Two Inspiring Cookbooks “Moro East” and “The Kitchen Diaries”

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

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.

Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

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.

Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

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.

Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

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.

Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark

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!

Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark

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.

Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark

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?"]

Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark

I am eager to find new cookbooks to devour. What cookbooks are inspiring you?

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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21 thoughts on “Two Inspiring Cookbooks “Moro East” and “The Kitchen Diaries”

  1. When I moved from Manhattan to the coast of Maine, 9 years ago with two small children, I literally did not know how to cook. I was a master at ordering food for delivery, but really did not know anything about shopping or cooking. I would weep almost daily, driving the 20 minutes to the store with children even less happy than I, or almost worse, sleeping (I would have to wake them in parking lot which is not a pretty picture).

    Someone came to our house for dinner and was hysterical because watching me trying to cook was like something from a sitcom. A cross between I Love Lucy and Green Acres.

    A friend, who is an amazing cook, hearing of my comic ineptitude, gave me a looseleaf binder that she had filled with her favorite easy recipes. Between that and Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” (a brilliant book) slowly I learned to cook. Neither book is beautiful, but I am forever in their debt, because they helped me go from loathing to loving the process of preparing food for friends and family.

  2. Oh Gayla, you would love Earth To Table, the new book by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schorrman from the Ancaster Old Mill.

    It’s got stories, beautiful photos and very delicious food.

    Happy eating!

  3. I love “Home Baking:the artful mix of flour and tradition around the world” by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid. It is a beautiful coffee table-sized book with gorgeous pictures, tales of their travels and the recipes they found and now love as a family. They go the villages and cities of the world and look for the breadmakers – in the bakeries, their homes, on street corners or at the community ovens. I love several of their recipes and even learned to make my own semolina crackers from this book. My kitchen reno (in the five to ten year plan) will have a nice book shelf right in the kitchen where I can display the cookbooks I love.

  4. I am suppose to start cooking last year, somehow with much delay I’m still on growing veggies
    Good book I still got a lot from last year’s resolution

  5. I’m still hung up on Jamie Oliver’s book, Jamie at Home. Amazing photographs; wonderful, adventurous, simple and vibrant recipes organized by season/what’s in season; great tips on how to grow your own food and source local produce, game, etc.; plus Jamie is about as colorful and unpretentious a writer as they come.

    Definitely not the right book for a vegetarian, though.

    I also swear by Lydie Marshall’s Soup of the Day. Again, simple steps to simple food, season by season. This time of year, I make a big ol’ pot of soup every week for my hubby and I — we’ve got yummy lunches, simple suppers and a little left for the freezer.

    The Moro East books looks and sounds fascinating. I love how it’s attached to cultural stories and a time and place in history. I’m sure, being pretty Anglo and Euro in my own food history, I could learn some amazing things from this book. Thanks for the tips, Gayla!

  6. I love all of these suggestions and the personal stories you’ve attached. Please keep them coming!

    I actually picked up the first Moro book today because it was just as inspiring.

    I looked into some of the books you mentioned but they just weren’t in stock. Will keep the names handy for when I’m in used bookstores.

  7. Oh, I also love Moro East. Such a touching story and wonderful flavors and people.

    Lately, seems I’ve been inspired mostly by other English cookbooks… As invisiblebees mentions, Jamie at Home has been a favorite since the get-go, for the flavors he creates, the basic but enthusiastic gardening tips, and the design of the book. Love the flat, stamp-like artwork and atmospheric photos.

    More recently, I’ve been trying recipes from the Ottolenghi cookbook, which is written by two expats from the middle east, one a Jew and the other Palestinian, from Jerusalem. Think pomegranate, feta, sumac, lamb, yogurt, mint… plus gorgeous sweets.

    Also, Skye Gyngell’s A Year in My Kitchen. She’s the chef at London’s Petersham Nursery Cafe (a plant nursery with a beautiful cafe!)… Though she’s Australian, the book feels very English. It’s arranged seasonally, and at the front, she describes a “toolkit” for putting together a great many of the beautiful recipes. Also, lovely impressionistic, atmospheric photos.

  8. I absolutely adore a gorgeously photographed and penned cookbook. The cookbook area of my kitchen has morphed, upon marrying 2 years ago, into 2 full shelves plus an auxiliary stand-alone vintage houseplant rack exclusively packed with baking books (I’m the baker ’round here, while hubs does most of the cooking, although we collaborate heavily on everything).

    I feel in love with Diana Henry’s “Crazy Water Pickled Lemons” about 1 1/2 years ago. Not only are the photos stunning, the writing is absolutely transcendent. You are whisked away to the Middle East, the Mediterranean, or North Africa recipe after recipe. There is a heavy emphasis on fresh herb use, as well, which appeals to me beyond description.

