Culinary and Crafts

 The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters starstarstarstar

by Michael Dobrzycki, , Bob Berry, Cynthia Knox, Meredith Dillman

A look at the beautifully shaded drawings on the cover is enough to tell me this is above my drawing level, but I thought I would give it a try anyway and see if my perspective might improve.

Like many drawing books, it goes over tools and materials first. I noted the inclusion of tortillions, used for smudge shading. This is followed by a section on shading techniques, so a lot of possibility there for improving my skills. Then we get to the construction of creatures using basic shapes. They make it look so easy!

The creating textures section goes into more detail than I’ve seen in a lot of books. I can see this becoming the key, along with the shading, to making the drawings have that detailed finished look. The details on claws, horns and especially wing positions was extremely well done.

The creatures shown in the instructions include the western dragon, eastern dragon, wyvern (perhaps a good starting project as it has fewer fiddly bits), wyrm, water dragon, hydra, sui riu (Japanese rain dragon), centaur, fairy, minotaur, satyr, griffin and unicorn. The fact that it’s weighted towards dragon-related creatures is part of the appeal of the book to me.

There is another section on tools and materials, this time for adding colour. This goes into using marker for an alternative dragon design, a pegasus in pencil and marker and another fairy in coloured pencil. Then a detailed drawing of a wisteria fairy is provided for working in water colour, though there are no instructions for drawing this one.

Overall I think the book is wonderful, but it’s going to take some real practice to get to a level that looks as good as the pictures provided.


Draw Baby Beasties starstarstarstar

by Lindsay Cibos & Jared Hodges

This is a drawing instruction book with examples of how to draw cartoony baby animals, most of them mythological creatures. The cute is strong with this one.

It starts out with practical information about tools and materials, including different coloring mediums like pencils, paints, markers and crayons. There is also instruction for electronic drawing.

It gets into working with shapes, learning to stretch and squash them so that your creatures can be moved into different positions. It gives shapes for constructing bodies with perspective, dividing the head in ways to place features realistically, as much as a cartoon is realistic.

My own first attempt had the front legs way too long, but it’s the sort of thing that a little practice can improve. The instructions touch on shading and detail work, but not extensively.

As with most drawing books, the author makes the process look easy, but practice will soon reveal how easy it isn’t on a first try. Some people will always be more naturally adept at drawing than others. Still, working with shapes and segments does result in a passable creature even for the inexperienced artist.

This is one to sit down and work with, learning by trial and error. It would be a great book for a child who shows artistic interest, as the lessons in shapes and perspective would develop their technical drawing skills.


Draw 62 Animals and Make Them Cute starstarstar

by Heegyum Kim

This was a cute drawing book with very simple drawings of a wide variety of animals. The initial drawings of the animals are shown in 5-6 steps and those are fairly clear and easy to follow.

Each animal is followed by a ‘make it cute’ page and that’s where it could have used a lot more instruction. The drawings were undeniably cute, but how to put the animals in different positions while keeping perspective wasn’t addressed at all.

Probably best for someone with a natural artistic perspective eye, though someone just learning to draw could follow the basic designs easily enough.


Cats in Origami starstarstarstarstar

by Nick Robinson

This is a lovely book with clear instructions for making origami cats in 20 designs.

The pictures are full color and the instruction show step by step folds for all designs. I found them easy to follow.

This book would make a lovely gift along with some colourful origami paper for anyone with an interest in crafts and I think a child 8-10 could follow the instructions and diagrams.


Chibi Art Class starstarstarstarstar

by Yoai

This is such a cute book! As the title suggest, it’s about learning to draw Chibis. It explains what a Chibi is and gives instructions of how to draw them from the very basics, even different types of pens and markers you might want to use!

The basic form is simple enough that a non-artist like me can manage it. Detailed information and illustrations to show proportions of the general shape in different positions and where facial features should start and end are followed by more detailed features, like how to draw different eyes and other features, create expressions, use of colour, and most difficult of all, hair!

Examples of different types of clothing are included and even how to show motion with a flared skirt or other movement. Adding props, turning your Chibi into anthropomorphic forms and backgrounds are all clearly shown. Details like indicating light direction for adding realism as well as shading and shadows are explained and shown in very easy lessons.

A series of practice Chibis are offered to get the feel of the art form until you’re ready to create your own original characters. The book finishes off with some practice pages with some basic forms that the reader can play with to make original designs, including a mermaid! Or merboy if you like, even a mercat or other animal if you fancy it!

All in all an excellent drawing instruction book for a specific form that is very popular.


Art Makers: Polymer Clay for Beginners starstarstarstarhalf

Emily Chen

This is a lovely book with clear instructions for getting started in working with polymer clay.

The book has full color pictures and step-by-step instructions for several projects, including attractive food, animals, beads and plants. The little cacti were particularly interesting as it could be hard to tell them from real cacti at a glance, though I have to admit that it was the unicorn on the cover that really attracted me.

There is plenty of information on materials, techniques, tools for the job and methods for detail decoration. Trouble shooting problems with heating and how to fix any that arise also features.

All in all I think it’s an excellent beginner’s book on the craft and I plan to master the art of filling my house with unicorns! Variations in colors and glittering materials are suggested in the pictures and should be loads of fun to explore. The only thing that could have improved it would be to have a dragon design as well!


Woven in Wire starstarstarstarstar

by Sarah Thompson

The cover picture of this book is enough to see that it’s for the more intricate and polished end of wire jewellery making. This is not one for beginners!

Having said that, the basics are still covered. Tools, Materials and Techniques are the first chapters, followed by Weaving and Sculpting before it gets into Symmetry and Transformation.

There are a lot of full color pictures of some very impressive jewellery pieces. The chapter on tools is straightforward enough and would be useful at any level of experience. It goes into more detail than I’ve seen in other books on wire weaving. Materials is slanted towards working in silver, though other craft wires are mentioned.

The chapter on techniques seems short, yet it’s mind boggling. How can something look easy and complicated at the same time? As I said, this one isn’t for the beginners. Weaving and sculpting are similarly simple yet complicated. Then instructions for the pictures pieces give the reader a chance to apply the information and find out just how easy/complicated putting it all into practice can be!

I’ll be honest, this book scares me. It also intrigues me! I want to be able to make the sort of amazing jewellery that is shown but I know it’s not as easy as it looks. I think practice is in order, but I’m not ready to invest in silver to the extent that making the really cool pieces would require.

The pieces are gorgeous though and the instructions are clear and detailed, so maybe someday.


Knitting Ganseys, Revised and Updated starstarstarstarstar

by Beth Brown-Reinsel

Not just another knitting pattern book!

Ganseys and their southern cousins, Guernseys, are a traditional form of textured sweater made for fishermen to keep in extra warmth and with gussets in the arms for extra freedom of movement.

