Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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A quickie on Julie/Julia

October 27, 2009

Yesterday the Empress, the Parsnip Princess and I went to see the Meryl movie, Julie & Julia. And loved it, as anticipated. That Julia Child was a woman of appetites, if this film is any kind of a biopic. We left the cinema drooling and wanting boned duck stuffed with pate and cooked in pastry for dinner.

And the other thing we all seized upon was that despite eating their body weight in butter each day, smoking and drinking and generally having a high old time of it, Julia Child and her husband Paul lived to the ages of 91 and 92 respectively. Don’t you love those stats?

The Empress declares this one more piece of evidence for her theory that home cooking (i.e. good home cooking, with fresh, varied, unprocessed food) is the key to a long and healthy life (hmm, I won’t mention my own parents and their early deaths despite lifelong home cooking here – except to remark that to my mind, their growing up in postwar England did not equate to being reared on good food!) .

My last word on the Julie/Julia phenomenon is to point you to By Designa terrific Radio National program my friend Mark Wakely produces, hosted by Alan Saunders – and the fact that years ago, long before Hollywood found Julie Powell, RN interviewed her about the blog that led to this whole hullabaloo.

By Design just replayed the interview this month, and it’s great – she talks about the actual cooking, and how she went about working her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking (and the strange fact of her having never eaten an egg until the age of 29!) Listen to the interview on By Design’s website here.

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Back to the books

August 30, 2009

booksFurther to our very satisfying natter about cookbooks a couple of weeks back, I have now obtained the Empress’s informative and amusing cookbook manifesto, first published a few years ago in Good Reading magazine, and it’s available here as a quick PDF file (will also pop it on the Writing on food page for easy access later). It’s a lovely piece of writing about Steph’s favourite books for recipes, travelogues, pictures and entertainment …

A taste:

I’ve never actually cooked anything out of The Taste of France based on a Sunday Times magazine series from 1983 because the food all looks a bit dark and the layout’s confusing. But the photo of a chipped pottery bowl filled with three kinds of wild mushrooms, five eggs still in their shells and an old wooden spoon holding sea salt, ground pepper and garlic cloves is fantastic. It doesn’t immediately make me want to make scrambled eggs with mushrooms but it does make me want to rent an old house in the Auvergne, in October (mushroom season), shop at the markets for my eggs and butter and then make the recipe. It’s just something a white-styled Donna Hay book can’t do.


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Shelf help

August 7, 2009

cookbooksToday’s post is inspired by two things – first, the empty space we now have in our new cookbook shelves; and second, our chat here about Julia Child, and especially Julie’s & Fiona’s recollections of working from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which Fiona so beautifully described as “my first cooking book mother – the human mother being a frozen chop sort of cook…”

Now, as you can see, in place of our crappy old single cookbook shelf jammed into a corner of the living room are these spacious purpose-built cookbook shelves in the kitchen itself (I know, the top one is a leetle cramped, but good for mags perhaps?)

So I discover to my delight that we need more cookbooks. We did chuck out a few duds when we cleared the place for the reno, so pretty much only useful ones remain.

And all this Julia Child talk has made me think about classics I should own but do not – and I would love your advice. I want to hear about your ‘cookbook mother’ – the book that got you into cooking in a way your own mum didn’t.

I know we’ve touched on this via my Elizabeth David ramble here, but I want to hear more about your early cookery book love affairs. After Elizabeth, it was two Aussie blokes who led me up the kitchen garden path – Paul Merrony, with a slender (almost self-published-looking) book called The New French Cooking in Australia: Recipes from Merrony’s Restaurant, and the other was Geoff Slattery, with a very workable and appealingly instructive book called Simple Flavours. Both of these propelled me wonderfully towards fresh, simple yet classic dishes and flavour combinations. What about you?

And what about those classics every cook should have – you must have at least two or three on your shelves that One doesn’t?  Help me fill the void!

Postscript: A couple of recent birthdays round here have suddenly yielded two beauties since I wrote the above – Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Saha: A chef’s journey through Syria & Lebanon. Happy, happy days in this house!


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Cate Kennedy’s new shoots

July 21, 2009

garliccateAs I’ve said before, Cate Kennedy has a new book coming out soon. It’s a novel, and I keep hearing from advance readers (those folks who get to snaffle up the advance copies of books that are sent out to bookshops, media and so on before they are actually in the shops) that it is a right cracker. Cate is well known as a short story writer of particular note, and her collection Dark Roots was widely acclaimed a couple of years back.

