Review: A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn

 

Title: A Fig at the Gate

Author: Kate Llewellyn

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A distinguished Australian poet, Kate Llewellyn has published six books of poetry and is the co-editor of The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets. She is the author of nineteen books, including Lilies, Feathers & Frangipani on the Cook Islands and New Zealand; Angels and Dark Madonnas on India and Italy; and Gorillas, Tea & Coffee: An African Sketchbook.

A Fig at the Gate is written in the tradition of her bestseller titles The Waterlily: A Blue Mountains Journal and Playing With Water: A Story of a Garden. Now in her seventies, Kate has settled in Adelaide near where she was born and is establishing a new garden to nourish, sustain and delight.

Journal entries chart the evolution of Kate’s garden over three years, the planting of plum trees and cabbages, of wisteria, cumquats and rosemary, along with the addition of chickens and ducks.
Kate also shares her musings and learned wisdom on life, aging, family and friendship, her prose interspersed with her poetry.

A Fig at the Gate is warm, gracious and wise chronicle of nature, beauty and life.

*Please note I choose not to rate memoirs*

Available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Chutney and Cheddar Palmiers from Home Baking by Jo Wheatley

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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Title: Home Baking

Author: Jo Wheatley

Published: Constable and Robinson: Allen and Unwin October 2014

My Thoughts:

Jo Wheatley was the 2011 winner of The Great British Bake Off, a television series pitting amateur bakers against one another to win the title of Britain’s best home baker. Home Baking is her second cookbook and includes 100 recipes.

The recipes range from the simple to the sublime and the sweet to the savoury. Home Baking includes recipes for classic treats such as Shortbread, Pretzels, Cornish pastries, Chicken and Leek pie, Salmon En Croute,  Rocky Road and Rasberry Red Velvet Cake as well as those a little more exotic like Parmesan and Pesto Fantail Loaf, Apple, Gooseberry and Elderflower Crumble, Goat’s Cheese and Fig Gougeres, and a Toffee Apple Croquembouche. There is a section devoted to cooking with kids which includes tasty recipes like Lemon and White Chocolate Muffins, Cheesy Mini Ketchup Scones and a Sweetie Spectacular Tray Bake.

This is a large format hardback with matte pages  with full page colour photo’s of the dishes. The recipes are well presented with a short comment to introduce the dish, often offering a tip or two, a bolded list of ingredients and clear prep and cooking instructions. Missing from most recipes however is a an indicator of serving size.

I have marked several recipes I would like to try including the Lemon, White Chocolate and Macadamia Bombs, Easy Italian Soda Bread, Chicken, Chorizo and Potato Frittata, and Portuguese Tarts. During the week I was in need of something to share at a committee meeting and didn’t have a lot of time, so I decided to try Wheatley’s Chutney and Cheddar Palmiers. They were quick to prepare, baked in 15 minutes and were absolutely delicious.

palmiers1

Chutney and Cheddar Palmiers

Ingredients

  • 2 sheets of puff pastry (I used frozen Pampas pastry -mine weren’t shaped quite as well as hers because I let it thaw a little too long.)
  • 1/2 cup grated tasty cheese  (I used Pizza Cheese which combines cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan)
  • 1/2 cup caramelised onion chutney (you can buy this in a jar in the condiment section of your supermarket or it’s simple to make your own)

Method

  • Heat oven to 190C/370F and line 2 shallow baking trays with baking paper
  • Lay out puff pastry and spread chutney over the surface, leaving a small margin around the edges, and then sprinkle with the grated cheese.
  • Starting from two opposite ends, roll pastry to enclose filling until both ends meet in the middle. Use a small, sharp knife to cut into 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices. Place, cut-side down, on the lined trays.  Press slices gently with palm to flatten slightly.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden brown.
  • Makes 20-24.

You can find more recipes from Jo Wheatley on her blog Jo’s Blue Aga

Home Cooking is available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Cook Book by Matt Preston

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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Title: Cook Book

Author: Matt Preston

Published: Plum: Pan Macmillan October 2014

My Thoughts:

Matt Preston is a food critic and an editor for Taste Magazine but is best known as the chin stroking, cravat wearing co-host on the popular Australian television series of Master Chef.

The Cook Book is Matt’s second published recipe collection boasting ‘187 recipes that will make you incredibly popular’ and ‘Amazing cheats and food hacks’ with a centerfold to boot. It’s a large format softback with matte pages where the recipe faces an attractive full page colour photo of the dish.

