Beat Till Stiff by Peta Mathias

beatBeat Till Stiff, A Woman’s Recipe for Living by Peta Mathias, is a book of funny and wise life lessons in the form of essays.

Before reading Beat Till Stiff, I hadn’t heard of the author (okay, I admit it, the title made me laugh and that is why I selected this book). Peta Mathias is a New Zealander, who has a food and travel show on television, Taste New Zealand. After reading ‘Why Redheads Have More Fun,’ I googled the author and she has the most beautiful red hair and delicate colouring. I instantly resolved to go to a hairdresser to dye my greying, dull brown hair a glamorous red, but my resolve died out before I actually made an appointment. I’m still thinking about it, but the author says it is impossible to be “dull and dowdy’ with red hair. Very, very tempting.

A Letter to my Much Younger Self is pure hindsight – summed up as enjoy the good times, don’t fret over stupid stuff and give philandering boyfriends the flick and never give them a second thought.

Eat, Sing, Love is a joyful essay about the early days of the author’s romance with a French man in France, eating truffles and walnut oil and going ‘strawberry picking,’ which is the French version of parking in lover’s lane, apparently. The author sings jazz with her lover’s band and it all sounds so wonderful that it reminds me of similar happy times in my own life (parking on Apex Hill, looking out at the lights of our town – but it is so long ago I can’t remember what we ate – probably fish and chips).

The essay called Channelling Edith is fascinating. I’ve never had any interest at all in jazz or cabaret music, but after reading the chapter on Edith Piaf and her influence on the author’s life and work and singing, I’ve googled Piaf and listened to her music. Her life was tragic and her voice beautiful.

How To Buy Hope is about getting older, summed up as; maintaining your appearance as you age costs a bomb. Your health, mental and physical, will probably suffer as you get older too. On the plus side, (hopefully) you’ll realise what is important and what is not.

I enjoyed Beat Till Stiff. Peta Mathias is funny and straight talking and tells good stories. She also gives good advice. For me the best advice she gave is; if you’re grown up, it is time to stop blaming your mother.



French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano


Blogging about baking has been playing havoc with my weight.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. To be completely honest (and to be fair to blogging), I’ve been eating too much of my baking and so I have put on weight. Blogging is just a good excuse to bake a lot.

I read French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano when it first came out, years and years ago. (I was comparatively thin then). I’ve also read the 5-2 diet books, the South Beach diet books, the Cabbage Soup diet books and many other diet books. The problem is, reading diet books doesn’t lead to weight loss. I exercise a lot and am quite fit, but exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss either, although exercise does make you feel good.

Sadly, the only thing that leads to weight loss is eating less, and I just don’t want to eat less. I want to eat more. Especially baked things with sweetened condensed milk in them.

However, I enjoyed reading French Women Don’t Get Fat the first time around and re-read it for a bit of inspiration. I’ve even made a recipe from it, leek soup, which you are supposed to eat for two days straight. One day was bad enough, and don’t even ask how my stomach felt on the second day.

What I did enjoy about this book was the glamour. Mireille Guiliano really seems to have her act together.

To prove my point, she is:

  • French.
  • thin.
  • a good cook who regularly eats out, including dessert.
  • President and CEO of Cliquot Inc and drinks as much champagne as she likes. (I don’t drink, so could care less about champagne, but is does sound like a very glamorous gig).

The recipes are set amongst the author’s stories of growing up in France, then gaining weight after an extended trip to the USA, and losing the unwanted weight and maintaining a healthy weight (using Leek Soup).

The author explains how on her return to France, on the advice of her doctor,  she recorded everything she ate for three months before making changes to her diet. The changes were simple. A ‘re-casting’ which involves a short term fast, followed by a more sensible eating plan with occasional treats, (in other words, so you have something to live for).

The author is a promoter of eating well and enjoying what you eat. For example, if you are going to eat chocolate (and you know you will), then buy good quality chocolate and enjoy it. Don’t splurge on cheap, nasty chocolate. Likewise, meals. Eat good, wholesome food in season. There is nothing ground-breaking in the author’s advice, but she gives it charmingly.

The book contains some very good tips to ensure that you eat sensibly and stay hydrated, which are important for maintaining healthy weight. The tip I would benefit most from though is to eat a little bit of dessert, then stop and have someone take my plate away. Not going to happen.

The Cook’s Tale by Nancy Jackman


The Cook’s Tale, Life below stairs as it really was, by Nancy Jackman, is the real story of a woman who was born in an English village in 1907. Nancy grew up to be a kitchen maid and then a cook.

