Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category

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A case of the busies

November 6, 2009

Brothers & Sisters coverI’m sad to say I have done barely any cooking this week and think it unlikely to be doing much in the week or so; I’m afraid it may be rather quiet round here for a little while.

This week I have had the busies, with lots of  promotion in progress for our new book Brothers & Sisters – preparing for the forthcoming panel at the Newtown Festival this Sunday, then the Sydney launch on Tuesday, another in the Blue Mountains on Thursday, plus the odd interview like this one here with Radio National’s The Book Show earlier this week.

Now this is clearly a load of completely shameless self-promotion, but I figured if you can’t do it on your own blog …

However, I have lots to talk about soon from devils on horseback to the contrast between dried & fresh herbs and when to use which – not to mention a revisit of my spud farm (Jamie, I’m in trouble …) and the herb garden finally coming along  – so please don’t go away! See you back here for actual foodie natterings very soon …

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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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Small potatoes: having a crack at spud farming

October 5, 2009

SAgardenWell, I cracked.

I have been lusting after it for some time, and was going to try to wait till December to see what Father Christmas brought, but last weekend I fell off the restraint wagon (I know: me, giving in to instant gratification – who’d have thought?) and bought it – Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion.

I love this book. It’s a beautifully produced companion to the other big fat orange/stripey that we all have, but each ingredient section begins with a good two or three pages on how to grow it. Same great alphabetical structure for the book, plus ‘basics’ sections on how to build a no-dig garden, recipes for compost, fertiliser, natural pest control and so on, and then three or four pages of recipes for each ingredient. It’s a damn fine idea. And, because of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and its work in all those school gardens, you know she knows what she’s talking about.

As with the other cookery books, she writes in the same friendly, inclusive voice, encouraging beginners, urging you to experiment and make your own way. I have a few other garden books with bits on cooking, but if the garden advice is good, the food looks awful; and if the food advice is good, the gardening advice is patchy to say the least. Hence my joy at this purchase.

So, emboldened by Stephanie’s give-it-a-shot-even-if-you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-doing encouragement, and some solid advice from our Jamie over at Garden Amateur, I am going to have a crack at growing potatoes in sacks. No sunny space left in the garden beds, and not enough height anyway, so the potato-in-a-bag experiment begins.

Of course once I made the decision, do you think I could find the damn seed potatoes & their funky bags? No. Sold out, blah blah. But today I saw some pontiac spuds on special at the excellent Booth St garden centre in Annandale and threw caution to the wind. Bought the overgrown sprouty seed spuds (is this bad, Jamie??) and then as the nursery had no real potato bags, we skipped down to the best hardware shop in Sydney, Booth & Taylor Hardware, a Thrifty Link hardware shop on the corner, surprise, of Booth & Taylor.*

potatofarmGot home, lined the hessian sacks with garbage bags, poked a heap of holes through them with a skewer, and bunged my potentially dud pontiacs in with some composty/strawish mix. We shall see how I fare, but I must say I quite like the weirdo aesthetics of my new mini potato farm … the idea, I understand, is that as the plants sprout you chuck in more straw & stuff and unroll a bit of bag, heaping the soil/straw etc up as the tubers grow, so you end up with a little high-rise apartment building for spuds. Okay, I’ve never done it before and it could all end in tears, and the sacks are rather slender, but thanks to Stephanie & Jamie, I’m having a burl, Shirl. If you want to join me, best read Jamie on the topic first.

Oh and for those of you desperately wondering (ha) about my ailing herbs , they have survived! I got sick of waiting though, so bunged some much larger seedlings in the herb bed along with them, and now they’re all getting along happily, the ones grown from seed much smaller, but now quite healthy, while the biggies are already serving their purpose in the kitchen..

*A hardware shop digression you should feel free to skip:  I love this place and want to give it a plug. The shop is the size of a postage stamp, but is a total Tardis inside, with stairs up and down and roundabout. The guys who work there are incredibly friendly and helpful. They are specially perfect hardware guys for women to consult: not ever once, in many many years of custom, have I ever detected the faintest vibe of condescension, boredom, peevishness at my dumb questions, chauvinism or perviness from any of their staff, which is more than I can say for any other hardware shop in Sydney, including the one across the road from it and all the gigantic hideous bunningses. And I have never ever walked out without the thing I needed. Today it was hessian sacks, which one of the charming blokes fetched while Senor consulted another who gave him some sage advice about some specialist outfitting of the Art Van Go vehicle. Okay. End of ad break. You are free to go.

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More writing on food

September 21, 2009

My thanks to my friend Eileen, for alerting me to this meaty segment on writing about food from ABC Radio National’s Book Show. More surprising than I had expected, it’s a nice energetic discussion on fictional, poetic and other writerly food between Stephanie Alexander (whose new book The Kitchen Garden Companion I absolutely lust after), John Newton and Gay Bilson with Ramona Koval.

Gay Bilson is particularly literate, erudite and thoughtful. She’s a very interesting woman, I think, given her stepping away from her massive success as a restaurateur (Berowra Waters Inn, etc) into a more reflective, quieter and far more ascetic sort of life these days. As a result of this interview I shall be seeking out her own books, Plenty and On Digestion. She also writes for The Monthly, and has a strangely moving piece in this month’s issue about organ donation which begins by evoking mushroom harvesting. She is intriguing, I reckon.

The beloved MFK Fisher comes in for a surprisingly acerbic serve from both Gay Bilson, who says Fisher’s writing is self-regarding and “makes my toes curl” and Stephanie, who calls her writing mannered and says she gets the feeling of indigestion from Fisher! A good lively, highly literate discussion all round, liberally sprinkled with food quotes from Sybil Bedford, Hemingway, Ian McEwan, Henry James, Lawrence Durrell, Anita Brookner, Frank Moorhouse and invoking The Magic Pudding, Enid Blyton and lots more.

