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Posts tagged ‘food-reads’

The Sunday Salon: Overeating & Over-reading

I don’t know about you, but I’m stuffed.

This year I hosted my first Thanksgiving.  My son is now 10 months old so I knew this would be a very special holiday season for me.   He is just starting to venture into the world of table food. He loves to feed himself and try new things.   I spent a lot of time reading cook books this past week planning the meal.    I love reading cookbooks and planning out menus. It combines some of my favorite hobbies: cooking/food, reading and making lists. The menu I came up with included Goat Cheese Rosemary Toasts, cranberry nut rolls, roasted root vegetables with parmesan gremolata, caramelized shallot mashed potatoes, roasted turkey (of course), wild rice with butternut squash, and Cranberry Almond bundt cake…. as I said, I. am. stuffed.

This weekend I am also reading Anthony Bourdain’s follow-up to Kitchen Confidential: Medium Raw.   I loved Kitchen Confidential when I read it years ago so just had to grab Medium Raw when I saw it on the NEW shelf at the library.  I am about half way through the book so far. In this collection of essays Bourdain rants about everything from The Food Network, the effect of the recent economy on restaurants, celebrity chefs and more.  Bourdain is his usual self, very raw (Medium Raw, you might say), honest, and entertaining.  I am getting some good chuckles from Medium Raw so far and am enjoying it.

I hope to read another chapter/essay or so while the baby takes his afternoon nap.

Once I finish Medium Raw, I plan to start on One Day by David Nicholls.

What have you been eating and reading this weekend?

Review: Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Whenever I go to the library, I browse the NEW shelf for any food-related books.  Whether they are works of fiction, memoirs, or  cookbooks, no food book is overlooked.  Some I flip through quickly and put right back since they just don’t appeal to me.  But many take a trip home with me…Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard is one of those that won such an all expenses paid trip.   At first, I was a bit turned off by the cover since it looked like a pure chick lit book…however the synopsis looked promising.  

The book turned out to be a cute memoir about an American who meets and falls in love with a man in Paris. She moves to Paris to live with him and eagerly dives into her new life.    

As I made my way down the street, a man shoved a strawberry in my path.  “Mademoiselle, goute, goute” (taste, taste), he said, trying to catch my eye.  This was not the French I learned in high school.   It was loud and fast and filled with the guttural click of Arabic. “Ca va, princesse?”  He handed me a slice of melon, broke open a pod of sweet peas.  I knew it was ridiculous, but after two years in England, it felt so good to hear this caressing tone of voice, to smile and lower my eyes, even if the guy was just trying to sell me a tomato.

Bard soon learns of the cultural differences of life in Paris vs. the United States.  She wonders why her husband and other Parisians don’t have a go-getter attitude and just settle for the status quo, but meanwhile she flounders while searching for the perfect job.

The book takes place over a time period of 8 years…from when Bard meets her future husband, Gwendal, up to a few years after they’re married.  Food is an integral part of the story.  Bard tells of the first meal that she shared with Gwendal.  Each chapter has 2-3 recipes at the end for dishes inspired by the events she has written about in that chapter.

Lunch in Paris was a quick & easy read.   It is a good escapist read for anyone who fantasizes about spending their days browsing in Parisian markets and cooking up dishes with their finds.      If you are looking for a hard-core foodie read, this may not be the best selection for you.  I wouldn’t say that I learned anything new about food from this book, but I did enjoy reading the recipes she included with each chapter.  I was tempted to cook a few but will be returning the book to the library tomorrow and haven’t had a chance to cook any of the recipes yet!  I just may have to take out the book from the library again to get a chance to try out some of the recipes.

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Review: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to CarnismWhy We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” is a good follow-up read to “Omnivore’s Dilemna”, “Fast Food Nation” and their ilk. This book gives a slightly different perspective on the issue of eating meat though…a psychological perspective. It delves into why we as Americans are okay eating cows, chickens, and pigs but not dogs, cats, and horses. It also discusses how most chose to ignore the issues of factory farming.

The book offers up vegetarianism as the way to eat. It didn’t quite make me jump onto the vegetarian band wagon but it was an interesting read.

This was a pretty quick read, clocking in at less than 200 pages of actual text. The remainder of the pages are the bibliography and related notes.

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The Gastronomical Me

The Gastronomical Me The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher


rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love to read food writing: both non-fiction and fiction. I am almost ashamed to admit that I have not read anything by M.F.K. Fisher before now. Many regard her as one of the best food writers.

Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me is a collection of autobiographical essays that cover time from 1912 through 1941.  In 1929 Fisher got married and sailed with her husband to France were she tasted her first real French food and  started down the road to being a true foodie. Fisher talks about her first experience eating hand-cut potato chips in Europe:

There were big soft leather chairs, and on the dark table was a bowl of the first potato chips I ever saw in Europe, not the uniformly thin uniformly golden ones that come out of the waxed bags here at home, but light and dark, thick and paper-thin, fried in real butter and then salted casually with the gros sal served in the country with the pot-au-feu.

