1 September 2011

Two books - real food and real life

This time last year I was writing about the recent discovery of Matthew Evan's book, The Real Food Companion. Since then I've cooked a few of his recipes and become very familiar with the pages in that book.  We share similar views on food and I appreciate the respect he frequently shows old-fashioned home cooking and real food; some celebrity chefs write as if they, and they alone, invented the wheel. A few weeks ago I bought Matthew's new book, Winter of the Farm. I wasn't disappointed. There were more good wholesome recipes, beautiful photographs and the common sense approach to food that I've come to expect from this man who has gone from chef to food critic to local food farmer.

I really love a section at the end of the book called Puddings and things to eat while drinking tea. As soon as I saw written: 'Not that you need an excuse to drink tea, but imagine a hot drop with an apple and sour cream slice ...' well, I knew this, again, was my kind of book. It reaffirms to me the warm cosiness and nurturing qualities of food and I am thankful that some authors have the fine ability to relay that feeling to me through carefully chosen, simple words.

When the first book was released, it co-incided with a TV program on Australia's SBS channel called the Gourmet Farmer. The program showed the journey Matthew took from being a food critic in Sydney, to setting up as a Tasmanian resident, learning about the food in his local area and then establishing a small business based on local food.  Now the new book is published, there is another TV program, and now Matthew is married and has a son. The first episode aired on SBS last Thursday, tonight the story continues; I encourage you to take a look. There is a teaser below but if you missed the first episode you can watch it here and find some of the recipes from each series.

I'm sure you agree it's vitally important that we read to our children and grand children and that many of those books should be culturally relevant. In these days when TV programs, movies and the internet spread the dominant culture to smaller ones, it's important for children to see books where the characters are familiar and reflect their own lives. 

Here in Australia, we have kids wearing baseball caps the wrong way, spraying graffiti and rapping like they've grown up in LA. Our culture is being strongly influenced by American culture; it's a form of cultural imperialism. I mean no disrespect to my American friends, I am not criticising the American way of life, rather the affect a dominant culture has on a smaller one and how that flows through to our children. I have no doubt Australian culture dominates some of the island nations surrounding us in the south Pacific, but it seems to me, that it's American culture, represented so well and convincingly on many TV programs and movies, that has teenagers and young people hooked in many countries around the world.

That is one of the reasons why it's so important that our kids see themselves on the pages of the books we buy them. If they grow up reading about snow at Christmas time and fourth of July picnics, they get a distorted view of life and wonder why their own world isn't important enough for a book. So when I picked up All Through the Year, an Australian book by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, I was captivated by it and  thankful I had it in my hands.

'In February school begins
I'm nervous and it's hot
Our shoes are tight, the grass is brown
I wear my brother's hand-me-down
My tummy's in a knot.
New girls, new boys, a new class pet
"Which teacher did you get?'

I am sure every parent of children in an Australian school will relate to those lines, but more importantly, their children will. Couple that with the endearing water colour paintings of daggy school uniforms, sun hats and back packs in the school yard and you have yourself an important Australian book good enough for two little boys I know.  It's now taking pride of place in the little library I'm building up and I look forward to the years ahead when we sit and read it together.



  1. I love the reviews! I take no offense at the comments about American *culture* spilling over.

    Living far from communities and living a simple life we see how much everyone is defined by the visual stimulation that is presented in the media.

    I find it far from reality in my home. I have no idea how to keep up with what is portrayed. Perfect homes with meals on the go, a bedroom for everyone, a home office but seems like we Americans cannot manage business so well as our economic crisis is revealing.

    I find the reality shows, the blitz and glitz smothering. I find the placing of the children on pedastals defining as we have created a generation that EXPECTS everything. This is not a person reflecting as times of old, but one that has seen drastic changes in the world all because we decided we(as Americans and western culture) have done something special to have earned so much money that we deserve to spend it as if it is well, replacable.

    It has been difficult to raise children that are not of the norm and of course I have fallen short, but like you suggested, if the visual stimulatulation is negative towards all the child knows they will crave the other. So we removed the TV aside from movies we choose, and began raising the children in a way that has been reflective of our goals, lives, wishes and wants.

    And for the record- in 23 years of living mostly in the southwest of the US...my kids have little idea what snow is and my last memory of snow on Christmas was when we were stationed in Germany. So Christmas here is of short sleeve shirts and sunshine!!

    Sorry to be longwinded but felt your apology was perhaps unnecessary as we all wish to align with like minded folks and the media via TV mostly, seems to be pushing the buttons faster and farther than any of us want.


