The Year of Miracles: Recipes About Love + Grief + Growing Things by Ella Risbridger (Bloomsbury, £15.69)
Mourning the death of her partner John, the cookery writer Ella Risbridger found solace in the sanctuary of the kitchen. Her debut book Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For) was a testimonial to the redemptive power of cooking and won accolades from the likes of Nigella Lawson for being a “manual for living and a declaration of hope.” Her latest candidly-written cookbook, The Year of Miracles (recipes about love + grief + growing things), echoes a similar sentiment and plays host to a series of moments (and miracles) on a year spent in the kitchen.
Part-memoir, part-cookbook, The Year of Miracles, coasts through the seasons month-by-month. In the crisp days of February, she makes a Guinness sticky toffee brownie pudding to commemorate the dead and celebrate life. In the warmer days of June and July, she makes a pancetta and leek pilaf, and celebrates the vitality of her homegrown courgettes and offers three ways to prepare them — in ribbons, roasted with oil, and with chimichurri. In the cloudless days of September, Risbridger bakes her own birthday cake of blackberry miso and gathers a handful of her friends under a blue sky.
For while this may seem to be a story about grief, it is actually one about change and finding family within friends. Throughout The Year of Miracles, Risbridger whisks in a series of vignettes that remind us of life’s minor miracles. Whether that’s drunkenly making three-ingredient brownies for a sugar-starved friend, making chicken rice at midnight, or roasting a pork belly to the tune of Pergolesi. Interwoven with intricate watercolour drawings by Elisa Cunningham, The Year of Miracles is Risbridger’s chronicle of grieving, loving and revelling in the wheel-of-life that is the kitchen.
Raven Smith’s Men by Raven Smith (HarperCollins, £12.59)
Described as the “Millennial answer to David Sedaris” and “the funniest person on Instagram”, Raven Smith’s reputation proceeds him. In his memoir, Raven Smith’s Men, the writer and Vogue columnist earns his stellar reputation, and then some. Witty, amusing, and filled with crude jokes, this is an unflinchingly honest book, providing a generous insight into the innermost parts of Smith’s mind.
On the surface, Raven Smith’s Men is an explicit foray into the men who have made up the author’s life, but interweaved into every chapter is a complex examination of masculinity, a quiet journey of self-acceptance of sexuality and a relatable foray into subjects such as dieting and dating.
“This book isn’t so much for men, as about them,” writes Smith, the men being his biological father, his stepfather his husband, David Sedaris, past lovers and one night stands (amongst others). But the author writes with such friendly ease that you struggle to imagine anyone, male or female, who wouldn’t be charmed by his affable tone and storytelling skills.
All 27 of Smith’s essays will make you laugh, and some will make you cry, but every single one is a masterclass in memoir writing.