As you may – or may not – know, I am a voracious reader. And lately I have been reading some novels that have a creative edge – you know – with a cooking or craft thread running through. Here are four books which I took away on holiday with me recently and read eagerly while looking out to sea and drinking tea.
The Book of Lost Threads by Tess Evans (Allen & Unwin June 2010).
I love reading books that are set locally and written by local authors – so Melbourne folk you might like this book too. Set in Rural Victoria in a small country town, this book is not what it seems. Full of interesting characters and sidestepping snippets, it is a bit sad sometimes but mostly lovely and surprising. About a girl looking for her father and a father who is hiding from himself. Not a love story in the usual sense – instead it is a love story between a father and daughter discovering each other and trying to help each other. And there is knitting too – yes an eccentric and sweet old lady knits tea cosies – it all fits perfectly beautifully. I sort of imagine this sort of thing when I think of old ladies knitting tea cosies – but I suspect the ones in this book are rather more practical – maybe like this one. I simply love this tea cosy – and this one too.
The beauty of humanity movement is named after a group of 1950’s Vietnamese artists and writers who paid the ultimate price for expressing their views. This book is stunning, set in the present time but going back and forth to the group of artists in the 1950’s who are at the heart of the story, a young woman in search of her past finds an old man trying to forget his – and their stories intertwine through the classic dish of Phở – a beef broth. Its an interesting premise and I was fascinated by the history of Vietnam, the art, the culture and ultimately the food. Phở is what brings everyone together in this story and has a story of its own – bringing together the history of Vietnam in this one dish. It is a classic street food in Vietnam as the broth needs to be lovingly tended for several hours and is therefore not so easy to make at home. If you do want to try to make it at home – I cobbled together a few recipes – as I am planning on tackling it this weekend. Making Phở at home : Phở Secrets : Phở recipe.
Cooking for Claudine: How I Cooked My Way into the Heart of a Formidable French Family by John Baxter. (Faber short books May 2011) Available in Australia through Allen & Unwin.
This latest book from Australian Expat Film Critic John Baxter is a captivating and romantic memoir. At its core it is about family and food and love, but it also explores themes of living in France and French customs as well as being welcomed into a French family (this interview is interesting). John Baxter describes how in his later years he falls in love and marries a French woman from a traditional old family and throughout the years somehow John has been given the task of preparing Christmas Dinner for the large and extended French family. Each year he goes to great lengths to impress and prepares wonderful and exotic dishes. His most recent Christmas sees him searching out ingredients from local markets and artisan food makers, while at the same time exploring his adopted country and local food customs. Wonderfully written with humour, intelligence and love. (And yes there are recipes – the final dinner included a whole suckling pig!)
Friendship bread is a bread starter that needs to be nurtured and fed for 10 days before using, then it can be divided to make four loaves. One quarter of the starter is kept and the other three quarters are packaged up and given out to friends to make their own breads. Lovely concept but can get out of hand as you might imagine – which it does in this book too. Sadness and friendship, love and loss are explored in this book – with the friendship bread bringing healing to unhappy souls and bringing together a town to help those in need. A quick read, with lots of cooking and food to feed the soul. As I didn’t have any starter passed on to me I had to find out for myself how to make it and found lots of resources on the net – the best place to start is with the book’s own website – where there is a recipe to make the starter Friendshipbreadkitchen, to make the basic bread as well as plenty of variations.