Winter days = Book days

The short days/long nights combo has finally arrived, allowing me to accumulate a stack of books without too much guilt. I look forward each evening to my post-prandial cup of tea, and the luxury of dipping into my pile, perhaps scanning and flipping, perhaps choosing one to settle in with and forget my surroundings.

I don’t read a lot of fiction during the spring and summer. I don’t dare. If I start one that suits me, I can’t put it down. No will power at all. Everything stops while I devour the chapters. I’m not a speedy reader, either, so we’re talking a couple of days, not a couple of hours.

So the winter then, is when I really dig into reading with gusto.  I’m pretty eclectic, but with a definite bias to farming/homesteading type books, some foodie stuff, light happy ending old fashioned fiction, and a fair amount of children’s literature.  I like a classic whodunnit, and will happily re-read favourites.

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Here then, is the pile I had going last week.

The Awakening of Miss Prim – this was recommended to me by a colleague, and I thought it would fit the bill for bedtime reading.  Indeed it ticked all the boxes:  light, wholesome, happy ending (ish), and slightly boring (so it can lull me).  It turns out to be one of those books that is philosophy dressed up as a novel.  I suspect the author has set herself up for a sequel, but I won’t be following Miss Prim into the next chapter of her life.  It did however, work admirably as a bedside book, and sent me off to sleep very quickly.

L.M. Montgomery – this is a short biography of the famous author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books, by a well known Canadian writer.  I haven’t started it properly yet, but have dipped into it enough to know that I will enjoy the writing.  I am something of a LMM fanatic, owning all of her books, including her 5 volumes of journals which were edited and published posthumously.  I have read 2 other biographies, and look forward to this one.  If you’ve never heard of her, see if your library has Anne of Green Gables, her first book. It’s usually in the children’s section, though the author did not intend it as a children’s book.  Give it a go, and trust me, it’s better than the Wikipedia blurb implies.

A Flannel Shirt and Liberty – This one had to wait till I was finished Restoration Agriculture, so I’ve only just started it.  The subtitle is:  “British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West 1880-1914”, which pretty much describes the book.  It is a collection of articles and excerpts written by these women about their experiences and opportunities, edited by a history professor at the University of Alberta.  My maternal great grandmothers were just such women, which is why I picked up the book.  Though I have some family anecdotes and pictures, it is hard to imagine how they felt about their changes in circumstance, and this book is helping – most of the excerpts are from journals and letters from women who came out to the West and wrote home.  Well educated, genteel, accustomed to maids and cooks and washerwomen, and with few other skills besides embroidery, watercolour and music, these women were in a difficult place in England at the time – gold rushes world wide and emigration to the colonies meant that there were a million more women in Great Britain than men in that time period, and since “gentlewomen” were raised solely to be suitable wives, and most definitely not to work at menial tasks and jobs, many of them were likely to become spinsters living off the beneficence of male relatives or worse, become destitute.  Societies sprang up to chaperone these women to the colonies, where they might find opportunities of their own.  Both my great grandmothers came out with a sibling to stay with relatives on the Prairies, and it is clear that the idea was that they were to do their best to find someone to marry.  Which they obviously did, since here I am…The book is fascinating and my current mealtime reading.

Restoration Agriculture – Fabulous book.  I had seen a couple of YouTube videos of the author, Mark Shepard, speaking about what he calls “broad acre permaculture”, so I was somewhat prepared for the material in the book.  Mark writes very much as he speaks.  He’s forthright, down to earth, slightly impatient with people who worry about the grey areas – he’s all about doing.  Since his whole notion of restoration agriculture involves planting a LOT of trees, he’s got a point – they take a long time to grow, and the sooner they’re planted, the better.  It is not, on the other hand, a recipe book for how to create a permaculture farm – he describes all the elements, he describes what he’s done, and then he wants you to go out and get started planting, get trained, get educated from the resources in your area.  Agroforestry, silvopasturing, permaculture – they’re all part of what he calls restoration agriculture.  If you don’t have time to read, go listen to him on one of the podcasts he’s done for Permaculture Voices, or one of the many YouTube videos he’s featured in.

