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Posts tagged ‘food-reads’

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. 

View all my reviews.

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 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:

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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.

View all my reviews.


Reads: Waiter Rant

Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by The Waiter (Steve Dublanica)
rating: 3.5 of 5

Waiter Rant  was the first selection for the Food for Thought book club. This book club is for food lovers who also love to read. Perfect for me!

Steve Dublanica (a.k.a. The Waiter), the author of Waiter Rant, went to seminary school with dreams of becoming a priest, but ended up moving from dead end job to dead end job until he finally landed  in a job as a waiter at a New York restaurant. In 2004 Dublanica started an anonymous blog called where he (you guessed it!) ranted about his experiences as a waiter. I’ve often been tempted to rant about work on the internet, but have always erred on the side of caution. Maybe I am just too much of a chickensh*t and don’t want to risk getting discovered and potentially fired.

I have never worked as a waiter but most of my friends have in the past and I have several who still do. I’ve heard plenty of their rants over the years..everything from the customers who refuse to tip because it was a dinner they won in a contest, to patrons who interpret “formal attire” as pink sweatpants and a matching t-shirt. I enjoy hearing these stories. I have always had a bit of a gossip hound inside of me, wanting to know the inside scoop and dirty little secrets. I read and  loved Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential a few years ago and loved all of the juicy tidbits of info he relayed. So, for this reason, I was excited when Kate & Crew @ the Food for Thought book club selected Waiter Rant as our initial read. Trying to find this book in the local bookstore made me want to start a BookstoreRant blog…perhaps later I will get around to starting that up. 😉

 The Waiter regales us with tales of his experiences working at “The Bistro”, a fine dining establishment in New York City. The Waiter changed the names of the restaurant and his co-workers in order to be able to truthfully related the stories without damaging anyone’s livelihood. There was some cynicism as the subtitle promises, but it wasn’t nearly as cynical as Kitchen Confidential.  You see that beneath it all, The Waiter has a heart and wants to do a good job serving his customers.

We’ve all witnessed bad/rude waiters and difficult restaurant patrons. Hopefully, you are neither yourself. The Waiter prides himself on not being the food-spitting variety of server. He spends a good deal of time talking about demanding customers or those who are too inebriated to behave properly. The waiter also spends a good deal of time talking about how much he doesn’t really want to work as a waiter. This got a bit annoying…if you are not happy with your situation try to do something to change it!

I was hoping that the book would have a bit more “oomph” with more snark about fellow restaurant staff and customers. It seems like there is a good deal of that on his blog.  I like my share of snark. Does that make me a bad person?  Waiter Rant was a fun read but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Kitchen Confidential or Heat, which also gave behind-the-scene looks at the restaurant business.

Tonight, partially inspired by the book (where The Waiter describes a scene where the chef cooks up a meal of tacos for the restaurant staff) I will be making shrimp soft tacos… post to follow, so keep your eye out for it.


Please stop by the blog roll for Food for Thought to check out what other folks thought of Waiter Rant.  You can also sign up there to participate for our next book, which will be selected soon!

View all my reviews.

Sunday Salon: Reading & Feeding

This week I’ve found three  new blog events that combine two of my passions: food & books. Anyone else who enjoys food & reading should check out these events as well.

The first is the new Food for Thought book club. This book club was started by Kate who also hosts the monthly blogging event Cookie Carnival where a bunch of bloggers bake a selected cookie recipe and post about their results. I’ve been participating in Cookie Carnival for two months now and have made Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and Grapefruit Sandwich Cookies.  The first reading selection for the book club is Waiter Rant by The Waiter.  As part of this book club, you have the option to make a recipe from the book or one inspired by the book.
Thanks for the Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter

The description from the back of the book is:

According to The Waiter, eighty percent of customers are nice people just looking for something to eat. The remaining twenty percent, however, are socially maladjusted psychopaths. Waiter Rant offers the server’s unique point of view, replete with tales of customer stupidity, arrogant misbehavior, and unseen bits of human grace transpiring in the most unlikely places. Through outrageous stories, The Waiter reveals the secrets to getting good service, proper tipping etiquette, and how to keep him from spitting in your food. The Waiter also shares his ongoing struggle, at age thirty-eight, to figure out if he can finally leave the first job at which he’s truly thrived.

