#cookjan, Uncategorized

Cooking in January: #cookjan

Bookshops in December are magical: Christmas decorations in jewel colours, handsome little stocking fillers, and fat piles of bestsellers ready to be wrapped and placed under sparkling Christmas trees. Cookbooks boom in December. This year, the bestsellers included Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles (a beautiful love letter to winter), Feasts by Sabrina Ghayour, Nigella Lawson’s At My Table, Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Sweet and Anna Jones’ The Modern Cook’s Year.

In January, however, shit goes south. If December brings us together to eat, drink and be merry, then January is a long, cold month of repentance. Payday is literally a hundred thousand years away. The weak optimism of ‘New Year, New You’ brings the pseudo-science of gimmicky diets to our social media timelines: calorie counting, weightloss clubs, body goals. Syns.

I want to do something different. I want to reconnect with my kitchen after years of eating out, eating convenience food, eating quick meals whipped together late at night. I want to cook my way through 2018.

Let’s think about food and nourishment differently. Let’s crack open the cookbooks we were lovingly given for Christmas and let’s spend January learning to nourish ourselves with all the thought, warmth, love and care that we deserve.

On Twitter, we’re starting to list our #cookjan goals. The only unanimous aim is to look at food in a fresh way, as an alternative to detoxes, diets and repentance for Christmas. Beyond that, you can embrace your own #cookjan resolutions.

I’ve started with clearing out my fridge, organising my kitchen cupboards and sorting out my cookware. I’m going to spend today drinking coffee, listening to some chill music and flipping through my vast and underused collection of cookbooks for inspiration.

Maybe your goals for #cookjan will be to work through a specific cookbook, or tackle a particular cuisine. Maybe your goals are less gastronomically aspirational – like maybe you’re just aiming to cook simple shit without feeling pressurised to Be Good. Maybe you’re going to try Veganuary, or you’re going to bake a different bread each week. Whatever your intention, you’re welcome to join in.

Spread the word. Let’s #cookjan.

Smokin Books

On My Radar: Books of March

My desk looks like a literary metropolis. Spinesville. Current population: 31. These towering skyscrapers of proofs and paperbacks are evidence of my inherent inability to put anything away properly, but my current situation is also because last month I was lucky enough to attend a few publisher showcases and was given a selection of cracking new books to read and shout about.

I’m the kind of girl that can’t help but dip into the cooking sherry so I’ve already read ahead into some of June’s releases, but this little post is limited to the books I recommend you drum up a bit of enthusiasm for in March. If you don’t have the dollar for them this month, add them to that scrappy list you keep in the back of your diary or on your phone, that list of books you don’t want to forget about that’s usually expanded after a few pints, when everything seems appealing.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (new in paperback, 2nd March, Canongate).
I’ve been itching to read this since the hardback made waves in March of last year. Exploring the relationship between loneliness in art and loneliness in real life, Laing’s meditation on being alone made several prominent Books of the Year 2016 lists including The Guardian, The Telegraph and New Statesman.

Nasty Women compiled by 404 Ink (8th March, 404 Ink).
What better way is there to celebrate International Women’s Day? Aren’t we all absolutely buzzing in our britches over this crowd-funded essay collection? From 404ink.com: “From working class experience to sexual assault, being an immigrant, divides in Trump’s America, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, Repeal the 8th, identity, family, finding a voice, punk, role models, fetishisation, power – this timely book covers a vast range of being a woman today.”

Everyone is Watching by Megan Bradbury (new in paperback, 9th March, Picador).
This is a portrait of New York, peering over the shoulder of four key New Yorkers: Walt Whitman, Robert Moses, Robert Mapplethorpe and Edmund White. I am naturally drawn to anything that might involve Patti Smith and so of course I’m feeling like the anticipatory-wiggle-cat gif when I think about this book. You can read an extract here:

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (new in paperback, 9th March, Corsair).
On (well, the day after but it’s actually in stores already) International Women’s Day, why not put your money where your mouth is and pick up this absolutely stunning collection of stories that meditate on Blackness, immigration, asylum, political activism, grief, exhaustion, parenthood, writing, rebelling, fucking up and atonement? These stories cross space and time, from 1960s Brixton to present day Sri Lanka, stopping off in Kingston, New Orleans and Sydney in between. This is an essential collection to read in 2017.

