Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Nake Chef Takes Off


Never thought I'd do a write up about a cook book. First off, I'm not what you'd call a cook or a wannabe cook or even an occasional dabbler in the culinary arts. No, I microwave tea ('nuff said). So, to now be praising a book on cooking seems very odd. But, this is no ordinary book full of recipes and detailed instructions on bake times and temps. No, it's a bird, it's a plane, ...it's Jaime Oliver!

Jamie's charismatic personality and passion for food is palatable in this book. Even though there is very little writing it felt like every word made an impact. The short & sweet stories describing dishes are filled with the right mix of humour, british slang, and Jamie's own strong opinions (pushing organics, quality food, and that obvious disgust for over processed food)

Even though I am no cook, this book makes me want to run out and buy some 'simple' ingredients (or better yet, just grow some on the windowsill), throw them in a pot, cook for an hour and wow my friends and family. Jamie makes it sound so simple! I'm seriously thinking this book could/should be filed under 'motivational' books in some library somewhere.

I think the writing style of the book makes it a good read for all cooking levels. The 'cooking instructions' are so vague that it sounds easy for non-cookers (like me), and so open ended for for advanced cookers to get creative. For eg, there is a page or two on salad dressings. The small story before this section talks about how Jamie just throws all his ingredients in a jam jar (I think it is supposed to be funny, using a jam jar. Maybe in Europe?) and shakes it up - simple and vague. The next page is just a list of ingredients...so simple! This format makes the 'cookbook' so much different than any other cookbook I've glanced through. I'm not scared off by the technical writing stressing times and temperatures.

One of my favourite parts of the book was a rant/prediction by Jamie. He talks about a typical trip to the grocery store. How stores are 'getting better' at stocking organic foods, and he predicts by 2005 that 90% of produce will be organic. He goes on describing a young hip couple who are buying organic arugula and having an argument over what herbs to buy. While there is a nasty mother who has her cart full of Coke, crisps (potato chips for us North Americans), and over processed food (turkey twizzlers and such).

The opening is quite interesting as well. Dedicated 'To my missus, SORRY'.

I would like to think this is a joke, that Jules (Jaime's wife) does not like to be called his 'missus'. So, the book is dedicated to her, but, he does it in a way that he needs to apologize. Could be funny, in an inside joke kind of way?

I like to look on the darker side, like Darth. I have a theory that it is misspelled missus to imply 'miss us', as in Jamie is sorry he is on another one of his projects and is putting all his time, energy, and passion into it. Leaving poor Jules at home, alone. Not to mention he insults her mother's way of boiling spinach into a grey mush. OR, for that matter, he jokes about Jules overboiling vegetables and then having to mush them all together to make a wonderful 'vegetable mash'. But, that is just my take.

Overall, this is a book you just have to treat like a meal; sit down, get comfortable, and TUCK IN!

Tuck in - a phrase used a dozen times throughout the book. At one point it felt like it was the ending of every dish description.


*If you don't feel like reading this book for some reason, you can always watch Jamie's show "Oliver's Twist". It is him at home cooking up a bunch of the same recipes found in this book. He doesn't say 'tuck in' as much, but he does use other funny british slang.

All New Square Foot Gardening


Apparently this is a sequel!? For those of you that didn't know, there was not only a previous book, but a PBS series as well! How did I miss all that?

This book was a birthday present I received a couple of years ago and I'm finally getting around to reading the entire thing. It's one of those books I've look over a few times. Took a peek at the pictures and read a few of the 'tips'. Now, I've taken the leap and I'm in. I'm learning all about how to 'square foot garden'. What is the difference between square foot gardening and 'regular' gardening, you ask? Mostly the layout of a garden. Instead of 'wasteful' long lines of vegetables you squish them all into a grid type system that is a foot square!

From what I've read, I am essentially doing that already. My current garden out back is about four feet long by one foot wide. I have managed to fit in a good variety of different plants and managed to grow lots of vegetables over the years. The closest thing I have to a garden philosophy is what I call 'shove and cram'. Not a strict theory, but, what I have done is to never followed the recommended spacing of plants found on the back of seed packages. Out of necessity, I have to organize my garden in the most 'efficient' way...and ignore the 'rules'.