They were so good that I ate then with the kind of slow sensuous concentration that pregnant women are supposed to feel for chocolate-cake-at-three-in-the-morning.  I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that I drak two or three glasses of red port in the same strange private orgy of enjoyment. It seems impossible, but the fact remains that it was one of the keenest gastronomic moments of my life.

Through Fisher’s essays we travel back and forth by sea from the US to Europe and South America.   While all of the essays in this book aren’t food-centric, the points in which she does write about food in this collection were stellar.  I love it when food writing makes me salivate.  Fisher’s prose is amazing, witty and pessimistic. She went through some difficult events in her life and you can feel her pain coming through the pages.  I recommend this essay collection to anyone interested in travel and food writing.

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Glazed America

Glazed America: A Social History of the Doughnut Glazed America: A Social History of the Doughnut by Paul R. Mullins
rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must have been suffering from a case of the old Sweet Tooth when Glazed America caught my eye at the library.   The doughnuts on the cover do look mighty tempting. I do enjoy reading books about food so that may have had something to do with it as well.

Paul Mullins is an anthropology professor at Purdue University and in his book, Glazed America, he delves into the cultural and socio-economic history of doughnuts. Mullins presents doughnuts as an iconic American food that we have a love/hate relationship with.  In the opening chapter “The Church of Krispy Kreme” ,  Mullins states the general thesis of the book:

People have remarkably strong sentiments about doughnuts, but many of us find it hard to elevate krullers to the status of mirrors for American society. We seem to harbor both fondness and embarrassment for doughnuts, and that ambivalence has complex roots.  For many observers, doughnuts are symbols of temptation, unhealthiness, and personal weakness.

Mullins talks about how technological advances lead to the ability to mass-produce doughnuts, which in turn lead to the proliferation of doughnut shops across America. Mullins discusses the founding and expansion of the different doughnut chains such a Tim Horton’s, Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme.

I live pretty close to the birthplace of Dunkin Donuts. In fact, one of the Dunkin Donuts in my town is the busiest one in the nation.  This is Dunkin country and most people I know LOVE to go to “Dunkys”, however most of those people state they love it for the coffee…no one ever says they love it for the doughnuts.  Is this because of the “fatties love their doughnuts”-stigma that Mullins states Americans attach to doughnut consumption?  I am one of those who gets coffee from DD way more often than I get doughnuts. For me, I prefer to “spend” my calories elsewhere, on something that I can savor more. Occasionally, I will splurge and get a doughnut, but usually from a place that bakes them from scratch on sight, such as Flour Bakery in Boston’s South End.

Glazed America  is not so much about the history of the doughnut but rather is about the history of the doughnut’s place in American society and pop culture.  I would have liked to have seen a little more about the doughnut itself such as the evolution of the different flavors, toppings and fillings. The book is chock full of black and white photos of doughnut shops and other doughnut-related paraphernalia.

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Reads: My Life in France

My Life in France My Life in France by Julia Child

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julia Child was a late bloomer. She may be best known as a chef & cookbook author, but she didn’t start cooking until her thirties. She was a rather unadventerous eater until she and her new husband moved to France just after World War II. Upon moving to Frace she begins exploring the world of food and cooking.

My tastes were growing bolder, too. Take snails, for instance. I had never thought of eating a snail before, but, my, tender escargots bobbling in garlicky butter were one of my happiest discoveries! And truffles which came in a can, and were so deliciously musky and redolent of the earth, quickly became an obsession.

 In My Life in France, Julia Child’s personality shines through the pages. The book is warm and engaging and had great descriptions of food and cooking. The book was inspirational. Child’s recounting of going to Le Cordon Bleu for cooking classes made me want to quit my job and go to culinary school. (I will hold off on that pursuit. )  If she could go from not knowing how to cook at all to becoming on of the best known chefs in America it just goes to show what following your dreams and passions can accomplish.

I highly recommend My Life in France to anyone who loves a good memoir or anyone with a passion for food.

read this book as part of the Food for Thought book club. Check out the links on the blogroll there to see what other foodie-readers thought of the book.

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Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture

Bite Me Bite Me by Fabio Parasecoli

rating: 3 out of 5

Okay, honestly, with a title like “Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture” and a cover that is a bit suggestive with a close-up picture of the cleft of a peach/nectarine, I was at the very least expecting a book that was readable and fun. I was expecting something along the lines of Kitchen Confidential, Fast Food Nation, or Candyfreak— an engaging expose on how food influences and is influenced by pop culture. I mean come on, this is a cover that got me lots of second looks as I read it on the train. Yes folks, I am reading a book, with a big naked butt on the cover.

