Category: Books

A kind cake to have with tea

As I have mentioned before, I am not a baker. That skill was handed out to my sister who can make the most delicate tarts and cakes. She also manages to turn gluten free baking into some kind of delicious realm of possibilities, something I never thought was possible. However, lately I have been finding myself wanting to have fresh baking in the house. I have been making banana bread, gluten, sugar and dairy free muffins (actually really good, will post the recipe soon), lemon and ricotta ring cakes, and yesterday I made a rhubarb and strawberry cake.

Both Ollie and I go crazy for rhubarb. Stewed with muesli in the morning, with ice cream, in a crumble or pie. Any way possible in fact. So this cake is perfect. It is easy, both sweet and tart, and goes perfectly with a cup of tea. It is the kind of cake you can imagine eating with thick clotted cream and your grandmother.

IMG_8167

An Old Fashioned Cake
(Based on a pear cake in Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries)

130g butter
130g caster sugar
2 eggs
130g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Half a punnet of strawberries
About 5 stalks of rhubarb
A sprinkling of brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, and gradually mix them in with the butter and sugar. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold in carefully. Spoon into a greased cake tin and don’t worry that it looks like there isn’t enough mixture.

Finely slice the rhubarb and cut the strawberries into quarters. Place them evenly over the cake mixture, and then sprinkle some brown sugar on top. This recipe can be used for any fruit, I have made it with apple and pear in the past, in which case you don’t need extra sugar. Rhubarb often needs a bit more love than other fruit to make it sing.

Bake for 1 hour, until a skewer comes out clean, leave in the tin for 10 minutes, and then cool on a rack. Or if you are impatient like me, cut a slice and eat it with some natural yoghurt and a cup of coffee.

IMG_8158

The book you can see in the photo arrived in the mail just a few days ago. It is part of a #savetheculture book exchange I am part of. Despite Ollie referring to it as my Ponzi scheme and another friend calling it a glorified chain letter, I think it is a pretty cool idea. I saw a friend had shared a post about it on facebook which I bit the bullet and liked. She sent me a stranger’s address for me to post a book to, plus her address to share with people who liked my post. Theoretically, I should get a whole lot of books in the mail. Who am I to say no to that?

I had been eyeing up Ali Smith’s newest book at The Booksmith just the other day, so I was thrilled to receive it with a little postcard from an old school friend I haven’t talked to in years. I will let you know if I get any other goodies in the letter box.

Happy baking and happy reading from sunny San Francisco x

Advertisements

A Sunday Salad 

Italy has been on my mind over the last couple of weeks. I bought Rachel Roddy’s beautiful cookbook, FIve Quarters and have been happily cooking my way through it. Peperonata, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, grilled eggplants, pasta and more pasta- making the most of the sweet, ripe produce lying in the sun at the market on Sundays. We watched this episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix which reminded me of the absolute love and respect Italians have for food. And I have been storming through Eleanor Ferrante‘s engrossing Napoli series as I sit and feed and feed this hungry baby. She is taking me in to 20th Century Italy with a woman’s eyes- political control, marital control, family control. Passionate and powerful writing I would definitely recommend.

Sometimes though, you need a break from Italian food. Here is a quick and easy salad I made for dinner last night – fresh and tasty but still satisfying. We had it as is, but it would be great with grilled lamb. 


IMG_6061

Herby quinoa and rice salad
Serves two for dinner with enough left over for two lunches the next day

1 cup quinoa
1 cup basmati rice
1 large eggplant or 2 small eggplants
1 lemon
A handful of each- parsley, coriander, mint and baby spinach
4 spring onions
A handful of pistachio nuts
100g feta
1 green chilli
Olive oil
Sea salt

IMG_6062

Cut the eggplant into small cubes and bake on a well oiled oven tray until golden brown. While these are in the oven, cook the rice and quinoa then set aside to cool. Chop the herbs, spinach, chilli and spring onion and put in a large bowl with the pistachio nuts, feta, a generous slug of olive oil, salt and the juice and some zest from the lemon. When the eggplants have cooked, combine everything together and serve. We had this salad at room temperature which worked well and meant the heat of the eggplants, quinoa and rice didn’t discolour or wilt the herbs. Perfect with a glass of cold white wine at the end of a busy weekend.