Matt begins with a fairly standard introduction before offering advice on being a good guest, and a long list of rules for hosting the perfect dinner with friends. To be fair his guidance is sensible and useful including tips such as – ‘When you are planning the menu, serve as many things as possible that can be prepped ahead. You want to spend time with your guests, not alone in the kitchen.’ and ‘Don’t forget to put BBQ gas, booze and other drinks, too much ice and good toilet paper on the shopping list.’

Preston states that he has three firm rules when he writes a cookbook
1. The recipes must be simple
2. The ingredients in the vast majority must be available from a local supermarket
3. There can never be a pasta salad in the book.

The recipes are well presented with a short comment to introduce the dish, often offering a tip or two, a bolded list of ingredients and clear prep and cooking instructions. The Cook Book includes recipes for Breakfasts, Soups, Salads and Vegetables, Ubersalads, Snacks, Pasta, Seafood, Chicken and Duck, Meat, Desserts, and Afternoon Tea.

As promised, some recipes are very simple, for example Ice Cream Bread, Idiot Cake and Pizza Dough each have only two ingredients. Preston also builds on some of his basic recipes suggesting ‘4 ways with burgers’, ‘3 ways with flatbread’ ‘3 ways with kale’ and ’30 other things to do with chicken mince’.

Preston takes inspiration from a range of cultures for his presented dishes that include Middle Eastern Rice Pudding, Thai Pumpkin Soup, Spanakopita Filo Triangles, Blackened Lamb Backstraps with Turkish Muhammara and Ice Cream Peanut Butter Sandwiches. He also offers recipes for classic dishes such as Meatloaf, Potato Salad and Quiche Lorraine, with his own twist.

I’ve used his recipes to make Sticky Chicken Drummies and Thai Chicken Sausage Rolls {but I lost both photo’s with the iOS 8 upgrade}. They were, however, delicious and I still have a few recipes bookmarked to try including Chicken Loaf with Onion Jam, Pain Roules, Smoky Corn Macherony and Butternut Snap Tarts.

You can find a selection of recipes from Matt Preston – though not those found in this book, at Master Chef Australia and Taste.com.au

Cook Book is available to purchase from

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Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

 

Title: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

Author: Jenny Nordberg

Published:  Crown Publishing: Random House September 2014

Status: Read from August 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“We are who we must be.”

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg reveals a hidden practice in Afghanistan of presenting young girls as boys for part, or all, of their childhood. In an oppressive patriarchal society that demands sons at almost any cost, these girls are known as bacha posh.

“[I] have met girls who have been boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked; because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often…it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a [bacha posh] for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.”

Nordberg attempts to explain the complex role of a bacha posh by sharing the moving personal stories of a number of Afghan women, including Azita, a female parliamentarian who turns her fourth daughter into a boy; Zahra, who refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an undercover female police officer, who remains in male disguise as an adult.

The author also explores the traditional roots of the practice within the cultural, political and religious framework of Afghan society, and how it contributes to the global dialogue on gender issues. “The way I have come to see it now is that bacha posh is a missing part in the history of women.” concludes Nordberg.

Written with keen insight and sensitivity, The Underground Girls of Kabul is a fascinating and poignant account of women’s lives in Afghanistan.

 

The Underground Girls of Kabul is available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Tacolicious by Sara Deseran, Joe Hargrave, Antelmo Faria and Mike Barrow

 

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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Title: Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and More

A collection of recipes for fun, accessible taqueria fare–including colorful salsas, tasty snacks, irresistible cocktails, and of course tacos galore–from the wildly popular San Francisco restaurants and acclaimed Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market food stand, Tacolicious.
Tacos may be the most universally loved, happy-making food on earth. After all, who can say no to a juicy, spicy Chile verde taco; a decadently deep-fried Baja-style fish taco; or a gloriously porky Carnitas taco? At Tacolicious, the San Francisco Bay Area’s most popular Mexican restaurant, tacos are a way of life. And now, in this hotly anticipated cookbook, co-owner Sara Deseran shares all of the restaurant’s tortilla-wrapped secrets. Whether you’re seeking quick and easy weeknight meals or inspiration for a fabulous fiesta, Tacolicious has you covered. With recipes for showstopping salsas, crave-worthy snacks, cocktails and mocktails, and, of course, tacos galore, this festive collection is chock-full of real Mexican flavor—with a delicious California twist.

