In case anyone is looking for holiday gift ideas, for oneself or others, I have assembled a brief rundown of my very favorite food literature. (When writing it up I realized that about five of my all-time favorite works of food writing were in the Time-Life Food of the World series; I’ll do a separate post on those later.) Every one can be read strictly for pleasure, even if it’s technically a cookbook.

Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles, by Jonathan Gold, the only food writer to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. If you like reading this blog, you’ll love this book – he’s like a more talented, or at least more polished and experienced, version of me. This guide to hole-in-the-wall, eccentric, wonderful, old-fashioned, cutting-edge, and quirky Los Angeles restaurants can be read with great pleasure as a travelogue even if you’ve never been to LA and never plan to go.

A Taste of India, by Madhur Jaffrey. Atmospheric, beautifully written and photographed guide to Indian regional cuisine, nostalgic, personal, and lovely.

Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.), by Anthony Bourdain. Gonzo chef turned food journalist Bourdain’s funny, scabrous, macho, politically incorrect memoir of a (frequently high, drunk, and/or stoned) life in the kitchen.

A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, also by Bourdain. While still preserving his jackass, testosterone-overdose charm, this book, about his world travels shooting a show for the Food Network, is better-written and more thoughtful and atmospheric, at times even poignant. The warning for political incorrectness stands, but I appreciate Bourdain’s lack of condescension, genuine love and appreciation for a whole lot of places and cuisines, and recognition of the backbreaking hard work that goes into food production.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries) and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin. Very humane, sweet, gentle, and cozy essays on (mostly American) food and living, cooking for children and invalids and the jetlagged and homeless shelters – the written equivalent of comfort food. The recipes are extremely simple and come out well.

The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection. I like a lot of Michael Ruhlman’s books but this is my favorite, three long essays on the CIA Master’s exam, an inventive Cleveland chef, and Thomas Keller. Great journalism, especially the first essay, which contains an account of terrine preparation that had me literally biting my nails in suspense. Fans of Top Chef would enjoy this.

Feast: Food to Celebrate Life, by Nigella Lawson. Mostly a recipe book but with excellent essays, multicultural (though primarily British) without pretending to insider knowledge, sensual and often funny. I especially liked the touching, practical essay on cooking for funerals and for people in mourning.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany (Vintage). A solid, well-written, often funny account that reads like a good, albeit lightly plotted, novel.

Before everyone leaps up to inquire – I like M. F. K. Fisher but not enough to put her on an all-time favorites list. Ditto Ruth Reichl.
Laurie Colwin's two books of essays with recipes, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, are on the small shelf of Rachel's Favorite Food Writing. But great love for an author's nonfiction does not necessarily translate to great love, or even any love, for her fiction, so I was a little dubious about A Big Storm Knocked it Over-- especially since it's in one of my least favorite genres, realistic novels about the lives and loves of upper-crust urban couples. Also, when I mentioned it here when I bought it, several people pointed out that it's a posthumous novel (Colwin died unexpectedly and relatively young, of heart failure in her sleep) and could have used another rewrite.

I wish I could say that after all that, it blew me away, but it didn't. However, it gets major points for being sufficiently well-written to make me finish it, despite my lack of interest in fiction about upper-crust couples having babies and shopping for expensive yet organic baby items.

The novel is about a book designer, Jane Louise, who recently got married to her teenage sweetheart. (Who is a Vietnam vet and subject to depression, though Colwin doesn't make as much of this as, say, I would.) Her boss, Sven, is constantly making sexual comments that I would classify as harassment, although Jane Louise sees him as an Inappropriate Work Crush and his flirting as a guilty pleasure.

Her best friend, Edie, is a cake designer who lives with her business partner, Mokie, who is black. Every paragraph Mokie appears in makes some reference to him being black. Since the circles he moves in appear to be exclusively white and an interracial relationship is a big deal in that place and time, I can see why this would be a major issue. But not enough to justify every single interaction being all about him being black and the relationship being interracial. Jane Louise and her husband Teddy are also having an interracial relationship of sorts-- she's Jewish and he's a WASP-- and it gets a fair amount of play, but not to that extent.

Edie and Mokie get married, Jane Louise and Edie get pregnant and have babies, Sven leers at her, and Jane Louise worries neurotically that something terrible might happen, but nothing ever does. The end.

I am making this book sound much worse than it actually is. It's very well-written, and there are some pricelessly funny bits regarding the publishing industry and writers, of which my favorite involves the title of the book, which is also the title of a book-within-the-book. But it failed to overcome my prejudice against reading about rich white (OK, and black) people who suffer from existential anxiety even though their lives are much more perfect than mine.


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags