‘The Cheese and I; An Englishman’s Voyage Through the Land of Fromage’ by Matt Feroze (Michael O’Mara Books) Three years ago Feroze was working as an accountant at the National Audit Office in England. Keen to travel, he contacted the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organization and, with a smattering of French, volunteered on a goat cheese farm in France. With the WWOOF organization Feroze’s manual labour was exchanged for food and board. Feroze became intensely interested in the cheese making process and after returning to England, decided to take some time off to explore the industry further. This book documents his time on French cheese farms, in the tunnels caring for the cheeses (turning and brushing the cheeses? I had no idea!), working in cheese shops, doing talks, and, against all odds, winning the Champion de France des Fromagers competition where he had to present cheeses for the judges, prepare a cheese platter and then announce the name, origin, type of milk, method of production and age of 3 unknown cheeses. What a fascinating read about an industry I knew very little about. It’s amazing to think that one of my beloved grandmothers didn’t like cheese; I can’t imagine life without it! My husband and one of our daughters now really enjoy time sampling, savoring and discussing one or two beautiful cheeses at a time.
‘Not Quite Nigella; My Paths to Happiness Through Baking and Blogging’ by Lorraine Elliott (Viking; Penguin) Every now and then when I’d arrive at photography for the day, I would find one or two team members hovering over a computer transfixed about the latest posting of the Not Quite Nigella blog. ‘Have a look at THIS!’, they’d say. Elliott is a vivacious Sydney-sider who has a passion for food (and fashion). Formerly in the advertising industry, Elliott’s popular blog (with a the very memorable name, Not Quite Nigella) documents her food explorations – whether it be great recipes she has tried (and her journey to get to that point), reviews of cafes and restaurants or food experiences. So if you are looking for a great place to go to eat you can look on her blog and pick from the myriad of places and cities she has reviewed. This book reports on Elliott’s decision to move from a well-paid industry to explore her passion for food. I love that her husband is ‘food-apathetic’ which provides an antidote to Elliott’s enthusiasm and creates amusing situations, reminding us that not everyone shares our passions! Elliott’s book is at times very funny (her various cooking experiments, her reflections on making macarons and her food-finding races with friends) and at other times quite poignant (when she looks at prison food and food-service charities). Elliott inspires us with a wealth of varied recipes including her fabulously-named ‘anything’ crumble and her mum’s wonton recipe which are interwoven with her fascinating food-related stories.
Visit Not Quite Nigella website here.
Read my interview with Lorraine Elliott here.
‘Judith Kerr’s Creatures; A Celebration of Her Life and Work’ by Judith Kerr (HarperCollins) I am familiar with Kerr’s work through her classic book for children, ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’, but many others will know her through her ‘Mog’ the cat series. I really enjoyed reading about Kerr’s life and process of writing, illustrating and publishing books. Fleeing from her childhood city Berlin in 1934 and travelling to France and then London in 1936, we hear of her struggles and triumphs in a new country. With a background in drawing and illustration, Kerr’s first book, ‘The Tiger Who Came For Tea’ was a story she made up, inspired by tigers visited at the London Zoo, and told to her 2 year old daughter time after time so that she knew it by heart. Later, Kerr’s Mog the cat books were inspired by various cats that the family owned and the cats’ fascinating personalities and adventures. Kerr also writes about the Seven Stories museum of children’s books in Newcastle, England which sounds wonderful and a great place to visit.
‘The Happiness Project; Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun’ by Gretchen Rubin (Harper; Harper Collins) This book was recommended to me by my dear friend, Suz. It’s basically about a New York mother of 2 young daughters who, working as a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice, decides to dedicate a year to her happiness. It’s certainly a book that makes you think; what does makes us happy? Rubin divides the year into months and dedicates each month to something she wants to learn more about or improve; so in January she works on energy, February; marriage, March; work, April; parenthood, May; leisure, June; friendship, July; money, August; eternity, September; books, October; mindfulness, November; attitude and December; happiness. Obviously some of Rubin’s projects resonated with me, others didn’t and some I would change or they would have a different priority for myself. As one of my sister’s says; it’s like a smorgasbord; that you take from it what you want/need. What I liked about Rubin’s journey was her enthusiasm, her honesty and humour and the inclusion of lots of research that she quotes backing up her findings. Rubin’s second book, ‘Happier at Home; Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Living (Two Roads; Hodder & Stoughton) is an equally enlightening read.
