Book Review: Mums Shape Up by Lisa Westlake

Rating: ★★★★☆

There’s two things new mums don’t need. One – twelve (or more) months stuck in their maternity jeans. Two – a complicated, time-consuming regime for getting rid of said jeans.

New mums are too busy being new mums, looking after their health and the health of their new babe, and attempting to catch up on sleep to be pondering the wherewithals of wearing a bikini again, but honestly? that’s not what getting in shape post-birth is all about. It’s about health – about tone, strength and recalibrating pelvic floor and abdominal fitness.

Author Lisa Westlake is a women’s health physiotherapist with over 20 years’ experience as a fitness instructor. She is a mother of two and has run pre- and postnatal fitness classes for a decade. She lectures at Monash and Melbourne universities and is a regular media presence on both radio and television but most importantly, Lisa has a passion for helping new mothers reap the benefits of safe and effective exercise – just when they need it most.

In her newest book, Mums Shape Up, Lisa offers a smaller format book (that will fit easily in a nappy bag) with over 100 exercises and programmes for mums of all fitness levels. Most vitally, Lisa first talks of Recovery from birth before a return to Fitness – something that can easily be skipped over in this insane, celebrity-driven whip-back-to-shape-in-six-weeks world. [Read more…]

Book Review: What's Eating You? by Kathleen Alleaume

Rating: ★★★★½

We’re a funny species. We know what we need to do. We know what we should be eating and should not be eating. We know all about exercise. We are totally au fait with comfort eating. We’re cohesive of the fact that too much booze and fat, and too many sweets will undo our health and turn our outer shell to pudge.

So why do we continue to do it? Eat crap, I mean.

Enter What’s Eating You? – a book that looks into the psychology of food and our friendship (or love affair) with cravings. Author Kathleen Alleaume is a trusted health expert in nutrition, fitness and wellness. With a degree in Exercise Sciences and Masters in nutrition, Kathleen is an accredited Exercise Physiologist and Nutritionist and is a founding principal of The Right Balance Consultancy.

With a passion for translating science jargon into layperson speak, Kathleen has created a book completely devoid of calories and instead packed with healthful information on how to get your relationship with food in balance. In What’s Eating You? she covers key triggers and reasons why we crave certain food types, and in so doing, reveals (hallelujah!) effective ways to quash the addiction and take better control of what’s going in and the resultant output on our waistlines.

Readers can learn to make peace with food by assessing their own triggers and eating style, then planning ways to beat the craving, with loads of ideas on food substitutes, tracking progress, assessing your moods (huzzah! someone who links food with emotion – this one’s for us, girls!), supplements, stress, biological reactions and more. They can also get the low down on fad diets and detox, experience some pretty major myth-busting and reality checks, and benefit from such timely advice as breathing, self-talk and learning the psychology of habit change.

But best of all – readers will come away armed with the best possible tool for permanent lifestyle changes – knowledge.

I absolutely love how the author tackles myths in this book – how ‘full’ is not your friend, not to mention the commercial ‘low fat’ debacle. I love how she provides mantras we can chant to reprogramme our food habits (“I will eat until satisfaction, not fullness”). I love how she talks of the negative effects of a fact-paced life and how stress affects how we eat. I love how frank she is – and how she tackles emotional food connection head-on with some whack-over-the-noggin observations like ‘need’ verses ‘desire’ and that ubiquitous bewdy – food as emotional anaesthetic.

The book is written in a clear, warm and concise manner that avoids the bog-down, and is lifted with lots of helpful tips, case studies for relatability, checklists and alerts. In keeping with a smarter way to tackle health – ie: through the head and heart and not necessarily the belly – Kathleen takes a holistic approach in her book that promises longer term and more solid benefits – after all, are we not comprised of more than our thighs or how our butt looks in a bikini?

As a confirmed sugar addict on a post-Christmas candy-cane hangover, this book was a goldmine of priceless reminders and new information that has brought fresh hope to this sugar-crusted body, mind and heart. 2012 may just be my year to whack my addiction into submission.

Cookbook Review: A Cook's Guide by Donna Hay

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s easy to recognise a Donna Hay cookbook. The queen of gorgeous styling and branding knows the power of both familiarity and consistent best quality, and A Cook’s Guide – a compendium of donna hay magazine’s How to Cook sections – is another mouthwatering concoction for the home cook who wants simplicity with their deliciousness.

There’s a reason we’re keen to master classic recipes and dishes that stand the test of time. They’re good. And having them in your culinary repertoire is both satisfying and impressive . . . pulling off the perfect pav or fantabulous frittata for friends and family is am honourable feat indeed. [Read more…]

Book Review: When Happiness is Not Enough by Chris Skellett

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s Christmas time – a time that’s meant to be the happiest of the year but for many, the festive season is fraught with stress, relationship strain, financial burden and that Scrooge-like feeling that can seriously test the boundaries of inner contentment. Balancing the ‘perfect’ get together with family and friends can become an intensified balancing act that mimics the everydayness of modern life . . . that seemingly endless attempt to feel ‘happy’ – when you have every reason to, yet still can’t achieve it.

