NON-FICTION REVIEWS 2012 G-M (BY TITLE)

HOW ESKIMOS KEEP THEIR BABIES WARM: PARENTING WISDOM FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Author: Mei-Ling Hopgood
Pan Macmillan RRP $29.99
Review: Monique MulliganPicture

Whether you’re a new parent, an experienced parent, a step-parent or a parent to be, there is always someone who knows more than you. You can count on them (and there might be more than one) to share their knowledge (most of it well-meaning) and show you how you really should be doing things. Of course, they usually have a book to back up their advice – books with titles like The Tantrum Free Household, How Naughty Corners Lead to Enlightenment and 1 Million and One Playtime Ideas You Really Must Try Or You Are Not Trying Enough. You love those people, right? And the books, right? Admit it, you’ve probably been one of those people yourself … and my guess is, like me, you’ve had “just the right book” to set a friend or two straight once in a while.

Journalist Mei Ling Hopgood, mother of a young daughter (two-and-a-half at publication), says parenting has been an eye-opener. Before becoming a parent she had the opportunity to travel for her career and she observed many “cultural eccentricities” related to child-raising that might have made her “marvel, laugh, or gasp in horror”. After her daughter was born, she let her instincts take over – she did read blogs, magazines and other books, but often found they left her feeling inadequate (I know that feeling and as the mother of teens, I still feel it sometimes). She decided to explore how parents in other countries raised their children, with some interesting and surprising insights.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm lifts the lid on how other cultures parent their children, covering issues such as bedtime, potty training and playtime squabbles. Rather than yet another “how to” book, Hopgood’s book simply offers new perspectives on how to do things. How do Chinese potty train early and why do Asian children tend to excel in school? How do the French teach their children to eat healthy food and why do children in Buenos Aires stay up so late?

I found this an amusing and insightful read – as Hopgood reveals, there are many ways to be a good parent and more than one way to raise a child. I particularly liked reading how French children eat what their parents eat – there’s no kids’ food. You just need to let your instincts guide you, learn from your mistakes, and try to be the best parent you can be for your child.

Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan Australia. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.


 

HISTORY OF THE WORLD, A
Author: Andrew Marr
Pan Macmillan RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

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Published in conjunction with a new BBC One television series, A History of The World by Andrew Marr is an informative and refreshing read that will appeal to history buffs and those who like to expand their world knowledge.

World history, and our understanding of it, is in a constant state of flux. New discoveries are being made every day – medical, geographical, archaeological – and so our long-held beliefs and prejudices are being challenged regularly. In A History of The World Marr revisits some of the traditional epic stories, from classical Greece and Rome to the rise of Napoleon, but surrounds them with less familiar material, from Peru to the Ukraine, China to the Caribbean. He looks at cultures that have failed and vanished, as well as the origins of today’s superpowers, and finds surprising echoes and parallels across vast distances and epochs. While traditional histories can tend to be Euro-centric, telling mankind’s story through tales of Greece and Rome and the crowned heads of Europe’s oldest monarchies, Marr widens the lens concentrating as much, if not more, on the Americas, Africa and Asia. It sounds like a lot to take in, but the way it’s done makes it easy to absorb.

Instead of focusing on one episode of history taking place in one place, Marr draws surprising parallels and makes fascinating connections, focusing on a key incident or episode to tell a larger story. For example, the liberation of the serfs in Russia took place at the same time as the American Civil War, which resulted in the abolition of slavery in the US – this account begins with an episode in the life of Tolstoy, who racked up huge gambling debts and had to sell land and slaves as a result.

What I found interesting is how a few larger than life people (not a lot of them good) shaped the history of the world – I enjoyed reading about the effect they had on others, thus directing the course of history. It’s one of those books that’s easy to pick up, read a bit, put down and then pick up a few days later without feeling “lost”; it’s also a book that managed to hold my interest the whole way through. For those looking for something that gives a general historical overview, without dwelling too much on the specifics, A History of the World hits the spot.

Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.