This is a new edition of a book already in publication. It’s well presented and has lots of good quality color photographs. It starts with a little history, explaining exactly what a Gansey is and where they come from. It goes into detail about the materials, tools and methods traditionally used, but adapts instructions for modern knitting tools.

It explains the forms and construction of this type of sweater and the reasons for such attributes as the underarm gusset. The instructions start with basic casting on and include design variations and a selection of edges the knitter might want to use for their project. It also includes instructions to make samplers for those who don’t feel confident to jump right in with a full-sized pullover.

Reasons for different designs of ribbing and welts are explained and I saw some interesting possibilities for using side welts to make a more tabbard-like project. Knitting in initials was shown with a chart for all letters and my imagination took me well out of the traditional with possibilities for writing slogans on the backs of knitted projects!

There are lots charts for different traditional patterns of textures and information about how they were traditionally used. One thing that is different about this book is that it encourages the knitter to create their own designs, based on the basic elements. There is a little cabling, but most of the patterns are a matter of basic knitting and garter stitch.

Naturally a few different neckline choices are also offered. I have to say that as far as personal design in knitting goes, this is probably the most interesting and useful book I’ve seen. I can see myself experimenting extensively with these ideas! The way the patterns are broken down into basic squares, gussets, edges and shoulder straps and joins allows for a very personally tailored fit and completely personalised combinations of textured designs.

The knitting methods themselves are pretty basic and should be easy for any knitter to follow. Charts are given for measurements when creating your own designs as well as instruction for making the right fit. There’s even a worksheet for planning out your project.

The last part of the book gives nine of the author’s own patterns for those who feel more comfortable with working with an established pattern and these make good examples for the adventurous who are ready to jump in and design their own. One of the things I note is that the sleeves tend to mostly be roomy, which allows for wearing a pullover over a long-sleeved top which is likely in the sort of cold weather that would merit wearing a pullover at all.

I really liked this book. I think I may get more use out of it than any knitting book I’ve had before.


Cat Lady Embroidery starstarstarstarstar

by Applemints

This is a pattern book, so not a lot of text. The designs are all cats; cat faces, cats doing things, whimsical cats, cats with kittens, holiday cats, both Halloween and Christmas, cat alphabets, and of most interest to me, kitty borders that would look great on clothing.

The first section is full color pictures of all the designs, followed by a ‘project inspiration gallery’ with suggestions of where to apply the embroidery. Any piece of clothing or accessory made of cloth is a potential canvas. There is a comprehensive section on tools and materials that gives all the basics of this type of embroidery in simple enough terms for a beginner and shows the effects of using different numbers of strands of embroidery floss.

There are just three basic stitches involved; a chain stitch, a fill stitch and a French knot. Anyone who can wield a needle can do these. They include a chart to identify colors in two major brands of embroidery floss as well.

After that is pictorial chart instructions for all the designs. All the needleworker has to do is transfer the design onto whatever they want to embroidery and follow the lines with the color and number of strands indicated. Easy peasy, anyone who can follow a line can decorate their clothing with cute cats!

I thought it was brilliantly done and the designs are really cute. I’m looking forward to transforming my entire wardrobe into crazy cat lady clothes.


Amazing Origami Boxes starstarstarstarstar

by Tomoko Fuse

Origami has interested me since childhood but these 20 original designs take it to a new level. Tomoko Fuse has achieved recognition for her modular designs and these intricate boxes and dishes show why.

This is not a beginners book. However, the instructions are clear and although I think practicing on cheap paper is a good idea before using the beautiful, decorative origami papers shown in the colorful illustrations, at least most of them should be possible for anyone with patience and prepared to practice.

If you have no experience with origami, I suggest an easier beginner’s book would be better to start, but some of the square boxes are reasonably easy and once those are mastered, the harder ones should be doable. As I said, practice with cheap paper first. Common printer paper can be squared by folding it over and removing the excess. When you’ve got the hang of a design, then the origami papers will make it beautiful.


Alice Starmore’s Glamourie starstarstar

by Alice Starmore

This is a knitting book with a difference. It focuses on costuming and has pictures of some incredible creations the author has designed. The big difference, however, is that the costumes also have stories attached, so it’s more than a craft book.

The author also explains much about how she made each of the costumes and the inspiration behind them.

There is one disappointment though. The patterns in the back are not for the elaborate costumes pictured with the stories. We don’t get those. They are for items more for everyday wear, with some elements of the costumes. For example, the Raven costume that drew my attention to the book is truly magnificent, but the related pattern given is for a basic poncho with some of the feather design that was incorporated into the more intricate costume.

Looking at the sale price of the book, I do feel let down that the actual costuming patterns were not included. While someone walking around in something like the Raven costume would be immediately perceived as a nutter in ordinary circumstances, there are events where costuming is appropriate and I would love to make this one for such events.

Having said that, the everyday wear patterns are unusual in their own right and the book is certainly attractive for someone who wants to add some unique items to their wardrobe. Details about stitches are given and I think any fairly experienced knitter could easily follow the patterns


Plum Dandi Knits starstarstarhalf

by Alicia Plummer, Melissa Schaschwary

As the cover and description would indicate, this is a book of knitting patterns. What’s unique about it is an emphasis on stitch patterns that create romantic designs that are very fluid, like nature.

My one complaint about it is that a lot of the patterns are for ‘accessories’. I counted 2 patterns for leg warmers, one flared, 1 pair of warm looking socks, 4 shawls, one with a massive cable design, 2 patterns for fingerless gloves with interesting textures plus a pattern for enclosed mittens, an interesting headband that I’ll certainly make, 2 scarves, a sort of cabled hat with a big fluffy ball at the top plus 2 more hats, one that the texture pattern made me think of dragon scales, and a cabled blanket.

This wouldn’t be bad if there were more patterns for pullovers and cardigans. Apart from the above there was a patter with delicate stitch patterns in a cardigan and shrug, a striped pullover vest, a turtleneck pullover, an interesting patterned cape that I would make longer, and one other pullover with a lovely pattern going down the sleeves which I am very likely to make. No jackets or dresses, which might have benefited from the sort of design that has gone into the projects offered.

There’s an extensive stitch glossary, including some unusual ones like the long-tail cast on that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I’d say this book is for the more experienced knitter. There are plenty of pictures in color and the stitches are illustrated with clear drawings.

Overall a good knitting book, but I’d like to see more patterns for everyday clothes. You can only make so many hats and scarves before you have too many, no matter how cool the designs.


Contemporary Cables starstarstarstar

by Jody Long

I love cable knitting and the sweaters that result.

This is a collection of patterns for twenty-one different projects, each of them interesting in their own way. As with most knitting books, patterns for women dominate, though two of the three men’s patterns are particularly interesting! No children or babies in this one.

Measurements and all instructions are very clear, giving both US sizes for needles and metric. The description says medium to advanced knitters, but I didn’t see anything too complicated. Cables are actually very easy!