  2. I also think it's good to have stuff that's relevant to your own country or region. We too import a lot of American culture. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike U.S. culture per se but it looks and feels a bit false when our kids here in the UK try to emulate it!

  3. Rhonda,

    As an American I am not offended by what you said. I think each country is so unique in their cultures and that is great. I don't particularly care for the hip-hop culture at all.


  4. It's funny how grandma's think alike. I just ordered some books for my granddaughter today. I too am building a library for her. I have also started a book for her that I am writing. It is called...."Letter's To Melody" . It starts off with the day she was born, my feelings, and thoughts as well as what was happening in the family and in the community. I add to it when appropriate. Like milestones in her life and I will add here and there milestones of my own life for her to learn from....also advice on growing up and boys, school/education and stuff like...If I knew then what I know now, I would have done certain things differently. Each entry is dated and starts off "Dear Melody" . I will give it to her when she reaches pre teen to teenage years.

  5. Oh Thankyou, I've just found another thing to add to the Christmas List for the kids. Any other suggestions? (I could write the whole list based on your recommendations LOL :)

  6. With my 55 year old ears I here young ones talking and they have such strange accents. I think have they done a student exchange to USA . No it is the influence of American tv.

    Here in rural Queensland grandad insists on calling the 2 little gransons " cobber" and if they are looking for him on our acreage they "Cooee" him. But I beleive he is fighting a losing battle they are still only 3 and 5.

  7. My local library has a copy of The Real Food Companion and I was fortunate to be the first person to borrow it but since returning it I have not seen it back on the shelves so it is obviously really popular. I see it has come down in price since it first came out as although it was a hefty volume I could not justify spending over $80 on a book! I understand that his new book is a much more reasonable price so I might check that out - apple and sour cream slice sounds perfect to go with a cup of tea! I didn't realize there was a new series on so thanks for the update Rhonda. Will go and watch the episode I missed now.

  8. I totally agree with you even though I am an American. I am also a Grandmother and I fear for my little 16-month old grandson growing up in a culture that is so materialistic and superficial. I hope that "Poppi" and I can instill memories in him that will carry to his adulthood. Memories of good classical music, books, bible stories, gardening, working with our hands, honesty, integrity. Lana

  9. Isn't Matthew's book great? So inspiring - I really need cookbooks to have beautiful photos to get me in. I hope he plans to do all the seasons.

  10. What a great wish for your future Rhonda. I am sure you will be that great loving granny ;o)

    Like the look of the book, but I have some trouble reading recipes in english.

    Wish you a great day! I'm heading of to bed now ;o)

    Love from Holland

  11. Good Morning Rhonda,

    Thank you for the heads up on the Aussie book! I could not agree more with you and will search for it to buy my 2yr old grandson today. I like that type of illustration too. I heard Mathew interviewed on the ABC on Monday complete with his type of music.
    Again, Rhonda, a lovely post,

  12. Yes, I will order these books from the library !

  13. Hello "Down to Earth Rhonda"!
    Lovely book review. I've had "Winter on the Farm" on my list of books to order for some time now - it just shot to the top of the list :-)
    I love "The Gourmet Farmer" series. We just bought the first series from the ABC shop and have been enjoying watching it again. Bought it purely for research into wood burning stoves as Matthew has a Rayburn stove. Well, that's how I justified the purchase anyway.
    He makes a gorgeous comment in one of the early episodes ..." a cup of tea without a biscuit, is a lost opportunity." Don't you just LOVE that?
    I agree with your American culture comments. I do love most things American, but in America. It sounds very sad and strange hearing young children and adolescents here, speak in American slang and accents, when they're obviously not American.

    Love ~ Julie

  14. The photography in Winter on the Farm is truly beautiful. It makes you want to step out in to the wintery pages and get cooking straight away.

  15. Thanks for the book reviews. I'll be keeping my eye out for them and especially the children's book as i am also gathering in books for the grandchildren. I kept a few special ones from when my children were born and they are already a hit with the little ones, It's often the first place Elizabeth goes to when she visits. I love what your American visitors said in reply to your post. I think we all struggle to bring our children up with a way of life that is alternate to the one most dominant, the one which is dependant on mindless consumerism and keeping up with what's in fashion at the moment. As always thanks for your post.

  16. As a Canadian living and raising her children in America I often get asked how different things are. A lot of things are similar but some things are different. I think what it comes down to is TV isn't real. The "American way of life" on TV is for such a small number of the Americans I know. In the 90s my big brother and his friends thought for sure 90210 was how ALL Americans lived. It was so cool.

