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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Title: Anzac Biscuits by Allison Reynolds

Author: Anzac Biscuits by Allison Reynolds

Genre: Non-fiction

Opens: I was just five years old when I started school in Sutton Veny"

Blurb: Anzac biscuits, baked in Australia and New Zealand for over a century, have a powerful connection to the national identity and culture of both countries. But what is the story of this national icon? Were they eaten by troops during the First World War? When did coconut make an appearance? And where do you stand on the crispy versus chewy debate? Culinary detective Allison Reynolds has travelled Australia, New Zealand and England delving into war files and family cookbooks to investigate the provenance of this extraordinary everyday biscuit.

My thoughts: ANZAC BISCUITS maybe a small book – but there is SO much information packed into the eleven chapters. Of course, while I was reading, I had to do research – purely for review reasons you understand – and hubby and I both decided we are crispy fans not chewy fans. A recipe for crispy biscuits can be found below.

So why were Anzac Biscuits made at all? Mothers, daughters, wives and sweethearts all wanted to send packets to their men serving in the front lines – something from home. Unlike today though, mail from home could take months to arrive as everything travelled by ship. Because of this time factor, home cooked products needed to last. The original Anzac Biscuits were made from oats, butter, flour and golden syrup – all cheap products found in the pantries of the day. They couldn’t use eggs – as the biscuit would go bad –Golden Syrup was what bound the ingredients together. Because of the easily accessible ingredients, easy cooking method, and the fact that the recipe didn’t use eggs that meant the biscuits would last the long trip to Europe. The original biscuits, did not have coconut in them and were only made from rolled oats and golden syrup which resulted in a very hard biscuit – in fact they were known to break teeth. The coconut was added in the 1920s making the biscuit less of a jaw breaker.

The first version of a rolled oats based biscuit appeared around 1823 in the cook books of women in Australia and New Zealand. Over the 100 years they had a variety of names such as ‘Surprise Biscuits’ and ‘Crispies’. However, when WWI started the recipe name changed to ‘Red Cross Biscuits’ and ‘Soldiers Biscuits.’ From this point it was just a hop, skip and a jump to naming them Anzac biscuits, as they were sold on the home front to raise funds and after Gallipoli the word ANZAC was very patriotic and guaranteed a sale.

Even today, the modern version of the Anzac biscuit is used to help out in hard times, recently Australian emergency workers were given them when they were helping out in recent floods – and the biscuits were sent to drought stricken areas of Australia in care packages.

“…Anzac biscuits embody Australianness, conveying the ANZAC spirit of courage, endurance, survival and mateship and what’s more, they taste bloody good too…”

There are all sorts of useful snippets in ANZAC BISCUITS excerpts from original letters and pictures of containers used to transport goods from Australia over to the troops to give the reader and idea of the conditions the men were living in – and how much the biscuits lifted morale. I really enjoyed my time spent in this book – and if you like social history and knowing why things exist then I thoroughly recommend it.

So which country was first? Author Allison Reynolds very diplomatically says we both were.

Crispy ANZAC Biscuits (Coconut version)

Pre heat oven to 170C / 150C Fan Forced

Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper

Ingredients

· 1 cup plain flour

· 1 cup Rolled Oats (not instant)

· 1 Cup Desiccated Coconut (I used ½ a cup as hubby and I don’t like coconut)

· 1 cup Sugar

· 125g butter

· 2 tablespoons Golden Syrup

· 1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda

· 2 Tablespoons Boiling Water

Method

· Mix flour, oats, desiccated coconut and sugar in a large bowl

· Melt the butter with the golden syrup in a large pan over medium heat, then remove pan from heat – Combine boiling water and bicarbonate of soda; add to butter mixture and mix well until it froths up.

· Stir into dry ingredients until combined

· Take teaspoons of the mixture and roll into a ball – put on trays allowing room for spreading

· Press the biscuits down firmly to flatten using the back of a dessertspoon

· Bake for 15 -20 minutes until nicely golden

· Remove trays from oven and leave biscuits on the baking tray to firm up, leave until completely cool about 10 minutes

Author Information: Allison Reynolds, MA (Gastronomy), is a culinary historian and a regular commentator on many aspects of food history. As gastronomer in residence at several South Australian establishments she researched the social and food history of early Adelaide. Allison’s passion for tea, marmalade, food history and old cookery books continues unabated.