So I can’t wait to read this novel of hers, called The World Beneath, but I, like you, will  have to wait till September to do so.

(Incidentally, Cate’s publisher is one of the great Oz independents – Scribe, which is doing excellent things with Australian fiction and particularly short fiction. Another of Scribe’s books to get your mitts on very soon is newcomer Patrick Cullen’s short story collection, What Came Between, out in August. He has been well published in anthologies for years, but this is Patrick’s first solo collection, and it’s bound to be good.)

But back to Cate. Apart from her writing (did I mention her amazing story for our Brothers & Sisters story collection, out in November?) she is a primary producer of another sort – garlic. A few weeks ago I got the lovely surprise of a heap of baby garlic in the post, sent by Cate after reading of my garlic-growing anxiety here ( I killed the other one, by the way).

Since then I’ve potted the bub bulbs into these peat pots, and as soon as the painters finish the frame of the bathroom window, directly above my new herb bed, these will go into the bed too. It’s the only spot in the garden that gets year-round sun, although only for a few hours a day in winter. Come summer though, that spot will be hot hot hot and perfect for herbs and, I hope, the garlic. So here’s to Cate, her Dark Roots and her New Shoots.

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Loved letters

June 3, 2009

sylviaHave just picked up, once again, the book of gorgeous letters between the writers Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, The Element of Lavishness.  

It is one of my favourite, favourite books – forty years of correspondence between Warner, in England, and Maxwell, in the US, which began when Maxwell was fiction editor at The New Yorker, and they corresponded over her stories. But they soon became everlasting friends. 

As I’ve said here before, one of the things I love about letters as opposed to biographies is their discursive intimacy and their domesticity … which of course includes lots of fleeting references to food, often more enjoyable for the fact they are throwaway remarks, yet so well written.

Here’s Sylvia on ice cream:

We make a wonderful variety with blackcurrant jelly, it is a deep vicious mauve, the exact shade I used to see on highclass fallen women when I was young. I notice the recognising and awed start of recognition in any one of my generation to whom we offer our blackcurrant ice.

Shop ones here have air pumped into them, and are like ectoplasmic cream, and very nasty. 

And decades later, in response to the news that she’d been elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters:

I am really extremely pleased and set-up and cockahoop, and was on the brink of telling the butcher about it, since he happened to be the first foot to my honours; but he was busy tieing up a round of beef for Mrs Lamasys.

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A party piece

June 1, 2009

In honour of the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in some time – Gatz, the amazing reading / performance of The Great Gatsby, which I saw at the Sydney Opera House last night – I thought I’d revisit that beloved book here.

Gatz photo by Chris BeirensThe show is hard to describe, but anything that keeps one riveted for seven hours, with only two 15-minute and one 1-hour break, is a feat of wonder. It’s a stunning reading of the entire book by one spectacularly talented chap, Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway, along with a supporting cast of 12 including the elusively beautiful Jim Fletcher as Gatsby (pictured). And it’s also got another wordless story running along beneath it, of the futile melancholy of office life – but that is another story. The originality and wit of the direction makes this an inventive, gloriously playful, surprising and – when it should be – desperately sad production.

There will be many who can describe Gatz better than I, so check out the reviews, like this one here. All I can say is a huge thank you to my friend Bec for taking me. It was a wonder. And one of the best things was its reminding me how beautiful is the writing in The Great Gatsby, so here is some for you. Surely no party since this was written has ever lived up to one of Gatsby’s wondrous soirees.  

There was music from my neighbour’s house through the summer nights. In the blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On weekends his Rolls Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York – every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oevre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.

And when we came out, the sails of the Opera House were all lit up like a strange blue underwater garden. Seemed so apt, somehow, and made our night.

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Lorrie Moore’s fictional food

May 18, 2009

like lifeIn Lorrie Moore’s story Two Boys (Like Life, 1990), the protagonist Mary compares the two men she’s unhappily involved with.

Number One is successful, funny and married, and predictably treats her like crap. Number Two loves her, but is “tall and depressed and steady as rain”:

‘He’d kiss her, then weep into his own long arm. Mary worried about his health. Number One always ate at restaurants where the food – the squid, the liver, the carrots – was all described as “young and tender”, like a Tony Bennett song. But Number Two went to coffee shops and ate things that had nitrites and dark, lacy crusts around the edges. Such food could enter you old and sticking like a bad dream. When Two ate, he nipped nothing in the bud. It could cause you to grow weary and sad, coming in at the tail end of things like that.’