The patterns diverge from traditional into some creative combinations and there are at least three of them that I’m looking forward to knitting for myself. Full color pictures of all the finished designs and extensive charts to show texture or crossover patterns.


Holiday CookiesHoliday Cookies starstarstarstarstar

by Elisabet der Nederlanden

The introductory chapter tells of the author’s Swedish background which bodes well for great cookie recipes. Then before we get into the cookie recipes, we get some technique pointers to make them come out well and the icing recipe that works best for decorated cookies.

The cookie recipes start with classics. Gingerbread men, decorated shortbread, swirl cookies and a few less familiar.

We then get regaled with the author’s ideas for a Cookies Exchange Party, which sounds great fun and a chance to make some fancy cookies like Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies, Almond Ricciarella Cookies, Espresso Thins or especially tasty selections like Malted Milk Chocolate Cookies.

The third chapter gives us some warm holiday spice or fruit and traditional holiday cookies from several countries. Eggnog Madeleines, Cinnamon-Sugar Palmiers and Swedish Pepparkakorare are included among the International treats.

Then, speaking of treats, Holiday Confections is our next chapter and includes ideas for fancy wrapping gifts of cookies or confections along with recipes for holiday themed treats like Peppermint Bark and Apple Cider Caramels, as well as less traditional treats like Chocolate-Hazelnut Fudge and Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch Squares.

Chapter 6 is all about decorating with cookies. The classic Gingerbread house and Christmas tree shaped sugar cookies with decorative icing are featured along with cookie tree ornaments and Candy Cane Cookies. If you really want to impress, the 3-D Christmas Trees made of stacked cookies and the Stained Glass Snowflakes would add something special to any holiday decorations.

There are resources for finding speciality equipment or ingredients in the back for the Americans, thought the rest of us will have to do our own sleuthing.

The color pictures throughout the book could entice any occasional baker to make the extra effort to do some extra baking this holiday season. The attention to detail in gift wrapping makes baking a present for the relative you never know what to buy for a definite attraction, as long as they aren’t diabetic! Overall this is an excellent holiday baking book and probably the only one you’ll ever need for cookies.


Embroidered Garden Flowers starstarstarstarhalf

by Kazuko Aoki

This is a lovely needlecraft book with advice on how to draw flowers with colored threads, in embroidery. It is loaded with full color pictures that show what can be accomplished with a few well-chosen stitches.

Hints are given about how to keep the shapes and colors in the artist’s eye so that the image can be closely depicted in the stitches. About halfway through the book, instructions are given for how to embroider the beautiful flowers. Materials, stitches, everything you need is covered. Even the color numbers for DMC embroidery silks is included.

Detailed instructions are laid out for the specific flower designs in the pictures, but the reader is encouraged to use the same methods for embroidering flower designs from their own gardens or a field guide. There isn’t a lot of text, but the little there is explains everything you need to know!

Overall an excellent tutorial on making these lovely designs.


Art on the Rocks starstarstarstarstar

by F. Sehnaz Bac, Marisa Redondo, Margaret Vance

This is a colorful book showing what can be done with painting on rocks. The illustrations are beautiful and the designs reasonably simple so that anyone could probably create something of beauty with the tips given.

Like most craft books, it starts out with sections on tools and materials, how to prep rocks for painting and the best paints to use. The designs are offered in sections; Mandalas, Patterns, which includes hearts, feathers, dots, flowers and stars, Animals, and Nature, which includes various shapes like a leaf, raindrops and a butterfly wing.

It finishes off with a section about the artists.

Full color pictures illustrate the book throughout and step-by-step methods for achieving the designs make it easy. Techniques for color combination effects are made simple through example.

Graphs are included for design detail. The fox was my favorite, yet they made it so easy! This is a great, simple craft book good for children and adults who want to create something pretty with minimal drawing talent. Easy 5 stars.


leather-burningThe Art of Leather Burning starstarstarstarstar

by Lora Susan Irish

This is a very practical book and easy to follow. It covers everything from types of pyrography tools, adjustable settings and other materials to leather work and all the practical details that go into working with leather, types and methods for burning designs.

I couldn’t resist looking ahead to the designs provided in the back, but in doing so I discovered a real strength of the book. It doesn’t just show you how to trace lines, but goes into detail about how to achieve shaded effects that make a project look really professional.

The segment on working with leather sticks to basics and there are recommendations for more detailed books on that aspect of the craft. This book is about the decorating process and it really delivers. It suggests practice grids to get to know the different patterns and how different tips and temperatures affect the outcome and also covers different types of dyes and other colorings that a crafter might want to use after getting the burned design onto the leather.

Overall an excellent book that does what it says on the cover and does it well and in great detail.


grump-catGrumpy Cat’s Knitting Nightmares starstarstarstar

by Dover Publications

This was irresistably cute. Grumpy Cat has become popular as an Internet meme and this book gives several patterns for putting his iconic face on sweaters, assessory cases and household items as well as patterns to dress up your cat in hats and scarves or to make him toys! There’s a plush Grumpy cat, a human hat with his ears and a cat scarf with knitted head and tail to take your own grumpy cat out in cold weather and give him something to complain about.

The patterns are not overly complicated and should be no problem for a medium level knitter. I’m wondering if the cat cowl might even be useful for shorthaired cats who want to go outside despite cold winter weather, in supervised conditions of course. I’m sure a free roaming cat would waste no time in losing it!

The style of the cat bed particularly appeals to me, especially as the chances of my cat’s hair getting knitted into it while I make it are very high. There are sixteen patterns for cute and useful items which doesn’t seem like a lot, but they are unique and adorable and I expect to make several of them!


caramelCaramel, Caramel

& More Caramel! starstarstarstarstar

by Ivana Nitzan and Michal Moses

I couldn’t resist this cookbook because I love anything caramel, toffee or butterscotch. One of the first things the book clarifies is the difference between caramel and toffee, which I never really knew before. Dulce de Leche also comes up in some of the recipes and is defined for those who didn’t already know.

The recipes! I did expect some wonderfully decadent sweet recipes and was not to be disappointed, but the unusual savory recipes, matching caramel with chicken and other foods we wouldn’t normally think of, makes this cookbook unique. I should clarify though that the savory recipes are caramelised rather than having something like caramel sauce on chicken, although you could get that effect with the caramel fondue and chicken pieces if you were having weird pregnancy cravings or something.

I especially liked that it started with recipes to make your own caramels and toffees rather than relying on melting down commercially made ones. As a Brit who misses Toffos, I intend to experiment with the toffee recipe and flavoured syrups!

Some of the sweet recipes are just too good. Caramel marbled into chocolate brownies, a chocolate banana toffee torte with cream on top and sticky toffee buns are just the sort of thing I picked this book up for. The brilliant thing is that these wonderful recipes are easy! No weird, exotic, hard to find ingredients. Basic sugar, butter, and cream are the building blocks for most caramel related recipes and many wonderful treats await.

