Winter Reading

I haven’t done much book buying or reading recently, but it’s been ages since I’ve done a book round-up and there have certainly been books in the months since I last wrote about what I’m reading.

Crazy Water Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa, by Diana Henry – I’ve been obsessed with recipe books featuring food from this region ever since I fell in love with Moro East and later its predecessor, Moro: The Cookbook. These are both fantastic books and I would recommend starting there if you are interested in food from that part of the world.

I was drawn to purchase Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by the title as well as the sound of some of the dishes, most especially Lavender, Orange, and Almond Cake. I thought about making it for months and finally got the chance the other night. Big let down. The flavour combination IS gorgeous, but the cake was way out of balance, using far too much butter. I ended up with a cake that was burned on the outside before it completely cooked on the inside. We’re eating it anyway. Davin likes it and says it tastes caramelized. I think it tastes burnt, and will come up with my own version the next time I make it.

Despite a bad start, I still think the book is incredibly inspiring and worth buying for that reason alone. Diana Henry tells stories about discovering new foods in the Middle East that have reignited my enthusiasm for basic ingredients, like parsley, and sparked new ways for me to think about using those ingredients in my own, less exotic cooking. I am eager to try Stuffed Figs Dipped in Chocolate (they’re stuffed with marzipan!) and Cardamom-Baked Figs and Plums with Burnt Honey and Yoghurt Pannacotta when fig season rolls back around.

Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’ Alusio – I bought this book at the thrift store for a couple of bucks just the other day and I am already enjoying it thoroughly. In theory, I’m 100% behind the idea of eating bugs, the hard part is getting beyond the gag reflex to actually do it. Ten years ago, we ate grasshoppers in Oaxaca City, Mexico and really enjoyed them. We bought our first taste in a little plastic baggie. They were fried and coated in chile powder. Later, we tried them sprinkled on top of cactus paddle salad. This was a great salad that we ended up sharing several times over the course of the week we stayed in Oaxaca. The grasshoppers reminded us of bacon bits. At least as far as I could remember the taste of bacon. By that point I had been a vegetarian for over a decade.

I think I could muster up the courage to eat ants and smaller larvae as long as they are dead and buried inside a tortilla and I don’t have to see them. The trick is getting a taste for them before I have to look at what I’m eating. I’m not saying I couldn’t muster up the courage to eat a tarantula or a large, squirming larvae, it’s just that it would take a lot of resolve to do so.

This book has great pictures, but what I’m enjoying most are the stories the writers tell as they travel around the world trying out many of these insects for the first time. It’s fascinating stuff and my curiosity around the strange and intriguing foods people eat is what keeps me coming back to wanting to try more insects. They describe tarantula as oily, but surprisingly un-hairy. It’s the hair that puts me off most, so you never know… perhaps I could try it after-all.

High and Dry: Gardening with Cold-Hardy Dryland Plants, by Robert Nold – I’m borrowing this book from my friend Barry in anticipation of a trip to Denver, Colorado this June, where I will be giving two presentations at the Denver Botanic Garden. I’m really looking forward to this trip. The alpine gardens are supposed to be incredible and I can not wait to make the trek up into the mountains to see them growing in their element.

When it comes to garden books, I prefer those that are photo-heavy, which is the main reason why I go a bit crazy taking photos for my own books. Unfortunately, this book isn’t satisfying in that regard, but it is packed with information that I hope will serve as inspiration when it comes time to choose a few alpines for my new garden this spring.

Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden by Paul Bonine – This book was a birthday gift from Barry that I’ve dipped into now and again since last July. It’s not terribly informative, but it’s not meant to be a resource. Instead, it’s the sort of little book that you pick up when you’re looking for something new and intriguing to add to your garden. If you’re into black plants, you’ll recognize a few old favourites and many more that you’ll want to add immediately. The spread on Fritillaria persica is making me regret not buying the bulbs this fall, but I couldn’t justify the expense at the time. Maybe next year.

Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, by Nigel Slater – I purchased and read this book ages ago, but realized I haven’t talked about it here. Nigel Slater is a writer I look up to. One of my main and perhaps most daunting longterm goals is to write a personal memoir type book around gardening. If I can write one that is half as good as Mr. Slater’s, I’ll be pleased. Toast is filled with touching personal stories that centre around his childhood and adolescence growing up in suburban England in the 1960′s. You’ll love this book.

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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8 thoughts on “Winter Reading

  1. I got Man Eating Bugs a few years ago at a used bookstore. I loved it. I couldn’t get my mom to read it though. She was grossed out by the photo on the cover (and yet we say “don’t judge a book by its cover”).

    Have you read any of the other books by Peter Menzel and/or Faith D’ Alusio (What the World Eats, Hungry Planet, Material World, What I Eat)? They’re all really good (especially the photography).

  2. Daedre: I haven’t heard of their other books. Thanks, I will check them out.

    We definitely judge a book by its cover. I sure do.

  3. These all look like excellent picks, especially Nigel Slater’s book. It’s incredibly hard to write about personal experiences and make them engaging, funny, and easy to relate to. I love writers that do it. But, we all do.

    On Eating Bugs: Crickets seem like an easy way to start, but moving up to tarantulas, grubs, and other crawlies would be hard for me. Maybe if they were chopped up and unrecognizable as bugs?

  4. One memory from my childhood in Nigeria is of bawling uncontrollably for being denied the permission, of my parents, to partake in eating some particularly juicy looking crickets that our gardener had caught. I just knew that I was going to miss a delightful feast.
    I was to later eat roasted grasshoppers, but I thought they had a rather weedy (unsurprisingly) taste that I didn’t fancy- perhaps they were supposed to have been gutted before being roasted.
    The best insects I’ve ever eaten are newly emerged termites. They usually come out of the ground about three days after a rainfall, fluttering about on their delicate wings. They are strongly attracted to light, and so we place wide basins of water under the outdoor lights and proceed to knocking them into the water with our palm-leaf-stalk brooms. It was also a feast for the geckos, which we considered unwelcome opportunists. When most of the termites were gathered, we’d salt them and toss them around in a pot coated with oil.
    Simply delicious!!!!!!!!

  5. very much liked Toast, very moving, Mr Slater wrote so vividly about his childhood memories it was painful to read, he seems like a very kind person who overcame a difficult start in life

  6. If you’re interested in Middle Eastern cooking, check out the two Ottolenghi cookbooks — an Israeli/Palestinian partnership that’s behind a series of cafes & restaurants in London– Yotam Ottolenghi also writes a vegetarian column in the Guardian. BRILLIANT cookbooks, I use them both constantly, and in the top ten lists of last year of many food critics in the UK.

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