 

MY UMBRIAN KITCHEN
Author: Patrizia Simone
Lantern RRP $59.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

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It’s often said, “Never shop when you’re hungry”. I think the same adage applies to reading through a new cookbook, especially one as gorgeous as My Umbrian Kitchen by Patrizia Simone. Apart from stimulating my taste-buds, this book has also stimulated my inner travel bug!

Opening “a simple eatery where we could serve regional Italian dishes using local produce” was a long-held dream for Umbrian-Australian chef Patrizia Simone. When she moved with her husband to the alpine town of Bright, in north-east Victoria, her dream slowly became reality. The beautiful mountain town (I have visited it several times) with its “mountains and rivers, distinct seasons and abundant produce” suited both her vision and cooking style; for years the couple ran a motel with a restaurant, later moving to a villa and establishing the award-winning Simone’s Restaurant and a cooking school.

Years later, sitting in an Umbrian piazza with fellow chef Stephanie Alexander, Patrizia was encouraged to write her stories, showing how her life has been enriched by “what has gone before”. The result is this book, which shares the time-honoured rituals, stories and treasured family recipes from her childhood in rural Italy that inspire the dishes she serves in her celebrated restaurant. Part memoir, part cookbook this beautifully-designed book highlights traditions and a way of life that can be fused with modern methods to create a rewarding culinary experience.

The recipes and accompanying narrative are separated into the four seasons – each season is celebrated and anticipated for its produce: “Summer means bottling and drying tomatoes … autumn also means mushroom hunting, heading off to the chestnut grove and making preserves … we greet the first warmth of spring with relief – roses and violets, fresh herbs, asparagus and broadbeans are a joy after the long cold months.” Instant gratification is overruled by a focus on tradition – which is what I’m aspiring to do in my home as much as I can. Within each season, there is a focus on two very different regions – Umbria, Italy and Bright, Australia.

From the simplest pork ribs grilled over hot coals, delicate salads of spring flowers, handmade pasta and fruit-filled crostate to elegant dishes using that most Umbrian of ingredients, the truffle, there is something for food lover in this book. There are so many things in here I want to cook, it’s hard to know where to start – Lina pollo al limone (Lina’s crispy crumbed lemon chicken from the fire), Tiramasu, Amaretti and Honey Fritters look like a good place to start. Most of the recipes are what I’d call weekend recipes – owing in part to some of the ingredients and the time needed for cooking.

While my taste-buds are tempted, I have to say that I’m more taken by the book for the stories it contains, both in pictures and words. The photography is beautiful and even if I don’t cook a lot of the recipes, this will be a book I go back to again and again, just to satisfy my appetite for Italy itself.

Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. This copy was courtesy of Penguin Books.


 

MIGHTY SPICE COOKBOOK
Author: John Gregory-Smith
Simon & Schuster RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
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My taste buds started jumping the second I opened the Mighty Spice Cookbook. For starters, it’s a lovely looking book; for seconds, the recipes sound divine and simple to make. Which means, I have some new recipes to try.

Spices have been used in kitchens for thousands of years and they are as relevant today as they have always been – versatile, healthy, economical, easy to obtain, and, more importantly, utterly delicious. However, many people find spices confusing and equate them to endless shopping lists or old jars sitting in their kitchen cupboard.Mighty Spice Cookbook aims to change these misconceptions by showing people how easy it is to create mouth-watering recipes, full of flavour. Author John Gregory-Smith brings home cooks a wonderful collection of recipes from all over the world including China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco and Mexico.

Why spices? In the book’s introduction, Gregory-Smith reveals that he travelled the world “to learn as much as I could about how different countries and cuisines use spices”. He cooked, ate, explored and opened his palate to a variety of taste sensations; through his vivid descriptions, his excitement can still be felt. I loved his description of the markets in Old Delhi – “Beautiful madness: smelly for the right and wrong reasons”. I haven’t been there, but Gregory-Smith’s words took me there.

