I Liked Hurting Girls: A Bookseller on Diary of an Oxygen Thief, Milk and Honey, Young People and the Internet.

Recently, I tweeted a thread about Diary of an Oxygen Thief, and now that I’ve actually read the book in question, I’ve got even more to say. So buckle up.

Content note: within this post, there is a brief mention of rape and an extract from Milk and Honey which details sexual abuse.

The gist of the thread was that over summer, we had a slew of teens drop into the bookshop to enquire about Diary of an Oxygen Thief. Not only had I never heard of it, but it was long out of print and it didn’t really seem like the kind of book most teachers would put on a summer reading list. I could only find second-hand copies available to buy on Amazon for around fifty quid a pop, with no obvious reissue or movie adaptation on the horizon that would explain a sudden peak in interest. When I started to ask about it, they all said the same thing: “I don’t know, I just heard it’s really good.”

Why, suddenly, were the teenagers of Ilford interested in a 2006 novel-slash-memoir, set mostly in the States but originally self-published in Amsterdam, described by one reviewer as “artsy, swoon-worthy and kinky”? A quick Google told me everything I needed to know: reincarnations of the same image appeared over and over again, spread far and wide across social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram:


You can see why such a punchy opening line – “I liked hurting girls” might appeal to teenagers, just beginning to experience the rocky terrain of sex, relationships and heartbreak for the first time.

I’d experienced this phenomenon before, back in those halcyon days of 2012 when the air was thick with Olympic small talk and I was living in a shabby Leyton flat with a bin bag for a front door. Between requests for 50 Shades of Grey and Gone Girl (i.e. 95% of books sold during the summer of 2012), a constant stream of teenagers flowed through the bookshop hoping to pick up a 2006 American YA book called Looking for Alaska. Unlike Diary of an Oxygen Thief, we did indeed stock Looking for Alaska but I couldn’t work out where all this interest was coming from. Because I like to involve myself in literally everyone’s business, I started to ask customers where they’d heard about Looking for Alaska and they all said the same thing: “I don’t know, I just heard it’s really good.”

That didn’t really answer my question. But where did you hear it was really good? And why now? Why this book, six years after publication? Do you all know each other? Are you all part of an underground teen book group and everyone’s sworn to secrecy? Again, there was no film adaptation on the horizon and – wildly – this wasn’t even his most recent novel: a hardback called The Fault in Our Stars had just been released in the US. Six months later, in January 2013, the paperback of The Fault in Our Stars hit the UK and John Green became a household name, but the subsequent success of his rejacketed back catalogue didn’t explain how so many young people were seeking out his first novel six months previously.

The answer is of course THE INTERNET. Not some kind of wild biblio-branded witchcraft, not psychic librarians or literary voodoo: just the plain old run-of-the-mill internet doing what it does best, which is propelling a random assortment of things, like dead gorillas and polls about naming research vessels, into the current zeitgeist.

For John Green, it was YouTube. He and his brother Hank have a YouTube channel, which is of course wildly successful. Back in 2012, this was a new thing, so it isn’t surprising to learn that most of the teenagers I spoke to about Looking for Alaska were more inclined to shrug off my questions than try to explain to a 25 year old nan in a bookshop how a vlog works. I imagine it would have been as successful as me trying to explain the plot of Minority Report to my mother.

This is social media getting young people excited about literature in a way that is totally organic. They’re finding something they like – a beautiful quote or a perfect paragraph – taking a photo and passing it on. How amazing, to find a picture of the first page of a book and feel so inspired and intrigued, you go to your local bookshop and track it down? How amazing to think that teenagers are doing this all over the country?

Another example of online word of mouth really lifting a book to lofty heights is Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. Milk and Honey, an illustrated poetry collection about relationships, trauma, sexual abuse, breakups and heartbreak, is also explicit, emotional and very social media friendly.


Again, we had dozens and dozens of teenagers asking for this book, and once again it started as an elusive American self-pub. It was possible to order Milk and Honey into the shop, but most teens declined the offer. Out of the few that did decide to place an order, even fewer followed through and picked the book up once it arrived. As a result, we ended up squirrelling the uncollected copies away into the poetry section, where they were perused by many a young hand but were seldom purchased. Why? I can hazard a guess: they wanted to see it, read it, flip through the pages, touch it, but they didn’t want to take it home, they didn’t want to have it in their possession, they didn’t want to be caught with it.

