Wikepedia says that Notting Hill is an area in London, England, close to the north-western corner of Kensington Gardens, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is a cosmopolitan district known as the location for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, and for being home to the Portobello Road Market.
Many people know Notting Hill because of the 1999 movie with the same name starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant—a romantic comedy that just made me forget all my problems and feel really warm and gooshsy inside after I saw it. For me now, however, Notting Hill means so much more…it has depth…it has a connection to my heart…it is a place that I someday want to visit with my friend, Nanou, who lives in London.
Nanou and I have never met, but we know each other. She was born and raised in Algeria. She takes the subway to work. We talk to each other weekly, sometimes more than once, and when she’s riding the subway, she could be reading one of my posts on Ally’s Kitchen. I know about her sweet handsome husband who is Italian, she adores and loves ‘Papa,’ Steph’s father, and Papa is a wonderful Italian cook. Steph and Nanou can’t wait to start their family—they are young, vibrant, hard-working and love life! I also know that Nanou is also a great and accomplished cook.
Today I received in the mail a big heavy box. I knew exactly who it was from and what it was—Nanou and cookbooks! She has shared with me many of her Moroccan, Algerian, and Middle Eastern ideas for cooking, spices, recipes, and she said that there were two cookbooks that I had to have. Ones, Nanou said, that I probably could not find here in the U.S. She made it her mission to go to a small bookstore in Notting Hill to find them.
Like a 12 year-old kid who still believes in Santa, I could not wait to open the box! I looked at the large print on the box, Nanou’s writing, I’m thinking…how sweet is that. God bless her heart, she packaged these, scripted the address on the box, then toted it to the post to mail. With knife in hand I tore through the packaging tape and pulled out the carefully and individually wrapped heavy bags. So, what did Nanou send me?
‘The Fabulous Baker Brothers’ Wow! Now that I’m getting more into baking, and, of course, Nanou knew this, this cookbook might take me to the next level. I love what I’m reading on page 13 of Bread: The beginnings of everything, “The bread is in the middle of the table. People rip into it and conversation flows around it.” OMG, that’s what it’s like at our table, in our home, with family and friends! I put a freshly baked loaf of bread on a big worn wooden cutting board, soft butter, some jam, olive oil, place all this on the table, and it’s like a locust frenzy—no time for cutting, you simply pull and tear the bread getting a nice chunk. Then I start flipping through the pages looking at the pictures…yep, these Baker brothers are cuties. Tom writes, “Bread on the table is a sign that all is well, and to have the ability to make it yourself is one of life’s top joys.” I’m in love with Tom—he knows, he understands, he speaks my language! Ohhhh, still my beating heart as I continue fanning through the pages—I want to devour everything, but it will take time. Something else catches my eye—and my heart—‘Get Out of Trouble Chocolate Cake’ I adore chocolate, the recipe makes one ‘big’ cake—this is true cooking lingo—nothing specific. And it’s calling for only 6 ingredients—when I make, I’ll have to translate the measurements into U.S. conversions—that’s no big deal for a chocolate cake and recipes from the Baker Brothers!
The next cookbook is about the size and weight of a college organic chemistry textbook. “Mrs. Beeton How to Cook’ and it’s the 150th anniversary edition of the book with 200 classic recipes that have been modernized. Apparently, Mrs. Beeton’s cookbook was the most popular and enduring of the Victorian age—a must-have for every household. And to think, I’ve never heard of it—it’s iconic! Just goes to show you that I’ve been probably been living under a culinary mushroom! Nanou has inscribed each cookbook with a loving personal message—oh, how this makes me smile. With an introduction that gives a history of the author, ingredients, and recipes, I learn that Isabella Beeton died in 1865, and after that, her cookbook took on a life of its own. This cookbook is a compilation of real, wholesome and traditional British food. What’s traditional British food?
Leafing through I notice that it is different, the recipes, the ingredients. There’s ‘Pigeons & Mushrooms on Toast’ and ‘Roast Partridges.’ Oh, my, pigeons perch in city parks and a partridge is in a pear tree—geeze peeze, I have a lot to learn. There’s a recipe for ‘Chestnut Forcemeat”—hummmm, I recognize all the ingredients! A little over 400 pages of culinary adventure right here at my fingertips—a special and prized cookbook that once sat on a shelf, and I’ll imagine that it was a musty dusty one at that, in a quaint and character-filled book store in Notting Hill. When you open the creaky squeaky door, the bell attached to the door awakes the owner who straightens his herringbone vest and levels his spectacles—yes I’m imagining and dreaming and creating in my own mind, the recipe for how these cookbooks got to me across the big pond—isn’t this what real cooking is all about?
To my dear and special foodie, but, more importantly, my friend, Nanou, I am grateful for all the effort, expense and time you went to to get these treasured cookbooks to me. Without the world of Facebook, our connection woulld never have happened. And now a part of you is right here with me in my kitchen in the Low Country of South Carolina/USA…a far cry from London, England. Without the common thread of food, which blends and bonds all cultures, ethniticies, races, and humans, I would not have Nanou and so many others in my life. You inspire me and keep the burn inside my gut for cooking blazing!