MVG Reads: Top 10 Books of 2021

It’s been a year of reading! I’ve plowed through a mountain of books this year and stopped tracking them all at some point. All of these books have easily earned their place on my Top 10 Books of 2021 because each one advocates kindness towards people, the planet, and animals. For this reason, the books are not expressly vegan but I like to think they’ll still appeal to all vegans given the recipes, concepts, and stories contained in each of them.

These books were all published in 2021, with my notable ‘Hall of Fame’ exception, which was my most referenced book for the year. This list is alphabetical by book title, with the exception of the last two titles.

Advent, Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas – Anja Dunk

This is the most beautiful cookbook I’ve bought this year. When I saw it at Readings, I just had to have it. The lux green linen cover with gold embossing promised something special.

Despite not celebrating Christmas, I do love the festive season and the opportunity for connection it presents. Food can bring such joy and finding new ways to express kindness through the gift of food is something I don’t imagine I’ll ever tire of. And, this book bought me joy from the moment I first thumbed through the pages.

Image Credit: Instagram @anjadunk

Anja Dunk takes us through the celebration of Advent, which starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The season of Advent is steeped in tradition, of which baking is a vital part. One of these rituals is Bunter Teller, or colourful plate, and the order in which goods are baked acts as an Advent Calendar. The rituals of these traditions absolutely delighted me, through the storytelling in the book, the distinctly European photos all taken by Anja during lockdown, and 24 linocuts revealing themselves as Advent progresses through to Christmas.

I had grand aspirations to bake my own Advent Bunter Teller but I was so caught up in the reading (and re-reading) of this enchanting book, I’ve been slow to the kitchen. What I can say is that making the Lebkuchengewurz Lebkuchen spice mix took me right to Christmas. The smell of this spice combination ignites the senses. My first bake yesterday of Allerlei Lebkuchen, Lebkuchen allsorts (biscuits) using the spice needed very little adaption to be vegan and delivered joyous little gingerbread-like biscuits.

I feel this is a book that will remain on my shelves for a very long time as I aspire to one day bake for a traditional Advent.

Alice’s Food A to Z – Alice Zaslavsky

When I started the MVG Pantry earlier this year, I did so to connect our neighbourhood when we were experiencing isolation and disconnection due to extended COVID lockdowns. Our city was the most locked-down city in the world and we were hurting.

The Pantry quickly become a vibrant hub for people and word quickly spread that it was a place to express support and kindness. It also quickly became a place that children would visit daily with their parents, grandparents, and sometimes, on their own. I wanted to learn how to encourage children to learn to love food for not only nourishment but also the joy it can bring through sharing.

As a huge fan of Alice’s work, I was delighted to add this book to my collection. Packed with fun food facts, easy recipes, and clever cooking tips, I plan to use this book to guide activities in the MVG Pantry during the upcoming school holidays.

First published in 2015 and re-released this year, this book is perfect for families with little foodies to enjoy independently, or with a little help from the grown-ups.

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray ‘River of Dreams’ – Anita Heiss

This is the only novel on this year’s list. I did read a number of novels throughout the year but often I found myself reaching for other general knowledge and non-fiction books. This was an easy exception.

Set in Gundagai in the 1800s, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray tells a tale of Country, rituals, romance, and history as seen through the eyes of Wiradjuri woman, Wagadhaany. Subjected to White Man’s Law under colonialism, Wagadhaany is taken from her family to serve others. River of Dreams enables us to experience Wagadhaany’s struggles to find her way back to her family, her Country and, to find love.

Many words stumped me on pronunciation (in my head) but the language is beautifully melodic and enables you to immerse yourself in the beauty, pain, and courage of Wagadhaany, her people, ancestors, and Country.

I loved reading this book. If the themes are ones that don’t immediately resonate with you, please still put it on your to-read list. You won’t be disappointed, it’s not only in my Top 10 for this year – it’s in my Top 3.

Image Credit: Instagram @dranitaheiss

Futuresteading, Live Like Tomorrow Matters – Jade Miles, Black Barn Farm (My 2021 Book of the Year)

Futuresteading is my 2021 Book of the Year. It is always returned to my bedside table as most nights I’ll browse the photos, recipes or revisit some of the Futuresteading principles.

Described as practical skills, recipes, and rituals for a simpler life guidebook, Futuresteading has its roots in permaculture. Its pillars centre around food, simplicity, loving local, your home, your clan, Mother Nature, and rituals. Those who know me, know I’m not into woo-woo of any kind so don’t be put off by the term ritual. This Futuresteading principle explores creating patterns and rhythms in your life, building time for your people, and of rituals being repetitive and cathartic. This chapter, which I expected to like the least, was one that resonated with me the most. Perhaps in this new world we’re living in, cathartic and repetitive rituals are what we need.