All of this is, after all, happening within the private world of a mobile phone – the digital equivalent of passing a note in class. It’s happening away from the prying eyes of parents, teachers, and other adults, who may well disapprove of the graphic adult nature of some of these books.


So let’s get into it. Looking for Alaska is about a misfit young man who falls in love with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Perhaps not the most inspirational feminist text, but there’s nothing unusual there, and it’s a great book about love and loss and grief so well done the internet, that’s one point to you.*

Milk and Honey is a gateway for teenagers, particularly but not exclusively girls and young women, to think about and discuss sensitive but essential topics such as consent, feminism, migration, racism, rape and relationships, as well as sexual and physical abuse, all through a lens of poetry. Milk and Honey could open the door to poets as diverse as Maya Angelou to Warsan Shire to Silvia Plath.

Meanwhile, Diary of an Oxygen Thief is actually quite a vile book: it’s a vanity project written by an anonymous ad exec which is written like a memoir but sold as fiction**. The story is about an alcoholic misogynist who falls wildly in love with a woman who later publicly humiliates him, and the book is the narrator’s desperate attempt to regain control of his own humiliation.

It felt derivative and self-indulgent to me, a 30-year-old woman who has read more books written by misogynists than she’d care to admit, but it’s still a perfectly valid jumping off point for teens to discover Bret Easton Ellis, or Charles Bukowski, or the Beats, or The Catcher in the Rye, or even Perks of Being a Wallflower, which as an epistolary novel has a similar self-consciousness towards the reader as Diary of an Oxygen Thief.

Diary of an Oxygen Thief – which has just come back into print, although I’ve learned from the publisher that the reissue has nothing to do with teenagers discovering the book online – is a horrible, cynical book. The main character is vile and his attitude towards women is vile. If you’re reading this and feeling anxious, disappointed or frustrated that young people are discovering this unwholesome book over more feminist-friendly texts, you’re missing the point.

Social media is brilliant and teenagers are brilliant and we should let them read whatever the fuck they like. Books don’t have age certificates attached, and nor should they. Although we can try to steer young people towards great books, solemnly dumping a copy of Gormenghast in front of a fan of The Hunger Games isn’t the answer. We cannot – as booksellers, as adults – be gatekeepers of literature and the assumption that young people approach literature with no critical gaze whatsoever is incredibly condescending. If books help to shape us, surely that also includes the books that help us to decide what we do not want to be?

*Side note: John Green later wrote Paper Towns which is arguably a response to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope of the eponymous Alaska.
** Is it a memoir? Is it a fictionalised account of real events? Is this a JT LeRoy situation, and the anonymous author is really someone completely different?

May: Smokin’ Books

This edition of Smokin’ Books is fashionably late because I turned thirty over the weekend and I had to deal with that. I actually feel pretty chill about turning thirty. Let’s do our thirties now, etc. I’ve been balls deep in great books this month – a flight to Prague helped speed things along. I always travel with a book for each leg of a journey, one for whilst I’m there and a back up book just in case. The one time I didn’t follow this simple formula, I ran out of books by the flight home and it was a fucking disaster. I had to read The Alchemist.

the girls

The Girls by Emma Cline.
California, 1969: a long, lonely summer of suburban ennui is shattered when fourteen year old Evie meets bohemian free spirit Suzanne. This is The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test meets The Poison Tree with a squeeze of The Beach and I loved it very, very much. The writing style is almost breathless, dreamy and vivid, like the elaborate diary of a teenage girl. I feel like this is up there in “most anticipated books this summer” and if you can afford the hardback, I urge you to pick it up asap. (UK release: June 16th).


Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey.
Elyria hitches rides with strangers, sleeps in barns, hangs out in roadside diners and gradually reveals why she opted to leave the rain and pain of New York to hitchhike around New Zealand on her own. This book reminds me of Ali Smith’s The Accidental – the run on sentences and the recklessness and the slippery protagonist – if the Accidental had just stuck with the irreverent Amber. Nobody is Ever Missing has a really distinctive voice that won’t be for everyone, but I have a soft spot for books about women like Elyria; women who are young and struggling to work out who they are versus who those around them want or expect them to be.


