As usual I’m acquiring books faster than I can read them, although I have placed a light moratorium on cookbooks. Last year I mentioned a sudden and insatiable craving for cookbooks. A year later and I have no where to put them! The cookbook monster has been placed on a leash for the time being.
What I wrote then about how I read cookbooks has held true. I don’t follow recipes; I look at pictures. I recently followed a recipe to the letter. It was in the book “The French Market: More Recipes from a French Kitchen.” This is a gorgeous book with lovely photos that make me ache to live in France just so I can take photos of bundles of flowers set inside old, dirty creme fresh buckets. Sure, why not. Unfortunately, I absolutely hated the recipe. In all fairness to the author and the other recipes that are probably delicious and perfect, it was for chicken liver pate, which is a very specific and acquired taste. Turns out I do not have a taste for this particular pate and neither do my friends. I now have 2 bowls of the stuff sitting in the fridge.
But you know what? For some inexplicable reason I had it in my head that I would like to try making pate, just for the heck of it. Just to know what that was all about. And I did. And it was greasy and awful. Moving on.
The way I “read” cookbooks is by sitting on the couch and flipping through the pretty pictures. And I dream. Usually the pictures get me thinking in a new way about an ingredient I am currently growing in the garden. In the winter it adds fuel to my excitement about the coming season and how rich my life will be when a specific ingredient becomes available. Sometimes the photos make me want to pick up my camera and take pictures. Sometimes they make me really hungry.
One cookbook author I do read is Nigel Slater. He’s my current favourite. I mentioned “The Kitchen Diaries” last year, a book I still pull out regularly to gaze at lovingly and run my hand over the beautiful paper. Since that post I have also read his autobiography, “Toast“, and book of essays about British food called, “Eating for England.”
And then for Valentine’s Day, Davin bought me the most beautiful book in the history of books, “Tender: Volume 1.” It’s a cookbook, but it is also about his vegetable garden. It’s pretty much perfect for gardeners who love food. The book is divided into chapters, each with a focus on one vegetable. He begins each chapter with personal anecdotes about that vegetable, how he grows it in his garden, and how he prepares it in the kitchen. The rest of the chapter is just one mouthwatering photo after another, and several recipes that feature the vegetable. I could go on about this book for days, but I intend to write about three more today!
Next up is City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, by my friend Lorraine Johnson. I was reading and loving Lorraine’s books long before I finally met her. I’m not quite sure how I found them or which one I found first; however, she was one of the first garden writers I discovered that was writing about the subject in a way that related to my own experiences. She was the garden writer I most wanted to meet and happily turned out to be the first to offer me a kind word and a show of support. An early book, “The Gardener’s Manifesto“, was well before its time, and remains one of my very favourite books about gardening ever written. Sadly it is now out of print. Her newest book is a tribute to urban gardening in all its forms. It is both a personal account of her own experiences as an urban farmer and an introduction to an assortment of interesting urban food producers. The book is also peppered with little how-to nuggets and words of encouragement to get urbanites started on a new approach to city life. Lorraine is an excellent storyteller; I ate this book up in one sitting.
Look, I’m one of the converted. I maintain four very urban gardens, I have read several books on this topic and generally feel like there is nothing new about urban gardening that I don’t already know, and yet I finished this book with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and excitement. My feeling at the end was, “Yes, let’s do this thing! Oh right, I already am.”
City Farmer is not yet available in the US, but I have a signed copy to give away. Use the comments to share a book the is currently inspiring you. I will randomly choose one winner on Friday, July 9.
It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, and even though it has absolutely nothing to do with gardening, I feel very compelled to mention, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. What a great novel. I shot through it quickly, taking every spare moment I could find to dive into the story. It’s about slavery in Jamaica and it is not a book that tiptoes lightly around this subject. Be forewarned, there is a lot of brutality and violence. It paints a very real portrait of what life must have been like for everyone caught in this depraved system. There are no clearly defined “bad people” to hate in this story. No simple suggestion that some people are inexplicably evil. It is much more complex and insightful than that and filled with interesting observations about human nature and how we lose our humanity. It was not an easy read, but I got a lot from it. It also lead me to some new historical information that was unknown to me previously.
My friend Barry introduced me to Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor PerÃƒÂ©nyi. A post I wrote outlining the traits that make a good gardener reminded him of an essay in the book called “Failures”, all about how failure is an essential part of gardening. Unfortunately I am yet to find a copy of the original gem published in 1981, but I scooped up this reissued version on the cheap at a discount bookstore I frequent here in Toronto. Since then I’ve been doling the book out in chunks, opening it up at random pages and reading it essay by essay. The writing is beautiful and I was surprised to discover, very funny. Eleanor PerÃƒÂ©nyi has a wry, sometimes slightly wicked sense of humor and a general ease about gardening that I can relate to. She takes the piss out of herbalists (although I do not agree with what she says about herbs), pesticide use, and sexism in gardening, while making an elegant plea for earthworms and weeds at a time in the gardening world when such things desperately needed an advocate. You’ll like this book.