Midnight Chicken, by Ella Risbridger

This is a cookbook. It’s not even a particularly useful cookbook for me, although it does have some lovely recipes one or two of which I might try. It’s not especially useful because:

  • The author is English, so all the amounts are in metric, and like most Canadians of my generation, I drive and weather in metric and cook in imperial, so I would have to convert everything to follow a recipe.
  • Ditto on being English — lots of ingredients I don’t recognize or can’t get here.
  • I have it as an e-book which is not the best format for kitchen use.

Also, I wouldn’t normally count a cookbook as a book I’d “read and would review on this blog. I’d just flip through it and look up recipes I like. However, this is the sort of cookbook where every recipe is introduced with a long, thoughtful introduction that tells us something about the cookbook-writer’s life and what this recipe means to her, so it reads a bit like a memoir studded with gorgeous descriptions of food, even though it is mainly a cookbook.

I bought it for the memoir. I first became aware of Ella Risbridger when I began following her then-boyfriend, English writer John Underwood, on Twitter: he was tweeting about being a young person (they were both in their 20s at the time) with cancer. John wrote insightfully and hilariously about cancer, and Ella, his girlfriend who was writing a cookbook, was always there in the margins of his pieces, and like many readers I followed the story with interest, hoping for the best.

The best was not to be. John Underwood (always referred to in this book as “The Tall Man”) died in 2018, and the next year Ella published this cookbook, with many of the recipes and stories drawn from their years together. The book wasn’t really on my radar at the time; I was sad to hear of John’s death and then sort of forgot about it. But then Ella started turning up as a regular guest on the podcast Sentimental Garbage which I love to listen to and which is hosted by her good friend Caroline O’Donoghue, and Ella just is so wise and thoughtful and witty that I thought, I would like to read some of her story in her own voice, even if I have to read a bunch of recipes to get through it.

For a cookbook, this makes surprisingly good reading, and I’ve categorized it as a memoir, because it sort of is. I really loved this, and I might even make her midnight chicken, though I’ll probably fudge the conversions a bit.


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