Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

September 3, 2015


Many of the recipes are approachable and easy, of a younger generation than one typically finds in New England cookbooks which can be overly puritan and laden with cranberries, winter squash and rhubarb. This targets the taco-generation with a more youthful approach.

Way back in July, Joe and I attended the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival near Burlington, VT. It was such a hot and humid day, even under the tents, that we decided to avoid the crowds and move onto some of the barn on the estate to cool off. The barns also had various vendors of New England treats and products, but one stood out to us - Jessica Robinson's table with home canning, home-made whoopee pies and her new cookbook - New England Farmgirl.

The author, Jessica Robinson showing off how to stay cool, with home made preserves and pickles.

Jessica was so warm and welcoming, which I could only imagine was difficult with hundreds of people and temperatures that were getting close to 100 degrees indoors. Maybe the heat was just getting to her and her husband, since they were so funny and friendly - but we quickly became friends. She gave me one of her books and this insane peanut butter whoopee pie with cream cheese peanut butter frosting (yum), and as Joe hates chocolate and peanut butter ( I know, right?), I had the rich, chocolate and creamy, salty and sweet delight all to myself.(as if I needed it, but I was on vacation so I rationalized away - beside, it was a cheese festival - hello?).

Now, two months later, with cooler weather arriving in New England, I am starting to bake some treats from this great book. I read the book for about a week, marveling at the photos which Jessica took herself, and at many of the similarities between her grandmother, and my mother (they are of the same generation, clearly). Her French Canadian roots show strong in the recipes which include much more than just sweet treats and baked goods (I can't wait to make the French Canadian meat pies).

Most of the recipes are simple, and not purely New England, by any means (but I am one of those folks who fall into the Whoopee-Pies-Come-from-New-England camp, even though my family never made them, not did my mother, although she was a serious baker. You will find these recipes more approachable than most New England cook books.

I had to make the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Whoopie Pies. I mean, I HAD to test them.

Sure, there is clam chowder and baked beans, but no Indian Pudding, there are hermits but no gingerbread. In many ways, this is a very personal book - actual recipes that Jessica either grew up with, remembered from her grandmother or mother, or one which she herself has invented or introduced into the mix for her own, new family. The book is clearly authentic, and offers a more modern take on what a farm-raised girl from the 80's would cook.

It's clear that Jessica was raised on a sugar bush (a maple syrup farm), which is in Connecticut, as most recipes seem to include maple syrup in place of sugar. A nice idea, but probably impractical for most young cooks, who might find that dishing out 1 or 2 cups of maple syrup per recipe is just too much of an extravagance. I would imagine that one could substitute sugar or another sugar syrup - check out this site and note if your recipe is for baked goods or not, as it makes a difference, and is rarely a 1 for 1. Aside from this note, I find no faults with this book. It is designed beautifully, very high quality printing and nice, heavy cover. Plus, Jess is just such a nice person that you HAVE to get this book and add it to your collection -

note: This is a personal review, and the publisher nor publicist has contacted me or paid me (but I did ask Jessica if I could review her book, and she provided a copy for me for free - but I did get a free whoopee pie too, so I might just be on a sugar high).

July 9, 2015


Kevin c. vaughn

Specialist or enthusiast books seem to be falling out of fashion with most publishers - a sad but perhaps more efficient reality given that so much information is now available on the Web - but I do miss these reads, as they are not only some of the best ways to keep information organized about specific plants, but that these monographs and singular themes introduce new gardeners to plant material which otherwise might be overlooked - and so I was so please to see that iris expert Kevin Vaughn had written a masterpiece about a group of iris lumped together under the name - Beardless Iris.

Beardless Iris: A Plant for Every garden Situation (2015) will be a very useful book for both the beginner and the expert, or for anyone who already grows these plants but whom doesn't really know what to do with them, as it seems that any information about the beardless irises is hard to find. The images are spectacular, and the content is comprehensive, but be forewarned -in many ways, this book reads as if one compiled 30 issues of the journal of the Iris Society into one, single book - which makes it both tremendously content rich, but also tremendously content rich.

It might be more than you expected from a book on iris. Yet don't get me wrong, it's a valuable addition to the research library, and hey - you want to learn more about plants, right? You will learn much from this book.

Click below for lots more!:

April 6, 2015


Books tend to pile up by my bedside - maybe they do for you too, but my book stack won't ever make it on a house tour on Apartment Therapy - it's more of a pile, a pile that evolves slowly over winter. Why it;s a pile, I'll never know, for I only have an hour or so  night to read before I can't keep my eyes open, which is probably one reason why it takes me so long to write a review on a book that I've bee asked to write a review on. Call it a fault, or a good trait, but I am one who really wants to read a book before I write about it. Believe me, I do get books that don't merit a completely positive review (more often than not, in fact). Not that any book is THAT bad, for usually there is something nice to say - a good book for a beginner perhaps, a book full of inspirational images, more often than not, I lose interest in a book before I actually finish it, which tells me that something is wrong.