There are even healthy recipes like carrot cake with white chocolate caramel frosting or using fruits and oats in the sweet sections. I think I’ll b e getting more use out of this cookbook than many others in my collection!


british-tableThe British Table starstarstar

by Colman Andrews

Traditional British cookbooks can be difficult to find in England. Seriously, ethnic cookbooks are everywhere but apart from BeRo and Mrs Beeton, the more modern cookbooks tend to pass over the Brits.

This one is full of beautiful, full color pictures and information the author has picked up while traveling in the UK. Some of the observations made are interesting to read from an American self-professed Anglophile’s point of view.

The recipes start out with good, basic recipes for oatcakes, porridge, bacon rolls, etc., then it gets fancy with Omelette Arnold Bennett, which I’ve never heard of. It struck me as the sort of thing you would find in a good restaurant.

Some of the soups were a bit fancy, also more like restaurant fare than home cooking. The chapters cover Breakfast, Soups, Fish and Shellfish, Poultry and Rabbit, Beef, Pork and Lamb, Wild Game and Offal and Savory Pies and Puddings. These are followed by Vegetables, Desserts and Confections, and then even cover sauces and condiments, Teatime and drinks.

They deviated from English food on Gnocchi, which is Italian. But this was followed by some traditional Scottish recipes and soon came back to English with fish and chips. It seemed to me there was a lot of fish and seafood, but we do have a history of that on this island nation. Some Indian recipes were included, which is a popular cuisine here since colonial times, and the poultry section even included grouse, which you won’t see in the usual cookbooks.

I maintain that my Yorkshire Pudding recipe is better, but there were several recognizable traditional recipes. I didn’t know what to make of the vegetable recipes. It seemed directed at vegetarians, and someone ought to tell the author that builder’s tea means milk and one sugar!

I think this might make a good first cookbook for Anglophiles who have an interest in the history of British cuisine. I don’t know anyone who makes their own mayonnaise in modern times, but the overall balance gives a nice taste of the history of food in Britain.


Healing BerriesHealing Berries starstarstarhalf

by Kirsten Hartvig

After enjoying the author’s other book on Healing Spices, I had to try this one. It starts out by defining what a berry is and which are fruits according to science, what we commonly think of as berries which is mostly the criteria for what is included in the book and how that might differ from strict scientific classification.

The berries are described in an encyclopedic section wherein each of the berries included is generally described with its Latin name, natural region, classification, physical description and any other relevant details. We are told under separate subheadings about its habitat, phytonutrients, qualities, availability and storage, culinary uses and different varieties. This section is followed by the largest section, called Cooking With Berries. Here is where the recipes start, complete with nutrition and health benefit information.

The author is vegan and although she makes some concessions to meat eaters, the recipe collection as a whole is of a nature that would appeal to people with health food lifestyles and what you might expect to find in a health food restaurant. It starts with various combinations of fruit and nut snacks, musli, things combined with yogurt, followed by some recipes for commonly known dishes like Shepherd’s Pie but with berry additions. A couple of the berry sauces to add to meat will be added to my own recipes collection.

There are some creative combinations and adaptations as well as a section for desert recipes. A Danish pastry recipe made with raspberries sounds very appealing and noting the author’s Scandinavian name, I expect it will be very nice! Mostly there are berry/fruit and yogurt ideas with some pastry baking recipes that involve berries and nuts.

Overall I like the book and found the information about health benefits of berries very interesting, though the recipes generally are mostly not to my personal taste. Still, they provide ideas for variations and many people who have more healthy eating habits will find some nice ideas here.


Healing SpicesHealing Spices starstarstarstarhalf

by Kirsten Hartvig

The book starts out with some history about the spice trade through the centuries and a clarification of what parts of the world various spies come from, which I found very interesting.

Nearly half the book is encyclopedic, giving information about a spectrum of spices and herbs that are mostly available in most supermarkets, though there were a few exotics that might have to be acquired mail order or from speciality shops. I found this more interesting than one might expect. Each entry includes a description of the plant the spice comes from and what part is used, information on buying and storing, followed by a ‘food profile’ which explains which parts of the plant are edible and how it has been used for seasoning food.

This is followed by a nutritional profile which explains what chemicals or fats are contained in the useable part of the plant, then a health profile detailing how it has been used in medicinal purposes in its area of origin and in modern medicine and cosmetics.

The second half of the book focuses on cookery with nutritional information and recipes, as well as health benefits of various spices presented in a logical manner. The author admits to being vegan at the beginning of this section, which affected my expectations of the recipes.

There are a lot of vegetable recipes as one might expect, but the author does give some concession to meat where it’s appropriate, always offering a tofu alternative. The recipes run from the familiar, like Waldorf Salad, to the strange, like Chocolate Avocado Mouse. They cover a spectrum of food types. Some examples are; Olives De Picar, Spiced Figs, Celery Seed Crackers, Sushi Rolls, African Seafood Brochettes and Paprika Latkes with Prawn Mayonnaise.

Some ethnic recipes are included, such as Jamican Jerk, Nordic Juniper Casserole, Hungarian Goulash and Szechuan Beef. A variety of spice mixes peculiar to specific countries are also given, though the recipes include grinding and cooking seeds and other ingredients rather than just mixing them.

I found the book well written, well presented, and one of the more interesting books on cookery that I’ve come across. The nutritional information is also of interest and I might just refer back to this book next time I have an ailment that could be addressed through natural medicine. The cover is a little dull, but the contents are definitely worthwhile.


taste of persiaTaste of Persia starstarstarstarstar

by Naomi Duguid

This is a 400 page book with history and recipes for the food of an area that was once the Ancient Persian Empire, which includes modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Kurdistan. It is beautifully illustrated with full color pictures and a map, and has loads of travel information and history of the various countries in the region. The author traveled extensively through cities and villages in the different countries, picking up cooking methods and recipes along the way.

The first chapter is called Flavors and Condiments. It explains about basic ingredients like mint oil, spices, dried fruits, the use of an herb plate and the saffron crocus and how to use the strands in water. Recipes for mixtures of Persian salt and Svanetian salt are given along with often used items like Walnut sauce, apricot raisin relish and sour plum sauce.

The author explains that the history of the Zoroastrian religion still affects foods that are traditional to welcome the return of the sun at the Spring equinox, which I found culturally interesting.

Then we have a chapter on Salads and Vegetables. There are some familiar ingredients, like cucumber which seems to feature highly in this section, and less familiar items like pomegranate molasses, sumac and barberries. This is the one drawback to any ethnic cookbook, that some ingredients peculiar to the region might not be easily available everywhere.

