Book Review: Kai and Culture – Food Stories from Aotearoa, edited by Emma Johnson

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

We need to come back to eating what’s available and sustainable. We need to remind people where food comes from. …Respect is what we need more of – for each other, our land and our food.
Fleur Sullivan – p. 32-33

cv_kai_and_cultureThis is a thought-provoking book exploring New Zealanders’ connections with kai. It encourages reflection on the social, cultural, historical, ethical and environmental issues linked with the food we grow, import, export, and eat.

The introduction explains that Kai and Culture covers ‘a range of ideas, projects and stories through essays, profiles and recipes’. The narratives incorporate multicultural perspectives, including reference to the mahinga kai central to Ngai Tahu identity that focuses on how and where traditional food and other natural resources are gathered. There’s also a profile of the Māori-owned Yellow Brick Road sustainable seafood company whose business is based on kaitiakitanga principles (of guardianship, protection and preservation) that focus on preserving New Zealand’s seafood resources. This ‘involves responsibility, respect, a deep connection to place and knowledge of provenance’ – such as knowing who caught the fish, when and how.

There’s discussion, too, of the positive impact that immigrants have had on the food grown, purchased and eaten in New Zealand homes and restaurants. Historically this includes the new varieties of vegetables established by Chinese market gardeners, and the parmesan cheese and olive oil introduced by Italian immigrants. As we are a multi-cultural nation, there continues to be many influences on what we grow and eat. For example, the book tells of a restaurant that honours and celebrates Pasifika food, and describes the innovative Middle Eastern meals prepared by refugees who cook for the non-profit social enterprise Pomegranate Kitchen.

Kai and Culture challenges our thinking about our interactions with food, including not only what we prepare and consume but what we waste, and why. Most of us know that seasonal variations influence the quality and availability of fresh produce – but do we consider where out-of-season produce has come from and how it was handled along the way? We learn about the skills and resources required to plant and nurture a self-sufficient fruit and vegetable garden, and whether or not this is a realistic goal for the average New Zealander. Kai and Culture also outlines alternative ways of gathering food, such as foraging – for wild parsley and other herbs, fungi or edible seaweed, for example – as a complement to fishing and hunting.

The book raises the issue of whether consumers have a right to know which country the food they are buying came from. (It’s a yes from me: I’m irritated by the fine print on many packaged foods declaring that the product was ‘packed in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients’, with no further information provided.)

Contributors include chefs, architects, writers, film-makers, academics, producers and restaurant-owners. Most sections are well-written (with references included if you’d like to learn more), although some of the longer sections would have benefited from tighter editing. There’s a fine balance between describing a business model or venture objectively and sounding like an advertisement or product endorsement. I would like to have heard more of the voices of individual contributors, instead there’s a certain sameness to the writing style across many sections.

Photos accompany most stories. The strangest depicts four adults bobbing in a spa pool full of heated milk. (You’ll have to read the book to find out why.)

There’s an unconventional mix of both narrow and wide margins throughout the book and a somewhat pedestrian two- and three-column layout and font. I found the typographic ornaments (swirly icons and the like) accompanying the heading of each section a distraction. Few seem to have any relation to the section content.

The 30 recipes at the end of Kai and Culture were provided by contributors to the book and most have links to particular sections. I wonder whether the recipes might have been more appropriately placed together with the associated story. This would mean, for example, that the simple pasta with tinned tomatoes recipe might have sat alongside Rebekah Graham’s essay about families that struggle to afford nutritious food, which she argues is a human right.

Some recipes include foraged ingredients, such as beach spinach. At the other end of the scale several recipes involve expensive or unusual ingredients and complicated methods. I’m keen to prepare the Ika Mata recipe for marinated raw fish, one of the more straightforward recipes, based on techniques and ingredients shared by people from the Cook Islands.

I can imagine Kai and Culture being used by secondary school teachers as part of a food and nutrition module, or as assigned reading for a tertiary education course that focuses on food production and consumption. It could also appeal to people interested in challenging and changing how they source, grow and/or use particular foods, and consumers wanting to make more informed and responsible purchasing decisions at supermarkets and even restaurants.

The topics and issues discussed in Kai and Culture have given me a greater appreciation of the efforts made by New Zealand growers, farmers and other food producers and of the challenges they face in providing us with healthy and sustainable food.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Kai and Culture: Food stories from Aotearoa
Edited by Emma Johnson
Published by Freerange Press
ISBN 9780473412241

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Book Review: Odyssey of the Unknown ANZAC, by David Hastings

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_odyssey_for_the_unknown_anzacWho is this ANZAC?