Another new blogger foodie book club is the Cook the Books Club. This club also has a similar concept where a group of folks read the same food-centric book but in this club everyone cooks something inspired by the book. The first pick for this club is a novel that has been on my to-read list for awhile: La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior. Here’s a blurb from the book description:
A Novel of Rapture

Exuberant and touching, La Cucina is a magical evocation of life’s mysterious seasons and the treasures found in each one. It celebrates family, food, passion, and the eternal rapture of romance.



And last but not least, there’s a new book challenge starting up in January called the Well Seasoned Reader Challenge. This challenge is hosted by Book Nut and focuses on reading books about “Interesting People, Amazing Places, and Good Food”. The challenge books need to be about food, travel, or culture. I will have this covered easily since two of my favorite types of books are about food and foreign culture. Plus, I will be reading lots of food books in the two new book clubs that I mentioned above. For more details and to sign up for the challenge head on over to Book Nut’s blog.

Reads: The Emperors of Chocolate

Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joël Glenn Brenner

rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Emperors of Chocolate begins…

Candy. The word itself is magic. A sweet invitation to childhood. To days of hide-and-seek and stickball and ABCs and sugarplums that dance like fairies in your head.

Never mind that you’ve never tasted a sugarplum. It’s the fantasy that counts. That mystical, mesmerizing pull of licorice and lollipops, peppermints and chocolate drops. They beckon from the shelf like children from the playground, gentle reminders of a time when simply walking into a drugstore could make your mouth water.

What better book to read during the Trick or Treat Season than a book about chocolate? The Emperors of Chocolate is a non-fiction look at the history of 2 American chocolate companies: Hershey and Mars. The book looks at how both companies were founded, how they developed their businesses and the history of competition between the two. The book was very readable and filled with interesting factoids about the chocolate industry.  The book alternates between the histories of Mars and Hershey and also weaves in some general chocolate history.

As you read the book you quickly discover that Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars Sr. were vastly different men with extremely different methods of running their businesses. Forrest Mars Sr. was extremely frugal and wouldn’t allow his own kids to eat any of the candy since they needed every last bit of it to sell.  The Mars family is relatively secretive and rarely grants interviews. Brenner is one of the only people they’ve allowed to interview them. Meanwhile, Milton Hershey was a man with a grand vision for a utopia anchored by his chocolate factory in Pennsylvania. Hershey founded an orphanage and school for boys and built an entire town of affordable housing for his employees. Today, Hershey is a publicly traded company whereas Mars remains majorly owned by the Mars family.

The book uncovers the story behind the creation of some of America’s most popular candy. Some candies came about due to the need to have a candy that can be easily transported or included in army rations. There is also a reason why Mars doesn’t offer much in the way of chocolate with peanut butter– because the Mars brothers don’t like peanut butter so they don’t think they should sell it to their customers. There are also many more chocolaty factoids in the book.

I didn’t find The Emperors of Chocolate to be quite as enjoyable as Candyfreak by Steve Almond, but this is a good read for any chocoholic interested in the history of the rivalry between Hershey and Mars. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys narrative non-fiction and the history of the food industry.

View all my reviews.

In the mood for chocolate now? Try one of these recipes:

Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake

Chocolate Chunkers

Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops

Reads: Women Who Eat

A New Generation on the Glory of Food (Live Girls Series) Women Who Eat: A New Generation on the Glory of Food by Leslie Miller

rating: 4 of 5 stars

My review

Yay! A book celebrating women and food….”Women Who Eat” is a collection of about 30 essays written by women about one of my favorite topics: FOOD. The purpose of this books is to allow women to celebrate food and eating instead of having to dwell on diets or being the happy housewife (i.e. being duty-bound to cook a meal). I absolutely love the cover photo on this book. It made me want to go sit on some patio in the South End and eat fries as I enjoy the last moments of summer.

The writers in this collection have a whole range of culinary experience…some are professional chefs, other’s are untrained at-home cooks…and some women simply recall childhood food memories. Some of the esssays include a recipe for the food mentioned by the author.