Author: Sara Deseran, Joe Hargrave, Antelmo Faria and Mike Barrow

Published: Ten Speed Press: Random House September 2014

Status: Read on August 25, 2014   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Growing up, simple beef tacos and nachos were exotic meals, Mexico is after all a long way from Australian shores. Now these dishes, along with steak and chicken fajita’s, burrito’s, enchilada’s and quesadilla’s appear regularly in my family’s menu. I was curious about Tacolicious because I have never used anything except sachets of Old El Paso packaged seasoning to prepare any Mexican dishes and I know that flavour is probably sacrificed as a result.

The recipes aren’t complicated but some ingredients wouldn’t be easy to source except online, especially in my small country town. I can get chilies at the supermarket but they only come in red, green or in a jar, Velveeta cheese isn’t sold in Australia, nor is Monterey Jack. However with a few tweaks here and there almost all of the the recipes which include a range of Salsas, Snacks, Sides, Tacos, and more, seem doable.  I was a little disappointed there was no recipe for making tortilla’s though they do discuss where they source them from and compare store bought options for the home cook.

If you enjoy a drink or two there are a few dozen easy concoctions to choose from. Unsurprisingly tequila features heavily but non alcoholic options are offered also.

The overall tone of the cookbook is friendly and encouraging. There are some good hints and tips for preparation, cooking methods and presentation and the recipe steps are clearly described. Bright full page photo’s are a nice feature. The glossary and index are both useful inclusions as well.

You can view a few sample pages from the book and get recipes for Melon, mango and cucumber with chile, salt and lime and Old School Taco at the Tacolicious website. Random House shares a recipe for Roasted tomato–mint salsa along with the introductory pages in its Look Inside feature.

Tacolicious is available to purchase from

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Review: I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

 

Title: I Work at a Public Library: a collection of crazy stories from the stacks

Author: Gina Sheridan

Published: Adams Media July 2014

Status: Read on August 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

I Work at a Public Library is, as subtitled, a collection of crazy stories from the stacks, written and curated by librarian Gina Sheridan, based on her blog http://iworkatapubliclibrary.com/.

With chapters organised using the Dewey Decimal system, Gina Sheridan shares the amusing, touching and just plain weird experiences she, and others, have encountered in their work as a librarian.

The anecdotes are gleaned from overheard conversations, patron questions, observations and encounters with the people of all ages who visit the library for all sorts of reasons, sometimes not meaning to be there at all.

This short book is sure to raise a smile and a little consternation, from any one who has spent anytime in a library.

“Adult patron to librarian: “I was told to read three books. I think one is small and blue. Can you tell me which ones they are?”

I Work at a Public Library is available to purchase from

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Review: Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

 

Title: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Author: Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Published: Scribner: Simon and Schuster August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 07 to 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Don’t jaywalk. Wear your seat belt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of the car, and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker stop right now. If you aren’t, don’t start. Guns put holes in people. Drugs are bad. You know that yellow line on the subway platform? It’s there for a reason. Staying alive, as it turns out, is mostly common sense.”

This is the advice of Judy Melinek, the author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, gleaned from her experience as an assistant medical examiner in New York City. From 2001 to 2003 Melinek performed hundreds of autopsies on the victims of homicides, suicides, accidents, natural diseases, therapeutic complications, and undetermined causes, that crossed her table.

Melinek’s very first post mortem involved the death of a young man, a heroin addict diagnosed with sickle-cell trait who died in hospital, her second an elderly man who sustained severe burns in a house fire, the third a pregnant woman, the victim of a hit and run. In general, each chapter of Working Stiff groups together cases by manner of death, detailing Melinek’s examination of patients young and old, male and female, destitute and wealthy, and everything in between. The final chapters focus on the medical examiners office’s role in the wake of the Twin Towers collapse on September 11, and the crash of American Airlines flight 587.

The narrative is very readable, almost conversational in tone, and mostly free of the medical jargon one might expect. Melinek is at all times respectful but not humourless, sharing both professional perspective and personal observations. I do feel compelled to warn the unwary reader that this isn’t a book for the squeamish with its graphic record of gruesome injury and detailed descriptions of the forensic autopsy process.

What shines through is Melinek’s passion and commitment to her job as she works to investigate and determine the cause and manner of death, comfort the bereaved, provide assistance to the justice system and “speak for the dead”.

Informative, entertaining and engaging Working Stiff is a fascinating account of the work of a medical examiner, well told by Judy Melinek and her husband T.J. Mitchell.

* I gave the book an extra 1/2 star for Judy’s admission she wears “sensible shoes and a Medical Examiner windbreaker” during her rare visits to crime scenes – not six inch stiletto’s and Armani suits.

