Baking for the Book Swap


I have knack for bringing everything I do back to food. A recent event I attended highlighted my preoccupation with baked goods in particular. But then, any event that involves a cake made of tomato soup is likely to get to the top of any conversation. But for me whether it’s holidays or rainy days I never have to dig too deep to find ways to think about, talk about or actually make food.  The event I attended on Thursday night was called Book Swap. It sounds pretty straight forward but it was anything but that. The brainchild of Scott Pack, publisher at HarperCollins’ experimental The Friday Project and Windsor resident, the Book Swap is more of a show than a place for book lovers to simply exchange bad reads. I took along friend and fellow book/food lover J, from the newspaper, as we agreed that it sounded like fun and definitely something we could share with the residents of this fine borough. We dreaded the clique mentality of these kinds of gatherings, where no one will talk to you if you’re alone or new but at least we had each other. We were pleased to discover that the Book Swap is more of a show than a social event. It was set in a small theatre in Windsor where the hosts Scott Pack and Marie Philips chat with one or two authors. In recent years they’ve had plenty of high profile authors and Marie herself has recently sold her book God Behaving Badly to Hollywood where it will be made into a movie starring Christopher Walken and Sharon Stone. Not too shabby.

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So you’re probably wondering how I turned this night into foodie fodder? It’s £5 a ticket but you can get in free if you bring a cake. See? I was not able to bake a cake for the event, but I had managed to get a batch of chocolate chip cookies made for the boys, and so decided to bring along a few of those. The food was set up behind the authors on the stage and all I could think of as the authors answered questions from the audience, was ‘how are we supposed to get to the food on stage?’

Scott was handing out tins of biscuits as the night progressed but I wanted to know what was going to happen to all the cakes. And then the book swapping started. The first author, Tanya Byrne had a book from Hilary Mantel. I put my hand up and pleaded for my Moby Dick, but unfortunately I was in competition with two other audience members who also wanted the book. I didn’t win that round. The next author, Andrew Kaufman I suspect forgot his book, as Scott handed Andrew, a Canadian, a book to swap that was a HarperCollins coffee table book about UK sweets.
Half time was called and the audience, mostly loyal members of the monthly Book Swap, headed for the trestle table on the stage to sample the evening’s home-baked treats. Sighing with relief we headed down the stairs to help ourselves. I tried some chocolate shortbread bought along by a Kiwi lass, writerly type, who was up for a chat. The crowd was a very friendly, open bunch, much to my surprise. I also tried some sort of dense bread-pudding type of cake that was lovely. I missed out the coconut macaroons made by Scott’s wife, an apparent the favourite of the Book Swap bunch. We were called back to our seats for the rest of the show, where we heard more from the authors and swapped more books. I managed swap Moby Dick with some Susan Hill ghost stories and J swapped her Booker-Prize-Winning-but-completely-forgettable book with a collection of short stories from London’s Liar’s League that I was rather envious of.

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At the end of the show we all ended up back at the cake table and I heard talk of a tomato soup cake. We met the lad who made the cake and he explained how it was born out of a ‘friend’s’ attempt to make him a fool. Bless his heart he turned that one around. I must say, that if I didn’t know the cake contained a can tomato soup, I would have thought it a rather unusual but tasty and very moist cake, almost like a carrot cake. However, the fact that it was made with tomato soup did taint my perspective and I couldn’t bring myself to eat a whole piece. But I did try a few bites and was not displeased by the experience.
I will be going to second Book Swap planned for April. They used to be monthly, but due to plans for London shows, Berkshire folk will have to share the lovely Scott and Marie with the rest of Greater London.

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