A Feast of Ice & Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel & Sariann Lehrer

I love cooking, particularly hearty, flavourful foods. I love A Song of Ice and Fire. I also love Medieval Europe (touristing only, there is no way I’d like to live then). I think it’s rather obvious that A Feast of Ice & Fire is right up my alley. All three of my alleys, in fact.

The book takes us to the different locations of ASOIAF: the Wall, the North, the South, King’s Landing, Dorne, and across the Narrow Sea. For each location, there are several dishes mentioned in the books (all include a breakfast) with recipes. Even better, many of the dishes are presented with two recipes – one drawn from medieval sources (using the term “medieval” loosely, as they actually span the period from the Roman Empire to the Elizabethan period, and some of them are not European in origin), and one modern variation.

Some of the ingredients can be hard to find, but the book includes a list of substitutions.

The best part is that all of the recipes are fairly simple, most having only a handful of steps. It would actually be feasible to put on a multi-course Game of Thrones dinnerparty without running yourself ragged.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable cookbook, for regular use as well as for it’s novelty gimmick. It would make a great gift for a reasonably experienced cook who likes experimentation and trying new things.

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Bruno Courrèges Mystery #5: The Devil’s Cave by Martin Walker

Read: 8 September, 2013

Whenever I get to see my dad, we usually have fun trading book recommendations – almost always mystery series because it’s our biggest genre overlap. This summer, he sent me home with a copy of The Devil’s Cave.

Though I generally prefer starting a series at the beginning, it was the only one my dad had with him. Even so, I didn’t get the impression that it matters too much, as the narrative is reasonably self-contained (barring the odd, rare references to past events and character histories).

Bruno, the investigator, is a fun character. He is very down-to-earth and his mandatory eccentricities (all investigators require eccentricities, it’s like a law of the mystery genre) are quite fun – he is obsessed with food, cooking delicious meals at least ever 50 pages or so, and he is very involved with his community. Unlike the usual “doing it his own way / lone wolf” investigator, Bruno teaches sports to local kids, stops by the weekly market to chat with shoppers and stall holders, and must balance the needs of the investigation with his social calendar. It makes for a very refreshing change.

The cooking was also quite fun to read about. Walker uses enough detail to allow me to recreate a few of the dishes (with my own modifications, of course), much to my family’s delight. So far, I’ve had success with the fried/broth rice and the beer chicken.

The mystery itself was a lot of fun. My favourite type of investigator narrative is the one where the reader is privy to all the clues and is able to guess at the resolution, essentially pitting her/his deductive powers against the investigator’s. That’s exactly what happens here, and yet Bruno still surprised me often with his inventiveness and his ability to think two steps ahead of the baddies (all the while playing with the “rules” of the genre).

The setting, of course, is quite idyllic, with characters to match (though not lacking in complexity).

I’ll definitely be seeking out more from this series, and I highly recommend it.

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The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black

There are a few “medieval” cookbooks floating around, but this is the best I’ve seen so far. It’s the kind of cookbook that you can actually sit down and read through.

The recipes are divided by era, social class, and function. There’s a chapter on foods that were primarily associated with the cloister, for example, and a section for remedies. There are simple dishes with few ingredients that would be most appropriate for a side-dish or breakfast, and there are elaborate meals that belong more properly to a great feast.

Each recipe comes with a short introduction or with a contemporary passage describing the dish, followed by the ingredients list and instructions. Some license is taken with substitutions – sometimes multiple substitutions are indicated for choice – to deal with the fact that many of the ingredients are hard to find these days or no longer exist at all.

illustrations from contemporary sources are plentiful and printed in full colour, making this book a lovely source of medieval art as well.

I’ve tried a couple of the recipes over the years and enjoyed them. I’d love to throw a “Period Party” someday to really make use of this book.

Get cooking! Buy The Medieval Cookbook from Amazon to get started on your feast!

Better Baby Food by Daina Kalnins & Joanne Saab

Read: 5 September, 2008

Overall, I’d say that this book is fine if you are reading it among a whole bunch of books – in which case it may provide a few extra ideas or inspirations (though, even there, I found it to be lacking). If, on the other hand, you are thinking of reading this as your first book on baby nutrition, choose something else. It’s written from a very biased perspective and has quite a bit of advice that simply does not reflect contemporary understandings. It also, surprisingly, seems to show an irrational distrust of medical advice.

Firstly, there’s an entire section on breastfeeding that never mentions that some women cannot produce milk properly. It explains that women shouldn’t worry about whether or not they are producing enough milk for their infants. Okay, fair enough. It’s not something that one should be worried about. But nowhere does it say “if you are concerned, ask your doctor.” It just flat out dismisses it as a non-issue.

The book also says that if your newborn is “not demanding to be fed at least every 4 hours, they should be awakened to feed.” This is the kind of advice my mother’s generation was given. If a child is getting enough nutrition, is growing at an appropriate pace, and is a healthy weight, why make him cranky by waking him up all the time? This advice is bad, not just because it isn’t true and because it never takes the family’s doctor into consideration, but also because it could make relationships between the parents and their newborn even more strained than they may already be. What if the newborn doesn’t want to eat yet and resists, but the parents (panicking because of the “feed every four hours or your child will STARVE!” advice) keep trying to force him? He’s already cranky and now he keeps getting nipples shoved in his face. Yeah, great advice.

Another example of this comes later with a blurb that explains that parents must start their infants on solids at 4 months or the baby won’t accept textures later on. Never mind that an individual baby may not be ready for solids that early. Again, no mention that a mother should consult with her doctor about her individual child’s needs before taking such a big dietary step.

That’s the tone this book carries most of the way through. It rarely has the more sensible advice of “don’t panic, trust yourself, trust your baby – but if it’s concerning you, double check with your doctor.” Instead, it just provides instructions as though a baby could actually come with a manual. Any book that doesn’t allow for an individual infant’s needs is not to be trusted.

There are also some strange additions, such as a note in a margin that reads “(Authors – Correct???)”. I can only assume that this is from an editor. In either case, this is the sort of sloppiness a good book might get away with, but points a much larger issue in Better Baby Food.

And finally, the recipes leave a lot to be desired. Some looked interesting, but they were few and far between. For one thing, many of them contain eggs or sugar – both of which are fine in moderation, but probably shouldn’t be consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. I also found pages and pages devoted to overly simplistic recipes. For example, the first four pages of the Lunches section talk about making purées – that’s seven different recipes of “take [fruit/vegetable] and boil. When soft, mash into a purée. Serve.” I can understand including one to go through the process (though even this would be borderline since it is just so incredibly simple), but to actually include seven such recipes, each with a different fruit or vegetable, is just ridiculous. Not to mention the almost identical apple sauce recipe in the Breakfast section. I got about half-way through the Lunch recipes when I gave up and put the book down. There just weren’t enough interesting recipes to warrant reading through.

My closing thought on this book is that if you’ve read a lot about baby care and nutrition and feel that your knowledge base is already fairly solid, this book isn’t an entirely wasteful way to spend an afternoon. That being said, don’t buy it and don’t follow any new advice that strikes you as odd without first consulting with your doctor. I would have expected much better from two registered dietitians.

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