Book heaven

I’m currently in Book Heaven; I have so many amazing new books, I don’t know where to start, am in total literary overload, with the result I dive for old favourites to calm me down until the shakes have passed and I can face the glory of new books that have been on my MUST HAVE !!!! list for months, years even.

The following cookbooks, non fiction and classic old favourites from childhood were purchased within the past few weeks; some over my birthday weekend and some the day that Tuxedo was undergoing his IPL, and some in between.

Ahhhhhh.

Gordon Ramsay.  Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Heaven.  This has been one of the cookbooks marked with 5 black stars in my Books – Wish List, along with only three others (of about twenty cookbooks overall).  Ramsay has been painted one of the enfant terribles of celeb cooking since he first rose to fame; a claim which I find without substance or merit despite reports of temper tantrums in the kitchens, abusive language and outraged bollockings (metaphorically speaking) of staff.  To me he seems a basically nice guy, with high standards and the guts to uphold those standards.  As Tony Bourdain wrote in his book A Cook’s Tour, when Ramsay left his first restaurant, all forty-odd staff, including floor staff, left with him.  You don’t find that loyalty anywhere, let alone London.  That speaks louder than words about the guy’s talent, integrity, abilities and willingness to pass on his knowledge.  And unlike many other “cleleb chefs” (Jamie, little fat boy, I’m looking at you) he actually cooks.

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Heaven is a tie in/spin off of his TV show Kitchen Nightmares, wherein Ramsay blasted into a few failing restaurant kitchens and turned them around, changing and rationalising menus, using local ingredients, toning down the high falutin’ shite, and of course upbraiding staff (cos that made for good TV).  The cookbook features a great collection of delicious, so-able yet impressive recipes, with anecdotes about his experience on the show and his rationale for decisions made.  Even if you’re not interested in the recipes, it makes great reading.  I’m pleased to have added this to my collection as it not only includes great food photography, but yummy food and excellent, inspiring food writing.

Penelope Casas.  Delicioso!  Regional Cooking of Spain.  Ever since a year spent in Spain as a kid I’ve been in love with Spanish food; paellas, the seafood, stews and tapas.  This gorgeous, photo-spare (my favourite!) book on, d’oh, the regional cooking of Spain.  Beginning with a collection to tapas recipes – which, to my mind, make redundant Casas’ previous book Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain and then on to chapter-by-chapter analysis and recipes of the main regions of Spain via their main features and ingredients.  Thus we have the region of sauces (Galicia, the Basque Country), the region of peppers (Navarra, Aragon) and the region of rices (Valencia, Alicante).  From a travel/geographical perspective this is absolutely fascinating; even more so from the culinary point of view.

Unlike most books on Spanish cooking, every dish is NOT greasy and overladen with fried stuff and tomatoes; dishes range from the simple to restaurant-ready, with the focus on ingredients and simplicity and integrity of cooking processes to highlight those ingredients.  One flick-through left me salivating; follow-up reading has given me a real insight to Spain and its cuisine and left me hungering to try out some of the recipes (not baby eels though, sorry).

Richard Dawkins.  The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life.  I’ve written about this book and how much I love Dawkins before; now I have my own copy *bliss – siiiiiigh*.  The best book of the last year or three.

Jared Diamond.  Collapse:  How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive.  I was totally blown away by Jared Diamond’s previous book, Guns, Germs and Steel – how on earth could he follow that up? (not to mention previous offerings The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee and Why Is Sex Fun?)  Collapse looks at previous civilisations in history and how and why they failed- or survived; and the ramifications for the current Western and Third World’s future. 

While I have not yet dived headlong into this book I have flicked through and read reviews and it seems to be exactly my cup of tea; Diamond is a sensational scholar and has a riveting writing style – what you’d expect from a writer of thrillers – plus the subject matter, resources and resource politics, and the limits and restrictions of mankind.  I can’t wait; but what do I read first?  Time for the heads or tails test, I guess …

Bill Bryson.  A Short History of Nearly Everything is precisely that.  Winner of the 2004 Aventis Science Book of the Year, Bryson (known mostly for his hilarious travel and linguistics books) investigates everything, from the origin of the universe to the evolution of Homo sapiens, passing the beginnings of life on earth, extinctions and biodiversity.   I love Bryson’s writing and can’t wait to get into this.  (Although I have to admit, shame-faced, I did pooh-pooh it for a long time, thinking it was “just pop. science at it’s most populist and simplistic.  I was horribly wrong.)

Mary O’Hara.  My Friend Flicka; Thunderhead; Green Grass of Wyoming.  The three books of the My Friend Flicka series were favourites of mine as a horse-crazed kid;  I loved the descriptions of the horses and other animals, the characters and the life and scenery of the Goose Bar ranch.  As an adult I could not pass these by whilst browsing the kids’ stacks at Borders; and I wondered if I was dumb to think they’d hold the same appeal.  They have, they do.  In fact, I’ve got more out of them as an older reader than I did at age eight, or whatever – they may be too old for an eight year old, although being “horsey” that’s the age group they’re marketed for these days.  The lives of the McLaughlin family, dreamy Ken and his superior brother Howard, their parents Rob and Nell and the complicated relationships between them all are not for the Saddle Club set.  In fact, much of the content – sex, death, lust, failure, estrangement – is frankly adult; the relationship between Nell and Rob is not that of Laura Ingalls’ ma and Pa – it is strong and frankly passionate.  No wonder I missed the sense of that story at eight years old!  The horse stuff Is gorgeous and heart-warming and –breaking, the anecdotes of the animals and life on the ranch, of another time, are clear, and the entire trilogy has as much hold over me now as Flicka did when I was a dumb innocent kid.

What have YOU been reading lately? Any suggestions for my MUST HAVE !!! list?  Anything that grabbed you when you were a kid that you’d like to revisit now?

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