I was browsing the shelves at Omnivore Books the other day when Celia, the owner, pointed out a medium-sized hardback with a texty cover and orange spine - Teaching Dad to Cook Flapjack. I flipped through the first few pages, bought it, and brought it home with me (thank you Celia!). Written by Miranda Gardiner, the book started as a how-to cooking manual written for her father not long after her mother passed away. He was on his own, in his sixties, and learning to fend for himself in the kitchen for the first time. The first recipe she showed him was a chewy flapjack - hence the title.
Miranda lives in a beach house in South Devon with her husband and three children. Her dad lives on the north coast of Cornwall, a two hour drive from Miranda. The book may have started as a binder for her father, but the collection of recipes grew to include a blend of family recipes - (primarily Cornish), recipes related to extended family (Finnish), and those inspired by friends, travels, and restaurant experiences. The recipes are interlaced with stories and snippets of family history. Little vignettes that made me nostalgic for just about everything - picnics, real summers, the smell of salt water...
There's a chapter inspired by Miranda's annual pilgrimage to the family summer house in Finland. Daily activities include collecting berries and cooking sweet waffles on a 50-year old lakeside griddle. Her tone is casual and unassuming, and it fits just right with the type of food she includes here. The chapters leak and meld into each other around themes like travel, beach-front living, and in-season cooking resulting in a charming, eclectic mix - equal parts food memoir, travel diary, and how-to manual for dad.
Most of the recipes are no-fuss, and few require special equipment. Many feel like off-the-cuff weeknight plates tossed together with whatever is on hand and in season - in a good way. The book has a number of veg-friendly recipes, a number that are easily adaptable, and plenty of baking inspiration. Today's recipe was inspired by Miranda's bean salad made with green beans, chickpeas, borlotti and pintos. As I mention in the head notes, green beans aren't quite in season here, so I chopped up a head of Romaine lettuce instead, and added extra crunch and nuttiness with toasted almonds. The simple-yet-assertive honey-balsamic dressing and fresh thyme bring everything together. An easy summer salad. As far as other recipes go - in one article, Miranda mentions her favorite recipe from the book is the Polenta Cake, so I'd like to try that. I also made a note to try a veg-version of her Rocket & Buttermilk Soup.
If you come across Teaching Dad to Cook Flapjack, take a few minutes to flip through it, I suspect many of you will like it. Worth noting: this is a U.K. edition, most of the recipes are in weights rather than volume. No big deal if you have a kitchen scale.
I'll include a few related links below, and for those of you who have been longtime readers, I couldn't help but think of this: A Letter from an Unwilling Cook. I haven't heard from Barry in a few years, but my hope is that he is still at it. Barry, if you're still reading, please email and let me know how you're doing.
- Website: Teaching Dad to Cook Flapjack Website
- Book excerpt and recipes in The Guardian: How I taught my father to cook
- Miranda on Twitter: @mirandagardiner
Honey-Balsamic Bean Salad
As I mention in the main post, the original recipe called for green beans, which are out of season here in San Francisco as I type this. I chopped up a head of structured, romaine lettuce instead. I also added and tweaked a few things, as I'm prone to do. If you're trying to come up with a substitute for the green beans, imagine ingredients that might go nicely with the honey-balsamic vinegar. And I suspect it goes without saying, but you can certainly play around with the type of beans you use here. I would have used borlotti beans in place of the black beans, but I went with the beans I had on hand, rather than make a trip to the store.
8 oz / 225 g (about 1 1/2 cups) EACH cooked chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans
1 small head of romaine lettuce, washed, dried, shredded
1/3 cup / 1 oz / 30g sliced almonds, toasted
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons runny honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4+ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
10 sprigs fresh thyme
Combine the beans, lettuce, and most of the almonds in a large salad bowl. Set aside. Make the dressing by whisking the olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and sea salt in a small container. Taste, and adjust to your tastes.
Run your fingers up each thyme sprig, removing the leaves. Add to the salad bowl along with a good amount of the dressing. Toss well, and add more dressing if you like. Finish by sprinkling with the remaining almonds.
Serves 4- 6.
Inspired by a recipe in Teaching Dad to Cook Flapjack by Miranda Gardiner (Hardie Grant Books, May, 2010).
Prep time: 10 minutes - Cook time: 10 minutes