Saturday, 27 August 2011

Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe - is Jenny Coglan's eleventh book and is dedicated to "anyone who has licked a spoon". This dedication alerts the reader to the author's gentle humour and sharp observation of human nature.


The Cupcake Cafe, decorated in fairy lights and candy stripes, is situated at 4 Pear Tree Court, Stoke Newington, in the cobblestone streets of old London which gives it a "Mary Poppins" feel.

"The evening was wonderfully warm and the soft lighting of The Cupcake Cafe blended with the fairy lights of the tree ...and some candles... put a magical glow on the whole of Pear Tree Court"

Three young women - Issy, Pearl and Caroline - each different in their own way, work together at the cafe, and sort through the problems many of us face in real life. The Cafe serves as the characters' sanctuary and the readers' fantasy.

Issy (Izabel), the owner of The Cupcake Cafe is recovering from a broken romance with her narcissistic boss who made her redundant from her office job. Jobless and jilted she uses her sizeable payout to fund the cafe and capitalize on her cooking skills taught to her by her much loved grandpa.

Pearl, who works as Issy's assistant at the Cafe, is trying to make ends meet as a single mother. Pearl and her son have been abandoned by a partner who cannot commit. Caroline is the new recruit recently divorced from her cheating husband.

Food in this book is used as a reminder, a manipulator, comfort food and a tribute. Chapter One starts with the recipe for Drop Scones and depicts a strong childhood memory of a loving grandfather (and baker) from whom Issy learned her cooking skills. 

In Chapter Four, jobless Issy comforts herself  with "Not Going To Work" Nutella Cookies. Ingredients include one pair of pyjamas!

In Chapter Six, Lemon "getting what you want" Cake is used by Issy to sweeten her landlord and secure the lease to the cafe.

By Chapter 19 Issy bakes her grandfather's favourite cake - the aromatic Simnel Cake - as a tribute to his life.

This is a pleasing story, light and buttery, that reads smoothly with no loose ends. However, the smattering of swear words are distracting to me as they clash with the sugar plum image of the story. Swearing is part of real life you say? Agreed. But the novel is escapist isn't it? 

Having said that, each character resolves their problems to a satisfactory conclusion. Moreover, the author boldly declares she has tested every recipe and guarantees their success. 
Author's Disclaimer

"Your cake will look like an ugly disaster. When people see your lemon cake they will feel sorry for you...and take a piece...then they will taste it...their eyes will pop open with delight. And then they will do anything you want." p88

Lemon "getting what you want" Cake    
4oz S.R flour (1 cup) 
1 tspn baking powder
4oz butter (I use 1 tablespoon only and it works)
4oz caster sugar (1 cup + 2 tablespoons)
2 large eggs
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon

2oz icing sugar (1/2 cup)
2 tspns water
1 tspn lemon juice


Preheat oven 375F. Grease loaf tin. Sift flour and baking powder. Add remaining ingredients. Beat well. Pour in to tin and bake for 20 minutes. Cake should look yellow and under done (not brown) and be just cooked through. Pour icing over warm cake to infuse. And then decide on what you want!


I have made this cake three times over the weekend  for my family and they still want more. This cake would be great at a picnic with a flask of tea. I had planned on drenching the cake in Lemoncello and creme fraiche or yogurt or whipped cream and berries for dessert but as you can see... they only left the crumbs...AGAIN.

©2011 My Novel Idea Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher

How does one go about picking a foodie novel?

It is not an exact genre like horror, fantasy or romance nor does it have its own shelf in a bookstore. If you ask a salesperson for a suggestion, you will get a blank look in return and a hand pointing you to the recipe section. Trawling through online bookstores gives pretty much the same result. I don't want recipe books! I want novels that feature food as an expression of a deeper story line. 

The first thing to catch the eye is the book's cover which usually features an artistic picture of produce, table settings or cooking utensils; or it will have a food word in the title, or mention a foodie destination such as France or Italy or perhaps a location such as a cafe or bakery. You can also read the blurb on the dust jacket and the first paragraph to test out the author's style - but, be warned - there is no real measure of whether the story will rise or flop.

"The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted" by Bridget Asher met this criteria - an enticing  location,  a romantic stone house and a blurb that told of "a journey from grief to happiness with the the help of magic and delicious pistou soup." Unfortunately, this book promised a lot and delivered very little.

The entire book waffled on in every mundane detail. It was like talking to someone who never gets to the point. But that is just me. There are many people who enjoy the gossipy details of a Woman's Weekly read. If you are one of these people, then the book is for you. For me, it was like wading through sticky dough as every minute detail of the main character's every day life, and all she came in contact with, was sliced and diced.

Are we there yet?

I kept asking myself when will this story start?  At page 128 she finally gets to Paris "without being prepared and without time to brace." 

It took her all of Part One and she still wasn't prepared??

And even then she told us about her 'to do' lists, passports and hotel bookings, reservations, internal clocks, airports and taxis, and then the sightseeing, the posing in front of statues, how they got robbed, how it started to rain. Even the car breaks down in this endless list of ingredients that delivers a half baked idea. 

Can we get to the food please?
Are we at the centuries old stone house yet?
Where is the magic?
And the dusty box of old recipes you promised?

I never got  up the appetite to reach the end of the book, although it does come highly recommended as an "enchanting tale", a "sumptuous exploration" that "brims with wisdom and laughter". 

Do we really need to be told when the character got her first period or how she thought her father's swimming trunks were too short? Do we really need to read about all the generations that came before her husband's untimely death in a car accident? 

Food has no real role in this book or storyline, other than as sparse decoration - a sprinkling here or there. The main character tells us she is a baker but she didn't bake a thing.

Pistou Soup

In provencal language "pistou" means pounded and refers to the herbs used in this dish. Think pesto!

50g butter
3 leeks thinly sliced
2 carrots diced
2 stalks celery chopped
10 cups chicken stock
Black and white peppercorns
Fresh thyme and parsley for garnish
12 green beans
3 potatoes
2 medium zucchinis diced
2 tomatoes chopped
4 tablespoons pesto
1 can cannelloni beans
1 cup small macaroni


Fry leeks in butter until soft. Add leeks to chicken stock together with the vegetables. Half way through cooking add 2 tablespoons  pesto. Add macaroni and when soft heat through the canneloni beans. Add the remaining pesto. Season. Add fresh herbs. Serve with croutons or in my case, bruschetta topped with grilled cheese.

 "I could see the pale golden chicken resting in its deep sauce of tomatoes, garlic and peppers. I could smell the wine, the garlic and the fennel." p241

Provencal Crockpot Chicken

12 pieces of skinned chicken (I used 2 chickens cut in to pieces)
2 large capsicum seeded and cut in to wide strips
2 large onions thinly sliced
1 cup black olives
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
1 large fennel sliced
Fresh  peel of 1 orange (optional)
2 teaspoons herbs "provencal"

Note: Provencal herbs include thyme, majoram, oregano, basil, savory, lavender. In supermarkets you will find all sorts of spices - Italian, Moroccan etc but no French. The Italian mix comes the closest or, make your own or, settle for Bouquet Garni or a bayleaf.

It is a Crockpot! so put all the ingredients in at once, close the lid, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit in the sun. Takes 4-6 hours

©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved