Book Review: The Taxidermist’s Daughter, by Kate Mosse

cv_the_taxidermists_daughter

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

I haven’t read any of Kate Mosse’s books before and was told that I was in for a treat. She is most famous for her novel Labyrinth. Her latest book, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a gothic fiction set just before World War One in a village in England. The book is rather fascinating − I’d love to spend some time with a book club discussing the themes in the book.

Connie Gifford lives with her father, the taxidermist, in a large house alongside the Fishbourne marshes, somewhat apart from the rest of the village. The house is also the workplace for the father’s now dwindling taxidermy business. While she is the taxidermist’s daughter, she is the only one in the household doing any taxidermy, as her father is a rather physically absent character spending his days drinking.

The profession of taxidermy holds them as separate from the community, and as it is no longer as desirable for families to have stuffed animals in the home, the business is seen as somewhat strange. Connie herself has lost all her childhood memories after a terrible fall as a child and suffers the occasional seizure as a result. Connie is portrayed as very self-contained individual, but never described as lonely. Her only thoughts are of her father, her work and trying to recover her memory. It is only when she finds something in common with a new acquaintance, midway through the story, that you get much sense of how lonely she is.

Why read this book? The setting is richly described and hangs heavily over the story. The setting is dark, omnipresent and a threat in itself. It is beautifully described. As I read I could vividly picture watching this on TV with a cast of well known British actors playing the key roles. Actually, when I think about it, the book feels like a TV adaptation of a book. I am left with a great sense of dark imagery, superficial understanding of the intentions or characters of those involved and a rather suspiciously neat ending.

The setting in this book is so richly described, often at the expense of character development. I excitedly read the last third of the book, as it was clear that the culmination of a natural disaster and the answer to ‘whodunnit’ would merge. I was rather let down. The answer to many of the questions of the book were simultaneously complex, straightforward and all were underdeveloped in the plot. The villians of the piece were barely known to me. This was a let down, but I think that I had started to feel as though the book was a standard crime story − and was disappointed when it didn’t really fit this kind of narrative. The book is rather more of a historical fiction with a very small snapshot into a few dramatic days in a village.

Taxidermy, naturally plays a part and contributes to the dark setting. It is clear that Connie sees her approach to taxidermy as an art. Her thoughts while preparing a bird:

“Connie turned the jackdaw over in her jackdaw_4hands, examining it thoroughly, and decided to continue. The flesh hadn’t become sticky and it was a beautiful creature; she didn’t want to let it go to waste. This was the moment when it would begin to transform from something dead into an object of beauty that would live for ever. The essence of the bird, caught by her craft and her skill, at one distinct moment.”

Her relationship with another character is cemented by their love of art − of finding beauty and truth in their work whether it is a stuffed bird, or painted portrait. I found it fascinating that both these characters have scenes where they are unsatisfied with their work.

A minor theme is that of justice. It is clear from the beginning of the book that a great injustice has occurred − but how differently those victimised by the event perceive a suitable punishment is fascinating to me. The central victim chooses a grotesque punishment for the offenders, but ultimately the punishments are attributed to something else, and the offender’s reputations are seemingly left intact. Those left behind just move on (and, given the epilogue is set in April 1913) you realise in the end that there is no happily-ever-after truly available.

For some fun, look at Twitter – #taxidermyselfie. It links with Kate Mosse’s website.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

The Taxidermist’s Daughter
by Kate Mosse
Published by Orion Publishing
ISBN 9781409153764

Book Review: Piggy Pasta and More Food With Attitude, by Rebecca Woolfall and Suzi Tait-Bradly

Both of my children were attracted to this brightly-coloured book. In fact, they helped me cv_piggy_pastato appreciate it through their eyes, as initially I had trouble appreciating the jumble of recipes − my eldest pointed out that the recipes were in alphabetical order by wacky name (there is an index at the back to assist adults). I wasn’t sure that there was much the children would be keen to make that I would agree to (the Dirt Pudding – made of biscuits, cream, chocolate and sugar was highly valued by the girls). The Hot Diggity Dogs and Crazy Slaw was the second choice and one easily made.