Download it or listen online here.

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Eat her words…

August 12, 2009

eating booksJust listened to the good ol’ Book Show on Radio National, to a piece I missed a little while back with Helen Greenwood, a very experienced food writer who, among her other many gigs, apparently  teaches workshops in writing about food. I’ve actually been toying with the idea of having a crack at teaching such a workshop myself (about food in fiction, only), but from what I hear Ms Greenwood probably does it better. In this interview Helen pretty much covers what is so riveting about grub – not just the eating, but its tendrils into everything else that’s important: history, art, culture, medicine, love, conflict, ethics, death, emotion, memory … no wonder what’s on the plate is so endlessly interesting to mind, body and soul.

Anyway, check out the audio of Helen Greenwood’s interview here – and as I twirled around the net after Ms Greenwood, I came across another good bit of her work here, in a review* she did quite a while back for the SMH of  a brilliant-sounding anthology of food writing, rather boringly titled Choice Cuts: A Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History. But though the title may be dull as dishwater, the book itself sounds excellent – one for the Christmas list I say, if it’s still around.

*I have to say the first line of this review, where Ms G takes anthology editors gently to task, gave me a leetle shiver; ours is out in November and I’m the editor who might be copping it –  yeek… but you know what? I don’t reckon I will. Because the stories in our book, Brothers & Sisters, are fricking gold. Take one Nam Le, mix with one Cate Kennedy, one Tegan Bennett Daylight and a Christos Tsiolkas, and blend with one Robert Drewe, a Roger McDonald, an Ash Hay, a Tony Birch, an slug of newness a la Virginia Peters & Michael Sala, rounding off with a sprinkle of One, and I say that is one impeccable recipe. Oh, how a metaphor can be stretched and mangled. Believe me, though – unlike this blather of mine, the book is a cracker.

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Michael on Julia’s legacy

August 4, 2009

Does anyone in Australia understand the Julia Child adoration thing, or is this purely an American phenomenon?

I have known virtually nothing about her except her name – but in the New York Times this week  is a long and lovely essay by the wonderful Michael Pollan about Julia Child, the first American TV chef, prompted by the new movie Julie &  Julia, starring Meryl Streep as JC.

He muses about the changes in American home cooking and the influence of television upon it, starting with the way Julia Child apparently liberated a generation of American women from fear of cooking by dropping a potato pancake and then retrieving it and patching it back together – her show was live TV, after all.

Pollan is such an engaging writer (his book Second Nature, about gardens, was a big influence on me as I wrote my second novel The Submerged Cathedral, and his other books on food production and ethics, In Defence of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, are just as lively and provoking), and this essay is a beauty.

michael pollanPollan’s essay goes on to discuss the exponential rise of television cookery, and how American studies show that people spend more time watching cooking being done than doing it themselves (particularly interesting given the popularity of  Master Chef here, and the talk about how it’s supposedly got people back into the kitchen. I wonder…).

Pollan writes that there are oodles of cooking shows on US television, but says of many of them:

These shows stress quick results, shortcuts and superconvenience but never the sort of pleasure — physical and mental — that Julia Child took in the work of cooking: the tomahawking of a fish skeleton or the chopping of an onion, the Rolfing of butter into the breast of a raw chicken or the vigorous whisking of heavy cream. By the end of the potato show, Julia was out of breath and had broken a sweat, which she mopped from her brow with a paper towel. (Have you ever seen Martha Stewart break a sweat? Pant? If so, you know her a lot better than the rest of us.) Child was less interested in making it fast or easy than making it right, because cooking for her was so much more than a means to a meal. It was a gratifying, even ennobling sort of work, engaging both the mind and the muscles. You didn’t do it to please a husband or impress guests; you did it to please yourself. No one cooking on television today gives the impression that they enjoy the actual work quite as much as Julia Child did. In this, she strikes me as a more liberated figure than many of the women who have followed her on television.

He also notes that Julia Child began her cooking show in the same year that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and points out that although they could have been seen as adversaries, this wasn’t true: Child had an aversion to the word ‘housewife’ and treated cooking as a skill and an art, rather than another bit of household drudgery for women.

Anyway I could go on and on – but better for you to simply read this excellent essay here.

Then discover more about Julia Child here (or this fab Youtube video of her show here – it’s hilarious), and more  here about the Nora Ephron movie (which in the way of this strange new world, originated from a blog. Yes, a food blog, called the Julie/Julia Project.).

I just watched the movie trailer and confess that I can’t wait!

Postscript – October 3 2009

Two more amusing additions to this post must be made.

First, this link to the beautifully narky Regina Schrambling at Slate, on ‘Why you’ll never cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.

And second, rather more entertainingly, The Defamer’s round-up of cranky food bloggers and their snooty dismissals of Julie Powell, the blogger whose work started the whole JC revival. Hilariously chock-full of envy and rage at their fellow blogger’s success, this stuff makes for rich reading. One namedropping post by a ‘trained chef’ even says, with disgust, “People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts”. Seems rather to miss the point of Julia Child’s taking cookery to the masses, no? Not to mention that the remark is written by a food blogger.

Anyway, all good for a laugh and found here.

Bon appetit!


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Christian Lander in Newtown

May 28, 2009

landerDespite my admiration for Christian Lander and his Stuff White People Like I somehow failed to see him at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, even when he was appearing at the New Theatre, about five blocks from my house.

Luckily, that appearance is now available on Slow TV. It’s a two-parter; the first part is quite entertaining but largely about his astronomical 12-month rise to fame and the celebrities who now love him, which he’s very starry-eyed about so it gets a bit tedious.

But the second half, which I’m linking to here, is sharp and funny, like the work itself.