This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out today (3 May 2022); $39.99.
I actually finished reading the memoir part of this book a couple of weeks ago – the day I received it in fact. But I had to wait until I had baked a couple of the recipes before I could do a legit review!
This is two books in one. The second part is a cookbook – all bread or bread-adjacent (a couple of biscuits and cakes). So far I have made the Miracle Overnight White Loaf, which is a marvellous no-knead, overnight (duh) bread that you cook in casserole dish; and today I made the focaccia, which uses the same dough but you press it out to make focaccia. Both of these are AMAZING and will definitely be in high rotation. A large section of the recipes is sourdough, and… I’ve done the sourdough thing, and I’m just not sure I can face going back to the world of the starter. I’ll have to give it some more thought. There are definitely other recipes I want to try – bialys, and their mini panettone buns. Each of the recipes is laid out beautifully – I love that there is a different font for the chat at the start, and the ingredients, and the recipe itself. It’s also got delightful photos and in general the cookbook aspect is just fabulous.
But the recipes are only half the book. The first half of the book is a memoir. This book is written by Kitty and her father, Al – they tell the story together and they each have a distinct font. It’s the story of how they ended up running a bakery together, and while that sounds all heartwarming – and it is, absolutely – but it starts because baking a loaf of bread is one thing that Al tries to help Kitty with her crippling anxiety. Like, anxiety that made going to school impossible, getting out of bed barely feasible, nothing in the world seeming worthwhile. I deeply appreciated the honesty that Al in particular presents here – that he and his wife did not see what was happening at the start, that they were bewildered by the change in their youngest daughter, and that they struggled to figure out what to do. Kitty, of course, is also very honest: she didn’t know why it happened, either, and makes no excuses for it, or for feeling the way she did. It just was.
The book explores the slow movement from Kitty deciding she wanted to bake a loaf of bread – to wanting to make more, and therefore being allowed to use neighbouring ovens – to giving bread away because she was making so much, leading to a subscription service, then a pop-up, and then an actual real bakery and high street shop. Well, I say slow, but it all happened over about 2 years and that’s just incredible.
It’s the sort of book that makes me think “maybe I could be a baker and make bread all the time and bring joy to people!” and then you keep reading and you realise just how much stress the whole thing is, and how early you have to get up (unless you’re the Margaret River bakers who sell their bread from 3pm onwards, LIFE GOALS) and… yeh. I’ll just stick with making bread for people in my house, thanks.
As a memoir, the book is a delight. It’s honest and thoughtful and funny (when appropriate). It’s got enough context of other things going on that you know bread isn’t absolutely everything, but it’s also very clear that the focus is the story of Kitty not being able to go to school —> opening the bakery; it’s not a complete autobiography. The different fonts make the dual authorship work really well, there’s lovely pictures and photos throughout, and I really did sit and read the 150-odd pages in one day, because I started and then I had to keep going. I didn’t really need another bread book in my life but I definitely needed this book.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in May.
This is an eclectic book. It’s not an in-depth examination into the social, cultural or culinary history of the recipe – and it doesn’t want to be that. This is more whimsical, more meandering, more dip-a-toe-into-interesting-spaces than that.
It’s also super American; I feel I should flag that for all the other non-US readers. There’s a whole chapter on Thanksgiving – and I get why you would do that, but also there’s no acknowledgement that it’s restricted as “a recipe” to one country and its diaspora. And in the first chapter, about the basics of what a recipe is, the author uses the idea of chicken stock to elaborate on the idea of variation. Which makes sense! But then says this: “Every version of this basic recipe involves the same ingredients in the same proportions – the amount of chicken in the recipe is always five pounds” (12). Um. Not in my recipes? Even given that maybe she just couldn’t be bothered mentioning that other countries might use different measurements, it’s still a weirdly sweeping generalisation. (This one might be picked up in editing, but the author also refers to “the Great British Baking Show” which struck me a really WEIRD mistake.)