IMG_6063

Tonight for dinner? Pasta of course!

My Top Reads of 2014

A couple of years ago I set myself the challenge to read 50 books in a year. About one a week, not too hard for someone who always has a book on the go and is a tad competitive. I came in at 51 books for that year, 56 for the next, and I have started on my list for this year. What is great about it is not the number of books, but the fact I write them all down. When someone asks me what I have read lately, I don’t just stare blankly at them as I try and remember, I can look at my list and recommend something they might like.

So here are my top five books from 2014, in the order they were read;

The Goldfinch- Donna Tart

I was utterly obsessed with Tart’s first novel, The Secret History when I was eighteen. Part of my reading list for an American Literature paper, I sat in my hostel room and devoured it imagining myself at an East Coast university, part of an elitist and drug fuelled secret society. The Goldfinch is her third novel and a huge epic about a stolen painting, but more so a coming of age story. I love the way you cannot trust the narrator entirely- you are getting their version of the story and little by little you realise that may not be the whole truth as you piece the parts of the puzzle together.
ows_138203116777579

The Light Between Oceans– M L Stedman

Read this if you want to be devastated and cry and feel for every flawed and beautiful character on the pages. A story of everyone trying to do the right thing, and yet everyone losing in some way, this is a must read from a new Australian author.

9781742755717

Run– Ann Patchett

I discovered Ann Patchett when I read Bel Canto- a beautiful observation of human nature, and have been reading everything of hers I can find since then. Run is an analysis of family relationships, ethnicity and America told beautifully. It makes you think about nature versus nurture, how privilege affects everyone, especially interesting for me living in the States where the ‘every man for himself’ mentality certainly wins out.

80566The Children Act– Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is my favourite author. The way he uses language is so precise and perfect and… British I am in complete awe of him. Although I feel his last few novels have not been nearly as good as his earlier works, The Children Act was amazing. I found a signed first edition at my local bookshop and devoured it in a day, relishing in the powerful punch McEwan’s writing delivers.21965107

Bad Feminist– Roxanne Gay

Not usually a non fiction reader, this collection of essays on gender and race was fantastic. Gay nails the mix of anecdote with academic research for an intelligent and engaging read. I would recommend this to men, women, and teenagers who think that the fight for gender equality is over, or feel that the term ‘feminism’ isn’t for them.

z_feminist

What do you suggest for my reading list of 2015?

What I’ve been reading…

I often get emails from friends asking what I have been reading lately, and there is nothing I love more than discussing books and how people felt about them. It doesn’t need to be an in depth literary analysis, deciding who would be the biggest babe of all the characters is just fine by me!

So here we have what I have read since I last posted about reading. Besides from my beautiful new copy of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries…

I just finished NW by Zadie Smith this morning. I enjoyed it, but not as much as her last two, On Beauty is such a great novel. I really enjoyed The Flame Thrower by Rachel Kushner but want to find someone to discuss the ending with. It was one of those ones where you turn the page and are surprised it is over. Goodbye Sarajevo is written by two sisters Hana Schofield and Atka Reid who escaped from the Bosnian war and came to New Zealand as refugees. It made me realise how little I know about the conflict, despite having been to the countries effected while backpacking round Europe. I also got on a San Francisco buzz and read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, a novel spanning generations of Chinese immigrants to the city. And a more contemporary take on the city, society and the impact of technology on our interactions, David Egger’s The Circle. To top this off, I have just finished the manuscript of a friend’s first book, very exciting!

Any recommendations of what to read next?

IMG_3664small

The Danger of a Single Story

Last year I taught Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel Purple Hibiscus to my Year 12 English class. This was initially met with resistance. There were words in Igbo, they didn’t understand what they meant, it didn’t have a sequel, it wasn’t set in a dystopian wasteland, I hadn’t taught a lot of them before and they wanted to push my limits. I asked them how many had read a book that wasn’t written by a white person before. I was met with shocked and silent stares, and only a couple of students put up their hands. I tried to explain the importance of reading a whole range of authors, of genres, of stories. It is in doing this we can move beyond a chiched understanding of the world, and begin to understand what is is really like to walk in someone else’s shoes. I decided I was not doing this idea justice. Who am I, a white middle classed woman, to tell a class of Samoan, Tongan, Maori, Croatian, Indian and Pakeha students this? So we watched this. It is amazing.