Mel's square foot theory sounds a lot like mine, only more technical and 'proven'. He has experimented and found that you can throw out the old way of gardening, in long lines, by condensing your garden into little square plots. The traditional long, spaced out lines of plants use lots of space and fertilizer and end up causing a lot of waste, weeds, and work (hard, laborious, time consuming...he went on and on in the book). While, the little squares use soil better, are easy to keep tidy, and grow just as much stuff...using 80% less space! What a wonderful new idea.

And, Mel is not shy about reinforcing that this is a wonderful idea. He makes good use of his proof points and any stats he has come up with, using them every chance he gets. I'm guessing on average 1.25 times per page. He also makes good use of little boxes in the margins to further highlight his idea. By the end of the book I'm guessing you have been exposed to that '80% less space' stat 232 times. You may think I'm stretching the truth...and I guess I am a little, but, you get my point right?

Mel also has tips that he shares, typically in a little box with his picture in the corner and labelled "MEL SAYS". They are usually a little story or tip about something relevant to the topic on the page. There are also 'penny pincher' boxes, that share tips on saving money. Most of them say the same thing along the lines of, go to a construction site and ask for free wood. This is repeated half a dozen times in the book. The best one: (paraphrasing here) Go to a construction site and ask for the foreman. Tell him (yes, a him) that you are building a square foot garden and need some two by fours. Ask them nicely if they can cut the boards to four foot long. They probably will. Are you serious Mel?

Not to sound too obnoxious but '80% less space' could have been used to explain the entire concept. Following the environmental theme that is mentioned in the book Mel should have condensed the book into the size of a magazine...I'm sure that would have provide more than enough room and save many many trees.

I do think the idea behind this book is great and I know it works. It even makes you think outside the box, which is a bit tough in the gardening world which is apparently steeped in tradition. Being critical of proven farming methods that people have been using for centuries is a bit tough. But, Mel has convinced me.

Furthermore, the writing is upbeat and even...fun. It's a good read, especially considering it is a gardening book. Even though there is a lot of repetition, there is a lot of good information. Even if you don't end up following his method down to every last detail (as prescribed) there are many small things you can and use in your own garden. Or, at the least Mel plants the idea that gardening can be done in a different way...you let it grow from there.


*It would be wonderful to read outside on a lovely day with inspiring things around such as a composter and some free two by fours.

Thursday, April 7, 2011



- David Farland -

I praise books for many reasons. I praise books that I can relate to, like Farley Mowat's Born Naked, since it's almost like reading my own biography. I also praise books I can see myself writing, like Robert Asprin's Myth series, with all the puns and satire. Worldbinder, is not a book I'd ever see myself writing; it's very serious and in depth. I cannot relate to this in a personal way, mostly because it takes place in a made up universe where wizards and kings rule. In fact, this book is the exact opposite. I have some pretty wacky far out ideas whizzing through my head, but, the idea behind this book of two worlds combining has never been one of them...which is very interesting to me, ie I'm praising this part.

Now, for the non-praising. Being one of the most frugal people I know (as fancy Nancy says, frugal is a fancy word for cheap) I have another measurement I use to determine if I think a book was good. If I pay full price for it I like it...I never buy books full price unless I've read them before and I want to have them forever. If I get the book from the library and I manage to accrue an overdue charge and I'm not cheesed-off, then I like it. Worldbinder was a book I forgot to return to the library for a week past the due date. 70 cents worth of overdue charges made me realize I didn't like the book.

I think the problem, for me, was that I wanted more of the same ol' Runelord stories I've been reading up to this point; adventure, blood and gore, endowments. But, this book took a different story path. I do not know for sure what will happen, but, I can make an educated guess. From the few hundred pages I read, this book seems like the start of a long drawn out story that will end with a family reunion type ending...like Star Wars, "Luke, I am your FATHER!"

There were many many new characters, and with the combining of the two worlds it seemed like everyone was somehow related. The story was dragging along really slowly as the characters discovered how things and people had changed with the binding of worlds. I guess I'm a bit impatient? But, it's spring and I can finally go outside after a long cold Canadian winter. The NHL playoffs are in full swing, which means hockey every night on TV! Plus, househunting. This leaves only little stretched of time for reading, and I think this is the type of book you need to devote some serious time to. The story is long and drawn out, which can be wonderful if you have the time...but, is a hindrance if you don't.

I think if I really connected with the story I would have made time to read it. Since I didn't I'm afraid I will have to give it my 'do not read' rating...ouch, I'm sure that hurts.


*Unless you have lots of time, and spending upwards of 70 cents on a book does not bother you. As well, this is not a rating on the entire Runelord series, just this particular book.