How Not to Be Wrong – subtitled “The power of mathematical thinking”.  I got this one for my younger teen, and ended up dipping into it myself.  It’s really about how all that math we learned in school that we think we’ve never used, is really all around us.  How using it intentionally can be powerful.  I read a couple of the anecdotes and the foreword.    I always read forewords and prefaces.  Probably why it takes me so long to get through a book.  That said, I haven’t done much more in this book, because it disappeared upstairs.  Which was the plan.  As long as I get it back before the due date…

How To Grow Perennial Vegetables – I got it after I started Restoration agriculture, because I was wondering what besides rhubarb, asparagus, nuts and grapes would be perennial that normal ordinary folk eat – and it turns out, quite a few things.  The book also includes a bunch of things I’ve never heard of, but in the main is full of actual possibilities.  I also realized once I’d read the foreword, that I knew who Martin Crawford is – he IS the agroforestry guy in the UK, and has written more than just the book in my stack.  His forest garden is quite well known in permaculture circles.  This was not so much a reading book as a browsing book and it went back and forth with me to work for a few days till I’d got through it.  I will probably get it out again after Christmas.

The Third Plate – this is also my third attempt at this book, and a failed one at that.  Dan Barber is probably known to many – he’s a famous American chef in the New York area, who has embraced the locavore trend and sustainable agriculture.  He also has numerous articles in papers and magazines, and you can find him on YouTube as well.  The reason I keep trying with this book is because he wrote an article just before the book came out in which he described a recent epiphany he’d experienced wherein he’d suddenly realized that sustainability was more than just eating the whole animal (a popular sustainability mantra), but also included the food and energy that goes into the creature and the farm it comes from.  I was interested in that thought and wanted to learn more about his perspective on it, but it turns out that The Third Plate is not really about that at all, or if it is, then he’s gone in a direction I’m not ready to absorb just at the moment, interesting though it is on the dust jacket.  The book reads as though he’s trying to channel Michael Pollan in style and format and it just doesn’t feel right in this voice.  I’m trying hard to get past this evidence of my superficial nature, but I think this one is going to get put aside till after Christmas as well.

Easy Upgrades Kitchens – this came home on a whim after a late night conversation with hubby about our future plans.  I love looking at pictures of beautiful kitchens.  I am never going to have a kitchen like any of them – I’m too messy, the word easy in the title is relative, and while I am not happy with many many aspects of my existing kitchen, I also don’t really know what I do want.  The book has given me one or two ideas though, which was kind of what I was hoping it would do.  The problem is that I’m inclined to want a recipe book solution – I want to be able to point to a picture and say “that’s what I want”.  But most of the kitchens in the book would occupy most of the first floor of my house, and “bumping” out a wall, as the featured homeowners seem to do as part of their “easy” upgrades isn’t an option.   Still, they are lovely…maybe my house would qualify for a This Old House makeover…

Delia’s Happy Christmas – now THIS is a recipe book.  I have avoided Delia (Smith) for years – when I first heard of her through her TV show, her cooking style seemed fussy and apparently used every cooking pot in the kitchen.  That was years ago, and perhaps my cooking has improved or something, because this book didn’t look intimidating at all, quite the contrary in fact (though her idea of casual holiday meals to pull together between Christmas and New Year’s involving oysters, pheasant and venison are just a tad out of my league).  In fact, it is from this book that my 16 yr old daughter pulled her recipe for hors d’oeuvres for a fundraiser she was involved in – puff pastry tarts, half with goat cheese, red onion and thyme, the other with pancetta, a slice of olive and a sage leaf.  They were delicious.  And amazing.  And simple!  She made them again for us to eat for supper one night (a whole dinner of puff pastry is delicious but not terribly good for the digestion, as it turns out, still totally worth it).  There are other easy and delicious recipes that also don’t use pheasant or oysters or every pot in the house, and her writing style is very easy to read.  A lovely book.


22 thoughts on “Winter days = Book days

  1. Carrie says:

    One or two there that I am tempted by but my ‘waiting to be read’ pile already covers the top of an occasional table… and some! However, I really ought to get to grips with growing more perennial veg. And I know there’s more to it than Good King Henry, but I always feel short of time and simply fall back on the annual tried and tested stuff. I shall be interested to hear what, if anything, you try this year and then how well it fits your food objectives.

    Yes, Delia can be ‘fussy’, and sometimes beyond my budget re ingredients, but I have found most of her recipes ‘work’. My favourite Delia from yonks ago is One is Fun. As the basic recipes therein generally work out, it’s easy to uprate them to provide 2, 3, or 4 portions.

  2. I’d never heard of Good King Henry…and according to Martin Crawford it’s got about a zillion uses, and is easy to grow. So yes, if I can figure out where to establish some perennial planting, I am going to give some more perennials a go. I have a pretty good rhubarb patch, and we’ve been talking about establishing an asparagus bed. There’s also a plan afoot to put in about 25 fruit and nut trees this spring, thanks to Mark Shepard’s urging.