Fell by Jenn Ashworth.
If books always had their own fragrance, Fell would smell like saltwater and mildew. Narrated by the ghosts of the Annette’s parents as they watch their adult daughter return to their dilapidated family home, Fell is a ghost story unlike any other. Fell isn’t trying to be frightening or overly melancholic, but it strikes a chord somewhere between a thriller and a nostalgic telling of a childhood lost. As I read Fell, I understood that Jenn Ashworth is a writer that I just implicitly trust to take me somewhere I want to be. (Although I also feel like I need to reread A Kind of Intimacy with my fat politics hat on so there’s that). (UK release: July 14th).


The Vegetarian by Han Kang.
The Vegetarian is one of those books that crawled into my heart and died there. It’s so much darker than I imagined, with some beautiful and disturbing imagery that I’m sure I won’t forget for a very long time. There is a duality between beauty and ugliness in The Vegetarian: flowers painted on naked skin, nipples through a summer shirt. It’s a slim volume that cut deep, that really hurts, like a hangnail or a papercut.

I love dick

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus.
This is one of those marmite books: some readers say it’s one of the most important books they’ve ever read whilst others seem to hate it. Ever the contrarian, I feel the same way about I Love Dick as I do about marmite: yeah it’s alright. I like it as a crisp flavour but I wouldn’t have it on toast. It’s a book about obsession and the breaking down of socially constructed barriers. It’s also a book about intellectualism and fucking (is that a genre?). It reminded me of a more theory-drenched (dare I say less engaging?) Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger. I love books about women going off-piste and breaking rules and hearts and records for wild behaviour though, so of course I lapped this up.

April: Smokin’ Books

I’ve started to write little book reviews on Instagram (#smokinbooks via @smokintofu) and honestly, I’m having the time of my life. I’ve never felt more alive. Here’s April’s edition of Smokin’ Books:


With a small town backdrop of secluded woodlands and a remote lake, best friends Dex and Lacey take turns to tell their story. It’s a bloody story, a story of sex, death, rumours, Satanism and Kurt Cobain. Girls on Fire thrums with the hot, heavy rawness of early Nirvana and burns with the witchy intense passion of a teenage girl. Read it if you like Megan Abbott’s The Fever, Rachel Klein’s The Moth Diaries, Jenn Ashworth’s Cold Light or Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places.


The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge won the Costa Book of the Year 2016 – a banging accolade, but also because this makes Hardinge the first female YA author to win the overall prize (the first and only other Costa Children’s Book category winner to win the Book of the Year was Philip Pillman’s the Amber Spyglass in 2001. Make you think). It’s a slippery book about gender and death in the Victorian scientific community, but it’s also about family, loss, lies, ambition, social class and (most importantly) a fucking cracking ghost subplot. Faith is a riveting and fearless protagonist and I gulped through this book.


If you haven’t come across Caitlin Doughty’s YouTube series Ask a Mortician, you’re in for a treat (if you can get past the wackiness – which I struggled with at first, but I overcame it due to the top notch content). Death according to Doughty is a complicated and taboo business – business in the literal, capitalist sense of the word. Doughty’s book is part memoir, part anthropological study and part history lesson. I love her voice because her use of humour juxtaposed with empathy reminds me of my father and the way he talked about his job as a surgeon: with wit and with passion, but ultimately with respect. This book won’t be for everyone (Doughty doesn’t believe in shying away from the nitty gritty and spares few details), but I urge you all to engage with the death-positive movement and give it a go.

Hanya Yanagihara-A Little Life

Everyone said it’s totally devastating. It is indeed totally devastating. A Little Life is a beautifully written, meticulously crafted novel that delivers the inevitable emotional sucker punch I was promised.

Although the blurb claims A Little Life is about four college graduates based in NYC, it’s really about Jude. It’s impossible to read A Little Life without falling in love with Jude, without obsessively worrying about Jude, without hoping that Jude gets some kind of respite from his traumatic past and painful present.

It’s a meandering, ponderous novel with the self-indulgence that only literary fiction can get away with. It’s also relentless: relentlessly grim, relentlessly harrowing, relentlessly hyerbolically traumatic. The detailed account of physical, emotional and sexual abuse is exhausting – but only because the characters are all so well formed, their pain and fears feel completely real. The thing is – and I feel like I must be the only person on the planet that felt this way – I’m not sure I particularly enjoyed the journey. By the time I reached the 700th page I just wanted the whole experience to be over.

