Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Tucci Table by Stanley Tucci (2014)

My love of celebrity cookbooks is well documented. I read every one I can get my hands on but very few of them make it past the reading stage. For example, I love Clueless as much as the next girl raised in the 1990s but Alicia Silverstone is completely cookoo and her earnest, heartfelt cookbook is too. 

Not so the latest Stanley Tucci cookbook, The Tucci Table. Basically, after the passing of his first wife, Stanley and his new wife Felicity Blunt worked to recreate some of the Tucci family's favourite meals, as a way for Tucci to both remember his old love and celebrate his new one.

Lovely, right? This whole book is a delight. As well as the charming story of its inception, there are the vital elements in the book that turn it from a cookbook to a celebrity cookbook: recipes scattered throughout from various famous friends, like the chicken noodle soup that sister-in-law Emily (Blunt) cooked for her husband John (Krasinski); anecdotes from his films (he learned to cook a frittata from chef Gianni Scappin because he needed to do it for a scene in Big Night) and lots of photos of the celebrity in question cooking various foodstuffs.

Now, as fun and engaging as the celebrity stuff is, at the end of the day this is a cookbook. As I would expect from the divine Mr T, the food in the book is very very good. It's not revolutionary but each of the recipes is clearly explained, well photographed and the kind of food that is affordable, easy to cook and tastes good. There's also a ton of vegetarian recipes and some good basic salads that been added into regular rotation at my house.

 This is Stanley's marinara sauce (made with Italian tomatoes but not the San Marzana tomatoes specified; I am not a movie star). Delicious, easy and can also be used for...

a pizza sauce for Stanley's mother pizza. Again, easy, cheap and delicious (although I would add more cheese; again, I am not a movie star and do not need to watch my figure).

Please note: I am obviously not a food blogger! I do not know why my food photos always look so terrible and I'm usually to hungry to hang about taking a bunch of shots. Trust me, the food was very tasty and will definitely be made again!

I would recommend The Tucci Table as a cookbook alone but as a celebrity cookbook, it really takes the cake (or serves up the pasta, if you will).

As Nicole Cliff of the Toast said of his first cookbook:

If Stanley Tucci put together a book about repairing vacuum cleaners, I would buy it and start showing up at strangers’ houses to break and then fix their vacuum cleaners. It’s also a lovely, lovely cookbook of family standards, mostly Italian in nature, and every page of it made me think of THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE: Big Night

Absolutely yes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Only in New York by Lily Brett (2014)

A few years ago, I went to a session at the Wheeler Centre where Lily Brett was reading from her book Lola Bensky. She was wonderful – funny, clever, entertaining – and every since then I have had a massive girl crush on Lily Brett. I downloaded her latest, Only in New York, as soon as I found out about its existence but waited until last week to read it. The anticipation of the pleasure it was going to bring me was almost as pleasurable as reading the book itself…but not quite!

In Only in New York, Brett shares a series of vignettes about her life in New York: the walks she takes, the people she meets and the places she visits and loves. In the process, Brett skillfully weaves in the New York of the past, the Melbourne of her childhood and the Poland of her Jewish parents. She discusses issue of great tragedy and great humour, often in the same vignette, and through her featherlight touch the Holocaust is given a her own individual perspective as one of the first babies born to not one but two Holocaust survivors.
This description makes the book sound sad but it is in fact very funny; her wry observations identify the basic humour of humanity and the particular humanity of the type of events that happen only in New York.

She mentioned the book reading I went to in her book, which I think means we are now best friends. Only in New York is a lovely book, four stars.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Amnesia by Peter Carey (2014)

Amnesia is the latest novel from the great Australian author Peter Carey. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Carey but I was intrigued by the premise of this novel – a young Australian woman releases a computer virus that frees prisoners all over the world, making her “America’s public enemy number one”. I was quietly excited when I was allowed to access an advance copy on Netgalley.

The novel opens with journalist Felix Moore being convicted of defamation. Immediately after being sentenced, Felix and his grotesquely obese benefactor (this is often repeated: Amnesia is very concerned when its characters gain weight), the wealthy criminal property developer Woody “Wodonga” Townes, repair to the pub to get drunk, before going home and accidentally drunkenly burning his house down. At the same time as Felix’s courtroom downfall is occurring, a virus that opened prisons around the world, freeing political prisoners and hardened violent criminals alike was released by a hacker called Angel, who turns out to be Melbourne-born Gaby Baillieux, daughter of Felix’s fellow Monash alum Celine Baillieux. Gaby is caught by the police then bailed out by Wodonga, who also has a past with Celine. Drunk, destitute and desperate (always so very drunk!), Felix is hired by Wodonga to write a book that portrays Gaby as a hero so that she won’t be deported by the Americans, who Felix are convinced are behind every major event in Australian politics. This is important, because Felix’s firm and fervent conviction that the CIA were behind the events of 1975 that have shaped so much of Australia’s politics ever since dominates the book and motivates Felix’s desperate desire to tell the truth. Part I is a first-person account of events from Felix’s point of view, while Part II’s narration shifts a lot, moving between a third person recounting of Felix’s actions and Gaby and Celine’s recorded first-person account that is reported by Felix.

Peter Carey is the perfect author if a recently returned traveller wants to feel like they have arrived home. His language evocatively captures the essence of Australia, from the truth about how those in cities understand the rich bushland that surrounds their urban environments to references to the annual (very dangerous!) magpie swooping season. The book was at its best and most enjoyable when it placed Felix within these surroundings, taking us on a journey from the Battle of Brisbane in World War II Queensland to the suburban Melbourne of ‘90s via the harsh sundrenched and muddy environs of the first class of Monash University (it’s still a terrible-looking campus and one of the windiest places in Melbourne but markedly less muddy than Carey describes it).

If it had stayed just as that, it would have been a great book. But, the central concern that drives the plot is an investigation of Gaby and that aspect of the book fails miserably. I just did not for one second buy Gaby’s character. Even understanding that the “first person” narration of Gaby’s is filtered through Felix, there is no teenage girl in the world who speaks likes that. It was like a historical fiction that had been researched extensively with the items all correctly identified but the idiom just slightly off. It’s such a pity, because all the other characters were so richly drawn that the falsity of Gaby stands out clearly. It kind of feels like a book that was started with one idea but then ended at a place the author did not expected it to go but wasn’t that fussed about.

I still enjoyed the book and I will revisit Part I whenever I feel the need to immerse myself in lovely Australian language. The second part, not so much. Three stars.