Monday, November 30, 2009

Maira Kalman on eating less "fastly fastly"

I love Maira Kalman's columns in the New York Times, and this past weekend she put together a lovely ode to conscious eating, and her visit to California for the Chez Panisse experience ( and mushroom picking with Michael Pollan!). Check out the picture towards the end when she has lunch at Alice Waters house. Alice cooks her an egg on a large metal spoon held over an open fire - which I had read about but now am determined to try. Some of the responses to Kalman's column I think are dead right in questioning the hypocrisy of being able to do what she did - fly across the country to lunch with some of the big names - while also bemoaning the fast food culture of America. Unfortunately the price of good local produce is still out of the reach of some, as is the ability to grow your own, particularly if you live in the high-rises and inner urban areas. To Kalman's credit she does ask the question "Do the wealthy have access to the really healthy food while the less affluent do not?" And the answer is "of course". Anyway, read and enjoy and think and pass it on.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Woman's Place is in the Kitchen

The title of today's blog may come as something of a surprise to those who know that in my former life pre-cookbook selling, I did my PhD in women's history. No I haven't had a complete turnaround, in fact what I wanted to celebrate today is a bit of girl power. I have just put together my latest catalogue , and it dawned on me (as I'm sure it has dawned on many others, I'm just a bit slow on the uptake) that while men may dominate the kitchens of the world's restaurants, many of the best food writers were/are women! As a sample from the catalogue: Elizabeth David; MFK Fisher; Jane Grigson; Claudia Roden; Anna Del Conte; Ada Boni and Madeleine Kamman write/wrote engagingly and knowledgably about regional cuisines, food history, the science of food, the rituals of food and more. Marcella Hazan; Alice Waters and Julia Child were trailblazers in many ways. In Australia we've got Stephanie Alexander's bible The Cook's Companion; Maggie Beer's scarce and collectable Maggie's Farm and Maggie's Orchard; Margaret Fulton remains as (if not more) popular today as when her first book came out in 1968. I was tempted to do a catalogue of only women writers, but then I would have had to leave out some male stars of the food writing world - Ambrose Heath; Waverley Root; Harold McGee among them.

So have a look at your own cookbook shelves and see if there is a similar pattern there. Why is it that men are so dominant in the kitchen professionally-speaking and yet it seems to be women who dominate food-writing. An interesting discussion to be had there.

By the way I have now set up a Facebook page for the business as well as a Twitter account which I intend using to publicise new acquisitions and specials in the shop. I know, I know this is the girl with an Aga in the kitchen and a phobia about Thermomixes, but hey it's the GFC, us small business owners need to use any tools we can to get ahead.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday is baking day & recipe journals

Having a retail shop sometimes cramps my cooking style, particularly being open on the weekends. Thank goodness then for Sundays when the shop opens at 12. I can cook breakfast for the members of the family who are around, prepare casseroles for during the week, bake some bread, and indulge my love of baking. This morning it's a perennial favourite: Cranberry, Oat and White Chocolate Cookies. This is a recipe that has been handed around among my group of friends and I've made it so often that in my recipe journal it is simply a list of ingredients: 1 1/4 cups rolled oats; 2 cups plain flour; 1 cup brown sugar; 1 cup dried cranberries; 1 cup white chocolate buds; 1 tsp bicarb soda; 225g butter and 1 egg. You mix all the dry ingredients together, add the melted (cooled) butter and egg, combine well, and drop teaspoons of the mix onto a baking tray. Bake at 180 and there you have it, chewy little mouthfuls, a little crisp on the outside with lots of textures and flavours within. You can vary the ingredients by subsituting other dried fruit for the cranberries and nuts for the white chocolate buds, but we keep coming back to this combination.

Which brings me to recipe journals - my son moved out of home 6 week ago and I am very proud of the way he has taken to cooking for himself, I gave him a couple of Women's Weekly cookbooks to start off with and he is having fun cooking all sorts of things. This weekend I have begun a recipe journal for him, writing in all my favourites and the basics I just have in my head. I've arranged it in the same order as mine but I'm leaving lots of blank pages in between for him to start adding his own favourites and cuttings.

I see every possible type of recipe journal in my business: Neatly typewritten books; bundles of cuttings from newspapers held together with elastic bands or string; cookbooks with every white space filled with hadnwritten recipes in tiny hand. In the shop I have a beautiful pair of journals dating from the late 19th century. They began life as a journal for a girl called Blanche Coombs in finishing school in Neuchatel in Switzerland, detailing her daily routine and contains some of her exercises, all in beautiful copperplate; in later life the books became a repository for her recipes, also in copperplate of a more mature hand. What is so interesting about these books, apart from the recipes, and what they reflect about eating habits and the availability of foood etc, is that in many ways they look like recipe journals written today - the recipes are favourites we can't do without, or ambitious projects we think we'd like to tackle the majority are for sweet dishes or baked goods and many of them have little notes about their origins: Blanch Coombs in the early 20th century attributes many recipes to 'Mama' , Cold Fig Pudding to Lady Bectine, Rhubarb and Tapioca Mould to the Daily Mail.

I started my recipe journal about 10 years ago after many years of trying all sorts of systems - card files, manila folders, you name it. Finally I bought a large lined hardcover notebook from a $2 shop and began sifting through the cuttings I had accumulated. I arranged it roughly as you would a traditional cookbook: Soups, starters, mains, desserts, baked goods, vegetarian dishes etc, leaving plenty of pages in each section for expansion. Today it is one of the first things I'd grab if we had to evacuate in a bushfire, as it contains many of the standards I make time and again, recipes given to me by friends and family or strangers: Dee's Brownies, Meg's Lemon Tart filling, Nana's Coconut Ice and Fudge recipes, and the recipe for a polenta slice they make at Kallista Deli, written on the back of a brown paper bag. Last night I created a tiramisu icecream based on Lorenza De Medici's Tiramisu recipe, and that has to go in before I forget it. (Now that's a whole topic for a blog!)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Climbed every mountain

Well Mountains of Books is over for the year and a good time was had by (mostly) all. Sadly I have to report a very poor weekend for cookbooks, but there was a very good attendance thanks to some great publicity in The Age on the weekend, and most stallholders did well. My family did, as always, an amazing job of supporting me in my various hare-brained pursuits. Hayley and Pip personned the canteen on Saturday, Ryan on Sunday, Hayley sat in the shop for me on Sunday and David acted as general dogsbody. Ryan also acted as photographer ( in between directing traffic in the car park - yes it did get that busy) Even my dear friend Dee helped pack books on Thursday for the fair and then to pack (almost all of them) back into boxes again at the end. Here's a few photos:

Over 60 people came in as the doors opened. Attendance was pretty steady on both days .

My Pip, doing a good job of looking after my customers.

Sascha from Lost and Found

Meryll from Rainy Day

Mm-Hmm Yep, Yep, yeah right.... Willie from Kallista Books

And Linda, also from Kallista Books

Yes my stall did have some customers during the weekend, most of them regulars.

Paul Trahair's stall was well-attended for his 50% off - 'Moving to Geelong and need to cull ' sale.

Jill's children's books are always a huge drawcard.

My lovely Hayley, recently back from South America and already back into the swing of helping Mum out

Hayley and Pip - taking a break from touring primary schools to serve lemon slice, chocolate hedgehogs and muffins
. The delightful Pam Bakes. We all love what we do, but in the end it's all about the money!!