    As a Canadian we would think Thanksgiving is in October and it's usually snowing by Halloween. Yet on TV it's hot outside in "America" in those Halloween movies when really Southern California is a small part of this country. I was annoyed usually the Americans are always the heroes in the movies and I will laugh you'd think they won WW2 all on their own.

    I do think Children should get to read books and see TV shows which take place in their own country.

    In World Geography class, as a teen, the teacher showed us world maps from around the world. He pointed out you can see where the map comes from by which place is it's main focus. A Russian map has Russia centered, An American or Canadian map has North America centered.

    LOL Although I have sung the Kookaburra song to my children as my mother sang it to me. Only recently when reading a book about Australian Animals did I learn it's a type of BIRD.

  17. I've got to add those books to my amazon wish list now... My poor husband. He has picked our presents for me for the next 10 years!

  18. I shall be looking for these books at our library as well. I think all grannies should have a collection of wonderful books to read to the little ones when they come to visit. My collection is in a container right in the living room. Right after their hello's that is where the kids head.Same collection a nap time.Personally I love books with lots of pictures to discuss. Your little ones will remember cuddling with you reading.

  19. My children grew up with "One woolly Wombat", "Possum Magic", "Ginger Meggs" and "Poems to read to Young Australians" along with classics from afar like "Tom Sawyer", "The Jungle Book" (Rudyard Kipling not Walt Disney!) and a book of original Grimm's fairy tales. It's nice to know about more recent books that my grandchildren would be interested in.

  20. What a terrific little book! I'll put that on my list for some little people in my life.

    Isn't Matthew wonderful? He's a modest man who ascribes his knowledge of cooking to those who came before him and those who teach him now. I always know that when I open Matthew's book I'll find something good for tea.

  21. Hi Rhonda, I totally agree with your blog. I don't watch much commercial TV or listen to any commercial radio any more. The advertising does my head in. Matthew Evans is a favourite. I still have all my favourite books from when I was young and I have kept all the books my sons had as children and they will be passed onto any grandchildren should I be so lucky. Some of the story books I have are so old I probably should wear gloves when turning the pages.

  22. What a coincidence that you are writing about this today...just this afternoon I was reading the Possum Magic website and thinking about how important and influential children's books can be :)

    It always makes me (an American) very sad to think people in another country or culture are trying to emulate what they perceive as "American", especially based on entertainment media - or even some of the US news media. But when you say "American culture, represented so well and convincingly on many TV programs and movies," I would respectfully suggest that it may (unfortunately for us all) be represented "convincingly" but is certainly not represented "well."

    I probably sound hopelessly wistful, but wouldn't it be lovely if we could all be inspired by the good and meaningful aspects of many cultures, as represented by genuine people? Wait, as I typed those words I realized - it's happening! It's bloggers!!! :)

  23. I got my kids the book called 'An Aussie christmas' last year and they love it! Santa's sleigh is pulled by kangaroos and he wears stubbies and a singlet! It is a great book and I think the girls love that they can relate to the night before Christmas story...

  24. Should probably clarify that the book is called an Aussie night before Christmas.

  25. Mum (Susan C) if you are reading this Freya would love "All Through the Year" for a christmas present LOL! What a great sounding book.

    I love the Gourmet Farmer series and while I can't afford his 1st cook book, I've had a chance to look through a friends and borrow it from the library. Julie (NSW) a cuppa without a biscuit really is a lost opportunity. Isn't he special.

    Great post Rhonda, really got me thinking and smiling.

  26. Hi RHonda - just wanted to mention another children's book which gets the seasons and Australian cultural references right is A Year on Our Farm by Penny Matthews. I found a secondhand copy for my daughter just the other day after seeing it on playschool a while back. It is so nice to find a book where the seasons fall in the right months:)

    I am a big gourmet farmer fan and watched the first episode of the new series last week with great excitement. I don't own the cookbooks though, so I think I might need to pop one or other on the christmas list.

  27. I think your idea to build a library of books to read with your grandchildren is wonderful and something everyone should do. What I love the most about Australia is its blend of indigenous heritage, pioneering spirit and multicultural population. There are so many different experiences of what it means to be Australian, but we need to hear and see more of those experiences, because it is such a unique and wonderful country to live in.