With thanks to Wakefield Press for my copy to read and review.

This book is? Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

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Title: Wild Asparagus, Wild Strawberries

Author: Barbara Santich

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Opens: It’s the most exciting thing that has happened in Nizas since the massive thunderstorm during the vintage the year before last, which ruined 10 truckloads of grapes on their way to the winery.

Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

Blurb: I drank Normandy farmhouse cider, ate strawberries dipped in red wine then sugar, and tasted truffles and soft goat cheeses for the first time. I returned to Australia inspired to become a food writer. France bewitched Barbara Santich as a student in the early 1970s. She vowed to return, and soon enough she did – with husband and infant twins in tow. Wild Asparagus, Wild Strawberries tells the story of the magical two years that followed. Barbara and her husband launched themselves into French village life, a world of winemaking, rabbit raising, cherry picking and exuberant 14 July celebrations. Here we see the awakening of Barbara Santich’s lifelong love affair with food history. And also a lost France, ‘when the 19th century almost touched hands with the 21st’. Shepherds still led their flocks to pasture each day and, even near the bustling towns, wild strawberries hid at the forest’s edge.

My thoughts: I was sucked into Barbara Santich’s French experience from page one. As she first took me with her from their arrival in France, then described what she sees, the people they meet and, oh my goodness, the food she eats. I was entranced.

Beautifully written, describing meticulously what it going on, without falling into the trap of being wordy. The scenes just flowed into each other as they move around France and blend their lives into the seasons. Chock-a-block with amazing characters, and recipes, I have cooked her Tomates farcies (stuffed tomatoes) recipe and it was pronounced a hit by my fussy husband, next up to try is Madame Mourichon’s gateu aux poires (Madam Mourichon’s pear cake) when I mentioned serve with cream he liked the idea!

Overall this is a memoir that kept me riveted until the last page.

With thanks to Wakefield Press for my copy to read and review.

Author Information: Barbara Santich is a highly respected food writer, culinary historian and academic, with an abiding interest in French food, cooking and eating, currently focused on eighteenth-century Provence. Her book on Australian food history, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage, was shortlisted in the non-fiction category of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

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Title: Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse: And Other Lessons from Modern Life

Author: David Mitchell

Genre: Non-Fiction

Blurb: What’s wrong with calling a burglar brave? Why are people so **** hung up about swearing? Why does putting asterisks in that sentence make it okay? Why do so many people want to stop other people doing things, and how can they be stopped from stopping them? Why is every film and TV program a sequel or a remake? Why are we so reliant on perpetual diversion that someone has created chocolate toothpaste? Is there anything to be done about the Internet? These and many other questions trouble David Mitchell as he delights us with a tour of the absurdities of modern life – from Ryanair to Downton Abbey, sports day to smoking, nuclear weapons to phone etiquette, UKIP to hotdogs made of cats. Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse celebrates and commiserates on the state of things in our not entirely glorious nation.

My Thoughts: I have long been a fan of David Mitchell – his dry laconic wit has me in stitches when I watch him on TV in ‘Would I lie to you’ and his frequent appearances on ‘QI,’ so I jumped at the opportunity to read his latest release. THINKING ABOUT IT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE is a collection of his columns that have previously been published in The Observer, now linked into rough chapters, or themes if you will, with headings such as:

· Just turn on your television set and stay in and do something more boring instead, and

· Some things change and some things stay the same – and that’s one of the things that stays the same.