So when my friend Grace asked me if I wanted to go and see Adichie in conversation with David Eggers, I almost melted with excitement. I get to see her talk for real! I will let you know how she is. Amazing, no doubt.

If you want to read anything by her, she has written Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. And yes, she is the one that is sampled on that Beyonce song.

Enjoy.

A Bookstore Update

San Francisco is overflowing with independent bookstore. Some selling new books, some solely graphic novels, others travel books, anarchist books, others selling second hand. On my wandering I have come across some real gems, so I thought I would update you all.

photo1 (8)

So far, I can recommend:

City Lights Bookstore. Bookstore and publishing house that is home to the beat generation and still fostering writers and readers who may not fit the status quo. Wandering through this store is so overwhelming and awesome, I don’t even know where to begin.

Located in my new favourite area of San Francisco, Bibliohead is a well selected second hand bookstore. You don’t have to fight your way through hundreds of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey to get to the good stuff, this is like a new bookshop, but cheaper.

Books Inc is an independently owned chain of bookstores, apparently the oldest on the West Coast. I went to the Van Ness Street store and was impressed by the range of books and loyalty card system. Free books! They seem to organise a whole heap of book clubs, so may have to check one out.

Dog Eared Books is another well thought out second hand bookstore with so much to choose from. Interestingly, second hand books only seem to be a few dollars cheaper than new books. I guess when a new book is only $15, and rent is so expensive here, prices can only drop so low.

And of course, The Booksmith, my first and favourite bookstore visited in this city. I said some stuff about it here.

DSCF3369

Lucky books are so cheap here as I have been consuming them at an alarming rate. The last two weeks I have read No and Me- Delphine de Vigan, Capital – John Lanchaster, The Dinner– Herman Koch and The Accidental- Ali Smith. Everything I have been reading lately has been so good, I am nervous that each new one I start wont live up to the last! So far, so good, but I am very open to any suggestions- comment away.

Local Bookshop Found!

I have had a lot of time to read since I have been in this city. In between apartment hunting I have perched in cool looking cafes with a coffee and a book hoping someone will come and befriend me. No luck just yet, but I am ever the optimist. At least I have devoured some good ones this week- Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham was an epic tale spanning three generations of American immigrants. Not quite as good as Middlesex, but a captivating and tragic tale. Plus I have read Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel, A Pale View of the Hills and the very creepy The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

So it is with great excitement that I have found my new favourite bookshop. The Booksmith on Haight Street immediately wooed me with their range of books and beautiful space. They have write ups on favourite books so you have all the people who work there’s opinion on what to read. Someone called Amy liked a whole lot of books that I also like, so I have bought Captial on her recommendation.

photo2

Bookshops are so important in any community, whether they sell a selection of dog eared second hand books, or beautiful new waiting to be discovered books. People thought that with the rise of bookshops like Borders, smaller independents would suffer. Then with the ease and discounted price offered by the Book Depository and Amazon, then kindles, we wondered- how could a small local store ever compete when they have to charge so much more and people have to leave their homes to look and buy? Perhaps it is for that very reason independent bookstores are doing better than ever. People want to feel like they belong in a community, buy their fruit and vegetables from the local farmer’s market. They don’t want to be anonymous in a huge mall. There is something nice about chatting with the person who makes your coffee in the morning, something even nicer about someone being able to recommend a book they know you will love.

photo1 (1)

I have some amazing talented friends who are starting up their own thing and being their own boss. Anna has become a freelance photographer. Within a year she is turning away bookings because she is in such high demand. Olivia has started designing beautiful rugs and is now being stocked in small local shops in Sydney, Wellington and Auckland. Millie sells flowers out of a converted truck at Cox’s Bay and sells out all the time. These incredible people are a sure sign that we like supporting local. Why should bookshops be any different? My friend Kimberley and I have a long standing dream to open up our own bookstore one day selling beautiful books, coffee and community. It may be a cliche, but I think we can make it happen.