The author suggests Persian food stores, which I assume can be found in a lot of cities but nor everywhere. Out of curiosity I looked on Ebay and found it very easy to get dried barberries, sumac and even the pomegranate molasses, although you have to be careful you don’t accidentally order hookah tobacco in that flavor! As a result I’ve bookmarked a spice merchant who appears to have everything from smoked Paprika to szechuan peppercorns and ground black cardamom at very reasonable prices.

The vegetable chapter has a few variations of Borani, which is a favored dish of vegetables in yogurt sauce. They use eggplant, walnuts, and leeks in many of the recipes. There are also travel notes about places the author visited while researching the book interspersed among the recipes.

The next chapter is called Soup Paradise and has some interesting combinations like potato and pumpkin soup and herbed yogurt. There are also soups with meat, like Tabriz Meatball soup which sounds rather good and Kofta, which mixes dried fruits with meat and bean soups for the vegetarians.

Next is Stuffed Vegetables and Dumplings. This has such interesting delicacies as Eggplant roll-ups and Cabbage Dolmas, which is spiced meat rolled in cabbage leaves. This is followed by a chapter on fish, which you can have fried, stuffed, with fruit, in salad, or roasted with walnut paste.

Next is Grilled Meat and Poultry, with recipes for lamb, goat or beef kabab, perhaps pomegranate marinated with walnuts?

After an interlude for Fountains and Gardens, Picnics and Poetry, are some poultry recipes including roast chicken with fruits and walnuts and various chicken kebabs. Then in Stovetop Meat and Poultry we get recipes for Tart Lamb Stew with Fried Potatoes and an Easter Stew. I note that lamb seems to feature highly in stews. Kurdish Stew sounded interesting, flavored with cumin, turmeric and dried fruit, and can be made with lamb, beef or chicken. Spiced beef shank made with allspice, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon also caught my eye, although boiling meat has never been my favorite method. I may well try the spice mix on roasted instead.

A chapter on Rice and Other Grains includes Persian rice, made with yogurt and spices, and Kurdish Black Rice, made with pomegranate molasses. This one also gives a recipe for Polenta, which I’ve heard of before and can be bought in some supermarkets.

The chapter on Flatbreads gives recipes for basic flatbreads, Half-moon hand pies which look really good with various fillings; herb, vegetable or cheese. There are also cheese-filled pastries or quickbreads. The author gives us information about traditional breads from different regions like Persian Pebble bread or Barbari bread from Iran.

Then we have a chapter called A Taste For Sweet. The author explains that it’s traditional to eat these sweet concoctions during the day for a snack rather than at the end of a meal. They include Rose water pudding and Persian Rice Pudding with cardamom and pistachios. The author says she substitutes pine nuts for the pistachios, but I can’t imagine why! The original sounds so much better to me.

There are also recipes for Apricot-Walnut Pastry, Armenian Puff Pastry Cake with butter and cardamom, Date-Nut Halvah, Oasis Baklava, rose water and also some exotic teas and coffee with cardamom. They all sound generally more healthy than what we eat as sweet in the western world.

The last chapter, A Wealth of Fruit, has recipes for Fruit Leath, Peach Kompot, and some refreshing things to do with fruit juices. The book finished off with travel notes and a glossary, plus conversion charts after the index.

I’m not sure how many recipes I’ll actually use out of this book, but reading it felt like going on a journey in exotic lands and experiencing the flavors that go with that region. It’s certainly an enjoyable book to read and I’m glad the recipes were mostly kept in their original form. It gave me, as the title says, a real taste of Persia.


SoframizSoframiz starstarstarstarstar

by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick

The authors of this exotic cookbook collected recipes and cooking methods over a series of trips to Turkey and other places like Greece and started a cafe and bakery in Cambridge Massachusetts called Sofra Bakery & Cafe. They’ve shared some of their most popular recipes in this book.

The chapters include Breakfast, Meze, Flatbreads, Savory Pies, Cookies and Confections, Specialty Pastries, Cakes and Deserts, Beverages followed by chapters about what to keep in the pantry and special ingredients.

The insight into what makes a typical breakfast in Turkey was interesting from a cultural perspective and the use of ingredients like peppers, tahini etc give a real flavor of the sort of food that is typical of that part of the world. I’ll have to admit that my biggest interest was in the baked goods, some of which I will definitely try!

The book is nicely presented with color pictures and clear instructions, even a photo diagram of how to assemble Flower Pogaca Rolls which is one of the recipes I will definitely be giving a try.

I love cookbooks like this because they give you the feeling that you’ve actually visited the country, or in this case perhaps the cafe. Highly recommended to those who enjoy exotic food.


Classic German BakingClassic German Baking starstarstarstarstar

by Luisa Weiss

This cookbook is in many ways like a travel experience with beautiful color pictures of Germany as well as some of the foods made from the recipes. The introduction gives a good flavor of Germany and is followed by explanation of many of the ingredients specific to Germany, including the different fat content of butter from Europe to that of the US (I’m still trying to find out where England falls on the spectrum) and the use of Baker’s Ammonia instead of baking powder as a raising agent and the difference in texture that results.

There are recipes for sweet and savoury foods that have measurements in both weight and volume for an international audience. They are made clear and easily adaptable for people from different countries to try. I’m especially interested in some of the cookies and was pleasantly surprised to find some made with cardamom, which I’ve found in Scandinavian cookies before.

Overall this book feels like a trip to Germany and an experience of typical fare, including savory tarts and wonderful breads. It’s one of the best cookbooks I’ve seen for experiencing a specific country and I’m very tempted to get a hard copy!


bakeryBack in the Day Bakery Made With Love starstarstarstarhalf

by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day

I have to admit that design-wise, I found the beginning pages of this book a little too busy. Something in the description had drawn me to the book and I soon found myself looking at beautiful full color plates and a nicely laid out Table of Contents, which promised many wonderful things to come.

I think what really attracted me to the book was that it brought to mind a lady who worked part time at a place I used to work, who always brought in trays of cakes or tarts on a Monday. The quality of these baked goods was superb and I got the impression that she might have been a retired baker, just doing an easy, part time job to keep active. With this in mind, I had to smile while reading the introduction where the authors express how food can bring fond memories and associations. Apart from the pleasant memory, I’ve always wished that I could bake like that.

I soon began to learn the secrets of great baking. In the chapter called The Craft of Scratch Baking, the book explained such simple things as why it’s important to have ingredients at the right temperature. Who among us hasn’t ignored the recipe instructions to have eggs at room temperature and just thrown them in straight from the fridge? I now know why it’s important. I also now know how to get them to the right temperature quickly. The Physics of baking is actually rather fascinating!

The book then covers details about weighing and measuring that most of us should have learned in home economics class, but may not have given enough attention, and then it’s on to the recipes!