    I’ve also become quite enamored of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr’s “The River Cottage Family Cookbook” as well as Fearnley-Whittingstall’s entire River Cottage book series: http://www.rivercottage.net/Category11/RiverCottageBooks.aspx. As you very well may know, he’s been hugely influential in the landshare/allotments movement in the U.K.. The man is a personal hero (having inspired me to share my own farmable land this past growing season with a young farmer) and his books are gorgeous and didactic to the core.

    Lastly, food magazines are a personal passion. I can get lost for hours at a nearby bookstore with a stack of food (and gardening!) magazines and a frothy cappuccino. Favorites include “Delicious”, “Donna Hay,” “Olive,” “Good Food”. Jamie Oliver’s new magazine “Jamie” is pretty fun and lovely, as well.

  9. Oh where to start….

    I third the Jamie at Home, if only because he mentions using Kilner jars- my last name and the equivalent of our mason jars. I’ve never actually seen one.

    I adore cookbooks that include story elements- one of my faves is the Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen! His stories of sampling grilled things all over the world make it a joy to read and the recipes range from simple to completely obscure.

    I also loved reading Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos. Part travelogue, part cookbook – I am unlikely to ever attempt any of the recipes from it ( except maybe lap- so tasty!) but my mouth watered so hard while reading it.

    My own collection tends to be more of my mother and grandmother’s era. My faves are the submitted recipe collections- The United Church Women’s Cookbook, the Salvation Army Cookbook. I also own a very battered ( no pun intended- hah!) copy of the Guide to Good Cooking- “..recipes chosen from the contributions of over fifteen thousand users of Five Roses Flour”- revised 1960- which I use quite frequently for basics like scones and pastry.

    Like you Gayla I have limited myself to one shelf in the kitchen, which means I must purge every so often to make room. I have a second shelf for my ever growing collection of Food and Drink magazine from the LCBO which I’ve been collecting since 1998- but that’s another story!

  10. I have to agree with the some of the comments above, Jamie Oliver’s later books are brilliant. I know he comes across as a bit mainstream but the way he has embraced the home garden and cooking with fresh seasonal ingredients relates with my personal food philosophy.

  11. Nigel Slater is one of my favourite food writers. I have recently moved from Canada to Europe and have subscribed to the RHS magazine (The Garden) where he has a monthly column on growing veggies and what do with them. He doesn’t include detailed recipies, just mouthwatering suggestions for bringing out the best flavours in your garden veggies. Much more useful than the complicated recipies in some magazines. I will definitely get his cookbook.

    P.S. Love your blog! I’ve been a fan for a while, but first time to comment.

  12. There is a fantastic pumpkin recipe on about page 192 of the Moro book.
    (Of course it may not be on that page at all and somewhere completely different but it is definitely worth a rummage.)

  13. I order from my account in amazon.ca and got it today I’ll have them for christmas present/ 1 down…. a long way to go!!!!!

  14. Gayla the cook books you’ve chosen are two of my favourites; a friend works at Moro, and Nigel- oh lovely Nigel – he rivals Dan Pearson as my pin-up. He’s just released a new one but I forget its name.

    (James A-S, you’re everywhere at the moment.)

  15. Really late commenting on this but couldn’t resist.

    Love the Jamie at Home book and the River Cottage Family one.

    But my current favourite is Leon – naturally fast food. Its recipes are from a chain of restaurants of the same name in the UK (although I’ve not eaten there). This book is full of personal, family, old recipes and stories and the artwork is wonderful. It’s really quirky.

    For vegetarian food I love “Gaia’s Kitchen” (veggie recipes for family and community) based on the meals served at the Schumacher College in Devon. The college “aims to explore alternative approaches that embody holistic rather than reductionist perspective and ecological rather than consumerist values”.

    Oh, and Nigel has a new book out called Tender to go with a TV series (not sure if you can access the BBC iPlayer in the US).

    Wow, sorry for the ramble – didn’t realise how interested and passionate I was in cookbooks….

  16. Love Nigel Slater and have is APPETITE cookbook. I love the way he provides a recipe to follow but gives you complete leeway (and suggestions) to veer off the recipe. It’s like someone giving you a map but complete freedom to find your own path.

    I was just flipping through this book to let you know which recipes I’ve tried and I am completely salivating. Warm & Crumbly Fruit Tart is wonderful and Deeply Savory Noodles As Hot As You Like Them is great.

    I adore books, have a much larger collection than I have room for and time and time again the books I read, re-read and read again are my cookbooks. I will certainly be curling up with this one tonight and keeping my eyes peeled for the Kitchen Diaries.

  17. Liane: Yes! That’s what I like about his writing as well… because when i do use recipes, I always change it. Appetite is the book I want but so far no luck finding it here.

  18. Okay Gayla, you are a bad influence on me… my mantra has been “no new books – go to the library – no new books… yada yada” and I just had to order Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries (found a used copy – love used books) and I finally ordered the Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More you had blogged about during the summer.

    I’m such an easy mark when it comes to books. I can’t wait til the arrive!

    Liane

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