Helena Attlee's book about citrus entitled 'THE LAND WHERE LEMONS GROW - THE STORY OF ITALY AND ITS CITRUS' was offered to to me by the publishers first in late 2014, for one reason or another, I declined - I really don't know what I imagined the book to be about, perhaps just another book that would bumble on about the virtues of Lemoncello, how it helped the author find love in the Amalfi coast with a dark haired stud after her devastating divorce (or something like that) anyway,  I could surely wait for the movie.

 Then, ( OK- I can't believe that I am admitting this, but... I read a review about this very book in Hortus or Garden's Illustrated, I don't remember right now, but it's late a night and I am writing this in bed and too lazy to go look for it - but this review was not just gushing with praise, it was written so eloquently that I felt as if I needed to get the book as soon as I could find the email from the publisher, but alas, I deleted it.

The following weekend, I received a reminder email from the same publisher, and I jumped on it. It's rare for a book to capture my mind for such a long period of time, but this one is such a book, on so many levels ( and there are many), From the moment when I received this book in the mail, I was impressed. First, It was a hard cover book ( it seems to have been published in the UK first, and now in the US by a different publisher. I get it,the publishing industry works this way. Before I even read on page, I took note of the fine paper stock (a particularly nice uncoated rag stock used for the text was refreshing - don't laugh, in a world of digital books, this is a lost art. The paper quality and type is as important to me as the content it, as I appreciate the feel and weight of a book), and it had - of all things, a colophon.  This told me that my book was typeset in12pt over 14.75pt Dante MT std. Thank you Milton Keynes ( the typesetter in England). Clearly, this is a publisher who cares about books.

As I said earlier, there are books which end up not being completely read,  and although this is not uncommon for someone such as me who has a nasty habit of not following things in the first place, I should add the caveat that there are some rare cases when a book is so good, that I actually slow down the reading process.  Just so that I can delay the ultimate end.  Books to me are experiences, and this book is such a book - an experience .

 As a citrus grower myself ( I mean, there are about ten potted trees in the greenhouse here), I at first felt as if I could not relate to the content of such a book - after all, it's not as if I live in southern Italy or southern California even. Far from it, but after a few chapters, I not only quickly learned about some insanely curious citrus fruits, their long and interesting history with humans, but I also realized that many of these fruit were raised in the same manner I am growing mine - in large tubs, kept under glass in the colder months, and brought out into the garden for the summer. This is a book that will teach you much - you will be inspired to make notes, lists, to jot down facts and to perhaps even try a recipe or two.

I enjoy books more when they don't have too many images - and this book has only a few maps, which by themselves seem not to connect to much of the content in each chapter, so I can easily dismiss them. The authors language paints such a visceral scene, that each night I find myself either lost on coast of Amalfi picking bitter lemons or cruising along the shores of Lago de Garda searching for rare lemon varieties in a thunderstorm - and, I will attest to being caught in a number of thunderstorms on that very lake, and in the hills behind it searching for the elusive golden yellow primula auricula that grows there, so once again, this books gets into my head and I am lost in its pages. Pure delight.


Through Attlee's writing, I have learned so much more about some of my own plants - about the many large citrons that we raise in pots here in the greenhouse, which I have been collecting for the past few years - their flesh either crispy like an apple or soft and sweet like a guava, but each coming with a long biblical history of giant football shaped Etrog, to the many different types of finger lemons, which had many rare selections at one time,  grown and collected by the Medici's to name a few. I have to admit, the citrus fruit is fascinating, and as this is a book which clearly involved plenty of research which I can only imagine occurred over the authors many years of living in Italy, it has a unique personal touch - clearly not a book which was researched on the Internet. I know, because I have made lists of many of the fruit and locations listed in this book, and this information is not easy to track down.

This is book which has not only convinced me to visit tally again, it has caused me to make lists of placed to visit and worst/best of all, made lists of citrus varieties that I just have to search out for both the home greenhouse, and if only to discover and taste just once. A book that goes far beyond Lemoncello and mandarins, which is frankly what I had at first expected, Attlee's book has me dreaming of citron blossoms raw in salads but maybe not for the recipe for Tortoise Pie and other delights from the 1500's like porcupine, cow's udders or stag's testicles.

 Still, when a author is intelligent, curious and informed about the history and story of food and plants, the read can be so delightful. Here, Attlee's passions seem to not only cross and blend, but her curiosity and passions keeps her searching deeper for connection, always in search for the true story. Her drive to learn herself, helps her uncover each and every nuance about something which many might find boring (like a sour lime, 16th century wax models of distorted fruit from the Medici's, what the Pope like to eat in the morning) but what an ordinary author could easily overlook or dismiss, she dives in deeper. This is exactly the sort of book I can get lost in forever, which sounds a little silly when it's just a book about citrus, yet my point it this is really a book about so much more. It's book about the history, ethnobotany, cultural quirks and curiosities, a book about the kitchen, about the food we once ate and the food we should eat more of, it's about fragrance, travel, art and creativity. Mostly though, like many things Italian, it's about living a life well. And who doesn't want that.