Nancy was an only child who was obviously very deeply loved, who grew up knowing that the day would come when she would have to go out to work in order to contribute to her family’s income. When Nancy was twelve that day came, and she went to work for a neighbouring farmer. Eventually the farmer began to take an inappropriate interest in her.

Nancy left the farmer’s employ, and went to work in a household where the cook took her under her wing, and taught her to keep a recipe book of her own. Eventually the cook the sack in an attempt by their employers to save money and Nancy took the cook’s place.

Nancy left this family after a run in with the lady of the house and went to work for another family, where she worked for many years. Nancy worked for the same family throughout WW2, cooking food which had been obtained by her employers through the black market. While in this household Nancy made friends with Dolly, the kitchen maid and they worked together for many years. During this time Nancy also had her first and only romance with a police officer named Charlie, who died during the war.

Nancy’s story of lead being deposited in the toilet bowls after the upstairs members of the household ate game birds was interesting and so were her stories of foods considered prestigious, which she thought revolting. Nancy didn’t describe herself as an adventurer by any means.

Nancy eventually left the household to escape the clutches of a conman, who she had previously given money too. Nancy comes across as quite naïve in many ways. She explains quite a few times that she was not a pretty woman and that she never had the opportunity for romance until she was in her thirties, when she met Charlie. The times were certainly changing, but Nancy was limited by her education and experiences from being able to see more of the world, however her life long dream was to own a home of her own and she achieved this. It was hard to understand why Nancy didn’t go to the police for assistance, but instead she moved to London, without telling anyone where she was going.

When Nancy moved to London, for the first time in her life she chose to board in a separate household to that of the family she was working for. Nancy’s landlady was elderly and a recluse, who unexpectedly died and left Nancy her home very soon after Nancy moved in.

Nancy continued to work as a cook, despite her windfall. Later Dolly turned up on Nancy’s doorstep and they lived together until Dolly’s death.

I found this book a little dull, but as I read it on holidays that didn’t worry me much. I would have liked to have read some of Nancy’s recipes though, as most books can be livened up with a recipe or two.  Nancy’s stories are from a time which has gone forever. The book certainly gave me food for thought though, in that I recognise how lucky women are now to have the opportunities we have.

The World According to Joan by Joan Collins


Wow, is Joan Collins the most glamorous woman alive or does someone else own that title? For what it’s worth, I think she is. The role of Alexis Carrington in Dynasty probably sealed the deal.

The World According to Joan is, as the title suggests, the author’s opinions on a number of topics, from glamour, to men, aging, children, values and manners. She is so famous that her surname does not appear on the cover of this book.

Joan Collins is an entertaining writer, although there isn’t anything particularly ground breaking in this book. The insights into being famous, beautiful and successful weren’t as surprising as I had expected. There was a lot of name dropping of famous people, but since they are probably the people she actually knows, this wasn’t all that surprising either. None of the stories about famous people were either so unknown or so scurrilous that they would make a gossip page in a magazine these days either.

The chapter on travel was interesting, as the author had been able to travel Concorde, which to my generation sounds like a glamorous and fast way to get from here to there. There is a romance to the name Concorde too, which I don’t feel when I hear the word ‘Dreamliner,’ although ‘private jet,’ (as mentioned by Joan Collins), has more of a ring to it.

Not surprisingly, Joan gives her readers good fashion, or rather style advice, in a series of dos and don’ts. For example, she suggests investing in Spandex to smooth the bumps, advises that polo necks for those with bigger busts in any other colour than black will make you look like a sausage and recommends white jeans for St Tropez or wearing on a yacht (I’ll bear that in mind next time I go within Cooee of either).

I did appreciate the author’s beauty advice though, which can be summed up as KEEP YOUR FACE OUT OF THE SUN. (I can not stress this enough, having had sun spots removed from my own nose after spending my teenage years trying to get my pink, freckled face to tan). Her other tip is to wear wigs. I don’t have any wigs, but it sounds like good advice. No more bad hair days.

The advice about men was good too. If you’ve made a mistake in the man (or men) you have married, cut your losses. Move on. Joan’s advice regarding messing around with married men should be heeded also. Don’t do it. And if you are stupid enough to make this mistake, since the married man Joan Collins was messing around with did not leave his wife for her, what makes you think your married man will leave his wife for you? And if he does, would you really want him anyway? (Okay, that last sentence was my opinion, not Joan’s, but I couldn’t resist).

Joan Collins shows her age in a number of ways in this book, not by being dated, but because of her common sense. I enjoyed The World According to Joan, but after watching an interview with her on television when she visited Australia a few years ago, think she appears even more interesting in person.

Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood


The sub-title of Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood is Thoughts On the Gift of Food, and the words in this book are a gift to readers.

