Book Review: Spain From the Source, by Sally Davies

cv_spain_from_the_sourceAvailable in bookshops nationwide. 

I’m a cookbook addict – over 180 at last count – so there’s a lot of competition for shelf space. Whether new or vintage (oh, the strange and wonderful cookbooks to be found at school galas and church fairs!) a cookbook must meet certain criteria to earn a permanent spot in my kitchen. Lonely Planet Food’s Spain: From the Source passes the test. It’s well-written and laid-out, with stunning photos and interesting narratives accompanying each recipe. Recipes range from ‘good honest peasant food’ based on whatever’s in the larder to advanced restaurant-level fare, with most appearing manageable as well as authentic.

Traditional Spanish dishes have been reinvented with new ideas and flavours, and almost all ingredients will be easy to find in New Zealand. Preparation and cooking times are included for most recipes, there’s a decent index (although with English titles only), and measurements are both imperial and metric. The pages lie more or less flat when the book is open, and a red ribbon offers an elegant alternative to marking a favourite recipe with a sticky note.

Part cookbook, part travel guide, with intriguing social, cultural and gastronomical history, I think you’ll enjoy reading this book even if you never get around to attempting a recipe. Author Sally Davies is a long-time Barcelona resident who writes about Spain and its restaurants for guidebooks, newspapers and magazines. Davies’ writing and photographer Margaret Stepien’s images conjure up the sights, sounds and aromas of Spanish kitchens: olive oil glistening on a chef’s hands as he tears smoky, chargrilled vegetables; the sizzle of duck browning in a pan seasoned with garlic, onion and bay leaves; clouds of icing sugar drifting over fresh pastries; and the lace-striped pinny (and fierce concentration) of the woman who has been making her signature dish for nearly 50 years.

Recipes have both English and Spanish titles. How much more enticing bikini de tartufo and lonchejas de cerdo iberico y calamar sound than their translated counterparts: a cheese and ham toasted sandwich, and strips of pig’s ear with squid.

There’s a strong focus on healthy, simple food. Many chefs share restaurateur Carlos Zamora’s philosophy of creating ‘slow food, locally sourced, with an emphasis on organic and free-range produce’. Here you should be able to find most ingredients at a supermarket, butcher or farmers’ market. Others can possibly be bought at specialist food stores or ordered online. Some, but not all, ingredients with Spanish names are translated. Substitutions are suggested for some of the less common ingredients. No tramezzino in your pantry? Apparently crustless slices of white bread will work just as well.

The recipes are clustered by region, covering north-east, north-west, central and southern Spain. Dishes reflect the climate, culture, produce and rituals associated with each region, as well as seasonal influences. In addition to the main index at the back of the book, there’s a separate map and an index for each of the four regions. Websites and contact details for all restaurants whose recipes feature in the book are included on one page (should you be tempted to visit a particular restaurant, or to email a chef for advice).

Spain offers tapas and mains, of course, as well as both unusual and traditional desserts. Duck, chicken, pork, fish and other seafood feature prominently. There are a handful of recipes that are meat-free, such as the chilled cashew soup. Desserts include churros, marzipan balls with pine nuts, and candied egg yolks. Legend has it that the latter were created to commemorate Saint Teresa, founder of the order of Carmelite nuns. The sugar-dusted spiral Ensaimada pastries come with their own folk stories – some say they are shaped like the turbans worn on the island of Mallorca in days gone by. Consider ditching the trifle this Christmas for crema de arroz con leche requemada (scorched rice pudding) – the photo next to this recipe so enticing that you can almost hear the spoon cracking the crunchy caramel surface to reveal the sweet and creamy rice underneath.

Even if you’ve not got enough time or courage to try the more complex recipes, many of the side dishes appear quick and easy. Blend a roasted red onion and roasted beetroot, sprinkle with salt and pepper – and you’ve created red onion cream. Or turn to the ‘basic recipes’ section for the nut- and garlic-based picada – a traditional Catalan sauce.

I loved the history as well as the recipes – the story of the master pastry chef who is the fourth generation of a baking and chocolate dynasty; the monastery-based restaurant high on a hill in the Sierra de Villuercas; the restaurant within a 17th century building that was once a hospital for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago trail; and the 9th century basement turned wine cellar that holds 32,000 bottles.