 

Working Stiff is available to purchase from

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Review: The Aitch Factor by Susan Butler

 

Title: The Aitch Factor

Author: Susan Butler

Published: Pan Macmillan August 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read on August 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Aitch Factor by Susan Butler, a long-time editor of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, contains a series of short essays about language, its history, development and idiosyncrasies.

Butler begins with the Haitch vs Aitch debate (my maternal grandmother in particular would have been horrified had I ever pronounced the letter H as ‘Haitch’) and goes on to explore other topics like Capitalisation, Internet gibberish, The attraction of slang and How do words get into the dictionary?

Butler is not without a sense of humour which these essays also reflect with subjects that include, Should man boobs be in the dictionary?, The mystery of the bogan, and her recommendation that we adopt Canadian spelling as an international standard over British or American English.

I was most impressed, and feel somewhat vindicated, to learn that Butler considers (and history proves) the apostrophe to be ‘an artifice of writing, a grammarian’s flourish’ and actually advocates that we forgo it entirely given it is possible to do so without any effect on our comprehension of written language. Ive often thought its true, and shes right, isnt she?

An ideal gift for language lovers, or pedantics, grammar Nazi’s or wordsmiths, The Aitch Factor is an entertaining and illuminating treatise on the ever evolving landscape of language.

 

The Aitch Factor is available to purchase from

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Review: The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw

 

Title: The Bookshop That Floated Away

Author: Sarah Henshaw

Published: Constable: Allen & Unwin July 2014

Status: Read from July 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2009, Sarah Henshaw had a brilliant idea – to transform a narrow boat, named Joseph, into a bookshop, called The Book Barge, but by 2011, battered by the recession, the growth in digital book sales and Henshaw’s self-confessed terrible book-selling skills the store, moored in the Midlands, was on the verge of closing. Desperate to keep the business afloat, Sarah came up with the idea to traverse the canals of England for six months to raise awareness of the plight of independent booksellers and, of course, sell books.

The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of Henshaw’s adventures through the waterways of Britain, negotiating its hundreds of locks, mooring where able, and selling the odd book, supplementing the costs of her journey, largely financed by her parents and an extraordinarily generous ex boyfriend, by bartering stock for essentials like meals, alcohol, haircuts and bathroom privileges along the way. Passionate about books and literature but lacking business savvy, and at times common sense, the journey was not an easy one, hampered by break-downs, break-ins and break-outs.

I expected to love this book, but unfortunately I finished it feeling rather disappointed. I’m not sure if it was the author or her writing style, that I had trouble connecting with, but I think it was probably a mixture of both. I found Henshaw’s attitude irritating at times, and there is a weird section written from the perspective of Joseph, the boat. Still, I love the whole idea of The Book Barge and I did find Sarah’s adventures interesting, so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.

The Book Barge is now moored permanently in the Barton Marina, open weekends and holidays (at Henshaw’s whim). Check The Book Barge Facebook page for details about opening hours and special events.

 

The Bookshop That Floated Away is available to purchase from

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Review: Reservoir Dad by Clint Greagen

 

Title: Reservoir Dad

Author: Clint Greagen

Published: Bantam: Random House July 2014

Status: Read from July 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2008, Clint Greagen resigned from his job as a youth worker to care for his first born child. Nine years later Clint is a stay at home dad of four young boys, Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki, and the author of Reservoir Dad, about his adventures in full-time parenting, first chronicled on his popular blog of the same name.

Written with humour, honesty and love, Reservoir Dad shares the exhausting challenges and unadulterated joys of raising four sons, from the seemingly endless sleepless nights, and a bathroom floor covered in wee, to the smell of a newborn head and wrestling matches in the lounge room. What I admire most is Greagen’s obvious dedication to his sons, and his relationship with his wife, the ever-patient Reservoir Mum (aka Tania), with whom he still shares a weekly date night, on a mattress in front of the TV.

As a stay at home mother, also to four children (three of whom were born in three years), I could certainly relate to Greagen’s experiences of parenting. I found myself giggling in recognition of the moments of crazy and wincing in well remembered sympathy at toddler tantrums and the lego induced injuries, which happens less often now that my youngest son is 8.

Divided into six parts with short chapters variously named with titles like ‘Hang Like A Man'; ‘Syncing Hormonally'; ‘The Grand Old Duke of…Puke?’ and ‘A Jim Carrey-Inspired Sex Education’ Reservoir Dad is a quick, easy read.

Funny, moving and insightful, Reservoir Dad would be the perfect gift for new parents, both as a warning of what is to come, and an assurance they are not alone.

Available to purchase from

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Want more? Visit This Charming Mum for her review

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