One of the very obvious responses that came across in our reader survey was that many of us love to read. Perfect, because I do, too! I’ve written book lists before, but it’s been a while, and we readers are always looking for something to read, amiright?!
Last month, the book club I belong to with some long-time girlfriends picked our books for the year. A theme that popped up through the recommendations was food memoirs and other books about cooking, eating, and the role of food in one’s life. Not cookbooks, though some included recipes, but books about life, with food interweaved.
I enjoy food, I’m intrigued by chefs, and I love to read glimpses into other people’s lives. Here are some foodie books on my radar, but let me know any more that I must add to my nightstand!
The tagline is A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage. Molly is a fabulous writer (her blog Orangette is a delight), and her husband, Brandon, is a wild-idea-haver and non-follow-through-er. So, when he said he was going to open an authentic pizza restaurant, she brushed it off in the same category as his violin making and artisanal ice cream creating. But this time, things got real! Really real.
Of course, I love tensions of real life and complicated relationships and muddling through it nonetheless. Delancey (the name of said, now-successful pizzeria) is the chronicle of their life, relationship, and the non-sexiness of following through on this particular wild idea.
I’ve talked about this book before. A lot. I still love it. This one is, actually, a cookbook, but has way more autobiography than your typical blurbs-between-recipes. I first read it as a book, flagging recipes I wanted to come back to later. Here is how I described it in my first post about DALS:
The book chronicles Jenny’s journey from the early days of her own family – she & her husband working long hours in NYC publishing, then counter-culturally coming home and still cooking dinner – through the punishing years of toddler pickiness, on to the glory days: what she calls “the years the angels began to sing” (i.e. school aged children). Throughout her tales of working and then baby-ing and, the trickiest, working and baby-ing, there are recipes. Oh, there are recipes!
Alternate: I also really enjoyed reading David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. There is no way I am making anything in this cookbook (apart from the Brussels sprouts), because everything seemed to involve 12 hours or simmering pig fat or other things best left in the restaurant kitchen. I enjoyed it for the story of his background and rise to culinary fame, and with an outsider’s interest in the techniques and wonders of his kitchen (which I have no intention of ever replicating).
OK, so I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I’ve got it on hold at the library and I am itching to get my hands on it!
I first heard about Sasha Martin via Chris Guillebeau; from 2010-2013, she cooked her way through the world, one recipe at a time, and documented it on her site, Global Table Adventure. The way I had read it (in true modern style: lazy/busy speed-scanning, I’m sure), she had grown up travelling a lot around the world; now, she couldn’t whisk her own daughter all over the globe, but she could still provide that element of international adventure within her own kitchen in Tulsa, OK.
Apparently, there is much more to the story. My friend described it as Glass Castle-esque, which is a guaranteed way to bring any book to the top of my list. [side note: I found out two women in my book club had not yet read The Glass Castle. How is this possible?! Have you read it? If not, put down your phone or turn off your computer and go get it. Now.]
Martin was cooking not only to remediate her husband’s pickiness, but to restore & discover a sense of belonging & home that was lost in a childhood of foster homes and global wandering.
If you like salt in your food, not in your language, you should probably steer clear of Anthony Bourdain altogether. But, Medium Raw is nowhere near the brazenness of Kitchen Confidential, which is more of a backpocket manifesto to embolden young chefs & line cooks in their lustful & narcissistic wanderings. Medium Rawcomes from an older, wiser, more mature Bourdain, who seems to look back on the success of KC (and his own personal highs (literally) & lows during and since) with a strange bewilderment.
Tony is pretty obnoxious, but I like him. In his own words, “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.” I disagree with him on many, many, many things, and I don’t always respect him. But, what I like about him is that he happily lives in the tensions, changes, and unknowns of his life with no shame of hypocrisy. I’ve changed! he’ll say, giving no time to those who would call him a hypocrite. If you are interested in foodie/chef literature at all, you're probably gonna have to get some Bourdain under your belt.
In the same vein of bold, loud talkers who change their minds and deal with the tension of the consequences, Berlin Reed was a self-described “militant vegan punk” who became a butcher and, subsequently, a leading proponent of whole animal butchery in America.
I didn’t give this a full read, if I’m honest; I think I had to return it to the library prematurely? But, what really stuck with me was (again) his willingness to embrace tension & so-called hypocrisy. He had begun young & militant and then... well, lived a little! Grew in maturity, changed with opportunity, and directed his passion in a more impactful way.
I still include a line of his in the Shop Good vision: “Throw out the guilt trips, give up on the jargon, and look in the mirror.” That attitude 100% describes my view of shopping well. Don’t get caught up in guilt or shoulda’s; they only result in paralysis. So, I’m a fan, Berlin.
Ok, Paris to the Moon isn’t exactly a food book, it’s a book of essays about a Canadian/American writer (Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker) going to live in Paris with his wife & young son. Of course it was about food! Well, at least in part. I mean, Paris!!
The aspects about French food life must have stood out for Gopnik as well, because he went on to write The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food. I haven’t read this one yet, but I should probably wait to read it until I have enough money saved up for a trip, as I’m sure I’ll be drooling for croissants by the time I finish it.
The book, apparently, that emerged in 1969 as “an inspirational voice extolling the benefits and wonders of old-fashioned home cooking in a world of fast food and prepackaged cuisine,” (goodreads).
I first heard about Capon (an Episcopal priest as well as author) in The Spirit of Food (another great read), which excerpts his most famous passage: a chapter devoted almost entirely to the onion.
Describing it in the New York Times (at the time of publishing), the novelist Frederick Buechner wrote:
“To call ‘The Supper of the Lamb’ a cookbook would be like calling ‘Moby Dick’ a whaling manual… It is as awesomely funny, wise, beautiful, moving, preposterous a book as this reviewer has come across for years, as unnecessary as a primrose or the fragrance of baking bread.”
How have I not read this yet? I’ve always wanted to cook a lamb, too…
''Everything here is true, but it may not be entirely factual.'' – What’s not to like about that kind of conclusion? I know little about her, other than she is a food writer (& editor - she edited The Supper of the Lamb), Jenny likes her, and her ability to make-or-break a restaurant sounds badass. I want to read it!
When it was released, Frank Bruni of the NYT described her renown beyond the kitchen: “Hamilton can write. For many years now, she has popped up in prominent publications as the author of eloquent, spirited glimpses into the heart, mind and sweaty labor of a chef.” Come to that, Bruni himself has a food memoir of his own – my list is getting out of hand, here!
This one has been on my bookshelf since picking it up at a book sale. I read Julie & Julia a while back (which is sort of cute & interesting if you can cope with the author being obnoxious and not having much sympathy or connection with her at all!), but I’d love to hear from the ole girl’s mouth herself. Have you read it? Worth a read?
Any must-reads that I have missed? Comment below with your faves or new suggestions, please!
A few stories, as I parse through the complexities of privilege & justice…
We spent time visiting in Dhomina’s relatively large home. The space had been expanded to include a separate cooking space — built upon because of the income she earned making kantha for Basha, for us. Amazing!
I've shared my favourite reads in the past, and today I'm sharing some faves to cook.
This is not a cooking blog (obviously) and I haven't styled any plates or hired any food photographers. I am no expert, but I do cook great food. This assertion is not self-congratulatory! I have little (no) inherent skill and I attribute all of my good cooking to 1) other people's excellent recipes, 2) access to fresh, reliable, & varied food, and 3) time (ie. the time I currently have currently to cook AND the many years of practice).