  28. I totally agree with what quinn said in these comments. Even as I live in America I am embarrassed at what the world must think of America through the tv and movies we promote around the world. Who are these people? I cannot say I haven't seen some people kinda like them but they are the exception,... at least from what I see here. Why can't they show real people and family life on tv and movies? All we see are fathers being portrayed as lazy idiots and women being loose and bitter. Well not all of them but it is so sad. Our children need to see people to look up to and emulate. That is where a good family and community is such a reward. Keep your children close and show and read to them good books and activities. Gather good friends for them and yourselfs. Make sure they know they have extended family they can depend on. Some of us have to create that extended family as ours have gone but one way or the other children benefit from consistency and good moral examples. I like your idea of giving children books that they can relate to...to learn pride in their countries as well as family. You have so many good ideas you pass on to us. My family has benefited from you and Hanno in many ways. Thank you again. Sarah

  29. I'm going to look out for that children's book. It looks great. And I can't wait for my copy of 'winter on the farm' to arrive. I borrowed it from the library and bought the book that night on line. Love it. As for what kids are watching - so true. We have had the River Cottage Dvd's from the library for a few weeks and on rainy afternoons or movie nights that is what my kids are requesting to watch. It's great. Also it is reinforcing things that I am talking to them about:)

  30. I have to echo what others have said about American culture being portrayed convincingly, but not at all well. The U.S. is much more than California and New York. The South makes up a huge part of the country, but I've never heard anyone on TV that sounded remotely like me or anyone I know. Can't recall ever seeing anyone on a sitcom eating jambalaya, squirrel gravy, or mustard greens, LOL. Much of what I've seen of Southern culture on TV is Hollywood's idea of it, almost pure fiction. Probably why I rarely watch TV, as I simply can't relate.

    It does take a strong culture to keep from being overtaken by another dominant culture. So many small ethnic communities in the U.S. held their own only until modern times, when the young folks began trying to fit in with "everyone else". Now "everyone else" eats Mexican food in some form several times a week (Taco Bell anyone?) and learning Spanish in school is almost a necessity in some areas. Culture is not a static thing. Emphasize to the little ones what makes your country or community unique, special, and maybe they will learn to value it. That's all I know to do. But who knows what the U.S. or Australia will be like culturally a century from now? Therese

  31. Quinn & Sarah, you have taken the words right out of my head & heart.....

    As a 53 yr old American living in South Africa for 21 years and having lived one year in England in 1972-3 when I was 14 years old with my family, I often reflect on cultural stereotypes & impressions. So much is communicated through various forms of media: technical & print alike. Even taking a visit to another country or staying for a period of time there, is just giving one a glimpse of those places at that particular time in history. That is an obvious statement, of course.

    As regards other cultures emanating America, which America is it?

    And for that matter, which India/Russia/South Africa/Australia/Brazil/Zimbabwe/Finland/Germany/Haiti etc is it?

    Sure, media needs to be respectful of hemispheric differences as well as local & indigenous culture.

    Isn't it a bit like that well-known story of the group of blind men describing an elephant: one says an elephant is strong as he holds onto its legs, another depicts it as rough while touching its skin, another as smooth when stroking the tusks, and yet another as papery when feeling its ears flap......etc, but of course, an elephant is all of these and much more.

    This is slightly not the same thing that you're blogging about today, Rhonda, but I just have to smile & laugh sometimes when I receive innane comments eg "I hope you're not from Nebraska, as I met someone from Nebraska one time, and I didn't like them!" or "Do you have a lion in your backyard in South Africa?" or "I didn't think you had a microwave in South Africa".

  32. My husband's 2 SIL & myself have just returned from taking our MIL to Tasmania, so that she could revisit Hobart, where her own Mother grew up. Whilst in Hobart, my MIL gave each of us $50 to spend on something that we could take home as a memento of our trip. I bought the book Winter on a Farm, so that each time I use the book to cook a meal I will be reminded of my lovely Mother-in-law and the beautiful countryside surrounding Hobart. from Jenny McH (Melbourne)

  33. thanks for sharing...can't wait to check these recommendations out for myself! :)

  34. Rhonda, the American tv shows and movies do not portray the real America most Americans know. I am really tired of watching so many shows in LA, NY or Chicago as there is so so much more to the US, but that seems to be all Hollywood knows.

  35. The topic of cultures intermingling is one that my husband and I were discussing just the other day. He was playing an old commercial on YouTube that really brought our attention to how much dialect has become generic. It used to be much easier to tell if you came from the south or the north, but now it seems that it is more difficult to determine cultural roots.

    I do not believe that watching television is the only cause of this cultural void, but the advent of faster transportation and technology. It is easier now to be exposed to other cultures and to incoporate aspects into our own. Travel and movement lends itself to this development. This is nothing new as history is full of examples where cultures changed after wars or invasions or migrations. I think a big difference now is just how fast it is happening. The homogenization of the world is taking place in ten years compared to what used to take hundreds and even thousands.

    I agree with many of the comments made about how television in America only portrays a small aspect of our culture. Unfortunately, it highlights some of the worst we have to offer. Sadly, the more it is viewed by our public, the more our public emmulates this culture.

