Inspired by Young’s favourite works of fiction, here are frugal January meals enjoyed alone with a classic comfort read, as well as summer feasts to be eaten outdoors with the perfect beach book to hand.
Beautifully photographed throughout, The Little Library Year is full of delicious seasonal recipes, menus and reading recommendations.
The first signs of spring
Emily Dickinson writes of the light that exists in spring, a different
light from that which exists at any other point of the year. It’s the
light at the end of the darkness of winter, that rests differently on the ground, that creeps into corners and illuminates parts of the world that have lain in shadow for months. A light that encourages us to step outside our cosy homes, and back out into the world.
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period –
When March is scarcely here
– From ‘A Light Exists in Spring’, Emily Dickinson
When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip. – A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
My childhood was a comfortable one: a fiercely close sister, a warm extended family, and plenty of books and time spent in the kitchen. I grew up with a palpable love of home, and so sometimes find it difficult to explain my decision to board a plane to London as soon as I was old enough. Far from running away, I left because my parents had instilled in me a desire to explore the world that lay beyond our suburb. But my first year was tricky; Whitechapel was grey, the mould in our bathroom was pervasive, my commute was endless. I missed home desperately.
I had managed to find myself in a liminal state between one home and the next. And so, while I worked and waited, I became adept at seeking out comfort. I found it in a blanket I bought on a holiday in Mexico, which has followed me from sofa to sofa. I found it in the familiar, reassuring books I grew up with: I Capture the Castle, the Harry Potter series, Jane Austen’s novels, The Secret Garden. I brought comfort into my kitchen with tinned tomato soup, cheese on toast, deep bowls of chicken noodle broth, and buttered soldiers spread with Vegemite and dipped into runny-yolked eggs: food I could make on autopilot, without having to think. And slowly, as I started to think of England as my home, I found I needed to draw on these things less and less.
When I miss my family now, or when anxiety is eating away at me, or when “my brain begins to reel” (thank you, Ignatius J Reilly), I still seek out comfort. But my definition of it has broadened; I no longer seek only the comfort of my parents’ home, or of childhood, but of memories and of homes I have built here. I remember the cosy nights spent in my friend Jen’s old flat, when we cooked jambalaya in a weighty pot on the stove. I remember being inspired by EL Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler to make a deep dish of macaroni cheese one rainy night for the children I used to nanny. And I can measure my life in the various batches of brownies I have baked in whatever pan I had to hand, to share, still warm, with friends on the sofa.
Peanut and smoked salt brownies
These are my all-time favourite brownies. They’re dark and fudgy and rich and salty – everything I look for when I crave comfort. You can replace the peanuts with any nut you fancy, but there’s something pleasingly American about this combination. In A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius J Reilly’s mother Irene sits with a box of brownies at the bar. Offering them to the bartender, she assures him “they nice”. Ignore this faint praise – these are better than nice.
Equipment: 25cm/10in square cake tin/pan
Kate Young is an award-winning food writer and cook. As a dedicated bookworm, Kate’s reading inspires her in the kitchen. After mastering the treacle tart from Harry Potter, Kate started blogging about her creations and was named Blogger of the Year in 2017 by the Guild of Food Writers. The Little Library Cookbook was shortlisted for Fortnum & Mason’s debut food book award and won a World Gourmand food writing award. Kate has written for The Guardian, Sainsbury’s Magazine and The Pool. Originally from Australia, Kate now lives in the English countryside. The Little Library Year: Recipes and Reading to Suit Each Season is available from Jonathan Ball Publishers (R550).
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"Censorship of anything at any time in any place on whatever pretence has always been and always will be the last resort of the boob and the bigot." ~ Eugene O'Neill