22 December 2015

We Three Books...

Visiting bookshops during the Christmas season is a little bit of heaven.  Over the past couple of weeks I've been in chain shops, independent shops, and clicked on-line.  So what have I treated myself to?

A Notable Woman: The romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt edited by Simon Garfield

  'In April 1925, Jean Lucey Pratt began writing a journal.  She continued to write until just a few days before her death in 1986, producing well over a million words in 45 exercise books during the course of her lifetime.  For sixty years, no one had an inkling of her diaries' existence, and they have remained unpublished until now.'

Jean Lucey Pratt contributed to the Mass Observation project but under the pseudonym 'Maggie Joy Blunt'.  Owning a copy of Our Hidden Lives (also edited by Simon Garfield) I looked for her entries and immediately fell in love with her voice and wanted to know more.

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell
  'From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book explores the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at more than three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents.  (Sadly, we've yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole).'

...and my favourite bit...'This book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.'

Jen Campbell wrote Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and as someone who works in a public library...yes, customers say weird things there too.  This book is a sheer delight and has made a great gift for library friends who can relate.

I'm so looking forward to reading this book.  Some of my favourite bookshops in London are covered and Toronto also gets a mention as having the smallest bookshop in the world.  There are photos as well;  I loved the picture of a shop in Portugal, that looks similar to a VW van that has been retro-fitted to serve as a very quaint shop.

Stories From the Kitchen - Everyman's Pocket Classics

    '...is a one-of-a-kind anthology of classic tales showcasing the culinary arts from across the centuries and around the world.
  Here is a mouthwatering smorgasbord of stories with food in the starring role, by a range of masers of fiction - from Dickens to Chekhov to Isaac Bashevis Singer, from Shirley Jackson to Jim Crace and Amy Tan.'

This would make a perfect gift for your favourite foodie.  I've read the excerpt from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and will just have to succumb to reading the whole book.  Does Minta ever find her grandmother's brooch on the beach?  Saki's Tea was as humourous as I thought it would be, and Emile Zola's The Cheese Symphony from The Belly of Paris is so rich in detail.  The writing is sublime and something that very likely could have passed me by if not for this glimpse at authors I've never read before.  I need more Zola!

Special mention goes to a beautiful new calendar for next year A La Belle Jardiniere.  

Merry Christmas to all of you who have stopped by!

18 December 2015

Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater

I rank the delights of baking much higher than time spent cooking at the stove.  I'm also one of those people who borrow cookbooks from the library to admire what others have accomplished with no intention of wading in myself.  And when I want something soothing on in the background while working on a knitting project, listening to Nigel Slater describe his dinner is as good as any classical music channel.

My memories of food and the kitchen when I was growing up wouldn't hold anyone's attention.  My parents were afraid of under-cooked meat so chops were crisp and curled, roast dinners were started at dawn and stayed in the oven until dinnertime.  Sandwiches were made with luncheon meat from packages when I know full well there were deli butchers aplenty.  My father was the one who first entrusted me with a frying pan at the stove.  He taught me to make scrambled eggs....like a pancake.  I suddenly realize why baking became my idea of heaven.

Nigel Slater's Toast is a diary of the first half of his life told through his memories and adventures with food..and lots of sweets.  He's also incredibly frank in his feelings for certain members of his family.  With the passing of time it would have been easy to erase some of his slightly caustic thoughts as a lonely boy trying to figure out adult situations, but he doesn't pull any punches.  These moments, however, are greatly outweighed by the poignant, happy, and downright hilarious events.

One of the themes that made me laugh out loud several times was the subject of food and class...

'...they considered eating the top layer off a Bourbon biscuit and licking the chocolate filling off was common.  Quote how they explained away their predilection for tinned mandarin oranges and Kraft cheese slices is a matter for speculation.'

...other unmentionables were Babycham, sandwich spread, tomato ketchup and Branston Pickle.

Nigel Slater's passion for food seems to have always been there.  Being one of only two boys to take a cooking class in high school shows his dedication.  He's several years older than I am and thinking back to my home economics classes I can't remember any young men concerned with perfecting their assignments.  Actually, quite a lot of it ended up as duck food in the stream that ran by the school.

There is one particular image from a paragraph that will forever stick with me.  It was after his mother died when Nigel was only nine-years-old.

  'Each night for the next two years I found two, sometimes three fluffy, sugary marshmallows on my bedside table.  It was the good night kiss I missed more than anything, more than her hugs, her cuddles, her whispered 'Night-night, sleep tight.'  No Walnut Whip, no Cadbury Flake, no sugared almond could ever replace that kiss.  I'm not sure a marshmallow really came that close.'

Toast is a perfect title for this book.  It was just the book when nothing else seemed to be working, it's a terrific comfort read, and made me want more.  There's a copy of Slater's Eating for England on my shelves but it's been years since I read it.  Having more of an understanding of what life was like for Nigel as a young man, I'm looking forward to reading it again with a clearer eye.

Nigel Slater

13 December 2015

The Distillery District Christmas Market

I didn't mean to let my blog collect a bit of dust these past few weeks but every once in awhile it happens.  It's easily done during this time of year when we like to embrace the sights, sounds, and glorious smells of Christmas.  There's another reason, after the holidays I'll be working at another library branch location as part of a job rotation.  Since I found out that it was my turn to rotate, I've been working some shifts at the new location, as well as my regular shifts, to acclimatize and bond with my colleagues.  And wait for it....my next place of work has a fireplace!  It's one of those charming design features you don't see being added in budget-driven builds these days so I count myself lucky,

Attempts to read lately haven't been all that successful down to being distracted.  There were a few starts and stops until I pulled Nigel Slater's Toast from the shelf.  The episodic nature of the writing allows for busy-ness so I finished the book and will share my thoughts in a few days (I loved it!).

This is the third year my husband and I have visited the Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District.  Despite the fact that El Nino has caused us to have an abnormally warm December, the atmosphere is very, very 'Christmas-y'.

Swedish-style stalls line the cobbles with vendors selling everything from ornaments to jewellery, and all sorts of edible treats.  This photo was taken while we were inside a tiny bakery, crammed in a line-up along with others wanting to buy mince tarts and...well, anything featuring cinnamon.  Being a location known for its brewing history, the Christmas Market is also where you're sure to find mulled wine.  Perhaps I'm visiting the wrong establishments but it's not all that popular around here.

I have no idea who these people are, my intention was to get a shot of the lights, but don't they look happy to see each other?

No trip to Toronto in December is complete without a stop by the window displays at the Hudson's Bay store.  Those iconic striped coats say it all.

The faces of children as they stood in awe while the animated characters banged their forks and knives on the table is one of the best things about the holiday season.  I did bend to a bit of consumerism though and bought a copy of...

The cover is irresistible on this edition.  Looking at the contents page, one of the first stories that grabbed my attention is Tea by Saki....sold!  A great suggestion for any cosy readers in your life.