We live in a moment in time that encourages high-achieving perfection. We want it all and can have it all, yet depression rates continue to rise. We are so fortunate and able to cram our lives with so much that SHOULD make us happy . . . yet happiness remains so elusive.

What’s going wrong?

Author Chris Skellet has worked as a clinical psychologist for over thirty years and for the past decade has developed a strong interest in leadership and executive coaching. Experienced in teaching members of high stress corporate environments the basic principles of living life well, Chris shares his expertise in this enlightening book – with the hope of helping his readers enjoy a richer and more fulfilling life.

In When Happiness is Not Enough, Chris shares the simple yet fascinating concept that there are actually two types of happiness. The first is pleasure. That feeling you get when you gobble down that piece of chocolate cake or bag that bargain at the Christmas sales or kick back on that island holiday sunlounger.

While this type of happiness is rewarding and even great fun (especially the chocolate cake part), it cannot possibly supply that richer, more meaningful inner contentment we call true happiness, no no. That deeper contentment comes from a much more intense source – and this second kind of happiness is called Achievement. Satisfaction. That feeling you have worked hard to secure something that makes life feel worthwhile.

Understanding the difference between these two types of happiness is the key that drives this interesting book.

When Happiness is Not Enough is clearly-written and easy-to navigate book that first introduces the Pleasure/Achievement principal. Before moving on, the author encourages the reader to complete the Pleasure/Achievement questionnaire to provide a broad sense of where they stand on the happiness scale. From here, we learn about our values and how they shape us, about acting, thinking and living in balance, and the influences of our past on our present.

The author also covers the way family, culture, society and work shape our beliefs and attitudes to life before going on to explore the principles of pleasure and achievement in greater detail. I really like how the principles are then applied to varying segments of our lives . . . goodness knows each of us is a completely different person in our varying roles as workers, parents, friends and lovers, so divvying up the application of the Pleasure/Achievement principles in this way is mighty helpful.

Stress, burnout, setting limits, planning, self-control, food, depression and relating to others, in our various roles, are just some of the topics covered, providing a holistic book that is meaty and – satisfying. A concise yet comprehensive personal plan at the end of the book is prime real estate for jotting and fleshing out your happiness plan.

The book is studded with notes and questions that provide an interactive platform to self-discovery, and each chapter summarises helpful key points to keep you on track. There’s even a frequently-asked-questions section and a wonderful appendix full of relaxation exercises to help readers full appreciate the attainment of that elusive happiness balance.

I’m off to reassess how I can achieve those deeply satisfying/truly happiness-making goals. And I may just have me a piece of chocolate cake, too – after all – a little bit of both sides is what balance is all about.

Cookbook Review: The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot

Rating: ★★★★★

Oh yes, it’s an art all right. Like sushi chefs, French pâtissières spend many years studying and perfecting their craft. Ginette Mathiot (1907 – 1998) taught three generations of French families how to cook. The author of over 30 cookbooks, running the gamut of French cuisine, this legendary food writer has brought together a definitive collection of classic French receipes in such bestselling tomes as Je sais cuisiner (I know how to cook) and Je sais faire la pâtisserie (I can cook pastry).

Translated by Clotilde Dusoulier, The Art of French Baking is a bible of fundamentals for anyone wanting to stretch their culinary savoir faire. Or anyone with a sweet tooth. Or a love of French cookery. Or all three.

This beautiful book, as snowy as an airy French meringue, is gorgeously designed, with simple typography that’s classically chic. Pocked with divinely retro and très français illustrations by Sara Mulvanny, the white on white pages also feature whimsically pastel photography by food pic talent Moko Inoue.

Before diving into the sugary fray, the author provides essential techniques to help die-hards perfect such culinary elusives as the perfect sauce, brioches, petits fours, sponge cakes and the dreaded pastry dough. A troubleshooting guide includes the answers to such conundrums as “my pastry has shrunk”, “my choux buns are tough” and “my puff pastry does not rise well”  all lined up in a neat and orderly fashion.

The recipes are similarly ordered, sliced in fat sugary wedges . . . details of which you have been so patiently waiting, my pastry-loving friend.

Where better to start drooling than Basic Recipes – pastry of various incarnations, icings and fillings from fondant to ganache to creme pâtissière, custards, creams and sauces from sugar syrup to crème anglaise. Small Cakes includes rum babas, macarons, madeleines and the ubiquitous range of classic petit fours. There’s even my favourite – financiers – a light, cakey biscuit.

