CONSIDER THE OYSTER
M.F.K FISHER, DAUNT BOOKS, P/B, $22.99
Oh, how I wish I could write like Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher. Perhaps one of the greatest American food writers of the twentieth century, Fisher is alarmingly frank at times and incredibly generous with her personal memories and confessions, exposing an obsession with food that many struggle to hide. Food writer Bee Wilson suggests that through her writing Fisher shows us that to have hungers and the means to satisfy them is how we can tell we are fully alive. First published in 1941, Consider the Oyster contains 27 recipes which are also a terrific read. A direction to grill oysters comes with the unmistakably Fisher premise… ‘Surely, this recipe would not have the approval of the SPCA. But it is probable that oysters possess a sensitivity analogous to that of the French taxpayer, so that they are incapable of very characteristic reactions. That, then, is why there is little reason for weeping tenderly at the idea that these molluscs must be placed on the grill.’ Fisher’s narrative is well-seasoned throughout with oyster facts and oyster fashion as well as her own briny tastes and observations. The Financial Times suggests that her writing makes your mouth water. I agree.
GREAT VEGAN MEALS FOR THE CARNIVOROUS FAMILY
AMANDA LOGAN, PAGE STREET PUBLISHING P/B, $34.99
You can’t miss the messages that we should all eat less meat, or that a vegan lifestyle is the only way to prevent the planet imploding. But for many of us it all sounds too hard, especially in the middle of a busy family life. Amanda Logan is vegan, her husband is a carnivore and her young daughter is a picky eater; this book comes from her wish not to cook three different meals every night. Whether you are v-curious, want to have a few meatfree- and-delicious recipes in your repertoire, or just want to sneak extra veges into your kids, this book is a great place to start. The book strives for vegan alternatives to favourite meatbased dishes, so you get dishes such as ‘this lasagne can’t be vegan’ and ‘carrot not-dogs’ which seem to me to be a bit apologist, like saying, ‘sorry, this is vegan, but…’ I’m much more excited by those recipes that, rather than imitating a meat dish, give me unashamedly vegan and delicious dishes to try, such as the buckwheat breakfast bowl – a sort of breakfast risotto – or a smoky cauliflower chowder.
JACKFRUIT & BLUE GINGER
SASHA GILL, MURDOCH BOOKS, H/B, $45
On becoming vegan, Sasha Gill realised that it wasn’t meat that she missed, but flavour. Growing up in Singapore she had been surrounded by a huge range of diverse cuisines; moving to study in UK she learned to veganise her favourite dishes from India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and China. She discovered that the Asian food she loved with its spices and sauces converts so well to a vegan diet that the recipes here aren’t about restriction but about really good, flavour-laden plant-based dishes. Sushi comes topped with soy-glazed aubergine or delicately smoke-flavoured red pepper; bao are stuffed with sweet potato simmered with ginger, star anise and five-spice powder; emeraldgreen pandan waffles are slathered with coconut peanut butter. And, as a time-strapped student she’s made the recipes quick, easy and affordable.
BERNADETTE GEE, ALLEN & UNWIN, H/B, $45
These cakes are show-off impressive all the way. Seriously, some of them terrify me: multi-layered, encased in icing with ‘sharp-as-shit’ edges and with painted on designs, they demand an approach to baking that is far beyond my mix it/bake it/eat it method. But, if you aspire to create such perfection at home, Bernadette will show you how, with step-by-step photos, tips, tricks and secret hacks, details of all the icings and fillings and all the kit you’ll need to make it happen. And yes, there are other treats here, too, such as doughnuts, brownies, fudge and macarons. While I baulk at the effort required, I admire the luscious photos by Lottie Hedley, simply styled images that let the food be the star. With such gorgeous treats it’s no surprise that Gee has a gazillion Instagram followers, but this is the first time she has shared her recipes. I feel that this book, oozing with her wit and personality, will win her many more fans.
THE BAKER’S COMPANION
ALLYSON GOFTON, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, H/B, $55
You may have gathered that I’m a nononsense type of baker so this book, with cakes more reminiscent of a WI show than a TV bake-off, is right up my street. As a companion, its job is to hold your hand and tell you everything will work out fine, then serve it all up with a cup of tea at the end. After more than 30 years of Kiwi cooking, no one is better qualified to pass on the lessons learned than Allyson Gofton. She carefully explains why we do what we do (in the kitchen, that is), how to stop things going wrong and what to do when they do (slather it in custard and call it a pudding – it worked at our house didn’t it, Mum). These are achievable cakes, slices, pastries, puddings, meringues and breads, and hooray for a whole chapter on biscuits. All are made deliciouslooking once again by Lottie Hedley’s photographs. Referring to ingredients, Gofton says good-quality basics produce exceptionally delicious baking, and I think that goes for books, too.
THE FLEXIBLE PESCATARIAN
JO PRATT, QUARTO GROUP UK, H/B, $45
Jo Pratt started out working with some impressive names in the world of British food TV including Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay, and John Torode, and quickly realised that she could translate their delicious plates into do-able recipes for the home cook. Her last book The Flexible Vegetarian leads nicely into this; the ‘flexible’ part being the little nuggets of information at the bottom of each recipe offering you tips and ideas on where you can be creative with the recipe and useful suggestions on using alternative ingredients. The smoky bean and fish stew was quick and easy to make and delivered all of the comfort that garlic, onions, red peppers and paprika cooked in great olive oil can bring. Steamed mussels with a cream cider broth are a fruity twist on moules marinières. You won’t find much in here that you haven’t seen before, but you will find a great source of inspiration for versatile and simple meals using a diverse range of seafood and produce. Head to the back pages where everything from scaling, gutting, filleting, skinning and pinboning is laid out for you in simple step-bysteps. If you are not lucky enough to be catching your own fish, make sure you buy from a reputable source.
THE WAY WE EAT NOW
BEE WILSON, 4TH ESTATE, P/B, $29.99
The one great power an eater has is deciding whether to open or close their mouth to a given food. Today, that decision has become one that can change the world that we live in. As we all search for strategies that will help us to eat ‘better – whether ‘better’ might be for health reasons or for supporting sustainable fishing and agriculture – The Way We Eat Now is definitely a book that will help you navigate the complexity of modern food and it’s blurred boundaries. However, be ready to have your preconceptions challenged as Wilson explores the hidden forces behind what we eat. The chapter on ‘Edible Economics’ alone will give you good reason to ponder the true value of food beyond price and the fact that we need to build better food environments to encourage better food choices, rather than berating ourselves for making bad ones. As Wilson says, it makes good sense to find out where we are right now, how we got here and what it is that we share. “Sooner or later, maybe we will once again recognise that a prosperous life without good food is no prosperity at all. As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t eat money.’” If you are in search of a happier relationship with food – and are willing to consider how we might re-establish a more balanced connection with what, as well as how, we eat – read this book.
ELEANOR OZICH, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, H/B, $40
I yearn for the life beautifully depicted in this charming little book: a life in which I create time and space to effortlessly whip up eco-thoughtful pantry staples such as turmeric lemonade and homemade stock powder, all the while marvelling at how deeply satisfying it is to live cleanly and make things for myself, eschewing those pre-made and plastic-wrapped goods at the supermarket. Somehow Ozich makes it all seem do-able and stress free, and there’s a refreshing absence of preachiness in her delivery of these back-to-basics recipes and techniques. As well as food, the book covers household goods: cleaning basics such as homemade dishwashing powder and cleansing spray; bath soaks and melts; vanilla-scented soy candles and essential oil beauty products – the ylang ylang and tea tree face serum is a pure indulgence.