As is the case every summer, I go into a reading frenzy as the days warm up and I can find more pleasant and varied spots to lounge and read (some favorites include Schenley Plaza, my parents’ deck, and Myrtle Beach).
Here are my thoughts on six different ‘foodie’ books I made my way through these past few months.
The Widow Clicquot (Tilar Mazzeo): This book tells the story of Veuve Cliquot and the widowed young woman that helped the champagne brand rise to prominence in the 1800s. It’s quite a crazy and inspiring story considering the era in which it occurred. The book sometimes falters and drags – there are no first-hand accounts of what transpired, just what the author has gleaned from other texts and business notes of Veuve. Overall, I enjoyed the book though and it made me respect and understand the wine/champagne business even more.
Bones, Blood, and Butter (Gabrielle Hamilton): This is the memoir of Gabrielle Hamilton, chef of Prune in NYC. This book has gotten much press – I heard her on The Splendid Table a few months ago and recently saw write-ups on her/her book in various magazines. I expected something Bourdain-esque and was not disappointed – this woman has led a crazy life. From a dysfunctional upbringing, to a cocaine filled adolescence, to solo travel through Europe, to running her own restaurant, to a unconventional marriage, her story is full of twists and turns and craziness. At times I had trouble following the chronology of the book as she goes back and forth in time a bit in the middle. However, the incredible nature of her stories and pieces of her life more than make up for any inconsistencies. Definitely a solid read.
Tiger in the Kitchen (Cheryl Lu Lien Tan): Tiger in the Kitchen follows Tan as she searches for personal satisfaction and a link to her past by traveling to Singapore and learning how to cook from the instruction of her grandmother and aunts. At the time Tan embarks on this adventure, she has been living independently in NYC for many years as a fashion writer (losing this writing job actually jump starts the adventure). Her journey is not easy and she must be patient in gaining the trust of her relatives and confidence in the kitchen. As an aspiring home cook, I enjoyed Tan’s point of view and found her very easy to relate to. Also, I think anyone interested in food dreams of how they could one day make that a full time gig, something Tan has done by seeking out her Singapore heritage and writing a book about it. As a note, this is a much lighter read than Bones, Blood and Butter.
52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust (William Alexander): I picked up this book randomly at the library (new non-fiction) and was pleasantly surprised. Alexander is truly a man on a mission – he is seeking what he feels is the ‘perfect loaf’ by making one new bread recipe per week for a year. The book is very detailed and the scientific way Alexander goes about his experiment is intense but entertaining (this is the author of the The $64 Tomato). He eventually ends up growing his own wheat and visiting a Norman monastery that bakes its own bread. Alexander has a great voice – Bill Bryson-esque.
Red, White, and Drunk All Over (Natalie MacLean): I am always searching for wine literature that does not put me to sleep. Based on that criteria, I found MacLean’s writing pleasant, warm, and inviting. I really enjoyed reading about her trips to France and other wine events, all with wine wisdom and information seamlessly wound into the text. This book is meant to be read front to back, not paged through for certain chapters on a particular wine. I wish there were more wine books like this! If anyone knows of any, please let me know.
Born Round: The Secret History of Full-Time Eater (Frank Bruni): Born Round is the account of the great NYT food critic Frank Bruni’s battle with disordered eating. A food lover from childhood, Bruni struggled with his weight nearly all his life. When food truly became his job, the struggles continued and intensified. While his personal health suffers, his professional life soars. Bruni talks openly about dealing with bulimia, major self-esteem issues, etc. Bruni’s voice is very honest and engaging. He manages to discuss the world of disordered eating while still adding comforting stories and anecdotes about the positive role food has played in his life. I thought this book might be a little odd but I ended up liking it by the end.
Now please please share with me your latest reads – food related or otherwise! I plan to post a list of my favorite non-food books of the last few months as well.