There were a few things that puzzled me: the type is surprisingly small, given the amount of white space on most pages. And although any one of the photos on the cover would have made an excellent cover image on its own, the combination of photos with the gilt-lettered and multi-fonted title text looks somewhat thrown-together. Several recipes don’t specify exact times, instead suggesting ‘bake…until the base is golden’ or ‘stir every few minutes until golden brown’. Perhaps this is a reminder that cooking requires both patience and persistence. Overall, however, Spain is an excellent source of ideas whether you’re planning a feast for friends or a night with your feet up and comfort food for one.

If you’re not tempted to buy this book as a To Myself: From Myself gift, it would make a great present for that friend who’s walked the Camino de Santiago, your foodie colleague, your armchair travelling aunt or uncle, or the new graduate with their first real job who will finally be able to afford to cook good food. Spain will inspire them all.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Spain: From the source
by Sally Davies
Published by Lonely Planet Global Ltd
ISBN 9781760340766

Book Review: Currents of Change, by Darian Smith

cv_currents_of_changeAvailable now in selected bookshops.

Well-written and deliciously addictive. This spine-chilling ghost story kept me up until midnight, until just past the point where it stopped being a ghost story and became something else…

Sara is a troubled heroine, fleeing from her past, but burdened with self-doubts and shattered esteem. It is hard for her to trust, to open herself, and thus she protects herself with a wall of angry, sharp retorts. Her family home, in the isolated township of Kowhiowhio, Northland, provides the sanctuary she needs, but it brings with it darkness too. And not just because of the lack of electricity.

Sara’s sharp but endearing personality, her fragility edged with razors, make her an engaging heroine, and her friendship with general-all-round-good-guy neighbour, Nate, with his frank and generally cheerful nature, a good counterpoint. His sister-in-law, sharp, almost vicious, Moana adds a welcome dose of conflict and thrown into the whole weave is Great Aunt Bridget (long dead, but not at rest), a dark family secret, an adorable kitten, an almost-as-adorable little girl and an extremely unpleasant estranged husband.

This is an engaging read, although the sudden twist from ghost story to something else entirely derailed me for a heartbeat or three. Despite this, I would consider it a damn fine read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Currents of Change
by Darian Smith
Published by Wooden Tiger Press
ISBN 9780473318109

Book Review: The Straight Banana, by Tim Wilson

 

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_straight_bananaIn all honesty, I was dubious about this book from the start. While Tim Wilson certainly wins points for creativity in the presentation of his novel, The Straight Banana as a whole, missed the mark for me, despite the potential for it to work. Even as ridiculous as the plot seemed initially (which it certainly delivered on) it could’ve been a comedic, fictional spin on real world events, highlighting the ridiculousness of how the world can at times be. But instead it was a confusing plot with vague and unclear motives.

The ‘hero’ of the story is Thomas Tudehope Milde; a stereotypical character of this sort of genre – having potential, never really achieving it, making poor decisions, an underdog, or as described throughout the novel an ‘Omega’ as opposed to an ‘Alpha’. Milde is a somewhat irritating character largely due to his lack of sobriety throughout the novel, which in itself does seem to be accurate in how being under the influence of some sort of substance would be, yet it is frustrating because of how incoherent the writing becomes, apparently to give insight into the mind of Thomas Milde. Of course being the central focus of the novel, you find yourself wanting him to succeed but his personality and choices mean this doesn’t appear to be a highly likely outcome, which as a reader left me feeling disappointed in the character and frustrated by his foolishness. His situation seems so hopeless that it leaves you disheartened and wanting to re-write his story for a better set of circumstances.

I did find The Straight Banana engaging at times, when the plot and point was realized a bit more and when it felt like it was heading in some direction. At these points I felt like I couldn’t put the book down and I needed to know what would happen to the washed up foreign news correspondent that is Thomas Milde. However, these times where more often then not interrupted by the disorganized nature of the novel. It would migrate from an orderly and conventional novel to a jumpy thought process that was supposed to be Thomas Milde’s, yet still in the third person narration that made up the rest of the novel.  It was hard to follow and I found myself having to go back several times to try and piece together what the subject at hand was, making the whole thing disjointed and as a result, unengaging.

Of course, it is entirely possible that this will appeal to those who would view Tim Wilson’s new novel as an interesting way of writing that should be explored more.  It is also plausible that this book would have been a lot more engaging had I read Tim Wilson’s previous novel featuring Thomas Milde; News Pigs.  It may have provided enough background to have an attachment to Milde himself and also enough context to The Straight Banana to have properly enjoyed it.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

The Straight Banana
by Tim Wilson
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560875

 

Books I’ll be giving this Christmas, by Nicole Phillipson

Nicole Phillipson has recently joined Booksellers NZ after completing her MA (Applied) in Short Story Writing at the IIML. Here are five books that impressed her this year, that she will be gifting to her friends and family.