David Hastings’ Odyssey of the Unknown ANZAC is a great deal more than a fascinating story of a lost soldier of the First World War who was ‘rediscovered’ and reunited with his family 10 years after the end of the war. It is also a commentary on how the British Empire saw war then as an extension of Greek mythology, of how the colonies of New Zealand and  Australia saw themselves at the beginning and during the war, and particularly how psychiatric medicine was still in its infancy.

Actually, George Brown’s case was a stuff-up right from the beginning. He should never have gone to war to fight in Gallipoli and the Western Front,  because of his psychiatric condition. It was recommended by army medical staff on the ship going to war that he should be discharged. Someone lost the paperwork.

After bitter experiences in both theatres of the war, he was found wandering the streets of London, wearing civilian clothes and an Australian army hat.

From the London streets, David Hastings unfolds the often dark story of George Brown as he is sent to Australia and more or less ‘lost’ in a medical institution for returned soldiers.  No-one really knew who he was or where he came from – was he an Australian from the outback or a kiwi from Eketahuna or Stratford? It was not until a photo was eventually published  in the Sydney Sun  in 1928 that  the mystery of who George was, and where he came from, began to unravel .

This book and the way Hastings, a journalist by training has written it, reminds the reviewer of another journalist, Simon Winchester and his book The Surgeon of Crowthorne where the connection is made between a reality, in this case brutal war,  as opposed to a brutal murder, and mental illness. Both books explore the context of the times, conflict and tragedy and its affects on family and individuals.

David Hastings has added a timely addition to New Zealand’s war writing. In this book, he allows us to understand that war and conflict cannot always be told in the poetic  heroics of the Odyssey and the Iliad, but rather can also be told in terms of deep personal loss and tragedy.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Odyssey of the Unknown ANZAC
by David Hastings
Auckland University Press
ISBN: 9781869408824

 

Book Review: the ones who keep quiet, by David Howard

Available in selected bookshops nationwide

cv_the_ones_who_keep_quietNear the end of the first, exquisitely crafted poem in David Howard’s new collection, the ones who keep quiet,  there are the lines, ‘Here I am trying to control/details others ignore’ (The Ghost of James Williamson 1814-2014). It seems a fitting meta-poetic statement for his poetry. The Ghost of James Williamson 1814-2014 is a poem which, over 58 stanzas, maintains control of a tight line structure and rhyme pattern which many casual readers probably won’t notice on a conscious level. And it’s not just that poem – throughout the collection you are required to keep up because he is doing so much all the time. Look at these three words in the poem ‘Because Love Is Something Left’ – ‘Penknife, pliers forceps…’ and notice all that connects those words aurally, visually and in image.

Detailed construction is found everywhere in the ones who keep quiet and his approach reminds me of the one advocated by Glen Maxwell in his book On Poetry. Maxwell  wants poetry of pattern, ‘new forms. But still, forms,’ he demands.  Maxwell and Howard are also similar in their use of verse for the craft of playwriting and the ones who keep quiet has a short ‘play’ in the form of the poem The Mica Pavilion.

My  favourite in the collection however, is the poem Prague Casebook which Howard tells us ‘circles the character of the New Zealander and alleged spy Ian Milner’.  It has wonderful lines, for example, ‘The people here are strangers, they show/scant compassion; they smile like real estate agents.’  Or this wonderfully hideous example, ‘Socialism is soup made of cow lips./Smack smack.’  Gross!  I love it!

Remember the poem I mentioned before which continued for 58 stanzas? At times I felt I was limping towards the finish of a poem, like an athlete at the end of a marathon. Howard would always reward me with a short poem as if aware of my need to stay on just one page for a bit. The placement of poems in this collection is a gift to the reader.

Howard includes detailed notes about some of the characters and history the poems reference. This is good, but it raised my expectations and I was disappointed when a poem did not have accompanying information in the notes. Why for example does Howard not tell me anything about the music referenced in the poem Der Abend?  But this is a minor criticism of an otherwise thoughtful collection.

In the synopsis on the back cover, Howard is praised for his ‘metaphysical mulling’. He is not using his poetry to display his theology yet God, the Word (a reference to Christ in the Bible), heaven, hell, the details of our souls, are all here in Howard’s poems without his own specific beliefs being present. It is a hard thing, to depersonalise ideas about faith, and this to me is the most difficult thing, of all the difficult things, that Howard achieves.

