But over the past year or so, I have neglected the Observer/Guardian food director Nigel Slater far more than he deserves. He's published such rich, weighty volumes that, after the publication of Tender, Vol. 2, I felt, "Ok, enough already, I can't consume any more." However, the first of his books that I repeatedly dived into was the first volume of The Kitchen Diaries. The first year I had it, I followed along with him, cooking through the seasons. His instructions for individual cheese soufflés is brilliant in its simplicity and deliciousness. The roast pork belly with Chinese 5-Spice Powder will remain on my menu. Nigel doesn't so much give you specific instructions as stand there at the counter and cook with you. For a cookbook writer as approximate and vague as Nigel seems to be on first reading, he has an exceptional low rate of clunkers. He creates an illusion of imprecision and improvisation at the same time that he encourages bold gestures in an otherwise recipe-reliant cook. You sense that Nigel would be that ideal coach you desperately wished for in school PE classes. "It's ok, I'm here, just go for it and you'll be fine."
The book of his that I am now re-discovering like a long lost love is Appetite (2000). He won this home cook's heart right at the start when he devoted more than half a page to the cook preparing food for herself alone. Long before the movement to get people back in the kitchen, Nigel was on the front lines, providing strong, compelling reasons why single people should cook for themselves. We should take care of ourselves, comfort ourselves, and bring richness into our lives through flavor. He acknowledges the challenges single people face in shopping for the solitary meals. What endears Nigel to me is his understanding of how soothing it can be to answer only to one's own preferences.
Instead of precise recipes, Nigel proposes a kind of dish, say, "A deep, savory noodle soup," outlines the basic way to make a simple one, and then follows up with a bullet-point list of ways of building on the recipe. Is there a young person in your life in whom you wish to instill independence, sensuality, and creativity? Have them focus those combustible qualities on food through this book.