Man V Nature, by Diane Cook (Oneworld) 9781780748153

cv_man_v_natureThis short story collection feels truly “2016.” Each genre-defying story contains a miniature dystopia: floods rise to swallow the earth, monsters invade workplaces, and a society reverts to brutal survivalism. Maybe you’re feeling that you’ve had enough apocalyptic events this year to last a lifetime, but if humour is the best medicine Cooke’s extremist fantasies are the perfect, darkly funny antidote to this year. Her unhinged characters – like walking, talking Freudian ids – are strangely loveable, and the title story, a Lord of the Flies scenario set on a fishing boat, manages to be both unsettling and hysterical.

Mansfield and Me, by Sarah Laing (VUP) 9781776560691

cv_mansfield_and_meThe first thing you notice about Laing’s graphic memoir is the visual deliciousness – the warm and affectionate drawing style makes it hard to stop turning pages. As you read on, you will become immersed in a frank, funny and understated exploration of Laing’s life. What sets this book apart is its dual narrative: Laing’s story is interspersed with Mansfield’s own. Laing brings Mansfield’s spiky, brilliant, often tormented character to life through Mansfield’s own words and striking black-and-white images. There is a bare honesty which lets you feel the most poignant moments of both women’s emotion: their self-doubt, deep pain and passion.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury) 9781408880364

cv_commonwealthAnn Patchett has a great talent for evoking situations that feel deeply real. She is unafraid in exploring the darkest folds of humanity, but also casts light on moments of beauty and warmth. Commonwealth follows ten different characters in two entangled families, the Cousins and the Berts, over five decades. The story begins with a striking scene in which married lawyer Bert Cousins shows up at the christening party of acquaintances Beverly and Fix Keating. A drunken kiss between Bert and Beverly is the single catalyst for irrevocable changes in both families. Patchett is a dab hand at pulling the rug out from under you. Characters who initially seem incurably heartless are slowly softened under Patchett’s empathetic touch. Commonwealth is a universally relatable story of family.

How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, by Chris Tse (AUP) 9781869408183

cv_how_to_be_dead_in_a_year_of_snakesIn How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes, Chris Tse uses poetry to transmute history into a living pulse of emotion. The collection is loops around an event 1905, when white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered elderly Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung. Multiple voices sing through the collection including that of the unhinged Terry himself. But one beauty of this book is the way it turns history on its head, giving a voice to the Cantonese immigrants and Maori whose voices were written out from the Pakeha historical narrative. Tse explores death both in literal and symbolic senses, as Yung is erased both physically and narratively: ‘As you bleed out/ the night rejects your history,’ and Tse brings him to life again. These are deeply evocative, empathetic poems with words that ring and echo.

Coming Rain, by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing) 9781922182029

cv_coming_rainComing Rain, set in the harsh outback of Western Australia, explores the human condition amidst a mesmerising evocation of farming life and the desert. The novel is set in 1956, largely set in the ‘marginal wheat and sheep lands’ of the South West of Western Australia. It follows the young Lew and the older Painter, who work together, shearing sheep and charcoal burning, traversing the land in Lew’s truck. Two concurrent stories weave and intercross: the quiet, tragic narrative of Lew and Painter and that of a pregnant dingo being tracked by a hunter. A book which delves into the minutae of the outback with beautiful, haunting descriptions, and leaves space for the deep, quiet sorrow of its main characters to fill the narrative.

by Nicole Phillipson

christmas-top-indiebound_v2

Book Review: Sacred histories in Secular New Zealand, ed. Geoffrey Troughton and Stuart Lange

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sacred_histories_in_secular_nzThis is an interesting collection of scholarly articles on the history of Christianity in New Zealand. I think it will be of interest primarily to scholars in the field, but also to those concerned about the apparent decline in religious observance and practice amongst Christians. It’s the work of lecturers and scholars in religious studies at particular universities and bible colleges in New Zealand. There is only one woman in the mix.

I detected a little bit of historical defensiveness, particularly in the chapters on Christian beginnings amongst Maori, and the one on William Pember Reeves. However that serves to make the reader think and consider the work of our major historians.