In gâteaux, we meet nut and fruit cakes, the Génoese spong, kugelhopf, roulade and savarin – a breadlike cake soaked in rum. The brioches will have your eyes rolling skyward with delight and yes – there are éclairs gleamed with slicked chocolate glaze and choux buns puffed with cream. Paris-Brest, mille-feuilles and enough tarts to light up the red light district of Amsterdam round out the Pastries and Tarts section, and Biscuits includes cigarettes (crisp and delicate rolls), sablés and langues de chat (cat’s tongues).

Milk and Egg Puddings feature a feast of custards including the toffee-encrusted crème caramel and brûlée, and meringues, soufflés and starch puddings finish off a virtual degustation of sweetness and light. With The Art of French Baking and its 350+ authentic recipes in your kitchen, the only thing missing will be a trip to Paris to compare your creations with the masters. Le sigh. Get the book then book your ticket. Any excuse.

Cookbook Review: The Cook's Garden by Sheridan Rogers

Rating: ★★★★★

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and can truly appreciate those little underrated treasures in life, but there’s not much more satisfying than plucking home-grown produce from your very own garden. Even better – serving it up to appreciative friends and family with flavours that hark back to a 1970s childhood (or earlier) when tomatoes tasted like warm sunshine and raspberries couldn’t be eaten without one’s eyes rolling into the back of the head.

Sheridan Rogers certainly understands the value of the home garden – the cook’s garden. With over thirty years’ experience in the food industry, Rogers is an award-winning food and travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and food stylist, and has written a number of books including Mini Chefs: Cooking with Kids.

In The Cook’s Garden, the author’s childhood passion for gardening and cooking, instilled by her mother who could be most often found in the garden, is heartily apparent. The book’s content is as bountiful as the most beloved veggie patch and home orchard, abundant with a farmer’s market of beautiful edibles. [Read more…]

Book Review: Everyday Kindness by Stephanie Dowrick

Rating: ★★★★★

Could there be a more perfect time for a book on everyday kindness? Author and holistic wellbeing expert Stephanie Dowrick has long been tapped into Australia’s emotional zeitgeist, plucking needful gems from society’s ills and polishing them into beautiful books that lay open the requirements at hand.

Whether it be learning about intimacy in a world gone high tech social, opening our hearts to forgiveness in a generation focused on blame, or choosing happiness in a society fraught with pessimism, Dowrick has her finger on the emotional and spiritual pulse of people – and has that certain knack for laying things bare, saying it like it is, and offering us intelligent, effective ways to take control of our world.

In Everyday Kindness, Dowrick takes her typically warm yet intellectual approach, offering short cuts to busy readers for a happier and more confident life. Dowrick believes that from the moment we are born, our wellbeing is dependent on the kindness of others. And as we grow and develop, build confidence and self-reliance, that same kindness is something we can thrive on, lifelong.

In a word of relentless demand, over-busyness, exhaustion and stress, the smallest acts and little thoughts of kindness are those we are so readily losing. Few have the time to be thoughtful or generous any more – to others and neither to ourselves – yet aren’t the smallest, sweetest things in life exactly what we need the most? A snail mail card from a friend. Homegrown veggies on the doorstep. A phone call. A door held open? Self-effacement? Are they not the stuff of true living?

Dowrick knows this. In Everyday Kindness, she presents thoughts and inspiration for more mindful living in concise snippet chapters, with such headings as Family First?, Childhood Shadows, Profound Appreciation, Open Minds, Fewer things – and one of my faves – Surviving the Global Stress Crisis.

The book is further divided into sections that feature like-minded ‘posts’ (am I not a creature of my high tech generation?) – or entries – on Kindness, Personal Power, Self-Confidence, Relationships, Identity, Children and their Parents, Mood and Work. Readers can skip to a section that interests them, take a lucky dip, or start from the beginning and benefit from each and every enlightening entry.

What I love most about this book is that it covers a gamut of topics that would suit anyone from school leavers to young mothers to people on the brink of their twilight years. The advice is unpatronising, gentle yet powerful and quickly resonates because – frankly – Dowrick has got it right. She knows people. She knows how we operate and she knows what we all need to hear. She’s also more than ready to shake up the crusty, staid beliefs of her readers, and freshen up preconceived notions.

For example, in the entry entitled The Greatest Power, all ideas of the perceived meaning of power (ie: control over others) are washed away by this simple statement:

“The greatest power we have is to lift the spirits of other people through our choices and behaviour – to enhance their lives, and our own.”

A book that deserves pride of place on the bedside table of every person keen to live a content and happy life, Everyday Kindness is an eye-opening and powerful reminder of what it means to be human.

What's on your Bucket List? 100 Things with Sebastian Terry

Handsome, smart, adventurous and philothranthopic? Stand back girls, 26-year-old Sebastian Terry is too busy zipping all over our fair planet achieving extraordinary things to stop for a quick flirtatious chat. Alas.