In the end (ha), “Bite Me” was a  little too academic for my taste. It read like an advanced college text book with lots of works cited and a large bibliography.  Parasecoli obviously put a good deal of research into the book.

In the chapter Tasty Utopias, Parasecoli discusses food and politics in science fiction books and movies. The works he looks at include Orwell’s 1984 and the movie Demolition Man.  Parasecoli analyzes what food & eating means to the characters & societies in these sci-fi works.

Food has played a relevant — even if sometimes almost invisible — role in many sci-fi works. I believe this connection is revealing. Food is an important element in any society, determining many aspects of production, distribution and consumption, and providing fundamental institutions and customs.  It is virtually impossible to isolate food from the social, economic, and political structures of a human group. The act of eating, located between the biological and the symbolic, allows sci-fi authors to analyze a large spectrum of phenomena, often with a certain comic impishness.  Imagination is a fundamental dimension of the style and the content of science fiction, encompassing all aspects of human life.

In other chapters Parasecoli compares breast feeding with vampirism and cannabalism, discusses the influence of food in African American culture,  looks into diet culture especially the Atkins diet, and finally how tourism relates to food.

There were some interesting factoids in the book, but overall it was a bit too dense for leisure reading.  While “Bite Me” might have been a bit of a heavy dish for a casual book club book it would probably be ideal fare for a cultural studies course in college.

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The Language of Baklava

A Memoir The Language of Baklava: A Memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber
rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Several years ago, I read two novels by Diana Abu-Jaber: Arabian Jazz and Crescent. I really enjoyed both books and found them unique from other novels that were out at the time since they focused on the Arab-American experience.  Both books were big hits in the book clubs that I read them in. My friend Amanda still cites Crescent as one of her all-time favorite book club books. In her memoir, The Language of Baklava, Abu-Jaber share her memories of food and family and growing up between cultures.  Abu-Jaber’s father is from Jordan and her mother grew up in America and is of western European stock.

I found the book really interesting from a personal perspective since I am an American of European descent and my husband is from Pakistan. We are definitely a food-centric household. Many of our memories are built around food and we both love to cook.  Our future children may face multiple culture clashes… food-related, tradition-related and definitely religion-related.  Will my kid’s reject the Pakistani food in favor of burgers and fries? Will they have a healthy mix of the foods their mom & dad grew up with?  Will they be embarrassed if they are sent to school with pakoras and kabob sandwiches for lunch?? Will they be unable to resist the lure of bacon and eat dirty, dirty pig?  I’ve steered clear of pork products since I’ve been in a relationship with my husband, but will our kids do the same when they aren’t under the watchful eye of their father.  We plan on raising our kids in America but taking them on many visits to Pakistan so they can learn the language, the traditions, and get to know their family that still lives there.

 Abu-Jaber’s memoir  was funny and insightful as to what it felt like to grow up in such an environment. Her observations about the influence on members of both sides of her family on her life were humourous and heart-felt.

In one chapter, Abu-Jabershares memories of making apple strudel with her Aunt and talking about marriage and children.

 ‘Marry, don’t marry,’ Auntie Aya says as we unfold layers of dough to make an apple strudel.

‘Just don’t have your babies unless it’s absolutely necessary.’

‘How do I know if it’s necessary?’

She stops and stares ahead, her hands gloved in flour. ‘Ask yourself, Do I want a baby or do I want to make a cake? The answer will come to you like bells ringing.’ She flickers her fingers in the air by her ear. ‘For me, almost always, the answer was cake.’

The book is riddled with lots of words of wisdom and big bites of humor.   I loved Abu-Jaber’s writing and wit.  It is obvious she loves her family and the food they congregated over. I tore through this book like a tear through a plate of delicious food. Abu-Jaber made my mouth water in parts and definitely made me want to cook up some Middle Eastern food.

Abu-Jaber has recipes interspersed throughout the chapters. These recipes are related to the memories relayed in the chapter. Some of the recipes are for Jordanian food and others for more American fare.

In the chapter Mixed Grill in the Snow, Diana and her family journey to their relatives’ house for a New Years Eve party.

The adults sit away from the children in the dining room, which frees us to eat as wantonly and barbarically as possible. Ed illustrates how he can fill his entire mouth with roasted zucchini. The juices stain our lips, and we slump and make loud caveman grunts as we chew. We use pieces of bread to push the meat and fire-scorched vegetables from the skewers onto a big communal platter-or right into our mouths.