I like to cook and bake and I think it is a useful skill to pass on to children. In the last year our family has been growing a lot of our own vegetables and the children now appreciate how long it can take to grow vegetables, and how delicious they are just out of the garden. I was quite pleased that we were able to provide all of the coleslaw ingredients from our garden, bar the grated cheese.Coleslaw_piggy_pasta

I think something really valuable that children’s cookbooks can do is show children variations on food that they find familiar. I’m sure if I’d suggested to the children putting cheese in the coleslaw they would have objected – but they were keen to follow the instructions! The Hot Diggity Dogs were delicious, and were a very quick dinner at the end of a hectic day.

The front cover features ‘Piggy Pasta’ – pasta that has a beetroot and yoghurt creamy sauce. While garishly coloured, I know from my own family’s past ‘purple pizza’ experience that beetroot is a fun way to colour food, and one highly appealing to children.

I learned along the way that my youngest loves baked beans. There is a recipe ‘Full of Beans’ teaching children how to make baked beans. My daughter asked for those “tomato sauce beans” (which I haven’t ever given to her because her older sister hates them) because, I guess, she loves anything in tomato sauce! She also noticed that the face decoration in the illustrations used olives for eyes − and I’d had great trouble guessing what they had used!

Each recipe is illustrated with a large photograph and there are instructions within the recipes to ensure that children can replicate their appearance at home. For example, meals with funny faces on them detail what the authors used and how to prepare them.

Something that I particularly liked is that the majority of the savoury recipes are vegetarian, widening the appeal of the book. To be frank, it is quite easy to find recipes for children with beef or chicken, but interesting vegetable based meals are less common. The ingredients used in the book are all readily found at any supermarket.

What I would love from a children’s cookbook is some advice on cooking one recipe with two children of different ages. By the time we have all jostled for counter space, knives and negotiated tasks it can be quite stressful! When cooking from this book I had the oldest reading out the instructions and the youngest and I doing the prep work.

It must be hard to put together a children’s cookbook. I suspect people must commonly complain that they are either too hard, too simplistic, too unhealthy, too healthy, too expensive, too fancy etc! I think though that the selection of recipes in Piggy Pasta is a reasonable balance and appealing to a wide range of ages of abilities.

The authors, Rebecca and Suzi run Little Cooks − cooking classes for children in Auckland.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Piggy Pasta and More Food With Attitude
by Rebecca Woolfall and Suzi Tait-Bradly
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432166

Book Review: Roses are Blue, by Sally Murphy

Available now at bookstores nationwide. 

Roses are Blue, by Sally Murphy, is a verse novel suitable for cv_roses_are_bluechildren aged from seven years. It deals with Amber Rose, a girl who panics when a Mother’s Day High Tea at school is announced. She has not told anyone at her new school that her mother was seriously injured in a car accident. Her mother is now in a wheelchair, re-learning to talk and is cared for full time by her sister in the new family home.

“I have not got used to my new mum.
Even though I love her
(I absolutely love her),
I miss my happy,
painting,
dancing,
gardening,
smiling mum.’

A vividly realistic perspective of the schoolchild is portrayed. It is easy to forget how unforgiving school social hierarchies can be. Amber Rose loves her Mum, but does not want her classmates to meet her, as she fears their reactions to her different Mum. As the novel progresses, Amber Rose continues to work through some of the difficult issues she faces − resuming her favourite activities, interacting with her Mum and learning not to underestimate her friends. The book is never trite, it is not filled with the over-optimistic language of greeting cards. It is real, and honest − a neat skill I think with verse.

There are beautiful illustrations throughout, their honesty matching the tone of the story brilliantly.

Last year, with very little notice, I required surgery to treat cancer. A planned five days in hospital turned into six weeks, and I’ve spent the last year rather impatiently recovering at home. Helping my young children put words to the feelings they had about their absent and ill mother was so important. In reading this book with my seven-year-old we have been able to keep working through some of the questions she has. I appreciated the opportunity to work through her feelings on having a Mum who hasn’t been able to participate in activities as much as she did previously.

