Not just a cookbook. Not only a cookbook. Whichever you prefer, if you like to read about people losing their way and finding it again thanks to family, friends, love and great recipes then this is for you. You could, if so inclined, regard it as a modern version of Heartburn by Nora Ephron, without the infidelity. The warmth, humour, insight and food are all there.
Midnight Chicken opens with Ella Risbridger, feeling overwhelmed, scared, confused, trying to walk under a bus and being rescued, roasting a late chicken late into the night and realising food and ‘moments’ are what make life worth living. She doesn’t make it sound as melodramatic or trite as I have just done, though, thank goodness.
You may, if you were a reader of the late women’s online magazine The Pool, remember Ella’s columns about caring. As such, this book is tinged with sadness throughout because I knew of the twist at the end, of the constant presence in the pages of one who would soon not be there any more. Ella writes of mental illness, of love, of difficult family relationships and of having to leave, of wonderful family relationships and friends and impromptu recipes made out of whatever you have in the cupboard.
As such, she and I are often on the same page: extolling the virtues of shop bought puff pastry and how Danny the Champion of the World offered a new way to discover flavour and what dads could be like, if they wanted. There are a few moments where I feel she is mistaken – never red sauce on bacon sandwiches, always brown – and Marmite? Bleagh. But in general, this is an absorbing honest book with cooking instructions for the scared, the poor, the novice. All are written with patience, humour and a sense of the potential joy they can give.
The recipes are a mixture of simple things that everyone should have lying about, trashy food for quick pleasures, and fabulous looking food for breakfasts, picnics, last minute dinner parties and life in general. Nothing is too complicated, most of them don’t ask for too many ingredients or faffing. I confess, I haven’t actually cooked anything from it yet as I only bought it on Friday and have been busy reading it from cover to cover but it all looks simple, flavourful and delicious.
Midnight Chicken is published by Bloomsbury and out now from all good bookshops.