Helen Keall asks:

My heart sank when I saw the cover asking, “Would counselling improve Tim Dowling’s marriage?” (12 February). If it did, that would mean the end of his column. What a relief to find it business as usual. Now they have been reassured they have a sound relationship, I’m looking forward to the next instalment. But will we ever find out Mrs Dowling’s first name?

It’s unlikely! Dowling is extremely consistent in referring to his wife as “my wife” in all public fora including his column, his articles and interviews. Even the biographies in his books don’t give her name; and the Hackney photography studio that shot pictures of the pair for the article mentioned above is careful to refer to them, in their record of the shoot, as “Tim Dowling and wife”. Her anonymity therefore seems to be deliberate, the result of a decision on both their parts that it is best not to name her in public.

Of course, working out her name would be possible for a sufficiently dedicated investigator; but to do this when she and Dowling have so clearly chosen not to make it available would be unkind.

Harry D Watson asks:

Why do chefs tell us to buy dried chickpeas, soak them overnight, drain, place in a large pan, cover with water, boil and simmer for an hour, etc (The New Vegetarian, 12 February)? I buy mine in a tin, drain and rinse them, then boil for a couple of minutes, after which they’re ready for use. Also, why do chefs assume that normal people know what they are going to eat the following day?

Dried chickpeas are generally considered to taste nicer than tinned, and to have a slightly higher nutritional value. Many chefs and recipe-writers therefore recommend them over the alternative. This is similar to the way that recipes usually recommend, for example, fresh asparagus over tinned – though the difference in taste with chickpeas is not usually held to be quite this marked!

As for Harry’s intriguing second question, it is certainly the case that some normal people habitually plan their food a day or more in advance, and that others will sometimes do so if it’s necessary for a particular recipe.  It is for these people that recipes are provided that involve – for example – soaking chickpeas. The recipe-writers and chefs in question do not necessarily assume that all readers will plan ahead, just as they (for example) provide recipes including lamb or bacon but do not necessarily assume that all readers eat meat.

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