Various other chapters address the sectarian rivalry of the military chaplaincy during the First World War; the work of two novelists who wrote passionately and from a deeply-held belief in God, but whose works are now largely forgotten. The writer, Kirstine Moffat, comments at the end of her piece “We may not share …(their) beliefs…….but their refusal to settle for the status quo epitomizes and energy and a utopian striving that is admirable”. Perhaps the increasing secularisation and permissiveness of society at large is not necessarily a good thing, but that’s for each reader to decide.

Peter Lineham’s piece on the interweaving of culture and religion surround Christmas observance will be of interest to many readers, as it draws together the various practices which surround Christmas and gives their history – much of it not in the least Christian in origin!

Overall, I think this is a useful addition to work on spirituality and religion in New Zealand. It draws together essays which might not otherwise be easily available to the lay person. I would be very interested to see similar writing on the history and development of observance in other religions in New Zealand.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Sacred Histories in Secular New Zealand
ed. Geoffrey Troughton and Stuart Lange
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560950

 

Book Review: The Kiwi Hokey Tokey, by Pio Terei, Stevie Mahardika and Ngaere Roberts

cv_the_kiwi_hokey_tokeyAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

The Kiwi Hokey Tokey
is sure to become a firm favourite book in homes around the country and I bet it won’t just be the children who can’t stop singing the title tune!

I started reading the book while playing the accompanying CD, but by the third page I was singing the words instead – you just can’t help yourself. Sung by popular New Zealand entertainer Pio Terei, the catchy tune will be great for teaching children te reo, as the words in English are followed by lyrics in Māori, and the CD features both versions, as well as guitar-only track if you prefer your own voices to dominate.

New Zealanders will recognise the animals featured in The Kiwi Hokey Tokey – kiwi, pukeko, tuatara, kea, pigs, fantails, ducks, horse, and sheep – and have fun singing the words to go with their versions of the familiar dance. The second part of the book features the te rep Māori verses so children can learn the words for the birds and animals they met earlier.

The kiwi-as illustrations are by Stevie Mahardhika, who moved to New Zealand to study at AUT, and the Maori lyrics are by Ngaere Roberts.

This is one of those books that will never get old and tired – but your voice may, as it’s sure to be on high rotation in kiwi households.

The Kiwi Hokey Tokey
by Pio Terei and Ngaere Roberts, illustrated by Stevie Mahardika
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434115

Book Review: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay

Available in bookshops nationwide.Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_monster_calls_special“He heard the creaking and cracking of wood again groaning like a living thing, like the hungry stomach of the world growling for a meal.” Fourteen-year-old Conor O’Malley isn’t entirely surprised to wake up one night and discover a monster at the window. He has been expecting it for years and quite frankly, it is not as terrifying as the nightmare that has been plaguing him. The one he refuses to think about.

And now the Yew tree on the hill has somehow come to life and has grabbed him… and yet Conor is not afraid: “Shout all you want,” Conor shrugged, barely raising his voice. “I’ve seen worse.”

The next time the Yew tree monster returns, It and Conor meet in the dark where the monster reveals Its purpose. It will return to tell Conor three tales from Its vast and ancient history. In return, on the fourth visit, Conor must tell It a tale – the tale of his Truth. Conor is rightly incredulous – surely stories are not what monsters come after you for? However, this is no ordinary monster and a story is what it demands. ‘Stories are wild creatures,’ the monster said. ‘When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?’

To get to Conor’s truth, we follow a beautifully written coming of age story of a young boy trying to come to terms with his mother’s grave illness and the impact it has on him. With an absent father and a cold and aloof grandmother, Conor has no-one to help him deal with the inevitable. Instead he chooses to fervently believe she will get better and refuses to talk about it, secluding himself from friends and sympathetic teachers at school.

And what of the monster’s stories? Three clever fables that strive to show Conor that life can be unfair and things are not always as they appear; good and evil is not always easy to determine; good people do bad things, and bad people can do good things.

Powerful and gripping writing, accompanied by dark and vivid black and white sketch illustrations propel you through the story, reading faster to get to what is going to happen next. To see how Conor is faring, to see if he is going to be all right. And to see what the monster is going to reveal to him: (*ever so slight spoiler alert) “You do not write your life with words,’ the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”

This wonderful story was first published in 2011 and this re-release is a beautifully presented hardback edition complete with colour photos and interviews with the author and the actors who are bringing this story to life. The extra goodies complete the whole background to the story and bring extra depth to the tale.

Author Patrick Ness has said of this book: ‘A Monster Calls (is) never solely a book for children. A good story should be for everyone.’ And it is.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A Monster Calls (Special Collector’s Edition)
by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Published by Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406395771