Poor Sophie Dahl, I read in the paper her television cookery series is to be axed after only one season. It was a little contrived and self-conscious, no doubt about it, and if one more person had said to me ‘you SO remind me of Sophie Dahl,’ I would have punched them – yes, I shop at La Fromagerie, I cook myself indulgent solo suppers, I obviously don’t look quite as luscious in the kitchen (Sophie may glow beneath the heat of the camera lights and stove but I definitely shine) but am reasonably tall, if not so willowy, blond, blue-eyed and have a fashion past – just give me the cookbook deal, the magazine columns and the telly series and I’ll stop hitting you.
But I did feel a bit sorry for Sophie, who by all accounts is lovely, though my mole’s report of her stubbing out her fag before shooting the cheese-buying sequence, sashaying into the shop to finger immaculate, and now un-sellable, cheese for twenty minutes before leaving the film crew to capture the rest alone for the next two hours, did slightly put me off.
Strangely, what put the nail in the coffin for most of the British food-watching public is exactly what endeared me to Sophie. The poetry reading, the simpering sideways glances stolen straight from the Princess Di school of charm, the graveside tea parties and floaty floral dresses; and most of all the premise that food was about mood may have gone down like a lead balloon as far as ratings were concerned but I could FEEL what Sophie, who if you go by the credits was responsible for writing the series, meant.
Because for me, food is all about mood, and I am as guilty as anyone of romanticising past meals, idyllic picnics packed in a tatty wicker hamper complete with mismatched vintage china plates, the perfect Victoria sponge filled with home-made raspberry jam and eaten by the croquet lawn at my imagined 1930s country house party, me in early Chanel, wide-legged trousers, tennis shoes and a neat cashmere sweater … oh and pearls. I even (cringe) have a weakness for literary references to food, good thing I didn’t get that telly deal, I clearly would have been worse than the delicious Miss Dahl.
I had a pang of wanting food for fantasy and mood when a literary relic from my childhood turned up in the post: the Moomins Cookbookpromises a ‘mouthwatering, atmospheric meal for friends and family,’ as well as being an introduction to Finnish cuisine. Sadly I couldn’t make the launch so missed Moomintroll in person.
The cooking of Scandinavia has become remarkably fashionable recently, I see Trina Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Cookbook and more recently her The Nordic Diet are doing very well (the recipes are in fact delicious but anything that claims to be a diet book puts me right off). Moominmamma is not rustling up delicacies for adults aware of their waistlines; there are plenty of biscuits (I’ll sign up for anything that calls itself ‘Carefree Mother’s biscuits’) jams and pancakes of course; those Moomins are always eating pancakes. My only criticism is the offer of margarine in place of butter, never a good way to make baking as delicious as it should be (I have since learned from a Scandinavian friend that ALL Scandinavian cookbooks offer this choice of margarine and butter – why, I wonder?)
It’s a wonderful cookbook for inspiring children to get into the kitchen – something I wholeheartedly support – particularly Moomin-fans (note to self, must dig out Moomin books for my two). As befits a book on Finnish cuisine there are pickles, herrings and soured cream to be had and advice for picnic lunches (honey sandwiches?) and garden parties (marmalade sandwiches?!) Not quite my balmy English croquet lawn but equally as fanciful and as the Moomins themselves put it ‘Everything fun is good for the stomach’. Miss Dahl couldn’t have put it better if she had written it herself.