The book respectfully references and embraces Australian Indigenous culture, in particular, recognition that it identifies more than four seasons in a year. The Futuresteading seasons, correspond with each chapter: Awaking, Alive, High heat, Harvest, The turning, and Deep chill. Jane brings these chapters to life through sharing her own experiences from Black Barn Farm; stories from her childhood and her community.

The book opens by setting the foundations of ‘the why’, which is the sad and current state of our planet. Like many of the books from this list, information is presented in a very easy-to-read format with beautiful illustrations. Jade’s writing style is compelling and echos her storytelling on the Futuresteading podcast (which is a must-listen for me). Jade is insightful, considered in her approach, and absolutely leaves you wanting for your own ritualistic Wassail (Deep chill/ Winter) bonfire. There is no doubt family, community and the planet are at the heart of everything Jane does.

With practical explainers and seasonal chapters that include recipes, gardening tips, DIY projects (and so much more), this is a big book of 320 pages that you’ll be reaching for time and time again.

This book makes me feel happy inside, happy for the future, and has inspired me to adopt Futuresteading principles in my life. I believe that gifting this book to yourself, or someone in your community is an act of kindness that won’t be forgotten.

Hope is a Verb, Six Steps to Radical Optimism When the World Seems Broken – Emily Ehlers

Finding Emily was another excellent recommendation, this time from Alexx Stuart, Low Tox Life. Emily is a writer and illustrator who uses arty activism to share complex messages in easily understandable formats.

For hope to be meaningful, effective and empowering, it requires your participation. Hope isn’t just something you have, it’s something you do. Now, more than ever, we need individuals and communities to wish for change, but also to use it to light the way into the future.

And therein lies the power of this book. It provides a guide for hope by reframing the stories we tell ourselves, hope for when you’re feeling hopeless, and hope for a better future.

Hope is a Verb book makes a beautiful gift for tweens, young adults, adults, or as a gift to yourself. The colourful illustrations accompany ways to nurture hope through daily acts of kindness, courage, stronger communities, and a deeper sense of purpose.

Low Tox Life Food, How to Shop, Cook, Swap, Save and Eat for a Happy Planet – Alexx Stuart

I credit Alexx for starting me on my path to a low tox life, over a decade ago. I’d already learned so much from Alexx before she published her first book Low Tox Life in 2018, which is now a well-worn and much-loved book in my collection. Now, Food can proudly sit alongside it and teach me more lessons to nurture myself, my family, and the planet.

This is not a recipe book, it’s so much more. Each chapter takes us through the food cycle, from produce politics, regenerative farming, processed foods, composting and worm farming, reducing food packaging to ultimately cooking budget-friendly, adaptable meals without waste.

Yesterday I was cooking cauliflower and usually, I would chop the leaves and add them to my compost. I pulled Food down from the shelf, almost certain there would be a better way to use the cauliflower leaves. And, there was. Tonight I rubbed them with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and chilli and roasted them in the oven for 20 minutes. Oven-roasted cauli leaves are my new obsession, completely delicious, and have left me equal parts happy for finding this recipe and sad for all the years I’ve been composting the leaves.

Sure, this isn’t a deliciously styled photo. Or one that’s properly in focus but the roasted cauli leaves were SO GOOD, I had to snap a pic, even if it was a bad one.

Low Tox Life Food is a book that will educate and empower you to make beneficial food choices. Alongside this knowledge is a bounty of recipes and menu plans that highlight seasonal produce. This book is going straight to the Hall of Fame.

My Dog Eats Better Than Me, Recipes your dog will love – Fiona Rigg and Jacqui Melville

Our dogs haven’t ever eaten commercially prepared dog food, save for a very rare occasion (like an overnight stay at the vet). Such food doesn’t align with my ethical values, nor does it allow our dogs to enjoy the health benefits that come from eating a varied diet. Honestly, how excited would you be if you were dished up a bowl of dry kibble or some of the disgusting ‘meat’ products on the market? You wouldn’t.

Preparing food for my dogs takes little time and is part of the weekly meal preparation I do for our family. If you’re not sure where to start or, want to add some new recipes into the mix, My Dog Eats Better Than Me has you covered. Don’t be fooled by the title, many of the recipes are quick and easy, or can be prepared in bulk for freezing and convenience. But also: The Ultimate Dog Pawty is next level adorable-ness.

This book goes beyond 60+ recipes and covers nutrition, enrichment activities, and wellbeing. Fiona is a professional cook, food stylist, and Cordon Bleu graduate; and Jacqui is a professional food photographer. They combine their experience and style in a book that anyone owned by a dog will love – and should have.

Recipe for a Kinder Life – Annie Smithers

I bought this book after watching Alice in Frames’ Xmas Cookbook Wrap-Up. Actually, I bought a few books from this wrap-up but there’s still a number on my to-be-read (TBR) pile.

I was initially somewhat uncertain about whether I’d enjoy this book. It doesn’t have colourful stylised photos and is entirely in black and white. It’s part biography, cookbook, and sustainability handbook. Above all, it’s a book about living more gently.