‘The Reading Promise; 3,218 Nights of Reading with My Father’ by Alice Ozma (Hodder & Stoughton) What a fascinating book. Ozma (this is her nom de plume combining 2 of her favourite literary figures) is a child of a school librarian. When she was 9 years she and her father decided to read aloud together for 100 consecutive nights. When they reached this goal they decided to continue ‘the streak’ for as long as they could. What results is a wonderful relationship with her father and a wealth of literature. We learn which books worked for them and which didn’t, what was happening in their lives as they read together and the obstacles they faced when trying not to break ‘the streak’. ‘The Streak’ lasted 3,218 nights until the day Ozma started college. She talks about books that they treasured and of the life lessons they learned along the way. Ozma is now a champion of reading, literature and education.
Visit Alice Ozma’s website here.
Read my interview with Alice Ozma here.
‘365 Thank Yous; The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life’ by John Kralik (Penguin) When Kralik is moving offices he finds a box of stationery which has his current address and realizes it will be wasted when he moves location. Inspired by a beautiful thank you note he received for a Christmas gift, he starts writing thank you letters and this book is the journey of those thank you letters and his feelings and responses and, sometimes, the recipients’ response. His goal was to write a thank you letter per day for a year; an admirable thing to do! My mum instilled a culture of writing thank you notes in my life; I think I remember that as a child we weren’t allowed to use a gift until we had written a thank you note. Kralik’s journey of gratefulness; acknowledging what he is grateful for and why is beautiful and touching. It reminds us of who in our lives deserve our thanks. Although the book was deeply personal about Kralik’s individual story and goals, the lessons are universal and told with grace and dignity.
‘Cake Boss; Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia’ by Buddy Valastro (Free Press; Simon & Schuster) I have watched a few of the Cake Boss shows on TV and Valastro is certainly a fun, effervescent personality who runs his bakery with lots of passion. This book travels through Valastro’s journey to become a fourth-generation master baker and, at the age of 17, when he started running the family business, Carlo’s Bake Shop in New Jersey, USA. What I enjoyed about this book was Valastro’s obvious love for his family and all it’s individual members. For a family who pretty much work in the same business, the dynamics are wonderful and fun. The strong bond and loving dynamic of the Valastro clan make this a touching memoir and behind-the–scenes look at how one hard-working family realised their patriarch’s dream of making their family bakery a household name. Members of the family are lovingly introduced and their idiosyncrasies celebrated. Wonderful recipes of the bakery’s delicacies are documented in the book.
‘Letters To Sam; A Grandfather’s Letters to his Grandson on Love, Loss and the Gifts of Life’ by Daniel Gottlieb (Hachette) Gottlieb is a quadriplegic and was concerned that he might not live long enough to see his newborn grandson, Sam, reach adulthood. So he decides to write a series of letters to Sam. When Sam was 14 months old, he was diagnosed with a form of autism. Gottlieb’s outlook on life became an invaluable insight; enabling him to share with Sam the beauty that can be found in being unique. The letters Gottlieb then wrote to Sam instilling his personal views translate universally to the joy and gift of life and finding peace, productivity and your place in the world. This is a beautiful and thought-provoking read. Gottlieb donates proceeds from the sale of this book to Cure Autism Now.
Read my interview with Daniel Gottlieb here.
Visit Daniel Gottlieb’s website here.
‘The Diary of Ma Yan; the Life of a Chinese Schoolgirl’ edited and introduced by Pierre Haski (Virago; Hachette) This is the story of a 13 year old girl living in an extremely remote village in China who, in 2001, is told that she needs to quit school because it’s not financially possible to keep her there. We read about the remarkable sequence of events of how, when Haski was making a documentary of Chinese Muslims, Yan’s mother gives the visitors Yan’s diaries, pleading that they help her daughter be educated. After reading the diaries, Haski is touched by Yan’s words and how she wishes to be educated to help her family. This book traces Yan’s journey, how Haski published the poignant autobiography and how the Children of Ningxia fund was set up to send Ma Yan and children like her to school. Thanks to Yan, 250 other Chinese schoolchildren have access to education and basic necessities such as a fresh water well and fertilisers in her village. Yan contributes part of her book royalties to Children of Ningxia foundation.
‘Dear Francesca; An Italian Journey of Recipes Recounted with Love’ by Mary Contini (Random House) I just loved this book! Thank you to my dear friend, Toni, who recommended it. I read this book whilst on holiday with one of my daughters and I devoured every page. This personal story of Contini and her relations who moved from Italy to Scotland last century is fascinating and beautifully written. The stories about making a living and all the changes and challenges her relations faced as they set up their new lives was riveting; Contini’s grandparents’ wonderful fish and chip shop in Scotland, the role of the children, the transportation of favourite and treasured food from Italy and the personalities all combine to make this a personal and wonderful story interwoven with family recipes and photographs. This book is full of warmth and love for traditional Italian attitudes, respect for their new country Scotland and it’s produce as well as emphasis on food as a foundation for a nurturing family life. It inspired me when I returned home to plant a flourishing herb garden straight away.