Love & Hunger is made up of chapters which tell stories about the author’s family and friends, and all sorts of funny, interesting and useful advice for living a gracious life. Each chapter is backed up by recipes.

The author is around about my age and Australian. Like Charlotte Wood, she grew up in a country town, so not surprisingly, I found a lot to identify with in her stories. There are stories about the most stylish woman in town, who gave the author’s father a plate of Hedgehog every year for his birthday, stories about communities rallying around families with food and love when needed, funny stories about old farmers who don’t eat fruit with their dinner (Hawaiian Chicken, Apricot Chicken and the like, all staples of the Australian family menu back in the day) and stories about wakes and dinner parties and holidays.

The useful advice is also good. I’ll be re-reading how to brine a chicken, followed by how to roast a chicken, two kitchen basics I have so far avoided. There is a lot of information dedicated to pulses and grains, which have become very fashionable in Australian kitchens over the past few years, and some excellent soup recipes.

There are recipes in this book which I am very unlikely to ever try. One example is the recipe for Pomegranate Honey. I love honey, to the point where I don’t believe it can be improved. I haven’t tasted pomegranate, but am very doubtful of whether its addition to my second favourite food can make it better or not (my favourite food is Granny Smith apples, in case anyone was wondering). I don’t think adding apples to honey (or vice versa) would improve either.

Another recipe I am unwilling to try is the one for Brussels Sprouts. Eww. I tried them once and they were bloody horrible. I agree with the author that the addition of bacon improves almost everything, but is the addition of the Brussels Sprouts going to improve the bacon? I doubt it.

Which makes me a hypocrite, according to the chapter about fussy eating. According to the author, we all have a moral obligation to our friends, families, workmates and everyone else we eat with not to be picky eaters, for the sake of good manners. Also, fussy eaters are apparently afraid of life. I like to think I have good manners and that I am brave enough to try different foods. I understand that my preference not to eat some foods, for example offal, is cultural rather than based on what the stuff actually tastes like. But if someone serves me Brussels Sprouts (or even worse, Broad Beans) I would probably prefer to offend them by saying, “No, thank you,” than by taking a mouthful of the disgusting things and then retching.

I enjoyed the chapter about surprises when eating. Heston Blumenthal’s Bacon and Egg Ice Cream doesn’t appeal to me, but I enjoyed reading the author’s experience of eating it (she loved it).

The chapter on essential ingredients was interesting, although completely different to my essential ingredients, which are obviously baking oriented.

That leads me to my only real complaint about this book, which is that the author doesn’t seem to have a sweet tooth. There are recipes for the afore-mentioned Hedgehog (which was in every Australian woman’s repertoire back in the 1970s) and for a Whole Orange Cake, but apart from a yoghurt-y thing, there were no more recipes using sugar.

Other than the lack of sweet recipes, I really enjoyed Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood. This is a format which would work for family historians, as a way of passing down family stories and recipes to future generations. I’ve also had a look at the author’s blog, How to shuck an oyster, which is definitely worthy of a second look.

Mr Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange


Who would have thought Mr Darcy would keep a diary? Not me. However, Amanda Grange’s novel Mr Darcy’s Diary, has the taciturn hero of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice recording his version of events for posterity.

If Jane Austen had given her readers so much detail about Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice he would have lost a great deal of his appeal. As a romantic hero I found him far more attractive when I knew less about how his mind works. In My Darcy’s Diary the reasons for his behaviour are fully explained at every turn. Most of this is to his credit, but some girls (okay, me) like a bit of mystery.

A great many more conversations take place between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet (Mr Darcy never calls her Lizzie) and are recorded in Mr Darcy’s Diary than in Pride and Prejudice. Apart from the additional conversations, there isn’t a great deal of substance to this novel. Mr Darcy seems intelligent enough, but he is very often tongue tied by Elizabeth and his first attempt at proposing marriage to her is even clumsier and ruder than Jane Austen’s version.

Lydia is more of a hussy than I ever realised. George Wickham’s character is also less likeable when you learn more about him based on Darcy’s experiences. Anne DeBourgh’s character is also slightly expanded.

I recently read Captain Wentworth’s Diary by Amanda Grange and enjoyed this book far more than Mr Darcy’s version of Pride and Prejudice, probably because Captain Wentworth’s Diary expanded on Persuasion by telling of events before the hero and heroine met in Austen’s story.

Despite my complaints, the character’s voices are captured very well, and Mr Darcy’s Diary is an enjoyable read. This book is ideal for the Pride and Prejudice readers who aren’t quite ready to let go of their obsession with Mr Darcy.

Mrs Darcy. Mr and Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy. Fitzwilliam. Dear Fitz. William. Will. Bill. Hmmm. That would make me the ideal reader.