The recipes are based on American methods, so dry ingredients are measured by volume. European bakers need to be aware that an American cup is equivalent to 8 fluid ounces, but measuring teaspoons and tablespoons are the same.

Basic buttermilk biscuits, variations and healthier wheat biscuits are followed by interesting variations on old themes like Eggnog French Toast. Many old favorites are included and even some crafty stuff to do, even a decoration made with marshmallows added to keep things interesting!

Then we are treated to cakes, even a spice cake with butterscotch icing. Things get very interesting indeed for us cake lovers. We move on to pies and tarts. I’ve wanted forever to find a good recipe for Banoffee pie! It’s here. The Butterscotch Pie is another I will definitely have to try! The secrets to both shortcut and extra special pie crusts are definitely worthwhile.

We go on with breads, crackers, party cakes, savory pies and cobblers, pizza, and of course cookies and brownies. Ideas for a supper club are given as well as instructions on how to boil an egg to make it look perfect for deviled eggs. Jams, syrups, marmalades and pickles also make an appearance and there’s even a variation on Honey.

There weren’t as many variations on recipes as I might have expected to see in a bakery, but overall a good book to master some of the secrets to really good baking and perhaps discover your own variations once you’ve got the techniques down.

ice creamHow To Make Ice Cream starstarstarstarstar

by Nicole Weston

The sub-title says 52 recipes for classic and contemporary flavors and that’s just what the reader will get, plus some basics on the process and advice on machines.

The first part is about what ice cream is and how it’s made. There is a chapter on ice cream makers and one on working without a machine. The second part is recipes, then the third part is specifically recipes that don’t use an ice cream maker.

The recipes include French style ice cream, which are made with a custard base, and American style ice cream. Flavors are divided into basic vanilla, chocolate and coffee, followed by fruit and nuts, then sugar and spice. Gourmet, holiday and no-churn recipes follow. The no-churn recipes are made with whipped cream, yum!

Many of my own favorites are there, including French Vanilla, Peppermint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Cookie Dough and Eggnog! There are also a couple I haven’t seen before, like Browned Butter which sounds very nice!

I will certainly be trying some of these recipes, and with the no-churn recipes in the back, it may be very soon.

knittedMore Last Minute Knitted Gifts starstarstarstarstar

by Joelle Hoverson

I admit, I was attracted to this one because of the elfin hat on the little girl on the cover.

As the title suggests, this is a book of patterns for gift items that you can knit. It is different in that the table of contents is organized by how long it takes to make an item!

There are some really nice items to make and some of them take as little as two hours, maybe less. Hats, bracelets, wrist warmers, sock and even toys can be made quickly when you suddenly need a gift for someone. That alone makes this is brilliant book.

There are holiday items like bauble covers, not to mention the cute elf hat, and many of them would be a joy to give to someone. The knitted baskets in the 2-4 hour patterns really appealed to me. Nice design and so useful!

The book has full color photos for all the patterns and some of them show the effects of making them in different colors and sizes.

You get the usual baby socks and hats, but also things for adults like scarves and wrist warmers in particularly nice designs. A few household items are included that are diferent from the usual stuff. As the time commitment gets longer, the patterns include more clothing items for both children and adults. There are even patterns for gift tags to make your present especially nice. There’s an index in the back to make it easier to find the pattern you want.

Personally, I may have to make a gift for myself out of this. The beret was very appealing, especially with the photo of different ways to use color to make it unique. Apparently there was a first book called Last Minute Knitted Gifts. I may have to search it out!

winterWinter Knitting starstarstarhalf

by MillaMia

This is a very Nordic themed pattern book for knitters. As the title suggests, the patterns are mostly for things that keep you warm! These include wrist warmers, dresses, cowls and other items. At 54 pages, the number of patterns is limited, but they are worthwhile. Many of them are for children.

There are also several patterns for the home, especially for cushion covers with Nordic designs. If that isn’t enough, in the back are a few recipes for Scandinavian baked goods that look well worth trying. Recipes are something I’ve never come across in a knitting book before, but I felt it was a nice addition.

The book has full color photos throughout and is very well presented. There are helpful technique instructions and acknowledgement of different skill levels. Design charts are clear, although color coded.

There are also a few craft items, like cards with knitted accents and fancy wrapping paper with lace. There is some emphasis on working with color for different effects. Tere are even instructions for Swiss darning. The patterns are geared towards MillaMia yarn, who put out the book.

Beaded JewelleryBeaded Jewellery Knotting Techniques starstarstarstarhalf

by Carson Eddy, Rachael Evans, Kate Feld

This is a practical book on knotting techniques for beading crafts. It begins with an interesting bit of history of the craft, then quickly gets into the information you need to get started.

The first chapter is on cords; what kinds are available and good for different purposes and how much to use. Tis is followed by a chapter on ends and clasps, so that you have the full basic structure in place for your beaded project. Several different types of crimps, claps and hooks are covered so that the crafter can choose according to their vision of the project and the relative strengths of each choice.

Then we get into tools. A full range of tools either specific for the job or useful in multiple crafts are explained with diagrams to show how to use them. Measuring devices, details about the optimum work area and storage are included.

Then in chapter four we get into actual knotting techniques. Pre-stretching, basic knots and attaching different types of tips are explained, as well as variations in preferred knots, working with cord and working with an awl. Tightening knots, working with tweezers and finishing techniques are included.

Chapter five is all about pearls. Though the rest of the book is appropriate to working with any kind of beads, this chapter is useful for someone who specifically wants to string pearls and could be useful for working with other kinds of delicate gemstones as well.

There is good information on types and quality of pearls, followed by shapes, treatment and care.

Overall this is a good, easy to use book on a specific area of crafting which I expect to find very useful for many projects to come.

Origami AnimalsEasy Origami Animals starstarstarstarhalf

by John Montroll

This is a simple craft book that would be appropriate for children or for someone taking first steps in learning Origami.

The contents are rather cute, using pictures instead of text to indicate where each animal is found. The designs are fairy basic, and include some farmyard animals, several birds and some jungle animals

One of the nice things about the book is the pictures of whole scenes made with several animals and backgrounds that could be easily cut out of construction paper. It would make great examples for primary school teachers or anyone else who works with children and wants to teach them multiple layer art, but in an uncomplicated way.

There are just a few symbols to remember and easy color diagrams for how to make each fold.

Overall an excellent beginning book.

beatles quiltsInspired By The Beatles: An Art Quilt Challenge starstarstarstarstar

by Donna Marcinkowski DeSoto

This is a book of textile art, filled with beautiful pictures of quilts that were inspired by over 100 Beatles songs.

The quilts show an incredible about of originality and artistic skill in both ideas and execution. The full color photographs are accompanied by explanations of the artists and what inspired them to make the quilts that they did, and what The Beatles’ songs mean to them. They range from the literal to the abstract, from whimsical designs like one of my favorites made for the song And Your Bird Can Sing to some that use mental symbols like the one for Come Together.

