Weekend Cooking: ‘Sixty Summers’ in Six Dishes from Amanda Hampson

In my new novel ‘Sixty Summers’, the relationships of three old friends are put to the test when they retrace the steps of their youthful backpacking trip through Europe. I had my own memories of travelling in that era to draw on for the past story. The next task was to research the current day journey through Europe. I set off by train with my characters for company and share with you here a few of my food experiences.

Paris was my first stop in Europe. A city with many fabulous restaurants for those who are not on a tight budget, and know where to eat. I don’t fall into either category and had a couple of meals that were almost inedible. The best was one of my favourite French dishes, salade de chévre chaud. It is so simple it’s almost impossible to mess up. Grilled goat’s cheese on slices of baguette with ripe tomatoes and a little greenery – délicieux!

Next stop was Berlin. Known for wonderful breads and every kind of sausage, they also excel at knocking up a torte or two. Fresh and beautifully decorated, the slices are generous so the tricky part is deciding which kuchen to sample. One of my favourites is the unpronounceable zwetschgendatschi; a sponge cake topped with ripe plums and dusted with powdered sugar.

In Prague they are very keen on all things chocolate. It was 8 degrees below zero when I was there and I did indulge in a delicious hot chocolate to thaw my frozen hands out after a long walk. I didn’t have a chance to sample these rather strange concoctions. Chocolate rum I can understand, but chocolate wine and beer?!

In Vienna, I lashed out on lunch at the historic Cafe Central to check out the classic Viennese architecture. First opened in 1876, some of its regulars were Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler and Sigmund Freud – not sure if they shared a table! The cafe is justifiably famous for its exquisite pastries and gateaux. I had the Himbeer Harmonie – chocolate with raspberry and marshmallow – it tasted even better than it looks!

Bologna has some of the most amazing food shops anywhere in Europe and, after indulging in gateaux, it was time get into some fruit and vegetables. One fruiterer, unimpressed with my pronunciation of mela (apple) took it upon herself to give me some tutoring. Other customers stood around watching with interest as she corrected me and had me repeat the word numerous times until she was satisfied – no extra charge.

Crete was my last stop. There are so many classic Greek dishes that are good and the yoghurt and fruit I had in Chania was the best. This beetroot salad was one of those dishes that, when it arrives, makes you wonder what on earth you ordered. It was beetroot and was cold, so I guess that makes it a salad – but it was also very weird!


If you would like to read more about my research trip jump over to my blog: https://sixtysummers.net/


BethFishReads invites you to share any food related post in the weekly Weekend Cooking link up.

Review: Sixty Summers by Amanda Hampson

Title: Sixty Summers

Author: Amanda Hampson

Published: May 1st 2019, Viking

Status: Read May 2019 – courtesy Penguin


My Thoughts:


Sixty Summers is a charming, astute and moving novel about friendship, love, and being true to yourself, no matter your age.

In their youth, Maggie, Rose, and Fran imagined bright futures filled with love, adventure, and success. Now, approaching their sixtieth birthdays, the three friends wonder what happened to those dreams. Maggie is overworked and under appreciated by her large family, Rose is bored, and frustrated by her needy husband, and Fran is disappointed with both her lacklustre career and love life.

Hoping to revive the spirit of joie de vivre they have lost, Maggie, Rose and Fran decide to relive a European tour they took in their early twenties. It’s a journey that will challenge and ultimately redefine who they are, and what they want.

“And here they were, forty years later. They had changed beyond recognition. And not changed at all.”

Hampson’s characterisation in Sixty Summers is thoughtful and feels authentic. Each of Hampson’s characters are unsatisfied with their lives at the outset of the trip. Fran perhaps only mildly, Rose a little more so, but Maggie is emotionally exhausted and near her breaking point. These women are closer to my mothers age than mine, yet I can empathise with each of them in some manner.

“She was struck by the horrible thought that this well-intentioned adventure could end up costing the three of them their friendship”

Despite retracing the route they took as young women, inspiring some joyful reminisces, it becomes clear that the lack of spontaneity in their comfortable itinerary is stifling the experience they hoped for, and Hampson thoughtfully portrays the women’s increasing frustration with the situation, and each other.

“So the upshot of this disaster is that it’s cheered us all up..”

An impulsive purchase, a theft, a near death experience, and a long held secret one of the women is keeping, all eventually conspire to throw their carefully planned schedule off track. Circumstances finally allows Maggie and Rose some freedom from their family’s transatlantic interruptions, so when they reach the Grecian Coast they are all ready to take a risk and be honest with each other, and themselves.

“Anyone who saw them would assume they were three old hens on a cosy holiday, never suspecting that they had met their younger selves, witnessed their lives from a different angle, and changed in ways even they couldn’t yet know.”

While I enjoyed the vicarious tour of Europe, visiting Paris, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, through Italy and over to Greece, richly described by the author, (and whose real life tour is FEATURED HERE on Book’d Out), it’s really the emotional journey’s of Hampson’s characters that kept me engrossed in this novel.

In Sixty Summers, Hampson reminds us that the ‘third act’ need not be the final act, change is still possible, though it will take honesty and courage.


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