Cookbook Review: Wild Drinks & Cocktails

My father once told me there are just two types of cocktail. For all the fizzes and slings, martinis and daiquiris in the world, there are actually just two different types.

I was eighteen, dressed in black velvet, and we were drinking dry Manhattans in the lounge of Frederick’s in Islington. We picked Manhattans because I liked bourbon and Dad liked “classic cocktails”. It was there, on his fiftieth birthday, that he told me something that I now understand to be wrong. He looked me in the eye, his second-born, a gothic vision licking garlic butter from her fingertips, and said: “Alice, there are only two types of cocktail: the timeless classics and the utter bollocks that people only drink on holiday.”

Oh, Dad.


There are two types of cocktail: there’s the cocktails I’ll drink, and then there’s the cocktails I’ll drink again. I still think about the violet martini I had with Nisha in a sticky cocktail bar in Camden, when Camden was a place that was worth the hike on the Northern line. There was the lychee-rose bubble bath martini that was as much showmanship as it was mixology, served complete with a miniature rubber duck from Lounge Boheme in Shoreditch.

Flicking through Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han, I was a little overwhelmed. My history of cocktail-making is pretty shady (the last earnest attempt resulted in the invention of the WKD Martini – bleak shit). Anyway, it’s a stunning book with a soft matte cover, filled with glossy photos that showcase a variety of gorgeous, colourful concoctions served in A+ glassware. The introduction is beautifully written (“I gathered the creamy white blossoms in the company of bees”) and this delicate use of language runs throughout the recipes.

I did have some questions to begin with: what actually is a rosehip? isn’t a switchel a stick for smacking naughty bottoms? why do we need a medical disclaimer in a cocktail book?

Firstly, I think it’s worth dissecting the word ‘wild’: on the surface, this means ‘foraged’, as though we often find ourselves scratching our heads over what to do with brimming baskets filled with the ripest of peaches, persimmons, cranberries and pine nuts pilfered from our surroundings. In reality, the author is quick and regular with her reminders that farmers market alternatives are fine, which I presume is unspoken permission to apply the methods and techniques of Wild Drinks and Cocktails to the Tesco Basics range as well, so the sceptical reader shouldn’t feel put off by the foraging framework of the book.

At the end of the day, a rosehip by any other name, right?


I decided to make simple syrup just because it seems to be the kind of thing a gal might be grateful to have lying around the flat one of these days and, as I had some Oakland lavender waiting to be put to good use, a fragrant lavender variant. The lavender syrup was a hit shaken with Hendricks, vermouth and rose water for a floral spin on a gin martini.

Raspberry Shrub happens to be the name of the most delightful cocktail to ever bless my liver, the Raspberry Shrub of Duck Soup on Frith Street in Soho. It’s a tart little tincture of raspberry vinegar, vodka, lemon and thyme, and as soon as it touched my lips I knew the real nitty gritty of recreating the cocktail would lie in the quality of that vinegar. It seemed impossible – where the fuck does one buy raspberry vinegar that doesn’t taste like pickly salad dressing? The raspberry shrub recipe seemed a sensible scientific experiment and yielded very positive results. I love to shake a shot of it with an equal measure of good quality olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper for a mean little salad dressing.

Next I boiled a pot of cranberries in filtered tap water, which steamed the winter-chilled kitchen windows with alacrity, to mash and sieve to create a velveteen mors sweetened with honey. It’s tarter than your average high street cranberry juice drink, and makes the silkiest of mixers to lengthen a Cosmopolitan.

Finally – bourbon spiked with the last of the summer peaches* and a handful of toasted pecans. I think this will be delicious mixed into a Deep Southern Old Fashioned or lengthened with a little lemonade to create a seasonal twist on the Lynchburg Lemonade, but at the time of writing the pecans are still infusing.

*(hot house Spanish peaches actually – as I said, go fast and loose with the term ‘wild’ and you’ll be fine).

The delightful thing is that these five concoctions – lavender and simple syrups, cranberry mors, raspberry shrub and peach-pecan bourbon – were all whipped up in less than an hour, with minimal fuss and at little expense.

The key to using Wild Drinks and Cocktails is to treat it like a reference book and, like all cookbooks, to deviate from the recipes depending on what you have to hand. I’m unlikely to come across a bunch of sumac berries in Leytonstone, so the delectable Sumac-ade of page 35 will probably remain unmade, but recipes for rose water, natural fruit squashes, homemade grenadine (it’s made from pomegranates! Who knew!), infused vodkas, gins and rums are all deceptively cheap and simple to produce.

