e., those to do with packaging) would be solved if everybody only ate what they could grow or hunt down for themselves and get it home that night. Before it went dark, preferably.

He had no use of recipes, whereas I've always been interested in cookery books and books about food and there is a difference in those two categories.

One has a lot of Latin names about where foodie things come from and the other has imperative instructions on how to cook them all.

There are really only two books in English that you need to bother about, if you are bothered at all. And this time we're not talking Jamie Oliver or even the blessed Delia. Let me bother you.

The first is Alan Davidson's treatise, which is called the Oxford Companion to Food. It's a big book, the sort you can rest your plate on, published by Oxford University Press and it costs a tidy £40.

Here's everything you need to know, from artichokes to zucchini. I see the spell checker monster doesn't like that. OK then, courgettes.

Let's try out the book. You must already know that courgettes are called zucchinis in America for this to work, or I should have chosen something else such as zebu, which I see here is an edible African hunch-backed cow. Let's see what Alan Davidson says:

"This is the anglicised (and internationally current) form of the Italian word which denotes one of the most luxuriant of dishes which is generally supposed to have been invented in the early 16th century at the Florentine court of the Medici...".

At least, that's what I thought it said until I realised that I was reading about zabaglione... But you get the idea.

Now I could go on and so does he, but do you get my drift? Ask me something else. What about Durian fruit, that awfully smelly thing they have in Thailand?

Here he goes: "A tropical fruit notorious for its taste and smell, either or both of which may provoke reactions ranging from revulsion to adulation..." and so on. There are no recipes, though. It is the ultimate in food information. It's as though what you do with it, by applying heat, is up to you.

The new edition of Larousse Gastronomique is a different kettle of aspic.

Here's the lavish tome recreated from the 1930s when French food was more than just supreme chicken. It's published by Hamlyn and is a snip at just £60. This one is too heavy to have on your lap. Sir Terence Conran says it should be on every kitchen shelf, though I happen to think his book about cooking should be there, too.

Want to know about aspic? Here it is: "A way of presenting cold cooked food (meat, poultry, foie gras, fish shellfish, vegetables or even fruit) by setting it in a moulded and decorated jelly."

Then it tells you how to do it all.

Everything is here, not exactly on a plate, but in the most informative way possible. It's timeless and immaculate.

It beats drinking for a living, I can tell you.

Rumours abound that the Queen Mum has gone to that great milliner in the sky. If it's true, you read it here first. Apparently her staff at Clarence House are mostly gay. She once called up the stairs: "Is there an old Queen up there who could bring an old Queen down here a large gin and tonic?"

Sinclair Newton