I strongly believe that reading a wide variety of fiction in childhood helps to equip children with the skills to deal with problems later in life. Books allow a view into a different world, and an opportunity to examine your own response to the challenges faced by fictional characters. Roses are Blue deftly enters Amber Rose’s world − making it believable for children who read it, and a vivid remember for adults of how deeply our early school experiences were felt.

‘We are blue, I think,
because we miss Mum’s smile,
her singing,
her dancing,
her being.
But we’ll be okay, I tell her.
Because we still have you
and you are getting better every day.’

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Roses are Blue
by Sally Murphy
Published by Walker Books AU
ISBN 9781922244376

Book Review: Bread by Dean Brettschneider

cv_bread

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

Reviewing this book has involved a journey familiar to those witnessing my food experiments. I’ve been through seven kilogrammes of flour, the new family pet is my sourdough starter and I sat in a restaurant anxiously clock-watching as I was concerned that my Walnut Crown Bread was over-proving. I’ve tracked down diastatic malt flour, and in the process have met Lower Hutt’s most famous sourdough bread baker and took into my possession one of his bannetons. It has been quite a journey.

Dean Brettschneider, also known as the ‘Global Baker’ is well known to New Zealanders through his recipe books and stint as judge on New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker. His bread making and bakery skills are tremendously impressive, with over twenty five years working in baking. His latest book, simply titled Bread provides technical background on the entire process (including a QR code to watch a video on bread making techniques). And then there are the recipes, beautiful, precise recipes. Each recipe is accompanied by photos – with some very beautifully moody shots of the various breads, as well as lots of photos to aid with correct technique.

If you have never baked a loaf of bread before then you will certainly learn everything that you need to know to make bread successfully. However, you do need to be prepared to invest time in making these recipes. There is a chapter on fast breads, and I was very pleased with the Cranberry and Orange Twisted Loaf (pictured below). While it does suggest preparing the filling the day prior to baking, it only took me 45 minutes from start to finish.

twists_for_breadCreating your own sourdough starter is required for a few of the recipes which means that you have, at minimum, two weeks of work before you can start baking. It can also feel at times like a truly wasteful process as you create (and then dump large portions) of starter. The starter needs frequent attention and feeding. I’ve tried making sourdough bread before, and my personal blog documents many grumpy encounters with the process in the past. But none of those starters was as effective as this one. I think that the use of precise measurements help – you do need a digital set of scales to make many of these recipes. I have tried to assuage my guilt at the vast volumes of thrown out starter by setting aside portions of the final starter in the fridge to pass on to good homes!

The fine layer of flour dust that seems to have permanently settled in my kitchen was redeemed by the making of Walnut Crown Bread. My sourdough starter worked as it should and I was able to use the last of my beautiful local walnuts purchased in a school fundraiser. The diastatic malt flour (you can purchase this on Trademe, the type sold in brew stores is often the wrong type) really does make a difference to the final result – my bread was a beautiful dark caramel and smelt amazing. As I type, the leftover bread is being turned into crostini in the oven (a tip from Dean in the book).

walnut_crownYou do need to plan when making the sourdough breads, and Dean provides very helpful suggested timetables, as well as precise times and descriptions of the proving process so you can ensure that your bread is developing properly. I feel that I should mention that you can often buy sourdough starters online or in organic food stores. You may even be able to persuade a bakery to part with some. It would save a lot of time. A lot.

This is a really special book, I want to cook so many of the breads for so many different reasons. I’m waiting for the perfect occasion to cook a Brie & Caramelised Garlic Pain Miche (a large wheel of brie cooked inside a loaf of sourdough bread and topped with caramelised garlic). Dean’s Kiwi heritage is well represented with Raspberry-Iced Cream Finger Buns, Boston Buns (Sally Luns) and Jason’s Hundreds & Thousands Iced Buns. There is a section on celebration breads and my oldest daughter has strongly encouraged me to make the Cinnamon Donut Balls. The Beetroot and Thyme Baguettes would be amazing in a picnic with some top quality sausages and salad.