As with all cookbook reviews, I spent a lot of time with this book, reading through each recipe, compiling lists of ingredients and equipment, and I have fallen very much in love with it. I love cocktails – the history, the glamour, the booze – and this book has already upped my game.


Raspberry Shrub

RASPBERRY SHRUBS OFTEN POP UP IN NINETEENTH- AND EARLY TWENTIETH century American housekeeping manuals, and those early recipes inspired the version you see here. And the result is a winner: it’s beautifully vibrant in both color and flavor. Of course, there’s still plenty of room for experimentation, so you could easily substitute another berry, or try out a different kind of vinegar: a mix of red wine vinegar and Champagne vinegar is my preferred choice for raspberries, but all-red or all-Champagne works, too.

2 cups (250 g) raspberries
1 cup (235 ml) Champagne vinegar
1 cup (235 ml) red wine vinegar
2 cups (400 g) sugar

Place the raspberries in a bowl and lightly crush them using a potato masher or a fork. Transfer the raspberries and their juices to a sterilized quart (1 L) jar. Pour the Champagne vinegar and red wine vinegar into the jar, making sure the raspberries are completely submerged.

Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth. Cover the jar with a nonreactive lid (see page 89). Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 1 week, shaking it daily and ensuring that the raspberries stay submerged. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer; discard the solids. Combine the vinegar and sugar in a sterilized container with a nonreactive lid. Refrigerate for 1 week more, shaking the jar daily to help dissolve the sugar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.


Recipe and image extracted from Wild Drinks & Cocktails by Emily Han, published by Fair Winds Press (£14.99)

Body Positivity: Fuck Your #Fatkini Handwringing

Well butter my arse and call me a biscuit: fat women are doing something that doesn’t involve Gok Wan with a pair of Spanx and people are freaking the fuck out. Must be a day that ends in whiskey.

I presume the handwringing over the fatkini hashtag – in which chunky chicks post bikini pics of themselves to Instagram and Twitter – is because photos of fat bodies are usually reserved for the obligatory cautionary whale pictures used to illustrate hard-hitting articles about the rise in diabetes, heart disease and cancer. We’re not used to seeing fat people unclothed in any other context.

On the day it was published, I read Daisy Buchanan’s article in The Debrief about #fatkini and frankly, I lost my shit – we’re talking Rubyyy-Jones-fucking-a-shoe-shit-fit, and I’m not even that fussed about the #fatkini movement. This blog post isn’t written as a direct response to Ms Buchanan’s work and I have no interest in picking her article apart, stitch by flimsy stitch, because anyone reading this is probably adequately engaged with body politics to do that for themselves. I could write a book on the bullshit packed into such a short piece, but this one line in particular made me want to smear myself in buttercream and run naked through the streets of London screaming “I AM NOT A FUCKING FETISH”:

“Fetishising fat is no more healthier or more admirable than fetishising thin.”

Think about that for a second, think about the context of that statement in regards to the #fatkini photographs. Fetishising, she says. Fetishising, as if the sole purpose of #fatkini is to bring the sexy back to fat, to prove to the world that we’re still fuckable in our size 22 swimwear. 

How about, when we look at an image of a joyful woman, throwing her arms in the air and having a laugh in swimwear, we try not to instantly and exclusively see her as a sex object? How about that radical feminist chestnut in which we acknowledge that women don’t exist to be looked at, to be spunked over, to be fetishised and fantasised about? How about we keep our fucking boners to ourselves instead of chastising those naughty women for flaunting every curve and every ripple, every dimple and every fold?


“Essentially I think #fatkini is exacerbating an existing problem,” says Ms Buchanan’s ‘naturally slender’ pal Jenny, “where we’ve ended up thinking it’s very important to praise the attractiveness of bigger people, at the expense of everyone else, to be politically correct.”

Here’s the kicker: we aren’t asking for your fucking approval. We don’t need anyone to tell us we’re fucking fierce. We don’t need to be patronised or pandered to and this ridiculous notion that bigger bodies are being exclusively praised above all others is such utter nonsense I can’t – I actually can’t – damn well deal with it.

