On My Bookshelf – April

Okay, I’m going to just say it: April was a disappointing month from a reading viewpoint, yet it began and ended on highpoints. In the middle was my first DNF (Did Not Finish) in I can’t remember how long.

I always feel guilty about putting down a book unfinished. What if, I think, it improves in the next chapter? This one was particularly disappointing in that plenty of people I respect enjoyed it and it was an Aussie author who I’ve followed for a while but just never gotten around to reading.

In any case, I didn’t add it to my Goodreads and I won’t be mentioning either the title or the author here. This is mainly because I think my lack of engagement – because that’s what it was, I didn’t engage with either the characters or the story – was no reflection on the author. I think it says more about my mood and the general low-lying blah I felt most of April.

In any case, onto the books I did finish and that did make it to my Goodreads list…

Bella – My Life In Food, by Annabel Langbein

I’ve long been a massive fan of Annabel Langbein’s – ever since I read a copy of Savour The Pacific in my bestie’s Wellington kitchen almost 20 years ago. I rushed out and bought a copy before I came home and have bought everything she’s put out since – plus found other books on ebay. 

I was, therefore, thrilled to receive this in the mail from that same friend – just in time for Easter. I was even more thrilled when it proceeded to rain all Easter so I could read this. April was off to a cracking start.

Bella is Langbein’s memoir and it’s a fabulous read. There are, of course, also recipes, but because this is mostly memoir it doesn’t count as a cookbook – and that’s what I’m telling my husband.

If I was ever told that I could only, for the rest of time, read cookbooks written by a handful of people (and please, don’t ever put me to that test) next to Nigella would be Annabel. For the record, Nigel Slater, Diana Henry and either Rick Stein or James Martin…maybe Delia?… would complete the list.

Anyways, Annabel would be right up there beside Nigella.

I’ve come away from the read more in awe than I had been before I began it. She’s one very inspirational woman and her life reads more like a movie. As the back cover reads:

From her childhood fascination with cooking to a teenage flirtation as a Maoist hippie, to possum trapping and living off the land as a hunter and forager, to travelling and starting her own croissant business in Brazil, Annabel’s life has always been centred on food and nature.

Aside from her life story, there’s plenty in here I’ve already cooked and more I want to cook. In fact, I’ve posted a couple of the cookie recipes over on BKD, so pop on over for a look.

Seeing Other People, by Mike Gayle

I’d waited ages for this to come into the library and was looking forward to it. Mike Gayle has fast become a go-to author for me. He writes the male equivalent of women’s fiction and chick lit, but because he’s male it’s…don’t get me started on genre politics.

So I was looking forward to this and was, I hate to say it, disappointed. I picked this up immediately after putting down the book I didn’t finish and found it slow to read. Again, I’m not sure whether it was just me, but this definitely wasn’t one of my favourites from Mike Gayle. It was, however, written seven years ago and he seems to get better with each outing so not only do I forgive him, but I’m putting my disappointment down to being more about me than him.

The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn

I’m not a massive reader of historical romance so the first I knew about the Bridgerton franchise was when I came across it on Netflix on Christmas night – and spent Boxing Day inhaling the series. I loved it. The book? Not so much. This was one time where I enjoyed the show more than the book.

I think I expected all the little sub-plots that are in the series when I should have realised that it really was just going to be Daphne and Simon. There were parts where I laughed out loud (although a couple of those laugh out loud moments were when listening to the steamier bits).

In summary, I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it – and I think that’s more to do with the fact that it’s not a genre I’d normally read.

Hiakai, by Monique Fiso

Adjective. Origin~Māori. 1. Hungry 2. Having a desire, need, craving for food.

The blurb for this one reads:

A breathtaking account of Maori food – its traditions, ingredients and tikanga – from our brightest culinary star.

I had to google tikanga and found this on Wikipedia:

Tikanga is a Māori concept incorporating practices and values from mātauranga Māori, Māori knowledge. Tikanga is translated into the English language with a wide range of meanings — culture, custom, ethic, etiquette, fashion, formality, lore, manner, meaning, mechanism, method, protocol, style, customary law.

And that’s where the true value of this book – which is so much more than a cookbook – lies.

Hiakai is Fiso’s restaurant in Wellington. Not only has it been listed as one of the 100 Greatest Places In the World, it celebrates Maori cuisine and ingredients. It’s also a place that I can’t wait to eat at when next I’m in Wellington #itsbeentoolong #NZtravelbubble.

A birthday present from my dog (she always knows exactly what I want), I knew I wouldn’t be able to cook a lot from this book. Each recipe contains at least one indigenous ingredient. That’s not what I bought it for (sorry, that’s not what my dog bought it for). For me, it’s about the stories, the ingredients, the culture, the language, the custom, the traditions, the history. All of that. And how it all ties into Fiso’s own story of self-discovery. The thirty recipes are a very small (but beautifully photographed) part of this fabulous book.

If you love New Zealand and you want to learn more about it – get deeper below the surface – you won’t be disappointed with this book. I wasn’t.

Time For Tea, by Tom Parker Bowles

Confession time. I’m a reverse snob most of the time. I dislike labels (especially obvious ones) and detest elitism. Yet, and here comes the confession, if I was ever a guest on Desert Island Discs, the one luxury I’d take to the island would be Fortnum & Mason’s English Breakfast Tea. I have it every day. I am a tea snob.

Time for Tea is the third book Parker Bowles (yes, he’s one of those Parker Bowles’) has written for Fortnum & Mason. While it is, like the other two, a celebration of the store and its menu, this one is all about tea.

In Time For Tea (which, incidentally, is the name of my fictional reality TV baking show in Escape To Curlew Cottage – if lawyers ever come knocking I named that well before this book was published) Parker Bowles writes about tea – the regions, the history, and its cultural importance. Naturally, he also writes about F&M’s involvement in tea and the blending of tea – the Royal blend, the Queen Anne blend and the special blend they created to celebrate the birth of Prince George.

There are, however, also recipes for things to eat with tea at all times of the day. I can’t wait to make the custard creams, Fortnum’s oatcakes, the Dundee cake and so much more. I might even try my hand at the technically tricky Fondant Fancies.

A cookbook yes, but again, more than that.

What were your reading highlights for April? Do you ever abandon a book partway through?