I have a large collection of cookbooks. Bread is already covered in flour and well-thumbed through. My knowledge of bread making has increased exponentially in the last three weeks and I feel like I have joined a secret club of those who have the knowledge to create amazing bread. It has been quite a journey.

Written by Emma Wong-Ming

Bread
by Dean Brettschneider 
Published by Penguin NZ 
ISBN 9780143571117

Book Review: Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

This book is available now from bookstores nationwide. 

Ed Catmull is currently cv_creativity_Incthe President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. Throughout his career he worked with George Lucas and helped found Pixar, with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter. Ed details an early love of Disney movies, and his PhD work in computer science and further studies developed the technology allowing fully computer animated 3D cartoons to be made. He is a pioneer in the field of 3D animation.

I can still remember going to see Toy Story, the first Pixar production. Until this time animated cartoons were drawn by hand. My friends and I were really taken aback − we had never seen anything like it. Both the detail in animation and the depth of story were a contrast from previous animated movies. The book details some of the technology involved in creating these movies; the emphasis however is on the creative process.

The book is part biography/ part management manual. It is more of a narrative style, so not one that is quick to reach into for management tips. There is a bullet point summary of the tips at the end of the book, but otherwise you need to glean them from the story. I wasn’t really sure how widely applicable this book was as a management manual − so much emphasis was on the unique creative process and ‘creative types’ involved.

I was often exasperated with the style of this book − the tendency to be long-winded, the hybrid style of biography and manual and what almost felt like soul searching journal entries. Ed puts much emphasis on ‘telling a good story’ as part of the creative process. He develops a group that rigorously oversees story development at Pixar. I think the book could have used similar oversight as it is not a smooth read. By the end of the book I was feeling disengaged. I was not prepared for the stunner of a final chapter that left me in tears!

I think the book may be too modest an account. Ed Catmull has an interesting life, and a biography about him, including his experiences, would be a great read. I got the impression that the middle of the book was more a longform defence of in-house development protocols. The biographical sections that link in with other well-known people or events are really interesting – you just need to keep reading through the lengthy bits!

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Creativity, Inc.
By Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
Published by Bantam Press
ISBN 9780593070109

Book Review: Felix and the Red Rats, by James Norcliffe

Felix and the Red Rats is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Here is James Norcliffe’s Q & A about the writing of this book. 

Felix and the Red Rats tells two stories.cv_felix and the red rats The first, set in contemporary New Zealand, is the story of a typical Kiwi family who are preparing for the visit of their somewhat odd uncle. The Uncle, Felix, is famous for having written children’s books about an alternative world, Axillaris. The second story (told in alternate chapters) is set in Axillaris itself.

David, the narrator, is very interested in his uncle’s arrival and begins to read the books. When his older brother’s rats change colour overnight David suspects his uncle’s involvement. He begins to ask questions about his uncle, and the world portrayed in his books.

The story seemed very simplistic to me at first − the writing is uncomplicated and very accessible. The last half of the book though is quick paced and the story concludes beautifully leaving questions regarding the blurring of reality and fiction. I really liked it.

And I really liked the puzzles used in the story. They are addictive! My seven year old also liked them.

My favourite character was the mean older brother, Gray. Gray is richly described − the surly teenager who is mean to his younger brother just because he can be. David has learnt to keep away from him, and the different approaches Gray and David take in dealing with the mystery of the colour change rats are very consistent with their personalities. Gray explodes under the stress and David approaches the problem from a curious, gently investigatory process. I’d love to see Gray portrayed on screen − he would be awesome.

I felt that the story would be great for getting children into more detailed analysis of writing. For a story written in a straightforward and simple manner, the family created is vividly portrayed. The end of the story invites a sequel − but not in an obvious way. I’d enjoy exploring some of the unsolved mysteries in a future book.