These photographs are not for you to fetishise or critique, they are not for you to condemn. We aren’t sharing our bikinied bodies to inspire a debate or to give you a hard on for faux-concern about our health. It’s about our own agency to do what the fuck we want with our bodies, because here’s the crux of it all: whether we’re in bikinis or – as Ms Buchanan so delicately put it – body bags, we’re still fat and that fatness is with us all the time.

If sharing a photograph of my body is “glorifying obesity”, where’s the line? Am I “glorifying obesity” by wearing a bikini in public? Is ASOS Curve “glorifying obesity” by selling bikinis in bigger sizes to begin with? If a fat woman in a bikini takes a photo of herself in a forest and she has no internet reception to post the picture online, is she still glorifying obesity?

Is it so ridiculous, such a wild fantasy, to imagine that these photos are expressions of confidence, of happiness? Is it beyond comprehension that the purpose of these photos is not to inspire mediocre think pieces from liberal journalists, but in fact to instil confidence in other fat people, to encourage them to learn to love themselves, to enjoy their lives without shame or self-hatred? To go to the beach and wear gorgeous swimwear, to be happy with their silhouette and to trust that the love they receive from the world is legitimate, deserved and allowed?

Because listen, those of you who are so concerned about the health of fat folk: it takes confidence to go to the GP, it takes confidence to sign up to a gym, it takes confidence to jog in public and keep your head held up high when faced with the open hatred and ridicule hurled from total strangers at the sight of your jiggling booty as you run. Sometimes it takes confidence to get out of bed, to leave the house, to go to work, and sometimes that confidence just isn’t there. And do you know something? Confidence and happiness are better bedfellows to good health than shame, self-loathing and depression.

It’s possible to love your body and take good care of it whilst carrying extra weight. The complete disregard for mental health in the face of faux-concern for physical health would be laughable if it wasn’t so fucking heart breaking.

Must I remind you that unless you’re some kind of fat whisperer, able to silently communicate with fatties through clairvoyance, you have no way of knowing what an individual’s lifestyle is like without actually asking them about it, so perhaps it’s best we keep our opinions on other people’s health to ourselves.

Now here’s a picture of my fucking tits:



Further reading: 

Arched Eyebrow – Life Doesn’t Start When You’re Thin

Cookbook Review: Vegan Finger Foods


We all learnt some valuable lessons about cocktails the night I decided to review Vegan Finger Foods by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes. Firstly, we discovered that just because my mother calls a bottle of booze ‘violet liquor’, it doesn’t actually mean there is violet liquor in said bottle. Always Google the label, lest you end up creating the WKD martini (on the bright side, I reckon there’s a market for these – I mean, not in any bar I’d like to visit, but whatever).


We also discovered that we can make an endless supply of olive juice by topping up the jar with tap water after each drink. Nisha and I like our martinis really fucking dirty, so this discovery was a life changer. A truly dirty martini has to be saltier than a merman’s spunk and spiked with enough vodka to take the lips off Cher and we achieved that from the comfort of my kitchen without having to make awkward sex jokes with inept bartenders or buying twelve jars of olives just for the juice. On the other hand, “endless supply of olive juice” meant there was nothing to stop of from drinking the best part of a large bottle of Absolut. Oh, the regret.


The cocktails were accompanied by what I shall modestly refer to as serious kitchen wizardry. I was offered the chance to give Vegan Finger Foods a spin, and decided to whip up some snacks to be washed down with our strong ass drinks. I say ‘whip up’ as though it was an easy breezy five minutes stirring pans and sipping martinis like a Stepford wife instead of a sweaty military operation in which I slugged vodka like my life depended on it.

As soon as I turned the first page, I was in love with this book. It was the vegan RuPaul to my Michelle Visage, the Piper to my Crazy Eyes. I was one tapenade recipe away from changing my Facebook relationship status to “It’s Complicated.” It’s the kind of book that people flick through and then put on their ‘seriously what the fuck is this witchcraft’ face.  I decided to make a spread of Party Olives, Marinated Mushrooms, Chipotle Almonds, Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites and Pantry Raid Ranch Dip.

The subsequent snacks were a hit and it wasn’t just because we were shit-faced on Absolut and olive brine. I always know my urban family are knocked sideways by a meal when no one will talk to me whilst we eat and I’m telling you, you could’ve heard a bollock drop in the silence that loomed over that dinner.