ANYWAY. Despite those things, I did enjoy reading this a lot. I love Bloom’s idea that “as a literary genre and social construct, multi-faceted and complex, a recipe in its human context offers lessons in life and living” (3) – that’s such a fantastic way of putting it. Throughout the book, she shows those different aspects of the idea of ‘a recipe’. And also made me feel better about the fact that I often don’t follow a recipe to the absolute letter (except in baking, which is chemistry) – she says this is indeed what people everywhere always do. I love the idea of recipe as story, and as memory. I’m less wild about it as a symbol of power or politics, but absolutely accept that it can be.
All up, a really great read. Also it’s made me dead keen to find other books in the Object Lesson series: a book on the eye chart? on exits? THE TRENCH COAT??
I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in August 2022.
Food has often been used by poets as a way of expressing themselves. Chefs and others have often been moved to exuberant, passionate language to try and describe food. So a book like this makes perfect sense. Dubrow explores our relationship with our five tastes through experiences – some near-universal, some not – and exquisite language, to try and get at what we mean, what we experience, when we saw sweet or sour or salt or bitter or, most recent to the Western vocab, umami.
There’s the sense-memory of strawberry jam, and being a feverish six year old – like Proust’s madeleines; heathen that I am in never having even attempted Proust, I have heard of this story and how the taste catapults the narrator through memory. There’s Persephone and the sour pomegranate seeds, the experience of sweat dripping down one’s face, the ceremony of making a cup of tea. How food have been represented in art – still-lifes, and others – and what this says about the particular foods. Cheese and coffee and chocolate.
It’s a delightful collection of moments, of mediations. It reminds that food isn’t just fuel, that taste is an experience even if we’re just gulping something down as fuel. We don’t always have to sit and reflect on the emotion brought about by a particular taste, but it can occasionally be rewarding.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in June 2022.
This is a really fascinating book that takes food and issues of ‘nativism’ and looks at how they work together. It seems kind of obvious once you start thinking about it that food can be a political tool – even a weapon… one need only think of some of the racist insults that people use, which are either specifically or tangentially food related. Or the way politicians are publicised eating particular foods. Or the boycotting of foods…
One of the first things that I appreciated about this book is that Parasecoli is quite open about things needing much more extensive research to fully understand what’s going on, and that “patterns [he identifies] are tentative, unstable, and shifting” (xi). That the book “raises questions rather than offering solutions… proposes one point of view, food and its ideological uses, to read events and and tensions that are obviously much larger” (xii). This sort of intellectual honesty is a delight, and also brings me hope that maybe the ways food is used and discussed in connection to politics may indeed become a greater field of investigation.
Parasecoli’s idea of ‘gastronativism’ is a broad one, and encompasses political positions that are, at least to my mind, both arch-conservative leaning towards fascist, and at the other end much more progressive. The first limits what it means to be in a community (white supremacy, anti immigrant) – what he calls exclusionary gastronativism. On the other hand is what he calls nonexclusionary gastronativism (and I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to give a speech on this topic): it looks at “extending rights, resources, and wellbeing to the disenfranchised and the oppressed” (22). Cross-national issues of worker rights, and such issues. I love that such seemingly different issues can be examined together, using similar thought-tools.
It must be acknowledged that this book challenged me to think about the way that I approach food. In one section, Parasecoli discusses the idea of authenticity – “a Thai restaurant feels more authentically Thai if the cook and staff are recognisably Thai” – and that being able to “distinguish authenticity becomes part of consumers’ cultural capital” (89). And then you get arguments about what IS authentic, and things can get very messy. I don’t think the author is saying that a desire for authenticity is automatically bad; but it did make me start thinking about what constitutes ‘the canon’ when it comes to food, and that sent me down a bit of a spiral, being something of an iconoclast in those issues.
There is a LOT in this book; Parasecoli touches on a broad range of issues and explores exclusionary and nonexclusionary examples from various parts of the world. As he says in the intro, he doesn’t always go into huge detail about all of them – that’s not really the point of the book. Instead he’s trying to show what the very concept of gastronativism can be, how it might be interrogated, what sort of actions people use and thoughts it stimulates. And I think he is very persuasive in showing that food isn’t always just something that someone like me eats for fuel. It’s always much more than that.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in July 2022.
Sometimes I forget how much I love food writing, and food history, and thinking about how food works in society. Then I read a book like this and I’m reminded all over again.