Reviewed by Libby Kirkby-McLeod

the ones who keep quiet
by David Howard
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9780947522445

 

Book Review: Sidelights – Rugby Poems, by Mark Pirie

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sidelights_rugby_poems.jpgRugby is often regarded as New Zealand’s national sport; although analysis of sporting options and participation rates in schools and clubs may render this assertion as contentious. Nevertheless, rugby has played a crucial role in New Zealand’s economic, social, and political development over the last century or so. Rugby is a looking-glass on New Zealand; the glorious, the despicable, the fatuous, and the fortuitous can be discerned.

Mark Pirie’s work Sidelights – Rugby Poems serves as a personalised account of his relationship with rugby; several poems are remembrances to family members that played rugby in New Zealand at various levels. One suspects that these family members are, as Ron Palenski suggests, in his instructive foreword ‘not himself a great player but a player of a type which made the game great.’

The book is divided into three sections: The Open Side, The Blind Side, and The All Blacks.

In broad-brush terms the poems that feature in The Open Side section relate to the pre-professional era. An era without scientific analysis of every footstep a player makes on the paddock. There is reference to the supposed simplicity of rugby in the poem Rugby Explained. Pirie makes comment on the female rugby experience in the poems Women Playing Rugby and Portia Woodman as a result of his experience as a spectator.

The late Sir Colin Meads was regarded as a chief exponent of the great values of rugby; solitary dedication, humility in victory and defeat, rugby’s after-match function camaraderie. There is reference to this in the poem Heartland Rugby.

Rugby served as a vital morale-boosting pastime during wartime. Pirie recounts that experience of some servicemen during a match in the poem A Letter About The War. Schools are the nurseries for young players in New Zealand. At high schools keen, fit, strong, and fast young players vie for selection into the prestigious First XV. In older and especially boys’ schools, support for the top team is fierce. The poems Two Rugby Epigrams show this. Pirie completes the section with dedicatory poems to his grandfather and mother.

The Blind Side section relates to Pirie’s personal experience of rugby players and matches. As Pirie is a Wellington poet, Hurricanes players, feature as poem topics. The demise of Jerry Collins, the success of Piri Weepu, the crowd adoration of Ma’a Nonu all feature in poems. The poem Patu ’81 is a reference to Merata Mita’s 1983 documentary film on the 1981 Springbok Tour. The last three lines: ‘a girl / watching her parents / cried in my film class’ is indicative of many New Zealand families at the time; fractured, tense, and forthright.

The poem Super Final exposes the common problem of ticket profiteering in the professional era. The poem Sevens recounts a comment that was indicative of the demise of the Wellington Sevens tournament that was ruined by the ‘fun police.’ The poem The Divided Country illustrates the tribalism between the provinces in New Zealand. Chris Laidlaw once wrote that ‘beer and rugby are more or less synonymous.’ Pirie continues this theme in the poem Ode To Molly Malones.

The last section is dedicated to The All Blacks. Prominent modern-day All Blacks feature in a number of poems in this section. Dan Carter, The Exquisite Cory Jane, Kieran Read: Tape Man, and Jonah Lomu are all titles of poems that present and extol the virtues of these players. The poem The Cup describes the time Ritchie McCaw lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2011. This poem signifies a major national moment for many New Zealanders. The poem Covered In Boks’ Glory is testament to the All Blacks greatest rival and the muscular battles over nearly a century. The poem Ode, In the Bellevue captures the viewing experience of many followers watching matches in pubs and clubs throughout the country.

The book ends with an epilogue: Two Poems For Tom Lawn. These are ruminations on a grandfather ‘the man I never knew.’ The book is dedicated to Pirie’s late grandfather.

Rugby has changed over the decades and generations to be what it is today. Mark Pirie’s poems are the result of being a match observer, enthusiast, crowd listener, player, and thinker on the effects rugby has on families, players, and New Zealand society. This work is, as the late Bill McLaren often declared, a ‘thundering run.’

Reviewed by C.A.J. Williams

Sidelights Rugby Poems
by Mark Pirie
Published by HeadworX Publishers
ISBN 978047340868-8

Book Review: Weka’s Waiata, by Nikki Slade Robinson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_wekas_waiata.jpgI picked up this book and immediately recognised the illustrations of Nikki Slade Robinson from her award-winning The Little Kiwi’s Matariki.  Her illustrations and story-telling continues to enchant our young readers with this story about young weka welcoming their kuia and koro for a visit.

Five young weka go off in search of different musical sounds to create a waiata to welcome their grandparents for a visit.  Children love predictable text and, so, with five vowel sounds to find, the author creates a repetitive pattern.  However, each weka finds a different sound in a different location to make it unique.  Together the weka use their sounds to make a waiata to sing when their grandparents arrive.

