Saturday, 16 March 2019

Special Guest by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe

Now that the boys are young men, out more than in and in various stages of leaving the nest, Mr Seasons and are enjoying a renaissance in cooking and eating. Gone are the staples of pasta, burgers and roasts that dominated our life for the past decade. Back are the salads, seafood and spicy food that we love so much. And hopefully, soon, we will rediscover/reclaim our dining room table to host a dinner party once again.

I looked to Crabb and Sharpe's Special Guest: Recipes for the Happily Imperfect Host to shape these urges.

Anyone in Australia right now, would be hard put to not have seen or heard Crabb on TV, in podcasts or on the radio lately. She seems to be everywhere, cooking with politicians, going back in time, chatting about books, politics and food.

I confess that I am not one of those enamoured of her journalistic style. But I don't go out of my way to avoid her either. Hence my dip into her latest cook book.

Her voice is very distinctive and you can hear it as you read her introduction. I enjoyed her timely reminders about having fun whilst hosting and not sweating the disasters,
Cooking for people in your home isn't about showing off. It's about delighting the people you love, while also remembering to actually spend time with them, not weeping in the kitchen.

Sharpe picked up on these themes with,
The most essential ingredient for a meal with friends is not, paradoxically, the food, nor the perfect house to host in, but the sentiment that you convey to guests when you open your home and carve out some time to share with them

I'm not a perfectionist, but I don't live very far away from being one! Part of my lack of desire to host a dinner party in recent years, is the muddle that is our small, inner city home, full of four adult beings and their stuff. I've learnt to live with the muddle, but I don't feel like showing it off.

After reading Special Guest, I'm a little closer to letting this go.

But what about the recipes, I hear you ask?

Crabb and Sharpe have included mostly vegetarian meals with some seafood dishes. They're conscious of food inclusivity and discuss vegan, gluten-free and halal options. Many of their meals could easily include meat on the side for the omnivores in your life.

One of their handy tips was about having a few signature home made items that quickly and easily add a special touch to any meal - things like home made pesto, harissa paste, hummus or lemon infused oil.

Sadly, though, I only found three dishes, in the entire book, that I wanted to try - Halloumi, Lime & Rocket Spaghetti, Roast Mushroom Cannelloni and Glass Potatoes.

Browsing through the other options only reinforced my dislike of the big breakfast - anything more than toasted muesli, fruit and yoghurt is too much for me - and confirmed that I am happy enough to eat sweets, desserts and cakes if provided by someone else, but they are simply not things I will seek out or make myself. I'm also not a huge fan of pies, tarts or pastries, all of which featured quite heavily throughout the book.

I once heard that most people will only ever actually make 2-3 recipes out of any cook book, so with that in mind, Special Guest, is a success!

Special Guest has been longlisted for this year's Australian Book Industry Book Awards (ABIA) and the Indie Book Awards for Best Illustrated Non-fiction Book.

Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to link up anytime over the weekend.


  1. It's sad that dinner parties have gone out of style in so many circles, due to the feeling that everything must be perfection or it's not ok. I hope you manage to get back into it and really enjoy your guests and hopefully enjoy going to their homes as well.

    best... mae at

    1. Pre-children I used to host lots of dinner parties. I know others who have managed to do both, but I think I've only hosted a handful of dinner parties over the past decade...

  2. I love discovering new cookbook authors, and they are both new to me (here in the States). I always appreciate cookbooks that are inclusive so I can find recipes that will appeal to everyone at my table. I'm not exactly a perfectionist (and never weep in the kitchen :) ), but I could learn to lighten up. I'll have to see if I can get a copy of this book.

    1. It has certainly been a good prompt for me to think about how to get dinner parties back into my life - I have so many friends I need/should return the favour to...

  3. I would want a cookbook that has more than 2-3 recipes that interest me. That is an interesting statistic. I was recently in Thailand and the executive chef at our hotel was Austraiian. One day we had mango lamington on the menu.

    1. Hmmmm not sure I could go a mango lamington - the traditional lamington is hard to beat!


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