I’ve never particularly gone down the fermentation path. I did have a sourdough starter for a year or so – before lockdown, I swear! – but I found it too wasteful, throwing out the starter (I am considering going back to it, having read this…).
This book is:
— personal – Skinner mentions parts of her own journey, both in understanding food and more broadly, throughout.
— aiming to be broad in outlook and postcolonial in attitude: she carefully notes having tried to speak to / read from the people who actually make the ferments, and that it is “critically important, particularly as someone with relative privilege, not to overshadow others’ stories with my own words and perspectives”. I think food history is one way in which the colonial agenda can, indeed, still be present, so I appreciate this acknowledgement and the attempt.
— partly a history, looking at the role of fermentation in different cultures across time, and speculating about how such things might have been discovered. Also the range of fermentation experiments! I love any story that includes garum, that probably-incredibly-stinky fish sauce of the Romans.
— a bit science-y, but not that much. Humans are really only beginning to understand the interplay between the gut microbiome and our general health, so it was interesting to think a bit about how fermented foods might help there.
— partly a cookbook. Why yes, I have every intention of trying mushroom ketchup, thankyouverymuch (it came before tomato ketchup, because after all don’t forget how late tomatoes are on the European culinary scene).
— a bit philosophical, which wasn’t always my cup of tea (… or kombucha…). There’s discussion of the word ‘culture’ and how it can mean the microbes as as well as human interactions, which I didn’t fully get on board with – it seemed to stretch the ideas a bit far. And claims about mindfulness and community that did, actually, make me stop and think. The idea that ferments enable us to ‘live a more embodied life’; that the time taken to have a slow meal with friends ‘is a necessary act we give ourselves precious little time for’.
— not perfect. Some of the segues between sections are abrupt and don’t follow what I would consider logical or natural links. And there are some instances of poor editing – mentioning that the eruption of Mt Vesuvius happened in 79CE, for instance, twice on one page. But those are relatively minor issues. (I was more thrown by the idea that Samuel Pepys was “best known for burying his beloved wine and cheese stores to protect them from the 1666 Great Fire of London” rather than, say, for the incredibly detailed decade-long diary he kept.)
Overall, a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading, and I have quite the list of recipes to try out.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
Part travel memoir, part personal memoir, and part food history; it’s an intriguing combination. Furstenau discusses her own history – born of Bengali parents, in Thailand, and then growing up in the US. Throughout the book are comments about how hard it was to demonstrate that her visa to India ought to reflect that heritage, but given a lack of paperwork for her parents, it wasn’t to be. This sense of questioning where she belongs is woven through her discussion of “Indian” food, as she looks into the histories of both ingredients and dishes. “Indian” because some of what is discussed is about how now-common ingredients in Indian food actually came to India (green peas, chillis, potato… cheese…); and also some things you might think of as Indian are not, and some things appropriated by others are, of course, from India.
The author travels around India, sometimes visiting relatives and sometimes finding food-connected people, who talk about history and share recipes and teach her to cook some of the dishes. And these recipes are included, of course – Sandesh and Nolen Gur Cheesecake; Kedgeree (which is Indian, not Scottish, and the story of it becoming a breakfast staple is fascinating and I have never eaten it!); Koraishutir Kochuri (puffed bread with green pea filling, and goodness I really want to make this)… and so many others.
This book is very readable; it’s enjoyable to journey around India, it’s varied in what ingredients and ideas it discusses, and the recipes seem easy to follow.
I received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury Absolute, at no cost. RRP $52.99; it’s out now.
Firstly, LOOK at that cover. This is a beautiful book just to look at, from the cover through to the internal images. So if you’re a person who buys cookbooks to ogle – and more power to you – this is a good one.
Secondly, the text: it’s engagingly written. The intro gives a very potted history of the island, focusing on what different cultures brought with them; then also an overview of the geography, including what I didn’t know which is that ‘Sicily’ also includes all the little islands around it. The stories at the start of each recipe – I know there’s a proper name, but I can’t remember it – aren’t too long, are generally relevant, and (if you’re in a hurry) can be safely ignored with regard to the actual cooking.