Felix and the Red Rats is a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Felix and the Red Rats
by James Norcliffe
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775533245

Book Review: The Smallest Things: Thoughts on Making a Happy Family, written by Angela Mollard

This book is available now in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_smallest_things

The Smallest Things is part-memoir part child-raising-guide from parenting columnist Angela Mollard.

I found this a hard book to review. The first half is a memoir, and jumps around different points in the author’s life. She discusses in depth her working life (if I ever wanted confirmation that women’s magazines make up stories about celebrities then hearing Angela’s accounts of ‘brainstorming’ ideas for stories dismally confirmed it) and creation of her family. Angela Mollard started her working life in New Zealand and lives in Australia with her family. This makes a lot of the references in the book familiar − particularly in her book list for children and mentions of Nigel Latta.

Angela is pretty honest about some of her toughest moments parenting. She gives an account of a screaming fit she launches at her young children after they mess up the bathroom while she is on the phone to her frequent traveller husband. She hadn’t hung up the phone and her husband heard her barrage of verbal abuse. He called back later and gently suggested that she needed to find a better way to manage stress. This is one of a few anecdotes told as background to her revelation that she needed a better way to manage her work/ parenting/ relationship balance.

There isn’t a lot in this book that is fresh for experienced parents. I have two young children and there was little advice that I hadn’t heard before. Some of it can be hard to stomach from someone who bemoans not being able to afford a new couch because they spend so much of their income on overseas trips. But one similarity between the author and myself anchored a connection − having an often absent partner. My husband’s long work hours means that he often isn’t around when the children are awake during the week. This leaves responsibility not just for the work of parenting (meals, car pooling etc) but also the culture of parenting (how we parent and what we value as a family) during the week to me. And I think this is what I think the author concludes. If she is responsible for most of the work of parenting then she can either continue to rail about how much work it is and who does what or she can just work out a way to make it fun.

For a long while I thought that I didn’t like the book. I gave it a couple of weeks then re-read it.  There are a couple of weaknesses − I’m not sure the memoir/ advice combo works in this format. I would have enjoyed more of the memoir and less of the advice. I suspect the advice could have come through in expanded memoir format. Regular readers of Angela’s columns will probably enjoy learning more about her. I liked how she gave non-de-plumes for her children (and not cutesy- blog esque names like ‘gummy bear’ or ‘mischief maker’) and didn’t name her former husband. I suspect she wrote reluctantly about her first marriage − the writing seems very self-edited. She is trying to demonstrate how she values her second marriage but her stated reluctance to delve into the first marriage in much detail − then giving a horrid scene from the relationship’s dying moments are discordant. Her advice section isn’t patronising (a common problem with parenting advice books) and is more about creating a fun family than dictating an exacting schedule or toilet training wisdom. I loved her passion for reading and books that comes through in the advice section. Her birthday party suggestions gently remind parents that a kid’s birthday party is more about having fun with their friends rather than competing for the fanciest food or fantastically decorated cake.

After my second reading I concluded that Angela Mollard sounds like the kind of Mum I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.  I cannot say that about the authors of many parenting books!  The book will not give you explicit instruction on how to change your work life balance − but sometimes, it is nice to know that it can be managed and learning how one family worked it out for themselves may help to guide your own way.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming.

The Smallest Things:  Thoughts on Making a Happy Family
by Angela Mollard
Published by HarperCollins Au
ISBN 9780732296896

Book Review: The World’s Best Spicy Food. Where to Find it and How to Make it.

cv_the_worlds_best_spicy_foodAvailable in bookstores now.

I was thrilled to recieve this book for review because I’ve enjoyed a previous Lonely Planet Cookbook (World’s Best Street Food). Both books have in common recipes compiled by well-travelled food writers who do not compromise on the ingredients required to produce faithful versions of these international food delights.

Tom Parker-Bowles appropriately writes the introduction. His dedication to spicy food is well established in his columns and books and he passionately explains the addition of heat – smoked, charred or sauced can make to meals.