As a teacher, it can be difficult to find books which introduce concepts of our culture to our children.  This book will find a permanent place on our bookshelf as it is a perfect introduction about mihi whakatau and the importance of showing manaakitanga to our manahuri.

The illustrations are what make this book special.  Nikki Slade Robinson layers mixed media to create depth and story-telling through her pictures. The musical sounds swirl about, little wisps that might just float away!  The little weka are illustrated with black ink to create movement and character.  We fell in love with these little guys!  Little Kiwi also makes a star appearance.

At the end of the book includes a song which the weka sing.  Although the music score is written, it would have been good if a CD was included too.  With or without the song, this book is a delightful story to read.  I only wish we had some weka living in our backyard!

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Weka’s Waiata      
by Nikki Slade Robinson
Published by Duck Creek Press
ISBN 9781927305386

 

Book Review: The World’s Best Bowl Food, by Lonely Planet Food

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_worlds_best_bowl_food.jpgThe World’s Best Bowl Food is a salute to comfort food found the world over. Bowl food is undergoing a revival. You can spot a million #powerbowl posts on Instagram, and for many people it’s all about what superfoods you can pack into the bowl.

A little research from Lonely Planet found that the original bowl food is all about comfort – there’s a reason why each ingredient finds its way in there, and it’s because it’s delicious, reminds us of home, or tradition. As the Foreword says, ‘some of the world’s most beloved dishes – macaroni cheese, Vietnamese pho, and Japanese ramen have transcended their local roots and become transcontinental comfort foods.’

I’m a foodie and I loved this book. There are lots of different takes on old favourites of mine (nasi goreng, ceviche, chilli con carne), recipes I’ve always wanted to try (pho, jambalaya, any Asian flavours in a soup-food-bowl), and loads of exciting new recipes with flavour combinations or ingredients that tickled my fancy.

I tried my hand at the intriguing-looking Chia Pudding from Central and South America.  Chia seeds have a delicate, nutty flavour and have a great capacity to absorb liquid. They’ve now made their way into kitchens and supermarkets around the world, and this has to be the easiest recipe out there. Mix 2 cups of natural yoghurt with half a cup of chia seeds. Leave for 4 hours. Serve cold with maple syrup or honey, and toasted flaked almonds and berries – or whatever you have to hand.  Delicious!
Chia Pudding.jpg

I also tried the Quinoa Stew. I liked the look of all the flavours, as well as the fact it didn’t take long to cook on a week night. It was super-tasty and the leftovers froze well for delicious work lunches.

The book layout is great – an attractive photo for each recipe, an interesting note on origins and history, and essential for the foodie – tasting notes. The book is sectioned out into bowl food types: breakfast bowls, dessert bowls, soups, salads and healthy bowls, stews and hearty bowls, and rice, pasta and noodle bowls. There’s also a difficulty guide for easy, medium or hard which is handy for the time-conscious, or when you miss that part of the recipe that says simmer for 3 hours and its 8pm already.

Quinoa Stew
Food and drink is a huge part of the travel experience and the memories we have of our adventures overseas. Travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet launched this new ‘Lonely Planet Food’ imprint in 2016 and it’s great to see such a quality range of books for the foodie or the keen traveller.

The imprint houses titles from the Lonely Planet World’s Best series such as The World’s Best Brunches, The World’s Best Spicy Foods, and The World’s Best Superfoods. The Lonely Planet Food logo can also be found on the From the Source series which introduces food lovers to local dishes from around the world and to the cooks that have perfected them.

We raise our bowls to you Lonely Planet Food, keep these books coming!

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

The World’s Best Bowl Food
by Lonely Planet Food
ISBN 9781787012653

 

Book Review: Brain Teasers, by Sally Morgan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_brain_teasers.jpgYou only need to see that familiar Lonely Planet logo to know that, between those paperback covers, adventure awaits.  This time, it’s not a guidebook, but rather a fantastic book of travel-related puzzles and games to keep young travellers occupied on the journey.

On a long car trip or flight, when you’re out of mobile phone coverage or want to give the kids a break from staring at screens, this handy backpack-friendly-sized puzzle book will be a welcome change to playing I Spy and counting yellow cars.  With 145 pages of matching games, mazes, guessing games, and so much more, there is plenty in this book to keep travellers aged 5-10 busy for hours.  Handily all of the answers are at the end of the book in case the adults in your travel group are equally stumped.

The games are travel- and geography-themed, as you would expect from a Lonely Planet publication so it’s bound to prove popular even on a rainy day at home in the school holidays as you imagine you’re off travelling the world instead.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Brain Teasers
by Sally Morgan
Published by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781787013148