‘But you’re a Jew — you’ll never survive in the country!” That was the reaction when Joanna Weinberg mentioned to an acquaintance that she was off to live in deepest Somerset with her family, husband Ed and children, May aged four and two-year-old Billy.
“My new personal circumstances have completely changed the way I cook and shop” says Weinberg. Without gourmet delicatessens to pop into on the way home from work, or even an interesting corner shop, she says buying groceries is now “more about online shopping and making nifty choices, like using long-life products better”.
Weinberg’s much praised first book, How to Feed your Friends with Relish, was an indulgent how-to for urban foodies. In it she covered a whole range of stylish ways to entertain friends, including all sorts of parties and last-minute gatherings. But things are different now.
“I can only write about what is going on in my life,” she says. “When May was born it became clear that the days of impromptu guests around our kitchen table were coming to an end.”
Now miles from her old stomping ground, there is little chance of anyone popping in unexpectedly for supper. Entertaining is planned for the weekends with friends coming to stay, which she says she loves, but adds: “I’m much more inclined now to get people to help with a meal as it’s just too overwhelming to do everything. You have to compromise a lot more and there’s no time to do the little twiddly bits that used to take an extra 30 minutes”.
It is comforting to hear a food writer who has published advice on stylish entertaining admit to occasionally finding it all a bit much. Equally gratifying is her frank disclosure that her toddlers’ tastes are as unpredictable as their contemporaries.
She knows the pain of having spent hours preparing a meal, only for it to be disdainfully pushed away. “One day they will eat white sauce and the next they won’t,” she sighs. “I got into the rut of making the usual children’s meals, but now I’m tougher with them. If I know they’ve eaten something before I’ll be robust about not making them an alternative.”
As they have recently decided they will eat fennel and courgettes, perhaps they do share some foodie gene with their mother.
Life with two small children made writing her second book more challenging, even though she freely admits: “I had written only one recipe when I was commissioned to write my first book.”
Relish was published when she was pregnant with May. By the time she was commissioned to write number two, May was one. “This book has taken me three years to finish,” she says. “I wrote for a year, then had Billy, which put me back a year. I then wrote for another year, getting up at 5.30am to work for two hours before the children woke. It was a totally different experience.”
Her aim with this book was to produce “a really cheery, jolly and inspiring way to attack everyday life”. She believes it is all in the preparation. With the right groceries in your store cupboard, fridge and freezer, you will not have the stress of having to constantly rush out to buy more.
Her book is packed with practical and quick-to-make recipes which should allow everyone to make decent food in a hurry.