Some of the books I have been reading…

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase is all that you want if you are in the mood for a touch of coastal British gothic à la du Maurier’s Rebecca. There are precocious, enchanting children, a perfect dead parent, a weak live parent, an unspeakable step-parent, a too attractive step-brother, terrible tragedy, true love, a big, elegantly dilapidated house and an air of mystery. And that is just the bit set in the late 1960s. More than three decades later, Lorna and Jon are on the hunt for a special place to hold their wedding. Lorna is drawn to the now even-more falling down old pile, and starts ferreting about in its secrets and gloomy hallways – which makes all the rabbits run.  I liked it, it was just what I was in the mood for: light fiction with a dark undertow, not silly or stupid, with characters that are all just a bit too intense to be real yet are nonetheless worth caring about. 

The Edible Atlas: Around the World in 39 Cuisines by Mina Holland is very interesting. Holland discusses the history and development of each cuisine’s various stand-out ingredients, techniques and flavours, and follows each chapter up with a suggested larder list and a recipe or two that encapsulate the nature of the cuisine she has just introduced you to. She includes some interesting personal anecdotes and writes amiably and  straightforwardly, demystifying with good humour and sage advice. If you are interested in cooking this is really worth a read.

Rebecca Solnit’s essays are always thought-provoking. A Field Guide to Getting Lost is an excellent selection of prose pieces on various aspects of being lost, losing and loss in its many forms. The writing is beautiful, personal with glimpses of Solnit’s life and memories, meandering backwards and forwards, as from these close and everyday reflections she illuminates certain big truths about humans and the world we have created.

…and finally, I read Liza Marklund’s new Scandi Noir crime novel, Without a Trace, featuring tabloid reporter Annika Bengtzon. You – and the police – think this is about one sort of crime, a well-worn motive, when radical politician Ingemar is found beaten almost to death, his wife missing and their children taken into care. In fact it is about another sort of crime altogether, an unexpected motive, which is a real surprise. This is very good crime writing, with tight plotting and timely political and social observations (the descriptions of working in the new 24-hour digital content news day are really interesting), it is nicely chilling and mysterious until the end.

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For the Love Of…

One of our booksellers who is also a keen cook just had to write about her latest favourite:

“There’s nothing like the unrelenting misery of cold Dunedin winter to get me busy in the kitchen. Luckily there are an exciting new batch of NZ cookbooks in store to take the edge off winter. For the Love Of… by Karena & Kasey Bird, is one of my favourites.

For those who may have missed it, Karena & Kasey Bird are sisters, and the 2014 winners of NZ Masterchef, and this is their debut cookbook. Cooking shows make me nervous, so I missed these two the first time around, but reality television aside, this might be the best NZ cookbook to come out this year, not to mention one of the best & most professional products of self publishing I’ve seen. Impeccably designed, & with recipes to suit all occasions, these girls take traditional Maori cuisine and average NZ fare and give them a contemporary, international twist. The difficulty ranges from ‘homemade KFC’ to ‘Shitake crusted fillet with truffle mash and mushroom sauce,’ and there are recipes to suit every price range and occasion. These are the kind of things you can’t believe you never thought to make before, but will soon eclipse your old favourites. Some of my picks include: ‘Miso Caramel Eggplant,’ ‘Slow Braised Lamb Shin with Minto Gremolata,’ ‘Self Saucing Plum Pudding’ and ‘Sweet Kumara Pie.’ I made their classic vanilla baked rice pudding last night, and it’s my new go-to recipe. ”

I have to confess to having had my eye on their Black Doris Self-saucing Chocolate Pudding for some little while now, as the days really draw in, so good to know it makes as well as it looks – why don’t you have a go? And have to agree – one of the most appealing and good-looking NZ cookbook designs I’ve seen in a while…

More, more, more….

Plenty More by the fantastic London-based chef  Yotam Ottolenghi is as good as his other books, Ottolenghi, and Jerusalem (both with Sami Tamimi), and Plenty which have made fans and disciples of many of the keen bookseller/cooks here at UBS Otago and our happy Ottolenghied-up customers.

This is another gorgeously photographed and designed cookbook. If you are actually reading it for the recipes, you’ll find them inspiring, delicious and exciting. Plenty More picks up where Plenty left off, with 150 more dazzling vegetable-based dishes, this time organised by cooking method: Grilled, baked, simmered, cracked, braised or raw. Living with a southern hemisphere warm (I hope) Christmas I am planning on making the Frozen Bitter Berries with White Chocolate Cream for dessert this year – raspberries, red currants, boysenberries, Angostura bitters (who’d have thought??), cream and white chocolate – you get to bash the frozen berries in a bag with a heavy object…
I really like Ottolenghi’s food philosophy, and the useful, chatty and personable intro to each recipe – he really wants you to enjoy both the making and the eating. Watch these and see what I mean – he writes like he talks…

 

Cake, cake, cake…

The Cake by Dorethee de Monfreid is charming, colourful and funny, and very realistic about the importance of cake. I care about this, today is my birthday and I’ll have cake if I want to…

Tiger wants to bake a cake. A chocolate cake. But Rabbit has a weakness for
carrot cake. Monkey wants a banana cake. Dog is licking his chops thinking about a bone cake. And little Bear really wants a fish cake. Will tantrums be thrown or is there a way to satisfy everyone? I wasn’t sure, after all cake is a terribly personal thing.
Another funny and ironic treasure from Gecko Press – the ending is a complete surprise but a joy and a delight – much like the best cakes.
I would suggest eating cake while reading it would increase the ‘meta-ness’ for all concerned.