Each of them is unique and they show a wide variety of styles and interpretations by the individual artists. Some of them, like the one for Day Tripper, have the most amazing use of color and detail work.

I have to admit that the songs were going through my head as I looked through the pictures and by the time I got to I Am The Walrus, the combination of music and colorful, abstract art was bringing me into a sort of natural high!

Some of them, like Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds were hand painted (presumably with fabric paints) and the result of the mixed mediums of painting and stitchery was pretty spectacular. Octopus’s Garden was definitely a favorite along with Yellow Submarine. Any of these quilts would be worth a fortune and a real conversation piece for the home.

This is an art book with a difference, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys art as well as those who specifically enjoy the infinite possibilities of textile art.

Origami StarsOrigami Stars starstarstarstarstar

by John Montroll

I’ve always been fascinated by the oriental art of Origami, or paper folding to make animals and other shapes, so when I saw this book I had to take a look.

What makes this craft book different from other books with Origami instructions is that it specializes in stars! These range from three-pointed stars all the way up to twelve pointed stars.

The instructions are clearly illustrated in color with step by step demonstrations and a page at the beginning of the book designated the complexity level of each design. The author says in the introduction that most of them are his own design. Though colors will vary according to what paper you use, some designs are folded so that the back color of the paper alternates with the front color for variation in designs.

Some of them do require small cuts and are woven together in ways that make very striking designs. I should think they would be wonderful for making home made Christmas decorations, maybe finishing with a little glitter spray.

The book is unique in its speciality and I think would make a great addition to any craft library.

CrochetsbwThe Crocheter’s Skill Building Workshop starstarstarstarstar

by Dora Ohrenstein

I’ve been taking an interest in crochet recently, although I have more background in knitting, so the title of this book drew my attention.

The book starts out with practical information that might be very helpful to those like myself who want to expand their needleworking skills; including information about different yarns, hooks and other tools, controlling tension and fundamental techniques.

It goes on in further chapters to explain shaping and textures as well as how to change colors and finish off. All in all a very thorough book for learning actual technique.

This would be an excellent book for someone new or not very experienced in crochet. Different stitches are shown with good color pictures to illustrate the precise techniques for accomplishing what looks like very complicated patterns, but are in fact quite easy! Many of the stitches I had not seen before and found very interesting, like the Marguerite Stitch and the Crocodile Stitch. I think that mastering what is in this book could turn an amateur into an expert crocheter with just a little practice with the techniques illustrated therein.

A few patterns are included near the end that would make good first projects for practicing some of the stitches taught in the book, as well as the basic techniques. How to read patterns is also clarified and there is a glossary of terms in the back.

An excellent book for teaching the art of crochet.

comfortComfort Knitting & Crochet Babies and Toddlers starstarstarstar

by Norah Gaughan and the Berroco Design Team

This is a book of knitting and crochet patterns for those who are experienced at both knitting and crochet, and based specifically on the Berroco line of yarns.

I found the patterns both practical and attractive, and geared mostly towards fashionable ways to keep the baby warm. There is a nice selection of jackets and caps in classic and cabled designs as well as many baby blankets in interesting designs interspersed within the other patterns. I came across one summer dress, but otherwise the patterns were for winter warmth.

The Paddington Coat was especially appealing to me. The classic cable design could be used for a boy or a girl depending on color chosen. I also liked the bomber style jacket for boys, and wondered what effect it might have with the cap with the chin-strap that resembled a motorcycle helmet. The caps include one reminiscent of a baseball cap and a very nice basic cabled design.

Many of the blankets were variations on patchwork design, but there was one called High Fidoodlity Blanket which I found very interesting with its wavy stripes.

The one toy pattern was a slice of citrus, which added a whimsical note to the collection.

There are a couple of lovely patterns for girls like the Bolero jacket which has an almost Victorian sense of elegance, but this would be an excellent pattern book for those looking for boy baby patterns, which can be all too scarce. Abbreviations and special stitches are listed in the back and the book should be easily followed by anyone who already works in knit and crochet.

Holiday Hats for babiesHoliday Hats for Babies starstarstarstarstar

by Debby Ware

This is a straightforward knitting pattern book, but with a holiday theme and exclusively for babies.

It’s rather whimsical and some of the patterns are a little too ‘out there’ for most people’s tastes, but some are very cute and I expect I will use several of them for gifts for friends.

Some of the more ‘specialized’ designs include a pumpkin cap for Halloween, a hat with a slice of cake on top and one with a teacup, which could be useful if you were going to an Alice in Wonderland theme party!

Some other holiday specific ones include a cap decorated with holly for Christmas, a top hat with patriotic additions, one with firecrackers and several with items on top including a Menorah, a shamrock and an Arbor Day tree. I have to admit that I liked the style of the Shamrock hat and could imagine making it with a less specific decoration on top.

The Glittery Snow Cap is one that I find potentially appealing for actual use as well as a pretty one with a bouquet of roses for a little girl. The crown and the jester hat are perfect for whimsical gifts for friends having babies!

The Glitter and Glow Beanie would be a good choice for a gift that is more touching and not quite so whimsical. It has a big ribbon to add that touch of something special, but nothing too weird.

The patterns themselves are easy for anyone with basic knitting knowledge and use US size needles, though there are metric conversions in the back of the book. There is also a section for special stitches, which aren’t difficult but some knitters might not have come across some of them before.

Altogether a thorough and enjoyable book with some interesting patterns that could make a new parent smile and keep the baby’s head warm as well.

Extreme BrowniesExtreme Brownies starstarstarstarstar

by Connie Weis

I love brownies and all sorts of variations on them, so this book had an obvious appeal right away.

The book starts out with the most amazingly tempting photographs of brownies, including a blondie variety, with peanut butter cups in them. Then as you would expect from most cookery books, there is an introduction by the author to explain why she created the book, followed by practical information about equipment and technique.

Tips for perfection are included as well as freezing and shipping advice. Emphasis on the detail in quality ingredients can make all the difference. I never knew that iodized salt would give a tinny flavor!

The bulk of the book, however, is filled with scrumptious recipes for every kind of brownie you can imagine. I counted thirteen recipes just in the Blondie section! The whole book is filled with full page color pictures of the treats you can make and is a visual delight that will make you anticipate the yummy brownies that you are about to make.

The recipes range from a deep, rich chocolate brownies to brownies with nuts or cookies in them, caramel stuffed, toffee, mint and marshmallow variations. The peanut butter varieties are definitely on my list of recipes to try! On the posh end of the spectrum is the Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake Brownie. The name says it all.

It finishes off with metric conversions and a few more tempting color photographs, then an extensive index. The book is well presented and has everything the aspiring baker needs to know to make an impressive array of brownies. I’ll certainly be trying my hand at some!

