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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
By Barbara Kingsolver
Published by Faber Trade
Distributed by Southern Publishers Group
RRP $35.00
This is the story - part memoir and part journal – of award-winning poet and writer Barbara Kingsolver's experience living off the land for 12 months. The family aims to eat only foods they grow or raise themselves, or those from neighbouring farms. Vignettes and recipes are contributed by Kingsolver's daughter Camille. This is not the first book covering such a challenge, but the author's inquiring mind, detailed research, sharp observations and journalistic skill make this an absorbing read.

Kingsolver highlights the importance of water and our dependence on it, eschewing Arizona, a place where she has spent half her life and raised a family, but a state which is pretty well dependent on water, and food trucked in by gas-guzzling trucks consuming an unhealthy amount of fossil fuels. The realization dawns on her that she is responsible, albeit in a small way, for drinking the well dry. She determines to do something about it and moves with her husband and two girls from the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, more than two thousand miles away to southern Appalachia where 'water falls from the sky', in an effort to realign their lives with the food chain. Kingsolver experiences firsthand the trials and tribulations of those attempting to feed their families without robbing the planet of resources, and reveals the shocking truths of the destruction of the American agriculture system which has seen small farms replaced by huge factory-like farms dependent on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and crops such as soya beans and corn, once food for people and animals, made into high-fructose syrup, hydrogenated oils and chemicals. It'll get you thinking, this book. And you might just learn how to make cheese, slaughter a turkey, can tomatoes and make relish and chutney to boot.

Jamie At Home
By Jamie Oliver
Published by Michael Joseph Battiston
Distributed by Penguin
RRP $75.00
The title of this chunky 408-page book should really be 'Jamie in the Garden'. Traversing the seasons, Jamie hightails it into the garden attired in gumboots and hat, and unearths the spoils from what appears to be a very large garden –much bigger than the little patch of turf the likes of you and I have at our disposal. But if he had it his way we'd be growing tomatoes and potatoes in soil bags propped against the garage, and salad greens in pots on ledges in the shed. His gardening lore is surprisingly sound and his enthusiasm unsurpassed. But what really rocks is Jamie's food – 100 cracker recipes, all photographed - contemporary, based on good cooking principles and looking utterly delicious. And there's a touching dedication to the late Steve Irwin.

Where Flavour Was Born
By Andreas Viestad
Published by Chronicle Books
Distributed by Southern Publishers Group
RRP $89.99
This is one helluva book full of rich and lively tales which takes you on a great journey to lands touched by the Indian Ocean. A depth of knowledge about the history of spices, and the little-known cuisines of countries and islands such as Zanzibar, Mauritius, Reunion, Oman and Mozambique, along with South Africa, India, Indonesia and Egypt, slowly unfolds as you turn the pages. Containing 100 recipes and illustrated with photographs of food, people and places, the design is quirky, with splashes of colour, unusual typefaces and borders and backgrounds, like lino-cuts. It might sound like a bit of a jumble, but the designer pulls it all together in such a way that you'll want to keep dipping in for another bite. Expensive, but highly recommended.

Spilling The Beans
By Clarissa Dickson Wright
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Distributed by Hachette Livre
RRP $47.99
Dickson Wright wheels out a complicated life-jigsaw featuring dozens of her family members and eccentric characters in Chapter One, but stick with it, because this is an extraordinary story. She holds little back about the highs and lows of her life – although some of the middle bits are missing – the years she lost through her debilitating alcoholism where she drank away her large inheritance. Hers was a life of privilege on many levels, marred by her alcoholic father, a brilliant surgeon, and his violent and sadistic behaviour. Expected to go into the medical profession, Dickson Wright instead chose law, a choice which resulted in her father cutting off access to funds to spite her. But she rose above all this and was the youngest woman, at age 21, to be called to the bar. That was in another lifetime. To salve the sorrow of losing her beloved mother, she turned to the bottle. As she reveals, it's a long climb back to sobriety, and she credits AA with saving not only her sanity, but also her life. On the road to recovery, she stumbled into the food world, winning acclaim for her partnership with the late Jennifer Paterson, also an alcoholic, as the larger of the Two Fat Ladies.

What makes this book so engaging, Dickson Wright's painful frankness aside, is her ability to write and tell a really good tale.

Tana Ramsay's Real Family Food
By Tana Ramsay
Published by Harper Collins
RRP $49.99
This is Tana - wife of infamous Gordon – Ramsay's second book, and she certainly puts herself about: her perfect set of teeth and glorious mane of hair dazzle in nearly 50 photographs (there's only one of poor Gordy!). There are over 20 photographs of her four children and more than 50 of finished dishes, too, plus dozens of little food preparation shots, making this quite a pictorial fest. What of the food? It looks and sounds delicious: Chinese chicken wings, lamb samosas, roasted butternut squash with red peppers and black olives, summer pudding and lemon cake with roasted figs and more humble offerings such as toad in the hole, fish pie, sausages with lentils, jam tarts, Anzac biscuits and rock cakes. The point she makes, and a valid one, is that children are curious about food, so offer them plenty of variety, serve them the same food you eat rather than cooking especially for them and diluting flavours, and they'll thrive. Recipes come with preparation and cooking times, and tips, where applicable.

New Wave Asian
By Sri Owen
Published by Whitecap
Distributed by Reed Books $79.95
Sri Owen is a pint-size darling who writes well-researched, meticulously written, delicious recipes. This book is her take on what chefs around the world are doing with southeast Asian flavours. It's an absolute must-have for anyone into chillies, coriander, palm sugar, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, nam pla, tamarind and lemongrass. Soft cover with flaps.

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