Thirdly, of course, the recipes. Chapters include Bread, Fritti (fried things), Pasta and rice, Vegetables, Fish, Meat, Sweets, Granita and ice creams, and Sauces and Basics. I’ve cooked a few things…
- I started with some things I was already familiar with, because it’s pandemic time – in fact I think I cooked some during a lockdown – and my emotional energy for adventure was low. So:
- Grilled Bavette (I think I used rump steak) with braised courgettes, mint, chilli and gremolata – a delicious way to do zucchini, and a tasty sauce for the meat;
- Whole Roast Chicken with fennel [I don’t think Australia has the wild variety he specifies], lemon leaves, garlic and bay – the chicken is placed on top of fennel and shallots, which was delicious;
- Sfincione – that is, Sicilian-style pizza – which in my lexicon is more like focaccia, being more like bread (quite thick and fluffy) rather than thin and crusty. We didn’t follow the instructions for the toppings. The base itself was very tasty; I can imagine serving it more like bread than like pizza;
- Pork, Chilli and Marjoram Polpette cooked with lemon and lemon leaves – they’re meatballs. After the meatballs are browned they’re braised in the oven with stock and lemon leaves, and it was totally delicious;
- Strawberry, Almond and Rosewater Cake – I replaced the strawberries with cherries, because I had some in the freezer from summer. Also an absolutely delicious outcome.
- AND THEN I decided to do something ridiculous, which was: Spiced Lamb Arancini with peas, broad beans and mint. This was ridiculous because I’ve never done anything deep-fried, and the number of steps in the process (make the risotto, cook the lamb, mix it together, flour / egg / bread crumbs and THEN fry). They were delicious. Just wonderful. And I don’t think I’ll ever make them again because I’m just not convinced it’s worth my time.
There are heaps more recipes here that I can imagine cooking, so I am very happy to have this in my life. The only potential issue for Australian cooks – and this is a problem with us, not the author – is the fish section. The recipes call for specific fish (cod, mackerel, sardines) and I don’t know whether they’re all a) easily available here, b) have the same names (I know those ones do), or c) whether other fish can be easily substituted. Still, highly recommended.
I received this book to review via NetGalley.
This is a set of essays, many published elsewhere previously, written by a woman who has been many things: a chef, a restaurant owner, a writer; mother, both married and single; a culinary student and a teacher; resident on farms and in cities and, as these essays are written, back on the farm that was originally set up by her grandparents. The essays are ruminations on life, reflections on choices both good and bad, an exploration of cause and consequence, and a meditation on – as the title suggests – food and water: the place of both in our lives, how they can impact on the way we live, the positives and negatives.
When I read a book like this I think, How can I find more books like this? What category do they come under? I’m not interested in reading just any essays on life; the focus on food and, I suspect, having a female author make these particularly appealing. I’m also not always interested in just reading about food for its own sake – the connection to life more generally, here, as well as the stories behind the growing and making of food, helps make these essays intensely readable and occasionally challenging.
Hobsbawn-Smith is writing these essays having moved back to the Canadian prairie. She reflects on many moments in her life, from horse riding as a teen to the area around her farm becoming a lake for seven years, with stories of her sons growing up in between. Sometimes she recounts stories for their own sake; more often she’s thinking about what they mean – how they reflect and connect to other moments in her life, what they show about the importance of family and feeding each other, how she has come to be the person she is today.
I didn’t always agree with the conclusions about life that Hobsbawn-Smith reaches; and I suspect that, given the differences between us (age, aspiration, location) she wouldn’t have a problem with that. But I do feel challenged – reminded, rather – to consider food more meaningfully, to remember the love that making and giving food can show; to try and take life just a little slower; and to be more aware of where food comes from. Trying to be intensely locavore is something that works if you’ve got the time and the money, which is something society as a whole needs to struggle with – and it’s not something that’s particularly doable for me right now. But I can, for example, be more mindful of seasonality.
These essays were deeply enjoyable to read, both on an intellectual-challenge and -stimulation level and also as prose in and of itself. Hobsbawn-Smith writes beautifully of food, and nature, and experience; she has an entire essay of her love for a temperamental oven, which is a delight. She made me remember that food is more than fuel, that life can be lived slowly, and that doing so is worthwhile.
I received this as a review copy from the Australian publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s available now; RRP $39.99.