Of course with such wide ranging chapter headings that each contain a plethora of loosely linked articles and the topics make it nigh on impossible to review. There is always going to be some topic that annoys people and other people love, and this is how I found it to be, some left me yawning – others didn’t. I don’t live in the UK – so ALL of these articles are new to me as I don’t read The Observer – however a friend of mine who lives in London complained as he said there was nothing new in the book for him as he avidly reads the columns, so keep that in mind. However, what I DID pick up was that some of the pieces he wrote may have been a bit old, like events happened years ago – and the information no longer as current – so I wasn’t quite as enthralled as I could have been as he didn’t change the tense when he added the pertinent column piece. He could have said that this happened back then, and this is what I thought and then either tells us if there have been any changes and what he thinks now and it would have added a deeper insight. I feel like a traitor for saying I thought just regurgitating his articles was a little bit lazy – he is normally so funny I think he could have pulled a whole new list of the absurdities of modern living to have a go at. I know too that in his introduction Mitchell mentioned that he was going to be complaining about the modern life, but I expected it to be, well, amusing complaining. If not all the time, at the very least some of the time, David Mitchel is a comedian after all – he kept telling us he was a comedian on more than one occasion. But he did do a lot of whinging and I didn’t actually laugh out loud once – whereas I am always cracking up at the things he says on TV – I did smile quite often – and even related to his parents and their Christmas cards. That was me he was writing about too – no card for two years and off the list you go!! But for the most part it just wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be. Maybe it was because it is not a book you should really start at the beginning and read through to the end – which I tried not to do – I was happier when I just dipped in and out of it which is maybe what he intended his readers to do. So if you are a fan of David Mitchell by all means pick up THINKING ABOUT IT ONLY MAKES IT WORSE but dabble with it, treat it like a box of chocolates – read a bit here and a bit there rather than inhale the whole lot – your enjoyment will be better. His voice comes through in his writing and I could almost hear him speaking as I read. I love that in a book.

For more about the author – Click Here

C – Above average. Was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

With thanks to Allen & Unwin and the author for this copy to read and review. Allen & Unwin recommended retail price is $29.99

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Title 1: Slipping into Paradise: Why I Live in New Zealand by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Title 2: Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand by Alexander Elder

Genre: Non-fiction

Blurb: A travelogue is a film, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited by or experiences of a traveller. Both Slipping into Paradise and Straying from the Flock are both touted as New Zealand Travelogues but neither really fitted their descriptions.

1. Slipping into Paradise: Why I Live in New Zealand by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson:

I had very high hopes for this book, I thought to myself who could be more convincing of how wonderful New Zealand is than someone who has chosen to live there after being in so many other countries in the world. Sadly, I did not see Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s paradise all I saw was a person pontificate about anything and everything to with New Zealand. In fact he often mentioned the fact that he has written other scholarly books to prove what an intellectual person he was. There is an expression in Australia ‘You’ve got tickets on yourself’ and this author certainly did on many occasions throughout the book. Mind you, to be fair, I did find out some interesting facts, and some of Masson’s descriptions were amazing, but I was taken aback by the frequent negativity of his opinions about a country that the he was supposed to be touting as paradise. I certainly understood very quickly that politically he is very left of left and this coloured his views on a range of subjects over and above why you should visit New Zealand. The best chapter in the book was actually the very last one where he actually wrote about travelling through New Zealand and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would have been happier if the rest of the book had been about this rather than what turned out to be little more than lectures on fauna, flora and history of New Zealand, some of which was interesting but most had my eyes glazing over. And, strangely, in the first half of the book, Masson went into the psychological differences between various nationalities around the world to prove why New Zealand was a great country; I can’t help but think it was a bit rude to stereotype a whole nation. Overall I think the blurb was a bit misleading when it likened it to Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in Provence

Rating: D – Average – it was OK, a bit of a struggle to finish whatever redeemable aspects there were to this book, they were not fleshed out enough for me to truly enjoy it.

For more about the author – Click Here

2. Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand by Alexander Elder

This was the second book that I purchased before our trip to New Zealand later this year. We have been there on two previous occasions and love it, and always ken to pick up a few tips about places to visit that we may not have been before. To me the title implied that Alexander Elder was not going to follow the flock, he was going to do things differently. Not so…his idea of being different was to use home stay accommodation rather than back packing, caravanning or motels. STRAYING FROM THE FLOCK was easy to read, but was mostly about the deficiencies of the places he stayed and the often derogatory opinions about the people he stayed with as well as some of the tour guides he dealt with rather than his experiences. He set the tone from his first night in New Zealand, right down south on Stewart Island where he bad-mouthed his host whose only crime seemed to be taking Alexander in without a booking and not gushing over him. Then he was less than impressed with a woman who seemed nervous of a strange man arriving late at night while her husband was away – I’m sorry, I’m on the woman’s side. To be fair though, if the woman was nervous on her own, then maybe she shouldn’t make bookings while her husband was away, but Alexander should not have been scornful. He glossed over some of the tours he went on and sites he saw but concentrated on his opinion of a tour guide operator; this happened earlier on in the book when he went on a glacier walk where Alexander recounts the conversation but says nothing about the walk such as the views, the beauty – anything! OK you didn’t like the man – but what did you see that is what I want to know!

