I’ve never been a big fan of books that have a diary format, that goes for fiction or nonfiction. Generally when I’m reading I just prefer my story line to flow, I want a narrative, unbroken. Diary formatting just messes up the scenes by breaking them up into odd chunks. Give me a real narrative with a few recipes tucked inside any day.
Though I suppose there are occasional books done in the diary format that I enjoy. Take Julie Julia, I enjoyed the book thoroughly and even thought the movie was fairly good. (We all know the book is almost always better, right?) But, at first the format of Julie Julia, adapted from blog posts, drove me nuts! It did grow on me however. I think because the story was really intriguing. Sophie Kinsella wrote a rather amusing book, I’ve Got Your Number all in the format of emails being exchanged. She is a pretty good writer, for all she writes light and silly novels, and actually pulled the email thing off. But, again it took a little while for me to adapt to the format.
I recently ended up browsing a copy of Nigel Slater’s newest, Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes. As you can obviously discern from the title this is a collection of Slater’s kitchen diaries. Notes to himself, meal plans, lists, and recipes make up the content. The notes and lists and whatnot come from Slater’s personal notebooks (or iPad as he adapted more technology into his routine).
The thing that attracted me to the cookbook at first was the cover, it has the look of personal notebook, or at least an artistic rendition of a personal notebook. Handwriting, colorful splatters. I love that free form not quite grunge, text heavy, handwritten style. I actually wish I could figure out how to give Feed Me that kind of vibe. Unfortunately, the cover’s style doesn’t continue to the inside. There is no handwriting, just standard type. There are no little sketches. No “splatters.” It’s too bad. I think if you go for the diary effect, it is so much better when the book looks like a very artistic diary.
The cookbook is laid out diary style, organized by the days the note came from, winding their way through the year. You probably already guessed this by now, but the format drove me completely bonkers at first. Diaries. Ugh. A diary turned cookbook means no index of recipes where I can figure out what I need for my meal plan, what sounds good to me to cook. Another cookbook, Smoke and Pickles has a kinda diary thing going on, but it does have an index. It’s easy to find the recipes without flipping through every single page and makes the diary style work a lot better for me. But, in Notes from the Larder, no index, so you really do have to flip through each and every page and read the dairy to figure out what you’ve got. Like most diaries of others there are some entries I am interested in, and some I am not. I admit it makes me frustrated.
Until I finally realized… that the book is like a collection of blog posts. Less artistic and handwritten then a paper journal. But, broken up by day, perhaps meant to be taken less as a book to be read front to back, and more to be browsed around. And suddenly I began to get past the format enough to really enjoy the book. Since becoming a blogger myself I’ve come to appreciate the style of the blog post. A self contained little story with a recipe perhaps. A one off. A blog post can be read by itself, not in relation to any other posts from the same site. Quick, fun, easy. I think this is how Slater’s book is best approached. Then it don’t bother you so much that there is no index… you can just enjoy his creative everyday cooking.
And Slater is indeed an exceptionally creative everyday cook. I wish I ate and cooked in such a way more regularly myself. It would take some effort on my part. There are many ingredients he uses that I personally don’t keep on hand. For me (probably somewhat due to location) they aren’t easily or inexpensively available. So repeating some of his dishes would certainly require some special shopping. However, I don’t find I mind this. So many things just sound so tasty and intriguing. It would be my hope that as I cook from his book that I find substations for ingredients that are not easily accessible to me and still turn out some unique dishes that can add more creativity to my everyday cooking.
Though I have strong feelings about this cookbook’s formatting, I think Slater is a strong enough cook that it’s worth giving his book a look anyhow. The recipes really do look delightful. The photos are generally nicely done. And if you enjoy a good diary read there is nothing to dislike here. Obviously I don’t care for the style and it is my biggest complaint, but, to each their own. Regardless I do believe you will enjoy the quality recipes and interesting takes on everyday cooking. Take a look and let me know what you think!