Unfamiliar ingredients are well explained in the glossary – this is very useful as it can give you some hint of the kind of store you might approach to find novel ingredients, or what could perhaps substitute. However, the writers are committed to authentic recipes so have quite deliberately written recipes that are not so over-adapted as to become unrecognisable in their country of origin.

Now, personally, I don’t like heat for the sake of uncomfortable heat in cooking and still retain an embarrassingly low tolerance for meals involving chili peppers. But in the last few years I’ve come to appreciate the variety of ingredients that supply ‘heat’ as a taste element. You don’t need chillis to get heat − it can be supplied by ingredients such as vinegar or mustard. This recipe book contains an excellent range of ingredients and cuisines displaying heat as an element.

My favourites were Lahmacun and Japanese Curry. I don’t know why Lahmacun isn’t more well known in New Zealand (Turkish Pizza topped with lamb mince cooked in tomato, capsicum and spices). At this time of the year when tomatoes and capsicums are cheap and easily available it is well worth making. I first had Katsu Curry in a school cafeteria in Japan. I spent years begging Japanese friends to send over the famous blocks of ‘kare roux’ to make my own Japanese curries. These days the blocks of curry sauce are readily available in supermarkets but it was very interesting learning how to make the sauce from scratch. If you don’t want to make the pork cutlet to accompany the curry I find small cubes of beef in the curry just delicious.

If you have a friend who lives for spicy food challenges then they will enjoy a gift of this book. Equally, I feel that there are a lot of recipes in here that will appeal to families wishing to create more interesting meal options. I look forward to more Lonely Planet recipe books in the future.

Recipes I tried:
* Pepper Jelly – I’ve made something similiar before and this is a great gifting recipe. The red/ green colour combo is fantastic at Christmas time.
* Zatar – having recently lucked into a load of fantastically cheap walnuts this month I made a small batch of Zatar. I often have leftover pizza dough and this is great on plain cooked dough.
* Lahmacun – I love this recipe but prefer roasting the capsicums first. Buy capsicums while they are still cheap and create roasted red peppers. You can freeze small servings to defrost later in the year. This is a delicious way of enjoying a meaty pizza without using preserved meats.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

The World’s Best Spicy Food. Where to Find it and How to Make it
Introduced by Tom Parker Bowles
by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781743219768

 

Book Review: The Modern Art Cookbook, written by Mary Ann Caws

Available in bookstores now.

“Something about cooking lends itself as much to the spontaneous as the reflective: those of us who cook without recipes, but after reading a great deal many of them, feel we know the best of both worlds, flavoured by a certain gusto.”
– Introduction.

Without a doubt, my favourite activity is reading cookbooks. cv_the_modern_art_cookbookBig cookbooks, technical cookbooks, impossibly-beautiful food cookbooks, vegetable-only cookbooks. I love them all, and the shelves in my lounge are filled with brightly coloured cookbooks promising delicious meals and fantastic treats. I’ve had friends text me asking for recipes, sure that I will have the cookbook they remember the recipe from. I copy recipes voraciously, and often feel I need to make a newly obtained recipe RIGHT NOW. After preserving nearly four kilogrammes of plums last week I thought I would never wish to see another – until I came across a recipe for Plum Sorbet.

Backing up my hobby of reading cookbooks are my other hobbies of actually cooking and growing delicious vegetables for my family in our disorganised, windswept backyard.

So a book that is about passion for food and for cooking is one that should surely please me – as The Modern Art Cookbook does. This is not an instruction book, or even one for parties. It is almost not a cookbook, but closer to food writing. The book combines artist’s paintings inspired by food, poems with food as the subject and recipes. Some of the recipes are directly related to the food or poem, perhaps provided by the artist/ author themselves. Others are obtained to reflect back on the provided art, with an emphasis on locating recipes from the relevant era.