Taste of BeirutA Taste of Beirut starstarstarstarstar

by Joumana Accad

The book starts with a brief background of the author’s childhood in Lebanon and her efforts to mesh her background with her adult life in America. She then explains details about food and attitude towards food in her native country and provides ideas for how to prepare authentic Lebanese food in less that an hour, by doing things like sautéing onions in olive oil and freezing them for fast use.

I was especially interested in the spices and primary flavors of Lebanese food, which she made very simple. This is something I’ve been looking for in cookbooks; how to achieve the flavor of the country with use of spices that are common in ethnic foods.

The detailed information about different grains and how to prepare them was very enlightening and presented in an east to follow style. I was particularly interested in learning about Mahlab (Orchid powder), and decided that I must source some.

The book had me basking in thoughts of fragrant spices, floral waters and nutty tahini long before I got to the recipes!

The recipes themselves cover a vast array of interesting sounding food, including soups, finger foods, salads, main courses, sides, stews and desserts. A lot is done with nuts, both as a protein substitute and in desserts. Apparently in Lebannon, meat is only eaten once a week so many of the recipes are vegetarian or use a little fat of the lamb or sheep to add protein and flavor.

Eating customs and especially the use of pita bread are explained as well as what to find in a typical Lebanese larder. The book finishes with a comprehensive glossary and an index, so that everything is easy to find.

Overall an excellent book for learning all about food of a specific country and one I will enjoy trying out recipes from very soon.

crochetCrochet Workshop starstarstarstarstar

by James Walters

The book starts out with the basics of how to crochet, which was wonderful for me as I had never really got the hang of it before. Now it seems too easy!

Further chapters continue with how to read patterns and their little acronyms, technique, basic stitches and variations. I have to admit that I was attracted to the book by the design of the sampler stockings pictured on the cover. The bodysuit pictured on page 7 would be a tempting project as well, though there are few places that it might be appropriate to wear it!

A little history of crochet is given and followed by encouragement to look at possible clothing ideas with new eyes, to see that nearly anything can be done with crochet. If a craft book can be mind-expanding, this is the one. There is even advice to adapting patterns to left-handed workers. Simple practice exercises are suggested and we are assured that we don’t have to manage perfection on the first try. The book seems more personal than your average craft instruction book, almost like a friend with a lot of patience is there to teach you.

After going through double, treble and half stitches as well as problems that might arise, we’re shown how to make a basic fabric and how to work in rows without turning to achieve different textures. Variations in the base chain follow and suddenly we are able to make a circular design!

We get Granny squares of course, plus variations, how to work to a shape and splicing ends. Reading patterns comes after mastering the stitches and tensions, illustrated by simple diagrams of the shape of the fabric intended. Then we get into my favorite bit, embellishments. This is where the fancy stitches happen.

Some beginner patterns are offered, yet these are lovely! Not the simple round or square shapes that you usually see. From there we’re thrown into a world of making shapes within shapes on a fabric and ready to make what looks like advanced projects, yet they have been made easy by the progression of the earlier part of the book and the exercises given. It’s almost too easy.

This will probably be the only crochet book I will ever need, unless I want specific patterns from another source. I’m very impressed with the ease with which I’ve been able to follow the instructions to learn a craft that had eluded me before. The zaniness of the patterns that are given and the emphasis on interesting textures really appeals to me. It even shows how to make a wall picture in crochet, along with doilies that are far more interesting than the usual ones you see on grandma’s side table. The little stars really interested be as well, as it’s a favorite shape for me.

There’s a section on finger crochet which I haven’t tried yet, but looks fairly basic. One thing I didn’t expect was the instruction on how to make pieces of fabric that allow for darts, so that you can shape a garment as you would in sewing. There is more about how to create the shapes you want than specific patterns, but those patterns that are provided are off the beaten track and the finished projects would impress any needleworker, though they aren’t as hard to do as one might assume. Fancy edgings, covered button and button holes as well as woven crochet, which I had never heard of before are all included as well as information on different types of wool to work with.

The hanging crochet chair in the back really blew me away. All things considered, this is the most complete book on the craft of crochet that I can imagine and I’m really pleased to have found it. Easy 5 stars out of 5.

chocolateA Brief History of Chocolate starstarstarstar

by Steve Berry and Phil Norman

This is a short but amusing and informative history of chocolate and how it progressed from Aztec ritual and trade goods to the modern chocolate bars we eat today. It is told from a particularly British perspective, prevalently naming chocolate companies that have become familiar to residents of the UK.

The effects of economics on the varieties of chocolate bars, especially filled or with other added ingredients, is covered as well as some interesting information about marketing in the 1970s days of refined confectionery. Some of the descriptions of chocolate (or “something”, in the case of strawberry and banana flavoured bars) that is no longer on the market makes me wish I could time travel back to that era to try some of the more experimental products, though the diversity of wrappers on ordinary milk chocolate bars is no great loss. The 3p price tag on one of the wrappers puts the length of time between then and now into perspective.

The book has a lot of pictures in full colour of these ancient chocolate wrappers which would make for an excellent bit of nostalgia for anyone who was a child in the 1970s. There is also a sardonic humour at unexpected moments. The references to Dickensian urchins made me laugh more than once.

Chocolate-covered biscuits and their place in the lunch box is covered as well as the importance of naming and packaging in marketing these inexpensive alternatives to pure bars of chocolate. The much loved Wagon Wheel, a marshmallow biscuit with chocolate, is the first branded treat to be mentioned that still survives today, if not quite in its original form. We learn at least one theory for the naming of the Twix and how some bars were named in a manner to avoid confusion with popular European confections.

I do have to take issue with one inaccuracy: what the Americans call granola can NOT be equated with what the English call Digestives. Granola would equate with muesli with its mixture of oats and other healthy things. A digestive is closest in texture to a graham cracker, though different, and is what is most often used in cookie crumb crusts in the UK.

I have to admit though, that reading this book creates an incredible case of the munchies along with a lot of giggles. It is written with an attention-keeping humour and I very much enjoyed the read. The book held a lot of historic information that put nuts and knobblies in their places. Market competition is a fascinating study of its own and the complete history of the major UK companies is all here. I’m now aware of the practicality of bite size pieces of chocolate thanks to the detailed information in this book, though the description of Hershey Kisses will probably make me unable to ever eat another one of those again!

All things considered, this was a wonderful trip through the history of chocolate, though I may forever lament the loss of some confections that ceased to exist before I was born. The original form of the Milk Tray bar from Cadbury looks infinitely appealing! But alas, now days we have to buy it in a box of individual chocolates instead of a single bar with several lumps of filling in assorted flavours. Not least of all, the history of holiday chocolates and the first chocolate Easter Egg was something I found very interesting.

Recommended for food history buffs and anyone who likes chocolate, but be sure you have some around to nibble on while you read!

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