I read Recipe for a Kinder Life in three sittings – each time I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. I found Annie to be earnest in her successes, her failures and to weave the story of her life into lessons each of us can learn from. This is a book I’ll go back and reference over many years to come and I’m looking forward to it becoming worn and tattered as I go about learning more lessons from it.

This book was an excellent recommendation and has made it to my Top 3 books of 2021.

Image Credit: Instagram @babbingtonpark

The Good Life, How to Grow a Better World – Hannah Moloney

As you work through the book titles in this list, many of them are guidebooks for living a kinder life and how to tread more gently on the planet. Some of them have overlapping topics but each of them allows you to build knowledge on those subjects. Hannah Moloney’s The Good Life is another guidebook that should be on all bookshelves.

Recognisable as a guest presenter from Gardening Australia, Hannah uses her skills as a permaculture landscape designer and educator to share skills to enable you to confidently master your own urban or country space. Hannah has a connection to Country, which is also woven throughout the ideas she shares.

This book will delight those with an interest in cooking, gardening, self-reliance and for those wanting to make a positive difference to the environment, whether from the balcony of their flat, an expansive farm or suburban backyard. It’s punctuated with beautiful photos; illustrations; easy-to-read chapters, case studies and worksheets; and inspiration to make a difference for yourself and your community.

Image Credit: Instagram @goodlife_permaculture

Your Wild Celebration, Nature Craft for Christmas, Easter, birthdays and more – Brooke Davis

We’ve eschewed certain celebrations for many years. As hallmark dates become further commercialised and commoditised, the true meaning of celebrations becomes increasingly diminished. It’s promising to see a growing trend to focus on presence as presents and meaningful gift-giving become more mainstream.

Your Wild Celebration is a book of gorgeous photography and easy instructions to inspire nature-based craft activities for all celebrations. Your Wild Books handpicked selection of items in their store complements their range of 5 books. The Author, Brooke also sends a regular newsletter with free downloads and activities for kids big and small. Don’t be surprised when you see me whittling away some nature-based crafts from this book (with my yet-to-be minted whittling knife) as well as making a Christmas wreath.

In Praise of Veg – A modern kitchen companion, Alice Zalslavsky (Honorable Mention)

This book was *technically* published at the end of 2020 but In Praise of Veg has been my go-to cookbook since it landed in my mailbox late last year.

Everything I cooked for the festive season (bar one) came from this book. Everyone I cooked for asked me for the recipe for the best potato salad ever, the best curry ever, the lightest carrot cake ever – the list goes on. In Praise of Veg is my go-to gift because it’s my go-to book.

Alice combines intelligence with humour, recipes inspired by her Georgian heritage and global travels, stunning food styling, and (of course) resplendent illustrations. I thought Alice’s illustrations deserved a word like resplendent.

Don’t ask me to name a favourite recipe from this cookbook because everything I’ve cooked is a favourite. When I cook something especially good through the week, Hubster will say “is this one of Alice’s recipes?”, such is the standard.

And if you didn’t think you could make a more-ish bundt cake from patty pan squash, you’ll be proven wrong. Then, probably like me, you’ll make the patty pan squash cake for friends just to play the guessing game of “what’s this cake made from”?

Image Credit: Instagram @aliceinframes

Costa’s Word, Gardening for the soil, the soul and the suburbs – Costa Georgiadis (to-be-read)

This is the book I’ve saved for reading over Christmas. I try to choose a few books throughout the year to save for reading over Christmas, as a treat to myself. Instead of sharing my own thoughts, I’ll add an extract of the publisher’s introduction:

A generous, joyous, fully illustrated gardening book that celebrates the life-changing joy of chooks; kids in the garden; big ideas for small spaces; Costa’s favourite plants; growing the right plants for your conditions; biodiversity in the soil and garden; the power of community; the brilliance of bees and pollinators; easy-peasy permaculture; and much, much more.

I have had a sneaky peek through the book and know that had I read it sooner, my Top 10 Books for 2021 would have blown out to Top 11 Books of 2021. I’m okay with that.

Some final thoughts

Digital and social media is a wonderful convenience to have, it allows us to extend our community and stay connected to them. It also allows us to be connected in real-time to people who might be outside of our usual community, such as the Authors above.

However, social media should never take the place of being outside and getting your hands dirty in the garden, cooking for loved ones, or as an act of kindness, or reading a book. The process of creating, publishing, and marketing a book is exhausting. A great Author will put their heart and soul into every page, they will immerse you with their storytelling and inspire you. In exchange, you can support Authors by pre-ordering their books (which sends a powerful message to their publisher – hey, this book is popular!) and buying their books from local booksellers. Sometimes budget doesn’t extend to buying every book you want, so remember you can reserve books from your library too.

I hope you enjoy these book recommendations, please let me know if you have any recommendations of your own.

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