  36. My family and I live in Orange County, which is just south of L.A. I have to say that my children (ages 7 and 9) are both blissfully unaware of pop culture. I think it's because we homeschool, don't have cable tv, and I'm very selective about what's played on the radio and what movies we rent. They are (so far) still so innocent. I know that things will change in the next few years when I'm not with them all the time but for now I feel really good that we live so close to so many wonderful opportunities for cultural activities but at the same time my kids are kids, and so are their friends. It is possible to live in the world and not be constantly affected by it.

  37. Hey there Rhonda Jean! Thank you so much for the book recommendation of All Through the Year. I was wondering if by any chance you had any more recommendations for good books for Aussie kids? my little girls are 4, and 12 weeks :) Thanks LH

  38. I think the word "imperialism" implies an intentional conquest and I don't believe that is what has happened.

    Further, imagine what it's like for an American who goes traveling and finds that the entire world is homogenous. Bleh. The same food, money, music, clothing. BORING. I could stay home.

  39. Lauren, I'll see what other books I have here and let you know.

    Sara, I disagree. This type of imperialism doesn't imply intent; it's passive from the American side and a voluntary process on this side.

  40. "This type of imperialism doesn't imply intent; it's passive from the American side and a voluntary process on this side." 100% agree with this. I often hear people make snide remarks about Americans and then, seemingly, in the same breath use the words cookies and outback instead of biscuits and bush!

  41. Oh, my goodness! Please don't think that TV represents real American culture. I watch so little television anymore because it is so UNREAL.

  42. Laurie your letters will be treasured not just by your grandchildren but by your children too. My father lives in California and I am in the north of England so opportunities for him to meet his grandaughters while they have been growing up have been limited. However, every birthday and Christmas he sent them a letter about him growing up from a young boy in London during the Blitz, to joining the RAF and then working in the film industry. I learned so much about my father that I didn't know, because he thought he had told me all his stories. We don't tell all our stories we just assume that we have. Interspersed with his stories are observations about life and choices. His life has been very up and down but he is sanguine and relaxed telling my daughters that life is not for rushing but for enjoying that for every tear their will be a smile and not to regret bad choices but to learn from them.

    Sorry to have waffled and gone off topic a bit I just wanted to say how wonderful your letters will be. I shall certainly write for my grandchildren if I am blessed with them in the future.

    BTW it was my father who sent the girls a lovely AUSTRALIAN (!) book one Christmas. A Kookaburra in a Gum Tree. It takes the Partridge in a Pear Tree song and replaces all the animals and people with Australian versions. It is still a favourite and when they were little sent them off investigating wombats and kookaburras too!

  43. I actually watched my first episode of Gourmet Farmer last night. Online as we don't catch SBS. Enjoyed it, as I do the Winter Farm book, that I recently received too. I love his old fashioned aspect to the food. It's good to see an Australian show focusing on this lifestyle.
    I also feel strongly about the disappearing of our culture as it was. I'll have to keep an eye out for that kids book. "In February the grass is brown" - couldn't be more true in our area.

  44. THANK YOU for the children's book recommendation. My eldest daughter started school this year and reading your little excerpt brought a tear to my eye.

  45. I find it sad that Australians would see Americans as a group of people who wear baseball caps the wrong way and spray graffiti. I encourage you to watch shows that portray what I would consider the true American spirit. Great examples can be seen in every special on the 9/11 tragedy. There are tons of examples of American heroes. Some movies you should watch that are based on true stories would be "Freedom Writers" or "Awakenings" to name just a couple. These are movies where Americans are portrayed in a better light and I believe this is more realistic than to believe Americans actually live the lives portrayed on reality TV and negative movies. I know it may be more difficult to search out media that portrays Americans in a good light, but whatever you seem to be watching does not reflect reality.

  46. Elise, what I said was: "Here in Australia, we have kids wearing baseball caps the wrong way, spraying graffiti and rapping like they've grown up in LA. " I have many American friends so I don't need to watch anything to know about American values and to discover the American spirit. Australians are portrayed poorly in films and TV too. Whether we like it or not, popular culture - films, books, music, TV and the internet, are the ways in which young people form their views. It is important for us in smaller countries all around the world to read our own books to our children and to make sure they see our culture on TV and in films because it is those areas that American culture dominates.

  47. I live just down the road from Mathew Evans, its a beautiful place we live in and some lovely fresh ingredients are available to us at the local markets and road side stalls or in our own gardens.

    My favourite sweet recipe is the SLOICE.

    Yum. doesnt last long in my house.


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