Our kitchen had one patch of bare wall but nowhere to put cookbooks other than in a pile on a worktop. A perfect opportunity for some bookshelves! I planned a custom construction made from pine, comprising two uprights resting on the floor with four cross pieces (for three shelves and a top) with the whole thing screwed to the wall for rock solidness.


I originally expected to use 18mm thick sawn pine timber, but in B&Q it was clear that these were actually quite warped end to end – the top of a 2.4m plank was about 30 degrees twisted compared to the bottom so that it would have messed up the result something chronic. Instead I bought pine "furniture board" which is engineered from multiple pieces of pine glued together (edge to edge, not ply) which gives a much less lively result with hardly any warp whilst looking quite attractive. It's quite a lot more expensive mind you, and having waited 30 minutes for the timber cutting service to re-open after lunch I was told my 20cm wide boards were not suitable for the machine. At 2.4m long they weren't going to fit in the car so a hasty re-planning was required, resulting in the purchase of a number of smaller 25cm wide pre-cut pieces. I'm glad I went for that width actually as many of the books are 22cm and there's room to accommodate that depth from the wall even though I was worried there wouldn't be.

I had been keen to get all the lengths cut in store for a perfectly square, straight cut with identical lengths for all the shelves. I don't have a table saw so I was going to struggle to do this easily myself, but I was forced to saw the boards down to the right length with a hand saw. It was tough to get a good result here and to get them all the exact same length, but the flex in the uprights accommodated the differences. I simply put two number 8 screws into the end of each shelf to hold it in place, with carefully drilled countersunk screw holes, and that seems to have done the job. The countersink bit I bought recently is a godsend – it really makes the results look so much more professional.

A couple of simple metal angle brackets off the peg from B&Q allowed me to screw the whole ensemble firmly to the wall and it really is very rigid. Also note in the picture (click for bigger version) the 45 degree cut off on the tops of the side pieces and the cut-outs at the bottom to allow it to sit flush against the wall above the skirting.

Overall I'm extremely pleased with the result apart from one thing. I slightly lost track of of the height of my biggest books between start and end of the project, the result being that they don't quite fit on the shelves by a few millimetres. I'm kicking myself about this, but I'm a novice and I'll learn from these mistakes.

My wife bought me the Curry Bible for Xmas, from Marks and Spencer – not to be confused with various other similarly named books. It's a great recipe book as it keeps things relatively simple, and contains most of my curry house favourites. It explains things in a decent manner that certainly worked for me, judging by the results!

ButterChicken1  ButterChicken2

I made Butter Chicken for my first attempt. This uses tandoori chicken (the nicest single foodstuff in the world) but I wasn't up for doing that entirely from scratch this time around. The supermarket didn't have any tandoori chicken ready to go though, so I bought chicken thighs (free range) and a jar of tandoori paste. Add lemon juice, salt, oil and yoghurt, mix it all up (or get wife to, as in the picture) marinate overnight in the fridge then blast in the oven to get that slightly charred surface. Then I took the chicken off the bone and used it in big chunks in the Butter Chicken recipe. I'll be doing tandoori chicken again, since it was so easy and so delicious even on its own.

ButterChicken3  ButterChicken4

I shan't bore you with the details of the recipe (or invite a copyright problem) but it wasn't crazy difficult and the results were to die for. The quality of the chicken in particular really made it stand out from usual curry house fare. I know the final picture of it on the plate just looks like an orange splat, but trust me it was great, and I couldn't be doing with garnishing with nuts and coriander sprigs.

I picked this book up on a whim because I liked the sound of the basic premise. Having now read it I know for sure that it's one of the most original ideas for a novel that I've come across in a long time, and neatly executed as well.

The classic Greek gods, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Eros, Artemis etc. are living in a rather dirty house in London, just about keeping up with their godly duties, though nobody believes in them anymore. A couple of mortals get mixed up in their petty bickering and things spiral from there. The way these classic gods and their legends are mixed in to modern day London is brilliantly entertaining, and the plot picks up speed and keeps it going. More than many books I've read recently I struggled to put it down.

It's not quite perfect – in some indefinable way it just seemed a little simplistic at times – but definitely comes highly recommended.

I'm a big fan of Tim Moore's books, and the "do some wacky stuff then write about it in an amusing way" genre as a whole. That said, his previous effort Nul Points, about the history and characters of the Eurovision Song Contest left me cold – in fact I never even finished it. So I was a little nervous about this very latest tome, which has a similar historical bent, rather than a completely asinine caper at its core  (like pilgramiging through Spain with a donkey – quite an ass-inine caper). I needn't have worried.