 

 

Another bird in the nest…

As you know, we are great fans here of Icon Books’ clever and appealing Magpie series of miscellanies. They have done so far, Nature, Science and Antiques. So you’ll be very pleased for us that Kitchen Magpie: A delicious melange of culinary curiosities, fascinating facts, amazing anecdotes and expert tips for the food-lover has just flown in, full of interesting chirpings and much ruffling of feathers.

Delving into forgotten corners of gastronomic history, Steen reveals what Parmesan has to do with broken bones and why John Wayne kept a cow in a hotel. Laying bare the secrets of the kitchen, he concocts the ultimate hangover cure and explains how to cook perfect rib of beef with the oven off. With much-loved cooks sharing passion and know-how, and their answers to the question ” What is the food of love?”, this mouth-watering miscellany will sate the appetite of every kitchen dweller, from the masterful expert to the earnest apprentice. My favourite thing? Steen’s dry, clever humour that runs like a sparkling, slightly sharp thread though all the kitcheny titbits.

We are so pleased for you, having this to read in the future…

 

Choice, eh?

Hooray, The Great New Zealand Cookbook has just been released.

It is a very smart looking hardback with recipes from,  it says, ” 80 of our finest cooks, chefs and bakers”, including, excitingly, local Dunedin, but Le Gavroche (London) trained, chef Jim Byars, who runs The Friday Shop up on Highgate. It is only open on Fridays as that is how long it takes for two of them to get everything ready. I have discovered that the cafe around the corner from the bookshop, Everyday Gourmet, has the The Friday Shop’s almond croissants on a Friday, so I don’t have to get up to Highgate and fight the crowd for them. And now I can make their lemon tart…
The photos of both the food and the chefs – each in their own home, kitchen, restaurant  or cafe – are great, inspiring and not too styled, and the range is wide, each person contributing 2 or 3 of their (our) favourite recipes…

Matariki (the month long celebration of the traditional Maori New Year, as the Pleiades star cluster rises in the dark wintery sky) starts on Sunday – why not celebrate with a kiwi dinner of Rex Morgan’s lamb shanks, Peta Mathias’ potatoes in duck fat, Jonny Schwass’ fennel, grapefruit and radish salad, Shaun Clouston’s Pohutukawa Honey Roasted Stone Fruits and Annabelle White’s florentines?

Truly scrumptious…

Ruth Reichl, legendary food critic, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, and author of several really interesting and absorbing books about food and its influence in her own life (Comfort Me with Apples, Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires), has written a novel called Delicious. I have to admit I wasn’t sure when I started as the plot didn’t grab me but actually, it worked.

This is the blurb from the book:
Billie Breslin has just landed her dream at Delicious!, the most iconic food magazine in New York. In an unfortunate turn of events Billie’s career barely gets started before the magazine is shut down and what looks like an interim job to tidy up as the doors close turns out to be an amazing journey to a magical, life-changing discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old who corresponded with the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu’s letters inspire Billie to come to terms with her own truths – about herself, her adored big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.”

Which makes it seem slight and chick-littish and sort of samey, much like many other food/love/growing up concoctions  BUT it isn’t – it is very good, complex and richly textured and somehow very real about human nature,  the big lurve interest is merely a side serving to the main action of Lulu’s letters which are hidden in various folders in the magazine’s library.

To find the next letter Billie has to look at the library’s encyclopedic catalogue cards for the various ingredients that have been mentioned in the previous letter. In this manner you come across all sorts of snippets of fascinating information about food and ingredients, including the information that Anzac Biscuits (an oaty, golden syrupy biscuit commemorating Australian and NZ soldiers) were first so named in a St Andrews Cookery Book, published here in Dunedin in the very early twentieth century by a local church, which was exciting as I knew that one of our customers is the person who tracked that information down. Helen Leach is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Otago, her research interests include the evolution of human diet, prehistoric horticulture, and the material culture and history of recipes and cooking.  She has a unique collection of historical and community cookbooks (including most of those St Andrew’s ones). When I saw her in the shop last week I pounced upon her, in a booksellery way, to tell her about the Anzac Biscuit connection – she took the book, I do hope she is enjoying it…