Party Olives are a jumble of kalamatas, queen greens and almonds, baked in a boozy mix of red wine, berbere, garlic and shallots. Unfortunately, I did botch this one as I was a bit fast and loose with the assumption that I would easily source berbere in London. I cobbled together my own version and ended up with mulled olives which smelt like Christmas in July. Aside from that one error in judgement, the rest of the recipes came together without a hitch. The Buffalo Bites were to die for: breaded tofu marinated in a spicy buffalo sauce, baked and served hot, dipped in creamy Pantry Raid Ranch and a maple-sriracha sauce. I’ve taken the buffalo bites to a barbecue too, and I have a feeling they will become a staple in my regular recipe revolution.  The mushrooms – raw, marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, minced shallots, agave and a blend of dried and fresh herbs – softened in the acids almost like a ceviche. Not a lone button mushroom remained by the end of the night.

Aside from my cock up with the berbere (which I later found in Whole Foods), the ingredients err on the side of simple – tofu, fresh vegetables, the odd dairy-free substitute like almond milk or soy yoghurt, dried herbs. It’s a book of casual eating for carefree home cooks and I couldn’t recommend it enough to vegans and non-vegans alike.

Cookbook Review: Honestly Healthy for Life is Honestly Bollocks.

Here’s the T: I wouldn’t have agreed to review Honestly Healthy for Life if I’d realised it was a cookbook pushing a fad diet. The tagline – healthy alternatives for everyday eating – sounded innocuous enough, and when I skimmed through a PDF preview of the book, I skipped the verbose 57 page intro straight to the spread of recipes. Honestly Healthy appeared to be serving up wholesome vegetarian meals and snacks with a strong foundation in fresh ingredients that looked simple, delicious and healthy.

Honestly Healthy is actually the name of the latest anti-cancer-live-forever-quack-don’t-crack miracle diet in which you mostly eat foods that “turn alkaline in the stomach” and in return you become like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. The Honestly Healthy diet claims to cure everything from heartburn, psoriasis and cystitis to stammering, allergies and miscarriages – oh, and you can ditch the antidepressants because everything will come up roses once you quit eating steak, miso and honey.

honestly healthy

I gave my copy of Honestly Healthy for Life to my resident beardo Smokin Brofu, who gesticulated a lot as he worked his way through all the Bad Science. He explained that you can no more turn acid into alkaline than you can turn a pig into a duck. A quick Google pulled up more anti-bullshit articles and it quickly became apparent that Honestly Healthy is Honestly Bollocks.

The thing is, I’m sure following this diet to the letter would result in weight loss, reduced blood pressure, clearer skin and all that jazz: that’s the nature of preparing all your own meals, reducing your intake of fatty snacks, fizzy drinks, caffeine, booze, dairy, red meat, corn syrup and living a bland but virtuous lifestyle. This is healthy eating 101 with a new name slapped on its rump, a new arbitrary list of bad foods to avoid and the same old irresponsible promises.


It’s frustrating because it is otherwise a brilliant book: yeah the ‘Girls Night In’ chapter made my eye twitch (must we? MUST WE?) and I think I verbally sighed at the ‘Flat Tummy’ chapter (yo, French Women Don’t Get Fat called and wants its pro-ana bullshit back), but the photography is gorgeous and the recipes are actually surprisingly great.

I whipped up the sundried tomato pesto, watermelon gazpacho and the ‘Perfect Salad Dressing’ – three very basic recipes, with easily sourced corner shop ingredients. Truthfully, each one was delicious, healthy and fresh, easy to prepare and store in bulk. We stirred the pesto over pasta, spread it on bruschetta and in sandwiches and we also used a smear as a pizza base. The watermelon soup was the perfect chilled accompaniment to a hot summer evening. The recipes are solid, the food photography is solid. The foundation is as shaky as a shitting dog.


I’m torn: on the one hand, this is a brilliant collection of vegetarian and vegan recipes. On the other hand, they are draped over a framework of straight up bollocks. I’ve held onto this book for a long time, debating whether or not it’s fair to write a negative review for a book that’s almost fantastic, but ultimately my inability to keep my mouth shut won. Pick it up for the food inspiration, but don’t spend too long picking over the intro.

If anyone has any reputable links to scientific papers that support the Honestly Healthy alkaline diet, hit me up in the comments because I’m genuinely curious.