Rating: D – Average – it was OK, a bit of a struggle to finish whatever redeemable aspects there were to this book, they were not fleshed out enough for me to truly enjoy it.

For more about the author – Click Here

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Title: Falling in Honey: Life and Love on a Greek Island

Author: Jennifer Barclay

Genre: Non-Fiction

Opening lines: ‘…I am looking for a Greek Island…’

Blurb: Breathtaking ocean views, tranquil beaches, delicious food, and warm-hearted people…these are just a few of the reasons why Jennifer Barclay loves the Greek islands. But her dreams of living there full-time seem out of reach, until a break-up turns her world upside down. Jennifer realizes she is responsible for her own happiness-and decides to cut back on work, stay out of relationships, and vacation for a month on Tilos, her favourite Greek island. Life becomes instantly sweeter, and she resolves to uproot her life to Tilos.

My thoughts: Jennifer Barclay has a great blog – full of little informative snippets, sneak peeks into her life and chock-a-block with photos. I really enjoy reading her posts, feeling her enthusiasm for the island and people she loves. To a certain extent I got this too from her book FALLING IN HONEY but instead of everyday snapshots there is more depth, more personal feelings and a lot less pictures! What Jenny brings us is the bearing of her soul, along with a name change or two to protect the innocent – or not so innocent. The readers also get to be immersed into Tilos – its people, its customs, its history and even its recipes! Jennifer is a very evocative writer you can almost smell the honey, the salty sea, the goats. Along with the evocative smells the reader get a warts and all summary of some disastrous relationships that drives her to the very edge – and each time it is Greece in general and Tilos in particular that brings her back and heals her mental wounds.

Rating: C – Above average. Was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

For more about the author – Click Here

With thanks to Sourcebooks and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: If I Tell You… I’ll Have to Kill You

Editor: Michael Robotham

Genre: Non-Fiction

Opening lines: ‘…So far I’ve killed around seventeen people …’

Blurb: What is the secret to good crime writing? No one better to ask than a group of Australia’s leading crime writers. Their conclusions are fascinating, provocative, often surprising, and they are all drawn from the hard school of personal experience. What pieces of advice do the writers have in common? That there is no substitute for hard work! One tells us there is no such thing as writer’s block – "just do it" is a common theme. There is a fun part though: research. The writers could not vary more in their research and the way they approach it; from Shane Maloney’s near-death experience in a freezer to Leigh Redhead’s adventures as a stripper, Barry Maitland’s endless walks through the streets of London to Gabrielle Lord’s night out at a Gangster and Molls party, the search for ideas and atmosphere is never done and never dull. These writers also read voraciously, and they all give us their five ‘must reads’ – it’s interesting how much they coincide. As do their Rules for Writing. All in all a treasure trove for all fans of crime fiction, be they aspiring writers or simply want to get to know their favourite writers better.

Contributors: Kerry Greenwood, Shane Maloney, Peter Corris, Barry Maitland, Garry Disher, Michael Robotham, Gabrielle Lord, Katherine Howell, Liz Porter, Leigh Redhead, Leah Giarratano, Lindy Cameron, Angela Savage, Malla Nunn, Geoffrey Mcgeachin, Lenny Bartulin, Lindsay Simpson, Marele Day, Peter Lawrance, Tara Moss And Adrian Hyland.