Being a keen cook, I’m planning to get stuck into cooking a bunch of the recipes in the Mighty Spice Cookbook, so my family will be in for a sensory treat. I’m eyeing off most of them, but for starters I’ll be trying Coconut & Ginger Chicken Stir-Fry, Gung Bao Chicken, Ciya Shish Kebabs, Vietnamese Star Anise & Lemongrass Chicken Claypot and Dark Chocolate Clove & Cinnamon Brownies. Want to make a chicken dish for supper, for example? Each recipe uses easy techniques and a maximum of five from the 25 key spices covered. Buon appetito!

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster. 


AT HOME ON THE RANGE
Author: Margaret Yardley Potter, with foreword by Elizabeth Gilbert
Bloomsbury RRP $35
Review: Monique Mulligan
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I love a cookbook with personality and At Home on the Range by Margaret Yardley Potter has personality plus. The book, introduced by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), Margaret’s great-granddaughter, makes for an enjoyable read and promises clever and creative cooking.

When Gilbert unpacked some boxes of family books that had been sitting in her mother’s attic for decades she found this cookbook written by Potter. She’d seen the book on family bookshelves, but until then had never opened it. “Maybe I was prejudiced, didn’t expect much from the writing…” she writes in the forewords, admitting that once opened, she “read it in one rapt sitting”.

What Gilbert discovered, over a lamb shank dinner with her husband, was a cookbook far ahead of its time, and not only that – it was funny, insightful and sophisticated. First published in 1947, Potter’s cookbook espouses the importance of farmer’s markets and ethnic food (Italian, Jewish and German), derides preservatives and culinary shortcuts and generally celebrates a devotion to epicurean adventures. She takes car trips out to Pennsylvania Dutch country to eat pickled pork products, and to the eastern shore of Maryland, where she learns to catch and prepare eels so delicious, she says, they must be “devoured in a silence almost devout”.

This book is a gem and I can see why Gilbert was so excited when she finally read it. Not only does it give an insight into a lifestyle long past, it is written in a warm, self-deprecating style (with a touch of acerbic wit at times) that is similar to Gilbert’s own. I enjoyed the way Potter built recipes into her recollections almost conversationally; it’s easy to imagine her talking to her grand-daughter over a cup of tea and home-baked biscuits, sharing the recipes along the way. I was particularly intrigued by her “get on with it” attitude to regular, hungry house guests courtesy of her husband, and laughed at her tripe or divorce dilemma.

The end of the book has some recipes carefully reproduced by Gilbert to make for easier following – I plan to make Quick Tea Cookies (though I think I’ll pass on the Kidney Stew).

Available from good bookstores and Bloomsbury Publishing. This copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury.  


 

LIVELOVELAUGH
Authors: Janette Philp, Michelle Ferry & Terri Gibbs
Three LLL’s $19.95
Review: Monique Mulligan
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Are you living the life you want, but find yourself too busy to make meaningful change? Have you created SHRR in your life? When you simply feel Stuck in your Habits and Routines, resulting in a Rut?

LiveLoveLaugh aims to inspire people to make change, while nurturing their souls at the same time. It contains thought-provoking and sometimes obvious (as in, “How could I miss this?”) tips and ideas to help the soul-searcher from “gaaahhhh” to “aaahhhh”.

“If you obey all the rules you miss out on all the fun.” – Katherine Hepburn

I started reading it with my feet plonked in a foot spa, scented salts and a gentle massage relaxing me after a tiring weekend. What a great way to slow me down! I found myself absorbed and had to limit myself to a couple of pages so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed by all the thoughts each topic provoked. I wanted to go get myself out of a rut all at once!

“If I can’t be free, I can’t be me.” – Thom Thompson

Each double page has a quote and a short and sweet exploration of the idea put forward by the quote, as well as a suggestion for action. It has a simple and elegant layout inside; in contrast, the hot pink cover is vibrant and inspires enthusiasm. My mother was drawn to it and commented on what a lovely book it was; I think I will have to get her a copy.

LiveLoveLaugh would make a lovely gift for friends, mothers, sisters, employees, teachers, helpful neighbours… It’s a motivating read that may just challenge you to make some changes. I know it did for me.

“Laughter is an instant vacation.” – Milton Berle

To buy this book, visit Three LLL’s. This copy was courtesy of Janette Philp.