The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest (new in paperback, 9th March, Bloomsbury).
I felt lukewarm about Let Them Eat Chaos, but the debut novel from spoken word poet Kate Tempest is on my radar as it’s been compared to Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things.

the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace (23rd March, Andrews McMeel).
From the same publisher as best-selling internet sensation Milk & Honey, Andrews McMeel are clearly going for a similar vibe with this one. Suits me as I’m down to try anything twice. I loved Milk & Honey – who didn’t? – and I’m constantly trying (and failing) to widen my poetry-reading net, so perhaps I’ll give this a spin.

What’s on your radar for March? What have I missed?

Smokin Books

My Top Ten Books of 2016

I love numbers so here are some for you to enjoy: this year, I’ve read 60 books. Of those 60, 47 were written by women, 41 were released in 2016, 20 were thrillers, eight were YA, six were short story collections, four were non-fiction, four were poetry, three will be released in 2017, two were re-reads, one was a graphic novel. The list below only includes books released in 2016, and I’ve included one cheeky one that I read in 2015 that was released this year. If it were to be a top ten of all the books I’ve read, I would have to include Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, but what you do with that information is your own business.

1. The Lauras by Sara Taylor
This is both a road trip novel and a coming-of-age story about a non-binary teenager and their formidable mother. Over countless cups of coffee, plates of eggs and cigarettes in roadside diners, Ma – often begrudgingly – tells Alex about all the women and girls that shaped her life as they travel from state to state, repaying debts and paying dues. This book surprised me. It reminds me of Sarah by JT LeRoy, but with a massive slice of compassion and soul.


2. Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
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.


3. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock directed Patricia Highsmith’s Carol, and you’ll have a close approximation to the mood of this book. Eileen made some primal level of dread unfurl within me with just one sentence. It’s a book that covers some familiar themes – friendship, loneliness, womanhood – but it’s also quite unlike anything else I’ve read this year. I also feel the less you know about the plot, the better: Eileen, a desperately lonely young woman, works in a prison for young offenders where she meets a new friend, the glamorous Rebecca.

4. The Girls by Emma Cline
Do we need to talk about The Girls? One of 2016’s darlings, it’s set in 1969. Awkward teenager Evie meets bohemian free spirit Suzanne and, well, one thing leads to another until she finds herself to be a hanger on in a Charles Mansonesque cult. The writing style is almost breathless, dreamy and illusory, with vivid detail. This is the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test meets The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly with a squeeze of The Beach by Alex Garland and I loved it very, very much.


5. Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg
This is a book written in the strange language of children trapped in the microcosm of a cult. Much like Room by Emma Donoghue, it’s claustrophobic and intensely unnerving. Sisters Blue and Green remind me of Iris and Laura from The Blind Assassin.


6. The Graces by Laure Eve
The Graces is a cocktail of everything I love in a good book: glamorous and angsty, it’s as thick as a tarot deck and absolutely riveting. New girl River thinks she’s fallen on her feet when she’s befriended by the beautiful, mysterious trio of siblings known as the Graces. Everyone thinks the Grace family, with their bohemian names and gothic clothes, are witches… and they’re not wrong.

7. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
A rare slice of non-fiction: I don’t know anyone who didn’t love this memoir. It’s about an alcoholic’s return to the choppy shores of Orkney, following her realisation that her life in London is a self-destructive mess.

8. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
Simple premise with a complex and intelligent execution: a pair of chalk-and-cheese twins swap places for an afternoon and then one decides the grass is greener and refuses to swap back.I have to be brutally honest: at first, I thought the concept was fucking ridiculous – how could this possibly happen? – but Morgan is a smarter woman than I am and she absolutely outfoxed me. This is essential reading for fans of psychological thrillers with a bit of emotional depth, but also, if you have absolutely any interest in creative narrative structures, you have to read this book.

9. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
This is the book I wish I’d read as a teenager. Queens of both the beauty pageant and drag variety come together to the dulcet tones of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Fat girls, friendship and country music. What more could your heart possibly desire? Well, nothing if you read it with cava and cake in bed.


10. One by Sarah Crossan
This one is best served whole, in one giant gulp. Written in free verse, each chapter is structured like a poem, allowing a brevity to the prose that makes it such a quick and addictive read. One introduces conjoined twins Tippi and Grace as they make the change from home school to high school. It’s a thoughtful and emotional sucker punch.

I would love to know what you thought of any and all of the books on this list and what you intend to read from it. Hit me up on Twitter!


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?

Smokin Books

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.

Smokin Books

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)