Delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for Lev Parikian’s Music To Eat Cake By. I loved his first book, Into the Tangled Bank.
What if readers had the power to choose what their favourite author writes about? Conductor and birdwatcher Lev Parikian responds to his readers’ requests with this collection of witty, fascinating essays on music, birds, the art of the sandwich, and much more
Here’s an extract from the book
Subject provided by Isabel Rogers
It was enough to make my heart sink. ‘What’s for lunch?’
It wasn’t that I hated the taste. The soup might have contained things I would eat: chicken, peas, sweetcorn, potatoes, sometimes even pasta. But it was soup, so all bets were off. Honestly, what was the point of it? It wasn’t food, and it wasn’t a drink. If it didn’t have chips or chocolate or jelly* or sugar or clotted cream, did it count as food? Put Frosties with extra sugar and top-of-the-milk in front of me and I’d eat three bowls; call it ‘cereal soup’ and I’d vomit. I was like Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup from Struwwelpeter – five days of soup and I would have died of starvation.
I gradually learned the trick. Soup was a vehicle for toast, and nothing was better than toast. Except butter. And that came with toast. So soup meant I could have toast and butter. I even learned to appreciate the heady pleasure of dunking toast into soup. That way it was like messy jam saturating the toast, and I could accept that. The other advantage of toast with soup was that I didn’t come away from a meal immediately wanting another one.
If this sounds like the confessions of an unadventurous eater, then that’s about right. Family legend holds that until the age of thirteen I ate nothing but hard-boiled eggs and Grape-Nuts, but I know that can’t be right, because I’m sure I had a packet of Rolos most days from 1972 onwards.
When did the breakthrough come? At what point did I transition from non-souper to souper? I don’t remember a Damascene moment, no ‘Holy wow, why didn’t you tell me about THIS?’ It just happened, and before you could blink I was souping with the best of them. Perhaps my gateway soup was, like many people’s, the tin of Heinz Cream of Tomato – sweet, bland, comforting; or maybe, fancying myself a foodie in my early twenties, I sneered at tins and found the fledgling Covent Garden Soup Company, with their upmarket cartons and adventurous combinations more appealing to my snobbish taste buds (this was the late 1980s – nouvelle cuisine had infiltrated the consciousness of readers of the Independent, but putting carrot and coriander onto the supermarket shelves was very much pushing the outer limits of exoticism). It wasn’t ‘proper’ cooking, but, for no good reason I can think of, opening a carton somehow felt closer to it than opening a tin – more grown-up, less bedsit-y.
If I don’t remember the exact moment of enlightenment, I do remember the first soup I made by myself. It was a French onion soup, by far the most ambitious thing the twenty-three-year-old me had ever cooked. I’d decided, with no basis in fact, that I was a foodie, and this meant I should be able to cook the fancy stuff you might normally find in top restaurants. The palaver of the making of this soup cannot be overstated. It took me about a day and a half.
It was, predictably, awful – a honking atrocity of a soup, an insult to both recipe-writer and guests, whose silence as they forced it down was testament to its inadequacy.
The broth was insipid, lacking depth or flavour, its resemblance to dishwater more than superficial; the bread, intended to offer a layer of contrasting texture to a rich and deeply flavoured liquid, was like the grubby washing-up sponge in the bowl; the cheese – stringy, pointless, dismal – added nothing to a dish already wallowing in a quag* of its own ghastliness. It was an offering entirely lacking any of the qualities that might have made it palatable.
I haven’t made it since.
Music To Eat Cake By, by Lev Parikian is published by Unbound, and is out now. Many thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Buy Lev’s books via Bookshop.org (affiliate link – it won’t cost you any extra)
Lev Parikian is a writer, conductor and hopeless birdwatcher. His first book,
Waving, Not Drowning, was published in 2013, and his second, Why Do Birds
Suddenly Disappear? followed in 2018. His numerous conducting credits include
the re-recording of the theme tune for Hancock’s Half Hour for Radio 4.