Modern cookbooks still reflect the science of cooking – they are rather like manuals, orderly with a methodology and recipe on one page and perhaps an image on an accompanying page. There is a predictable amount of recipes in each section so that the reader can find something that they like. Even the most glossy are logical and somewhat constrained by the format. The Modern Art Cookbook has sections but it is a lot more meandering. Image, words and recipes are tangled alongside commentary. I didn’t want to read this book from start to finish – I wanted to dip and dive erratically – finding my passion and learning why that particular vegetable was so beloved of the particular artist. Reflecting the long held association between creativity and alcoholic inspiration, there is a rather charming beverage section at the back.

Two foods from the book grabbed my attention. Being summer, and a gardener, I am just starting to get tomatoes from the seeds I planted inside back in July. The first few tomatoes from my garden were made into Paul Cezanne’s Baked Tomatoes (below). Using tomatoes, parsley and garlic I grew along with breadcrumbs made from homemade bread I felt a strong link to the joy of tomatoes. I was a little disappointed that there was no art or poetry for the tomatoes – but I am probably a little emotionally over-invested in tomatoes at the moment! I suspect the author favours mushrooms herself – there are a number of pages related to mushrooms.cezanne_tomatoes
The book features two Manet paintings of asparagus in the Appetizer section – if you read the introduction however you will learn that the first picture (of a bunch of asparagus) was commissioned by an owner who eventually overpaid Manet – Manet provided ‘change’ by painting a second picture of a solitary asparagus!

The Modern Art Cookbook is not a book I feel I could outgrow – there is always something that will seem fresh when reading it – a new interpretation of a line of poetry or a renewed appreciation for a particular ingredient. Definitely one for people who like to be inspired by cookbooks, and not always follow the rules precisely.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming.

The Modern Art Cookbook
Written by Mary Ann Caws
Published by Reaktion Books (Distributor: New South Books)
ISBN 9781780231747

Book Review: Built for Caffeine, by Ben Crawford

Built for Caffeine is a book celebrating design in the New Zealand cafe environment. ImageThe author, Ben Crawford is most popularly known for co-winning the reality TV Show The Block in 2012. Following that, he and his sister opened an advertising agency in Auckland. Ben also writes a design column for the New Zealand Herald. The aim of the book is to delve into the design features of cafes, commenting on how they could be applied in the home environment. Ben has an eye for detail and his photos and commentary clearly give a sense of the physical environment. For the cafes I am very familiar with I found Ben’s photos gave me a greater appreciation for the space and detail of the location.

What could have improved this book was a coherent theme or rationale behind the cafes picked. While I found my head nodding at many picks, I couldn’t work out how he came to know about the cafes or why they were chosen above other cafes. Many of the cafes are, still now, only a few months old. How did he know about them? Is it because it is difficult to find out about design direction once time has passed? The cafes are organised North to South but I wonder if organising by design style (e.g. industrial, retro etc) could provided a link between cafes or the application of design advice. That being said, there may not be enough of each style to do that.

ImageBen’s narration is half design speak, half Kiwi casual. I found it distracting at first, but appreciated the enthusiasm behind his approach. Ben clearly gets more out of the cafe experience than just coffee and you get a sense of an engaging personality – one who has very competently interviewed the owners and designers behind each cafe project.  In a very ‘behind the scenes’ style he draws out the stories beneath the design. The city map wall in ‘Little King Cafe’ was inspired by the owner’s childhood town memories – a reminder that sometimes the most memorable design features are those originally inspired. I found a real DIY narrative to Ben’s stories – the Kiwi DIY gene is not limited to houses but also the businesses we run. Many stories detailed the amount of hard labour the owners did, stripping back decades of renovation to find the genuine bones of the building. I really liked that, being a New Zealand design book, all the suggestions about replicating the style should be achievable in New Zealand and look good here.

Coffee addicts will appreciate that every cafe’s brand of brew is given.

There is a surprisingly mixed audience for this book.  I think aficionados of home design magazines will enjoy it, but equally cafe-frequenting hipsters.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming

Built for Caffeine
by Ben Crawford
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN  9780992249366