Reviewed by Hayley Anderton
I’m a proper fan of Kate Young and her Little Library books – they’re a delightful mix of recipes, reflection, and book recommendations, but even so I’ve found reading The Little Library Christmas bittersweet at times. I miss cooking for people, miss it badly. My part of the country has never fully come out of lockdown and as the weeks have turned to months it’s increasingly clear that Christmas will look and feel different this year – which must make it a strange time to have a book out about how to prepare for it.
On the other hand, in this strangest of years this is actually the Christmas book I need. Unlike the other Christmas recipe books I’ve collected, this one is modest in size, and it understands Christmas from a single woman’s point of view. Originally from Australia, Young’s extended family are far away, so her British celebrations have revolved around friends and the family we make for ourselves. There’s an implicit assumption that there will be time alone, time to read, time to watch things, and time to make.
There may be more time alone this year than many of us (even the single amongst us) are used to. The casual meetings with people to swap gifts, never mind the extended tours round the country to catch all the family, are probably off the cards. A lot of us are likely to be more cash poor but time rich, and expectations all round will need to be readjusted.
With that in mind there are a lot of helpful things in The Little Library Christmas Book. There are the chutneys and jellies that will make excellent presents for neighbours, the simple but effective cocktails that help make a quiet drink at home feel special – and for something like a Gin and Thyme Martini are easy to scale down to not party quantities.
Kate is engaging company in the essays she writes – they’re full of reminiscences and recommendations; for books, for films, for tv shows, and things to make. She has sensible thoughts about cheese boards, and the desirability of things like bon bons and crystallized ginger. Some of the fifty recipes have appeared in her previous books, but even if there weren’t enough new things in here to make it worth the modest cover price (and there definitely are) the main thing is the company the book provides. Reading it has felt like spotting a friend across a crowded room of strangers – or maybe getting a phone call from someone you hadn’t realized how much you were missing, on a particularly grey and uninspiring day.
In a year when I will need to adapt my own traditions and plans – apart from anything else it’s quite strange being out of retail after twenty years, and away from the rhythms and pressures it imposes – I’m very pleased to have found a guide that makes me feel that I’m in the best of company.
Hayley blogs at Desperate Reader.
Kate Young, The Little Library Christmas (Head of Zeus, 2020). 978-1838937461, 184pp., paperback.
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