• Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

Book Week Scotland: Soul Food Café

ByHolly Thomas

Dec 5, 2017

To celebrate Book Week Scotland’s theme of ‘Nourish’ drawing to a close, the Lighthouse Bookshop opened its doors for the ‘Soul Food Café’, seeing Kate Young and Kevin MacNeil discuss food, life and literature. Revealing the inspiration behind their books (Young’s The Little Library Cookbook and MacNeil’s The Diary of Archie the Alpaca), the writers shared culinary creations from Young’s fictional fantasies with a salivating audience.

The Lighthouse Library’s small size and cosiness as a bookshop provided an intimate atmosphere that such a personal event demanded, feeling appropriate for discussions of Young’s memoir-style cookery book and MacNeil’s haikus. Guided by questions from the event’s host, the two writers mused over the necessity of food for physical and spiritual existence, but were sure to discuss the importance of literature too. In his melodically Gaelic accent, MacNeil considered how literature not only supports existence but also provides a duality of living that, while isolated as a youth on the isle of Lewis, provided him with myriad experiences.

The power of writing and food to transport an individual to any space in time is at the essence of Young’s cookery book, which takes infamous recipes from literature, adapting them to be accessible for modern cooks. An avid reader from childhood, Young treated the audience first to a serving of Spannakopita: a deliciously moist Greek pastry from Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, filled with spinach and feta. Combining food and reading, MacNeil simultaneously reeled off humorous haikus from Archie the Alpaca that are as moving as they are tickling in their innocent simplicity.

MacNeil sparked debate over haikus with the audience, eventually enlightening them on the importance of shared observation and emotion that they promote. After having volunteered as a chef in a Zen Buddhist temple, he honed in on the importance of mindfulness that he deems essential to haikus which, unlike typically reactionary poetry, offer an immediate experience for the reader.

As spiced cookies from We Have Always Lived In The Castle were passed around the 15 or so guests, MacNeil went on to discuss his ambitions for a haiku cookery book combining the strict written structure and seasons of haikus with food. His ideas centred around a minimalistic book that would encourage a mindful experience by the limitation of five ingredients that intentionally mirrors the stanza restrictions in a haiku.

Finally, a slow-brewed ‘Chocolatl’ was circulated, taken from Phillip Pullman’s The Northern Lights: a creamy, rich chocolate drink that in the setting of the Lighthouse Library seduced the audience as much as it did the children to the evil Mrs Coulter. Both authors took this opportunity to reveal their story-writing techniques; it was the balance between Young’s down-to-earth dialogue and MacNeil’s soft, philosophical suggestions that appealed greatly to the mixed audience.

A surprisingly moving event, ‘Soul Food Café’ rounded off the literary week with a truly personal and engaging experience for both authors and audience.


Soul Food Café took place on Friday 1st December at Lighthouse Bookshop. 

The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young is published by Head of Zeus.

The Diary of Archie the Alpaca by Kevin Macneil is published by Birlinn.

Image Credit Holly Thomas.

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