    I’m planning to have a look at more of Delia’s cookbooks, so I’ll keep my eye peeled for One is Fun. I’m normally a die-hard Jamie Oliver fan, with a dash of River Cottage from time to time. Which makes it sound like I cook from recipes a lot. Thinking about it, maybe I do…

    • df says:

      What an inviting looking stack of books! I always love having at least one good cookbook in my reading pile, they are so inspiring, but also just good fun. Restoration Agriculture sounds like an amazing read and will definitely go on my list, along with the one on perennial vegetables (so sensible!). I’m terrible at staying on top of new books these days (having once been quite obsessive about it!), and rely on friends and others I trust for recommendations, so I loved reading your mini reviews.

      Good luck with the kitchen reno. I think the best resources for dealing with ‘real’ spaces (ie when you don’t have the budget, etc., to ‘knock out a wall’) is to go looking online at solutions for ‘small spaces’ (they end up looking at how to deal with awkward spaces). Design-minded people with small spaces of all kinds share the most amazing solutions and you’re bound to find some nifty ideas that feel right for you. We spend a lot of time in our kitchens, it’s nice if we can actually enjoy them.

    • Carrie says:

      I’m well stocked with fruit bushes and rhubarb, it’s the leafy-seedy – and edible landscaping – stuff that I don’t seem to get to grips with. I can’t muster a plausible excuse either; the UK has a fabulous free online database of edible and medicinal plants – so plenty of information and inspiration available! [See

  3. That is a great idea about looking online at small space solutions. I thought of it a while ago, and never got onto it. Making a note of it to do over the next few weeks – thank you!

    I meant to ask you ages ago if you had read “Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton? I seldom read literary type fiction, at least not since I left the book club I was in, but I really enjoyed this one, despite it being well over 800 pages. .

    • df says:

      I haven’t read The Luminaries, but it’s definitely at the outer edges of my reading list and should get a chance to come in closer! I checked out some of the reviews on Good Reads and saw that some have really had trouble with the book’s structure. I really appreciate the recommendation, it’s a definite for me this winter now, thank you. I’m just about to read Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour.

      • You won’t have a problem with the style – imagine reading Conan Doyle or Dickens. She’s deliberately used that kind of heavy Victorian sentence structure to help ground her story in it’s time period. And as a matter of fact, I think she eases up on the technique about a third of the way in. It’s people who haven’t read English Classics who find the style difficult.

        Kingsolver. I’ve read Prodigal Summer and of course Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Poisonwood Bible is very high on my list as the one I should read, but Flight Behaviour is the one I can lay may hands on most easily, what would you suggest?

      • df says:

        That is good to know; sounds like you’re right, if a reader is only accustomed to modern writers, the structure and tone would feel awkward.

        Kingsolver: I absolutely loved Poisonwood Bible, so that’s the one my gut would tell you to read first, but all of her books are compelling. I just read an interview in which she confesses that The Lacuna is the book she feels people would still be reading 50 years from now if any of them last, but I must admit that when I read the synopsis of that one it didn’t grab me the way her other books have. Let me know which one you end up reading!

  4. Carrie says:

    Oops! Wrong reply button – sorry.

  5. farmerkhaiti says:

    aww, winter reading is the best! Loved Restoration Ag, it got us actually going on our perennial plans versus continuing to talk about what a cool idea it all is. It does seem like your climate should better suited to a broader range of perennial veggies, and also that the UK is so much further ahead in the permaculture movement in some ways. Ha—-about Third Plate! I haven’t tried to read it yet, but now I am warned it isn’t like the article that I too had read and it piqued my interest in the book.
    ps your soap went out today, later than I wanted but the PO was being picky about how I had it packaged! Thanks again!!!

    • Great news about the soap – thank you! I’m also thankful you’re snug in your farmer barn…

      The thing about Third Plate is I’ll never really know if he got round to the topic of the article in the book or not…I just can’t get past the opening chapters to find out. Life is too short to spend on books that take too much work to read.

      I’ve got a whole new stack at home now, and more on my holds list coming soon…like free Christmas presents!

  6. Ah yes, I remember the days I read loads and loads of good fiction… Now it’s all farming and homesteading books. I collect them (and cook books) faster than I can read them though. They are everywhere – stacked on the nightstand, the coffee table, the old steamer trunk and of course, the bookshelves. I can’t read more than 5 minutes in bed anymore – I’m out in a flash!

    I’m going to try reading something fun at lunch time (inspired by you) instead of what I usually do – surfing the internet. That thing can suck a lunch hour out of you before you know it and all you’ve accomplished is adding a zillion more things to try/read/follow up on… It’s exhausting.