My thoughts: The opening line is from Shane Maloney’s chapter, and he goes on to explain who he has killed off various character’s in his books and how he first decided to kill off the first one. When he has finished telling us – and you have shifted uncomfortably in your seat the next author takes up the baton. I really loved getting into the minds of some of my favourite Crime authors and meeting new ones. Each of the twenty-one authors wrote a chapter giving backgrounds of how they got into writing, what originally inspired them, where they get their inspiration and the lengths that some of them went to in order to find out if they could actually kill a character in the way their muse wanted them to. All of them struggle at times, and all of them have a novel that is hidden away in the back of a drawer never to see the light of day. All of them also recommend that you just sit down and write – doesn’t matter if words flow but put something down. Each chapter is short, easy to read and very chatty, just as if they were sitting in a bar or coffee shop having a yarn with you.

As well as words of wisdom, at the end of the chapter each of the contributing authors was asked to give five rules of writing – even if the first rule is there are no rules! They’re also asked to recommend five must-read books. They range from everything from Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ to Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Interestingly the work that got the most recommendations was Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Big Sleep.’

You don’t need to be a writer to enjoy IF I TELL YOU… I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU the stories are aimed at anyone who is interested in crime, and maybe those who aren’t yet but would like to know what it is all about.

The royalties from this book go towards the Australian Crime Writers Association, which runs the annual Ned Kelly Awards and was established to promote crime writing and reading in Australia.

Rating: C – Above average. Was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

For more about the editor – Click Here

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Title: Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart

Author: Carol Wall

Genre: Non-Fiction

Opening lines: ‘…I never liked getting my hands dirty…’

Blurb: A moving true story of a unique friendship between two people who had nothing-and ultimately everything-in common. Carol Wall was at a crossroads in her life. Her children had flown the nest, her beloved parents were ageing and becoming increasingly reliant on her and she had overcome a serious illness. Her neglected garden was the least of her worries. Until one day she notices an African man tending her neighbour’s yard. His name is Giles Owita. He comes from Kenya. And he’s very good at gardening. Before long Giles is transforming not only Carol’s neglected garden, but her life. Although they appear to have nothing in common, a powerful bond grows between them. But both hold long-buried secrets that will change their friendship forever. This is the story of a woman who at mid-life finds there is so much more to learn and a man whose grace in facing life’s challenges is a lesson for us all.

My thoughts: MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING is a true story. Carol Wall was a woman who was too scared to live her life to the fullest as she had a potential death sentence hanging over her head. As a very young child she was subjected to a high dose of radiation which meant that she would always have to aware there would be the possibility of cancerous tumours in later life. As MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING opens Carol has recovered from a battle with breast cancer, but has not recovered all her happiness. Her garden is very much neglected, just hanging on unloved and untended other than the grass being mowed occasionally; it is all just too hard to deal with. Then she meets Giles Owita an immigrant from Kenya and hires him to tend her garden after she sees what miracles he has worked on a neighbour’s yard. From day one he has set ideas on what needs to be done and while he listens patiently to her instructions he goes and does precisely what he wants. The memoir goes on to concentrate on their growing platonic friendship and its effect on family, friendship, loneliness, love, sorrow, grief, faith, hope and happiness.

I could not put this book down, I fell in love with Carol and Giles from the very first few pages and loved them even more by the end. The garden is just the place where lessons are learned, because in reality MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING is a story of the relationships that we develop with other people and the way that those relationships can impact on our lives and the lives of people connected to us. An utterly worthy read that is uplifting despite the dramas that occur. It is not a fast read; MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING is a book that you immerse yourself in and if you take on board the very profound truths that Carol and Giles learn as they face life threatening diseases then the book is life-changing. Carol eventually learns that she can find joy in the present, and let the future stay in the future:

“…I let my head fall back, startled by the very notion of laughter flying from my deepest heart. Joy was an emotion I had never associated with cancer. Yet Giles seemed to find joy in all of life’s experiences…”

MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING is not a book about religious faith, although Giles and Carol both share a faith and he also teaches her about Kenyan beliefs, the book does nourish the soul and give hope. Carol Wall was open, precise and totally honest as she shared the lessons that she learned from her good friend Giles. It is a book that stayed with me long after I read the last page. As a result I would heartily recommend that you read this book, and see how you can apply Mr Owita’s wisdom and strength to your own life.

Rating: A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.

For more about the author – Click Here

With thanks to Random House Australia and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review

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