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‘A Little of What You Fancy’

The Colour of Food: a memoir of life, love & dinner
by Anne Else (Awa, $35)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

The Colour of Food_Print_V14.inddThis celebratory feast of birth, death, food and life is much more than the descriptors – it’s a beautifully balanced multi-course meal, with ingredients sourced from the acreage of Anne’s life and spiced with her ready wit. Seriously good writing is Anne’s staple, with well-blended handfuls of humour, social commentary and a couple of dozen recipes included.

Although I chortled at her childhhood memories of “hectic yellow custard” and cookery classes where she “carried home a procession of sad little enamel pie dishes”, I can’t relate to Anne’s success with schoolgirl French but still use Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Honest enough to admit that, long ago, she “revered French food not because it was good but because it was French”, Anne leads us through the development of her culinary skills and appreciation of good food against a backdrop of serious social and political issues.

Living in another culture is a great culinary teacher, and in Albania, Anne had a sympathetic helper to show her the ropes. She contends with lamb baked in yoghurt and half a suckling pig “roasted … until it was gorgeously greasy and golden”. Completely unafraid of the sources and realities of what she cooks or eats, and completely unafraid to express her own realities, she decribes her first husband as “rejecting me, and our marriage”. Ouch. The biggest ouch, though, is her brave description of her younger son’s death, while giving him new life with joyful memories of his, and his brother’s, childhood escapades. An adoptee, Anne describes the search for her birth mother with tenderness, sensitivity and, as always, a touch of her subtle wit.

Encompassing family and friends, work and travel, love and loss, this is not only Anne’s story. It represents the story of many women growing through a time when gender-related assumptions were changing, in part through the work of women like Anne, who not only co-founded the early feminist magazine Broadsheet but continued to write feminist social commentary, analysis and history. Her current food blog Something Else to Eat – which talks about much more than food – has a large following; likewise her blog Elsewoman, set up to write about living alone after the death of her husband, Harvey McQueen.

Entwined through all the comings and goings, there is food, food, glorious food. I learned a lot from Anne. She grows a lettuce called “drunken woman’s fringed head” that I now want to grow; her friend has a coffin you can use as a bookshelf while you wait. I think I’ll just wait, and while I’m waiting I’ll remember that “a little of what you fancy really does do you good”.