    Another good website you might want to check out for perennial veg (if you haven’t already) is Temperate Climate Permaculture

    You may already be familiar with Diana Henry (, the British food writer – I’ve recently stumbled upon her and am in love with her cook books. My two favorites [so far] are A Change of Appetite and Pure Simple Cooking. A Change of appetite has a lot of incredibly delicious (and apparently healthy but it doesn’t read like a healthy cookbook)recipes but I have to say I enjoy it for the lovely photography almost as much as for the recipes.

    • One of the many things I like about blogging – this community of like minded folk who have great suggestions for all sorts of things. When I followed the Diana Henry link, I realized I’ve had Salt Sugar Smoke out from the library, and yes, her style is right up my alley. Now you’ve put her back on my radar, I will search out more of her books.

    • Carrie says:

      The Temperate Climate Permaculture link looks jolly useful, thanks – simple straightforward list of temperate plants in the nine forest layers that can be x-ref’d to Plants for a Future database. I might get there yet!
      Also, I’ve added Diana Henry’s Pure Simple Cooking to my list. Ta.

  7. PetKid says:

    You must be busy with all that reading! You’ll be overflowing with tea!! Those sound like some interesting books. My favourite books are like Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary and I love reading Farley Mowat. I’m rereading Lost in the Barrens right now. And at school we are reading Homer’s Odyysey. We are on the final chapter where Odysseus is about to kill all the suitors. It’s a very intesting book and we skipped a couple of his made up tales on how he got there because they were very long.

    • I loved the Henry Huggins books. I just re-read one this summer, and thought it was as good as ever. Farley Mowat is awesome. The first chapter book that we read aloud as a family (taking turns, a little bit every night) was The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. As for tea…my kids say that I probably don’t have blood in my veins, I probably have tea in them, because I drink so much :).

  8. Bill says:

    I have The Third Plate on my list of want-to-reads, but now I’m going to remove it and add Restoration Agriculture. 🙂

    Being a book-lover myself, I loved this post. Like you my wife is usually reading several books at the same time. I can’t do that. I only read one at a time and I’m stubborn so if I start a book (even a long one) I’ll tough it out all the way through even if I don’t like it. And I read reference books from front to back.

    Now that I have some time for reading I’ve been able to finish a pile of books that that were gifts over the past year.

    I used to hardly ever re-read a book, figuring I should use my time on books I’ve never read instead. But a comment on my blog last year caused me to re-think that. I’ve re-read several old favorites lately.

    I’ll second the recommendation of The Poisonwood Bible. An excellent book.

    Happy winter reading!

  9. I am an avid repeat reader – I still read some of my childhood favourites even now; some of them have probably been read about 12 times. It’s like putting on a comfortable sweater, or a favourite sweater.

    I wouldn’t say I actually read several books at once – I just HAVE several books at once. The cookbook and the picture books about kitchens get dipped into in a spare moment with a cup of tea, and the only bit that gets read is the blurb under the picture, or the intro for the recipe. I never did get to the LLM bio in time and had to take it back.

    Working in a library makes me something of a kid in a candy store – I see a lot of books go past my scanner in the course of a day, with no time to stop and examine them more closely, so I often (and this is common with library staff) put holds on and take a copy home a few days later to have a better look. I may never read more even half the stuff I bring home, it just looked interesting at the time. The math book in this pile was one of those choices -though my younger teen found it interesting enough to skim through. Sometimes the hold takes weeks or months to come in for me, and then I wonder, why on earth did I request this book?

  10. Just catching up on your recent flurry of posts. The book list was inspiring.

    I may be trying to OD on Wodehouse right now. I don’t know how many I have read. If you haven’t branched out past Jeeves, try Leave it to Psmith. It made the kids giggle too. I just finished The Girl on the Boat and there were the normal cringe moments and a few unexpected twists and turns.

    I have a small backlog of farming books to read and some to attempt once again. I can’t explain why I haven’t made it through Restoration Agriculture. I thought about ordering the DVD. Maybe Santa will bring it to me.

    We have and enjoy Crawford’s Creating a Forest Garden but I can’t really tell you what action has resulted from reading it. There are some books I enjoy reading and other books (like Farming Ladder) that I have to read over and over in quick succession until I can quote them chapter and verse. Crawford is, at this time, the former.

  11. After all your mentions of Wodehouse, I have put a hold on the first in the Blandings series – reading the little write up in the catalogue, I’m pretty certain I’ve never read them, so I’m looking forward to a treat. Psmith? Dang…well, I’ll go put a hold on that too, then. Three more days of work, and then a sort of two week stretch off, so I’m going to hit that Australian site Kari linked to ages ago and read Farmer’s Progress.

    Of course, Poisonwood Bible is on it’s way too…it’s possible I’ll have to sit around a LOT to get all this reading done…

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