This brand new author, with a degree in Human Movement, is certainly a jack of all trades. Having held almost 100 jobs in his relatively short lifetime, Sebastian admits to a series of casual jobs that have kept him pretty much constantly on the move – from ski instructor to working in hospitality.

“My main goal was to only work in fun jobs,” says Sebastian , who calls the beachside Sydney suburb of Manly home. Whenever he’s actually home, that is.

Recently, Sebastian reached a point in his life where he realised he was truly happy with his direction . . . a realisation that occurred whilst being shot in Colombia as part of Number 73 on his oftentimes bizarre Bucket List – Get Shot Whilst Wearing a Bullet Proof Vest.

The extreme content of this Bucket List has, not surprisingly, gone on to become a book, published by Ebury Press, 100 Things: What’s on your list? [Read more…]

Cookbook Review: Sicilian Seafood Cooking by Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

Rating: ★★★★☆

The wonderful thing about modern day cookbooks is their reliance on more than fabulous recipes. It’s their reliance on travel, on culture, on a way of living . . . a reliance on heart, emotion, experience, as well as flavour texture and culinary fulfillment.

Sicilian Seafood Cooking is one such book.

Food writer and first-time author Marisa Raniolo Wilkins was born in Trieste before moving to Australia with her Sicilian parents. A passionate home cook who is well-known for her Sicilian food blog – All Things Sicilian and More – Marisa has a lifetime of experience in the traditions and techniques of Italian and Sicilian cuisine.

In her first book, Marisa’s focus on fresh, local produce is as clear as the bountiful crystal waters off the Sicilian coast. Her selection of recipes is divided into sections designed to provide a full feast-like food experience.

Begining with comu primu (first course), we are taken through comu sacunnu (second course), festa (feast), ‘u cuntuonnu (vegetable dishes) and una caponata per ogni stagione (a caponata for every season). What is a caponata, you ask? Seafood salad, of course – and Marisa goes on to explain the various versions of this dish, its cultural history and significance, and its meaning in her life.

These extra elements – the history, the vibrant local knowledge, the personal connection to every dish – are what sets Sicilian Seafood Cooking apart from other tomes packed with little more than an introduction and soldier line-up of recipes. [Read more…]

Book Review: Popsicle by Alison Thompson

Rating: ★★★★☆

Summer is busting out all over and this icy book is just the sweet ticket to an oasis of cool (even if only for the tongue). Best be careful where you shelve this brand new tome of freezer-bound pleasure, lest the kids see and you’re forced to spend the next fortnight whipping up batch after endless batch of frozen delight. Then again – when you see the recipes in store, you may not need much convincing.

Blow the diet, you’re far more active during the summer months anyway, non? From the eye-candy cover to the retro-inspired typesetting and design, you’ll be licking the pages well before you even reach for the ice cream maker. And never fear – if you’re too frightened to invest in an ice cream maker (I know I am; there’s enough hip padding in this house already), there are instructions on how to create similarly luscious treats without one.

Popsicle begins with a short intro convincing us that popsicles are back, big time – but not as we know them. Author Alison Thompson says these luscious creations are easier than they look, and that a crisp chocolate coating and dollops of fudge, nuts and caramel are simple additions, once you’ve mastered the basic techniques of popsicle creation. Notes and recommendations on ingredients is followed by the equipment needed to create your best scrumptious treats, and the author also provides tips for making the best popsicles possible.

If you’re eyeballing those stick-bound, gravity-defying delicacies on the front cover with some trepidation, you’ll be heartened to know the first chapter in Popsicle features sorbet and ice cream recipes that can be scooped straight from a completely non-threatening punnet. Recipes include classic fruity sorbets, followed by basic ice creams (vanilla, chocolate and banana) – then those with a little more creative zing, such as gingerbread, meringue and liquorice. Salted caramel is definitely one creamy recipe I have my thighs – I mean, eyes – on.

The popsicle recipes follow on from ‘ice cream and sorbets’ by including their recipes in the creation of some pretty slick-looking collection of bliss-on-a-stick. In the mood for peanut caramel? Honey and pine nut? Gingerbread fellows, complete with smartie buttons? What about rainbow popsicles, doused in hundreds and thousands, or vanilla and lemon, squiggled with white chocolate? I have a serious eye on the raspberry swirl and the rum-raisin and almond – but the cookie sandwiches on a stick may just win the race.

Most popsicles are coated in chocolate, making this a decadently rich line-up of recipes that would perfectly suit the festive season in Australia – offering as much satisfaction to the adult consumer, as the child. Gorgeously photographed and compact, this is a book you’ll be flicking through until it’s sticky. And yes, it may even finally convince me I need an ice cream maker.