When I was about 15 and still in high school, my world was rocked by the discovery of an American writer called SE Hinton. I had discovered her only after seeing the movie of one of her books (Francis Ford Coppola's much loved film version of The Outsiders) and deciding to read the book. I was instantly hooked. Here was somebody writing specifically for teenagers, but not about twee, cutesy things but real and gritty issues - and in language that was more like the spoken than the written word. I was smitten and read all four her books in the space of a month or two. You can literally pinpoint when I read the books by looking at the essays I was writing in English class at the time. Suddenly everything I wrote was in the first person rather than the third, and the amount of dialogue increased exponentially – and not long after that my teacher took me aside one day and said I had a real talent and she could see me being able to make a living from writing one day. It felt as if I had been electrified by bolt of lightning.
Of course, despite what I took to be a clear sign from the Universe as to the nature of my future career, my father decided that writing was not a "proper job" and so I was packed off to university to learn Useful Things.
So despite realising pretty early on what I wanted to do, like so many other friends I was fed the usual crap about how you need to have a "proper" career and that you could write for fun in your spare time. Umm… what spare time, pray tell, seeing as you are working so hard at this proper career of yours? So for years, my writing was done in the form of long letters, detailed diaries and reams of poetry, not to be shared with the world. But eventually the old urge would be still no longer and I started with this blog in 2004. I am still working at the "proper" job, and it is harder than ever to make money from writing, but it does still fill me with unadulterated joy to see my name appearing in a hard-copy publication (as it did last year in National Geographic's Food Journeys of a Lifetime and the BloggerAid Cook Book) – I feel the urge to track down my old teacher and sending her a copy
And I am thrilled to say that I have had that urge three times over the past six weeks or so!
The first was when I was the subject of a full-colour feature article in the SA Times magazine, a magazine catering for South African expats living abroad. The feature comprised three pages of an interview with me, two of my recipes and a smorgasbord of my photographs. It's available to read online on the SA Times website - click on the September 2010 edition and flip to pages 8-10!
"If you could describe your best ever meal, real or imagined, what would it be?" was the brief sent me – and I was intrigued at once. I loved the idea behind Creating a Meal You'll Love from the moment the publishers contacted me. The idea of food writers and chefs contributing their essays to a book to be sold in aid of Share Our Strength, a not-for-profit organisation in the USA that fights child hunger, has a nice symmetry about it. The book is not a recipe book, although some pieces do include recipes. Instead, it is a book of essays documenting important meals in the lives of each of the contributors – and what stellar company I am in! My fellow-contributors include food writers (Julee Rosso, Mimi Sheraton and Mary Ann Esposito), chefs (Skye Gingell of Petersham Nurseries Café, and Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit), and fellow-bloggers (Shauna James, Amy Sherman and Jaden Hair), each with their own unique perspective on that a meal to love might comprise. Some essays are wistful; some are funny; some are informative, but a real love for food and its place in our lives shines through all of them. The beautiful essay by Raghavan Iyer entitled "Brahmin Soul Food: A Father's One-Way Journey to the Life Hereafter" will stay with you forever, and is worth the price of the book on its own if you ask me. And imagine how thrilled I was to find that my essay about my mom opens the book! With Christmas coming up, this book would make a lovely addition to the bookshelf of anybody who loves food – or simply loves good writing. The book is available through Amazon, but my South African readers can also buy it through Kalahari.net (R132.56) or buy it through The Book Depository (£10.26) who deliver free worldwide including South Africa!
If it's recipes that you are after, then look no further that Foodies of the World, a beautiful new recipe book pulling together the best recipes from food blogs around the world, each illustrated with sumptuous full-colour photographs and accompanied by a biography of the blogger who submitted it. The first thing that struck me about the book was the high production values – it's always a gamble when you submit recipes to be published in a book and have no idea of or control over what the end result is going to look like. Will the cover be tacky? Will the layout suck? But any such worries proved unfounded here. The book is a class act, from the lovely clean cover design, to the heavy matt paper, to the high quality photographs. Featured bloggers include yours truly, my sister-from-another-mother Meeta of What's for Lunch, Honey? , Hilda of Saffron & Blueberry; Ilva from Lucullian Delights; Oz from Kitchen Butterfly; Pascale from Extra Relish; Kevin from Closet Cooking; and Julia from A Slice of Cherry Pie. You can click here to buy the book and I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. Not only will you be buying over 100 recipes, but you will also discover a wealth of blogging talent (and recipes!) on the internet via links to the contributors.
Either of these books would make a fantastic present, either for a foodie friend or relative – or for yourself! So go on, give the gift of CookSister this Christmas
And in other news…
The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop presented by me, Meeta, Jamie and Ilva is now sold out - but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011!