The world of living history (historical re-enactment is perhaps a more meaningful term to most) turns out to be a rich seam ripe for comedy mining. Certainly more so than going to visit a Norwegian who once sang on tele. Fighting as part of a Roman garrison against the Gauls, living the life of a Tudor chamberlain and a succession of other historical roles present a cavalcade of hilarity, mostly sourced from the usually very committed people involved and his own struggles to fit in and be authentic. There are some truly laugh out loud moments and the book is fairly un-put-downable.

Will you learn a great deal about history by reading this book? Probably not, but you'll learn a lot about historical re-enactment. I was really surprised by some of it, especially the authenticity of the violence! Tim was too, clearly.

Final verdict: A cracking example of the genre and highly recommended. I hope the next one is as good.

Here are my favourite other books of his:


I picked up a paperback copy of this book from the River Cottage open day a couple of months back. We queued for a good long while to get my wife’s big new Hugh cookery book signed, but I didn’t trouble him with my less significant purchase. I later discovered that it was signed inside the front cover anyway. Obviously he was taking no chances!

I also discovered that it wasn’t quite what I thought it was. Not for the first time, I had failed to notice that this is a collection of previous scribblings by the floppy haired foodie, from various Sunday supplements and trendy lifestyle magazines. Jeremy Clarkson pulled the same trick on me a couple of years back. Thing is, they don’t go out of their way to make it clear just what you’re buying, choosing the words on the cover oh so cleverly, to be accurate but not quite clue you in if you didn’t already know. I find this ironic since a lot of the book consists of Hugh pouring forth with righteous indignation about all the commercial dishonesty out there in the food business.

The first chapter is actually a bit wearing as Hugh lays it on extremely thick, making and re-making the same simple points over and over again about McDonalds and their ilk. It got a bit tiresome and I very nearly gave up entirely. However I persevered and it got better from there on, though the whole volume is still preachy and sometimes patronising. That said, yesterday I bought Waitrose’ organic cheddar even though it was 10p per kilo more expensive that the normal stuff,  which is no doubt made out of cigarette butts and arsenic, with old AA membership cards ground up and added for colour. Actually I bet it’s exactly the same bar the packaging. So Hugh’s taught me two things there: to search out decent ingredients with good provenance; and to maintain an unhealthy level of cynicism and suspicion at all times.

Overall it’s a good book that I’d recommend for anyone that likes Hugh to start with and just likes good food writing. The best bits of the book are the gastronomic exotica that the cover promises and Hugh’s excellent style, full of wit and anecdote and very giving of himself. He does go on about brains a lot though.

I loved this book. It’s a perfectly balanced mix of life story, comedy, irony and occasional sadness all held together with Simmo’s long love of cricket. You don’t need to be a cricket fanatic to enjoy the book, as that’s not what it’s really about – it’s just the unifying theme. That said it would be the perfect gift for the amateur cricketer in particular!

There are some truly laugh out loud moments and a couple of genuinely touching parts too. Overall the book is a warm and witty autobiography of a slightly awkward everyman that simply focuses on the diverse parts of his life that were cricket related, from infancy up to present day. His other book “What’s My Motivation” looks like it promises to do the same but from the point of view of his acting career. If it’s as delightful as this one then it should be a real treat, and I intend to pick it up soon!

This definitive tome came out at just the right time for me, as I was looking to buy a Ruby reference, and this was bang up to date for 1.8.6 and 1.9 and co-written by Matz himself, along with David Flanagan. Yukihiro ‘Matz’ Matsumoto is the main man behind Ruby, so he ought to know what’s what.

I was initially surprised to find that the book didn’t conform to the ‘..in a Nutshell’ style of programming language reference book with which I’m most familiar. It doesn’t comprise endless chapters of API reference laid out in a stiffly templated fashion – it is much more prosaic, using the vast majority of its pages to explain Ruby’s syntax and workings in a narrative manner with lashings of ad hoc examples. On reflection this makes sense as Ruby is a multi-faceted beast with much intrigue lying in its extensive syntax and dynamic nature. Hence a lot of attention is paid to the manner in which it is loaded and interpreted at run time, a full understanding of which is vital to being a great Ruby programmer.

There are some chapters at the end which deal with some of the basic API stuff (String, Array, Hash etc.) but these take the form of commentary and neat examples to demonstrate each method available in a compact but complete manner.

Overall I found it to be well written and a joy to read. I didn’t skip the bits I thought I knew and came away much the wiser for it. I’ve pretty much read it cover to cover, as well as using it to look things up when I wasn’t sure – and I’d recommend anyone else do the same.

The only slight let-down is the much hyped chapter head drawings by why the lucky stiff, the unusually named Ruby guru, celebrity and wacky artist. I can’t help feel that they were included so as to be able to put his name on the cover. I also suspect that the publishers have let why down rather badly with their handling of his artwork – reproducing his pencil drawings extremely unsympathetically. If that’s all I can find to complain about though, it must be a pretty decent book, and it certainly is. Buy one today!