I own all of Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbooks. Her first, Persiana, is one of my favourite cookbooks ever. Every book has been produced beautifully, and every recipe I have tried has been great. This new book is no exception.
Ghayour is Persian by background, and having grown up in Britain she brings a (ugh, buzz word) fusion to cuisines that really works. I recently started following her Instagram account, and the enthusiasm that appears in her descriptions of the recipes comes through there, too. She’s a delight.
The idea of a ‘simple’ cookbook is a perennial one; it’s come around again recently, it seems to me. I was a little surprised that Ghayour got into it – not that her other recipes have ever been that hard, but that it seemed an odd genre for her to get into. But actually, this does fit: she’s into encouraging everyone that they can cook, that doing so doesn’t need brand new, hard to get, and fresh-or-lose-it ingredients every time. She’s a big fan (from her Insta account) of using pantry essentials really well. Of course, her pantry isn’t necessarily mine; but once you’ve bought sumac or tahini (which, let’s be honest, actually are always in my pantry), you’ve got them and you can keep using them.
Anyway! The recipes are once again easy to follow, and every recipe I’ve tried has been a hit. Baked sweet potato chips with za’atar were great; beans with tahini and preserved lemon is inspired and I want to do beans like this forever. Carrot with pistachio, dill, and lime; baked butternut that’s then mashed with yoghurt and chilli and dill… and absolutely fantastic felafel. And that’s just the vegetables! Variations on chicken kebabs, and kofte, and the solution when my veg box has a full celery: lamb, celery and parsley stew (yes, when I ask for 100g of parsley, I meant it. It didn’t even make a dent in the parsley thicket). I haven’t had a chance to cook any dessert yet, but: white chocolate, pistachio, and raspberry tiramisu. Nuff said.
The book is divided into Effortless Eating; Traditions with a Twist; The Melting Pot; Something Special (sticky peach and halloumi skewers!!) and Cakes, Bakes, and Sweet Treats. I am keeping this book out on the counter to keep cooking from over the next … I dunno, six months?
Highly recommended. An excellent introduction to Ghayour’s style of cooking and recipe writing.
Was there ever a book more up my alley than this? (Well yes but allow me my extravagance.) I came across this book courtesy of Gastropod, one of my very favourite podcasts: looking at food ‘through the lens of science and history’.
Rachel Laudan takes the idea that we ‘are the animals that cook’ (p1) and looks at how cuisine – how we cook – has travelled and been shaped. She makes a very interesting point that I’d never really thought about: just adopting a particular food doesn’t mean you’ve adopted a particular cuisine, or in anyway integrated a part of a culture. Cooking is the key bit and cooking has always been hedged about with culture and taboo and expectations and so on. She also deliberately looks at the idea of ’empire’ as hegemonic political units can do a lot to spread, enforce, and encourage the adoption of cuisine through a whole range of methods. The point of the book therefore is not to consider regional differences but to look at broad similarities in the way that food is treated, and how those similarities came to be.
There are chapters on the development of grain-based cuisines, and what that meant for cooking in general. She looks at Buddhism and its spread and influence, at Islam and Christianity, and how their morals and philosophies and taboos influenced the way food worked. How shifts from Catholicism to Protestantism in parts of Europe changed things, as well as how industry and increasing globalisation changed modern cuisines.
I love that Europe is not entirely the centre here; that the Mongols and the Islamic empires have a significant impact (on Mexico, via Spain, for example). I am intrigued to think about how political and moral questions have shaped some of the ways that I, and my food culture, think and perceive food. I’m also fascinated by how early decisions, sometimes made consciously and sometimes not, have continuing impacts on the way the world acts.
Honestly, grasses have a lot of responsibility in the development of world cultures.
This book was a lot of fun – well, it was a bit of work, because it’s not always a straightforward narrative. But that was usually fun too. It has made me think about why we do things the way we do, and the cascade of consequences through history. It’s so easy to think of the way we make food as just… passive, somehow; unconnected to politics or anything else. Actually, that’s probably only possible for me because I am a part of the ruling elite, so I don’t need to think about the consequences of my food choices – and I live in a place and time where choosing to eat outside of my particular food culture is totally acceptable. So I am privileged. But I am still constrained, too, by the things I have been taught. And this book helps me think about some of those things.