A few months back I decided not to do reviews anymore. Not that I did many in the first place, but the decision lifted a huge load off of my shoulders. It’s the difference between just not doing something, and making a conscious, said out-loud choice not to do something.
I love books, yet for some reason I do not enjoy reviewing them. Which is funny, because I love talking about them. Ask me what I’m currently reading and prepare to hear an earful. My Good Reads account is overflowing with lists of books I have read, am currently reading, or am hoping to find. I enjoy updating my lists and finding out what my friends are reading. But I never write reviews there either.
Recently, the FTC ruled that bloggers must disclose the items they receive free for review. I always did, so that ruling would not have affected me, and 9 times out of 10 the items I reviewed were those that I had purchased myself anyway, and not books that were sent by a publisher. This kerfuffle had nothing to do with my decision and came well after I had made up my mind.
All of that preamble to say that while I am no longer writing reviews in the traditional sense, I still plan to make mention of books and gardening related things that really inspire me. So basically, I’m not changing anything, just reasserting my desire to keep it limited to what moves me.
This summer I developed an insatiable desire for beautiful cookbooks and have been surprised by how many times I have walked into my favourite used bookstores around town with the express purpose of perusing the cookbook section exclusively. I have long kept the cookbooks in my home limited to one shelf. Part of my reason for this is a complete lack of ability to follow a recipe as it is written. I always make some change, or alter the idea completely. But it seems that now, more than ever, cookbooks are moving far beyond a list of recipes and into the realm of storytelling and journal-keeping. I am finding this movement very inspiring and am eager to search out more in this vein.
Eating is both personal and communal. Bringing that warmth and the individual charm of the writer into the package as a story makes great sense. The daily journal aspect of this movement also forces the story into a seasonal context very naturally. Over the years we have shifted our eating patterns closer to eating as seasonably as we can while allowing ourselves the occasional spontaneous treat. We’ve also upped the amount of food we freeze and I don’t have to remind you about my little canning problem. I am finding that the result of this is a greatly intensified and almost childlike love of the food I eat and an excitement about seasonal changes on a new level. I don’t take simple things like strawberries and pears for granted anymore. I am constantly gearing up for the next season and the treats that I know are coming down the pipeline.
The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater closely follows this journal-style model. The book is structured around a year in his eating life and offers personal stories about shopping at the market, yet includes lots of follow-along directions if needed. The result is a book filled with spontaneous seasonal meals — pretty much how most of us eat casually outside of special occasions and holidays.
I haven’t made any of the recipes yet, but have been told by others who love the book and are long term fans that there are recipes in there that have turned out to be personal favourites.
As you can see, the photographs are stunning and the paper the book is printed on is like butter. How he had the patience and commitment to wait until the food was photographed (by his partner) before diving into each meal day in and day out for an entire year is beyond me.
I’m now on a quest to get more books by Nigel Slater including his memoir. And I am also told that he writes a regular gardening column for the RHS.
While, Moro East doesn’t follow a journal format in the traditional sense, it does chronicle, through photos and recipes, the last year in the life of an allotment garden in East London before it was demolished to make way for an Olympic hockey stadium. Members of this unique gardening community are predominantly Turkish or Cypriot so the recipes contained therein are all inspired by seasonal, homegrown cooking of Muslim Mediterranean origin.
Many of the recipes were cooked or prepared on site utilizing whatever was on hand in their garden. There is great inspiration for us gardeners with techniques and flavour combinations that had never occurred to me before. This recipe called Wanderer’s Soup is very much like the nettle soup we make in the spring when the nettles are young and tender, but includes nutmeg, cloves, and bay leaves. I can’t wait to try this next year!
The photographs by Toby Glanville are so friendly, warm, and captivating, I actually teared up going through the pages the first time. Both the garden and gardeners are photographed as they are on any given day, with no pretension or set decorating. I still get a chill and a rush of inspiration whenever I take another look.
This is my favourite photograph in the book. I want to garden alongside someone with enough sense of humour to wear that shirt. [It says, "Who's the Daddy?"]
I am eager to find new cookbooks to devour. What cookbooks are inspiring you?