 This chapter seriously tempted me to drag out our grill and make some kafta kabobs. But… it was a bit too cold and slushy out for that.  Instead I opted to cook an indoor meal of spice-rubbed rack of lamb and mjeddrah/muccedere (rice pilaf), followed up by baklava, of course. You will soon be able to behold my feast as the posts and recipes for what I cooked up are coming soon!

Language of Baklava was the monthly selection for the foodie book club, Cook the Books. Stop by and check out what others think of the book, what they’ve cooked up, and what the next book will be. 

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Talking with my Mouth Full

Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories Talking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories by Bonny Wolf


rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 Bonny Wolf works as a food correspondent for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. In Talking with My Mouth Full, Wolf shares food memories and stories through a series of essays. It is a charming collection that makes a leisurely read for foodies. Wolf takes us on a nostalgic journey through the United States and its different regional foods. The essays focus more on comfort foods than on haute cuisine you find at upscale restaurants.  There are essays about Bundt cakes, Jell-o, popovers, Texas Barbecue, and Thanksgiving Dinner.

In each essay, Wolf relays her own experiences along with those of her friends and NPR listeners.  Wolf includes one or more recipes with each essay. The recipes are for foods that were mentioned in the essay. The recipes range from a simple recipe for basic toast to recipes for chili and roasted chicken. These are recipes that were passed down in someone’s family, or from friend to friend, or clipped from a newspaper.

As Wolf talks about her  folder of recipes clipped from magazines, I thought of my own folder of recipes, which is completely out of control. At least the advent of the internet has allowed me to search for and bookmark recipes instead of clipping them all from magazines. Sure, this has resulted in my epicurious.com recipe box having over 650 recipes in it. These are for the most part recipes that caught my eye while flipping through copies of Bon Appetit and Gourmet.

Bonny helps bring home the true connection between food and sentiment. Many of my own memories are related to food. I remember the bunny-cakes my Nana and great aunt Winnie used to serve every Easter when I was little. Bonny’s essay about Chicken a la King, made me want to call up my mom and ask for her Chicken a la King recipe. It was one of my favorite home cooked meals growing up.

I’ve made one of the recipes from the books so far and will be posting the results soon.

The book made me want to gather together recipes from my mom, from her mom, and my own and compile them all in a family favorites cookbook. Maybe that will be a new project for me this year.  It would make a really nice gift for Christmas, especially with family photos thrown into the mix.

I read this book as part of the Food for Thought book club. Check out the links on the blogroll there to see what other foodie-readers thought of Talking with my Mouth Full.

Bonny Wolf’s Website: http://www.bonnywolf.com/book.htm

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Reads: La Cucina

A Novel of Rapture La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lily Prior‘s La Cucina is a steamy and saucy little novel about Rosa, a Sicilian woman with a passion for food. Rosa grows up on a farm in a rural area of Siciliy. She is the only girl amongst a gaggle of brothers and she spends much of her time growing up in la cucina (the kitchen) learning how to cook. By the time she is a teenager, Rosa is a master chef who wows the farm workers and other locals with her food. 

In many ways this book reminded me of Like Water for Chocolate or other works of magical realism. Rosa’s passion for food and her sexual awakening made for some steamy reading.  The underlying theme of the book is a woman’s journey towards self-discovery. While Rosa is preparing their dinner, her lover tells her

Signorina, soon you will see that the arts of amore e cucina compliment one another perfectly.  Indeed they are part of the same thing: the celebration of life. We should not sacrifice one for the other.

The best part of the book for me were the details of Rosa preparing food.  Rosa makes dish after dish of Sicilian specialties, from pasta to breads. Lily Prior has written mouth-watering descriptions of food. Some parts had me wanting to run home and whip up some Italian food.

I began by preparing pasta: my deft little fingers forming the intricate shapes of rigatoni, ravioli, spiralli, spaghetti, cannelloni, and linguini. Then I would brew sauces of sardines, or anchovies, or zucchini or sheep’s cheeses, of saffron, pine nuts, currants, and fennel.  

I read Prior’s novel Nectar several years ago. Nectar was about an albino woman with a scent that men found irresistible. It had a similar undercurrent of sensuality and magical realism as La Cucina. I enjoyed La Cucina a bit more than I liked Nectar. I suggested another of Prior’s novels, Ardor, for a selection for one of my book clubs. Ardor is a “fairy tale for adults” about an Italian olive grower who buys magical seeds that are supposed to make women fall in love with him.  But, my book club proclaimed that the novel sounded too bizarre. I like bizarre! I will definitely be reading Ardor at some point in the future.

Later this week I will be cooking up some food inspired by Rosa’s endeavors in la cucina…perhaps some soup and some pasta. La Cucina was the first selection for the Cook the Books book group. This new book group reads a food related book and cooks food inspired by the book. I recommend La Cucina to any fans of food-related fiction, particularly fans of Like Water for Chocolate.

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