Recent Reads

The Princeton Packet  (@PrincetonPacket) recently tweeted their followers to ask what they’ve been reading this summer. Loyal Packet freelancer (and print subscriber) that I am, I responded with My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, lots of Anthony Trollope (working my way through his novels on my Kindle), and I added that I’d also read a few foodie titles.  Then the Packet asked me and my colleague Pat Tanner @dinewithpat), who also writes for the Packet (plus NJ Monthly, U.S. 1, and more), for some foodie title suggestions.

Reading My Life in Middlemarch made me realize how much I’d missed when I read Middlemarch a year or so ago. (I may have read it as a young adult too, but cannot remember.) Now I’ll have to re-read it. Mead’s own life intersected with Middlemarch on many levels, including geographically, and it was a wonderful, meditative book about “the seminal book of her youth,” as the description says. And that led me to re-read The Mill on the Floss, also by George Eliot (so sad!). Overall, I prefer Jane Austen, but in general, having a Kindle has been wonderful, because I can read (or re-read) all these classics for free, since I don’t own most of them. I didn’t mind reading however many I did in school/college (I’ve always been an avid reader), but I am appreciating them more now as an adult, I think maybe in part because I can take my time, and not have to rush through a book to write a report or take a test on it! Plus, older really is wiser.

So, for foodie titles. Well, I most recently read Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. It was very John McPhee-ish (didn’t he influence so many of today’s best non-fiction writers?). The description on Amazon reads “he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.” This was for the most part interesting (plus he is such a fluid writer!), but I have to admit that I skipped over some of the most science-y parts. While I love the results of the alchemy of what happens when we make food, I’m more into the recipes and human interest than the science. And I have a bit of message fatigue with a lot of today’s trendy food topics. (That doesn’t invalidate them, but a lot of current food writing is preaching to the choir, I always think.)

I also enjoyed John Baxter’s pæn to the traditional foods of France, The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France. I also have his earlier book, Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas, in paperback, which I keep forgetting to read, since I’m so electronically oriented now. Baxter has authored lots of other books about Paris, where he lives. We read a lot lately about how threatened some of Europe’s traditional foods are, and sometimes overbearing EU regulations seem to be speeding up their demise, which is a shame. And, of course, it’s compounded by people becoming too busy to cook, as the parameters of working life change, especially abroad where the social safety net is fraying. Hopefully, with the help of Slow Food, some of the old ways will be preserved – or their loss reversed – much as we are striving to do in the States. There is currently, in Paris at least, a movement afoot to certify restaurants who really cook from scratch (yes, they have boil-in-bag there, too), and have them put stickers on those dishes on their menus to show that. See that story in The New York Times.

I have two other non-fiction foodie titles, both partly read, languishing in my Kindle from before I figured out how to borrow eBooks from my library, with their built-in time limit: Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil and Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms. I have no doubt I will finish both of them, when I take a break from all that Trollope.

I’ve also recently enjoyed a couple of the hyper-romantic memoirs (with luscious recipes) of life and food in Italy by Marlena de Blasi, A Thousand Days in Venice, A Thousand Days in Tuscany, etc. And I’m always eager to read the latest Donna Leon title in her Inspector Brunetti crime series, because she writes so lovingly of food in Venice in her books.

It always seems I find one or two teen or young adult (“Y.A.” and very trendy) titles to read each year, this summer it was Kimchi & Calamari, about a Korean boy who was adopted by an Italian family. Very sweet.

On a truly superficial note (hey, I love my culinary cozies and have written about them before), I am waiting to see if my library system (Somerset) county will come up with Bad Taste, a new title that Eater says is billed as the foodie equivalent of The Devil Wears Prada. It’s about “an NYU student who gets roped into becoming the “food-savvy accomplice” and ghost writer for a New York Times critic that can no longer taste.”  Hmm, I wonder who I’d get to do that for me if my taste buds go someday?  Volunteers?

Regarding blogs and cookbooks, I am always finding new sites to explore, and I do list those on the Blogroll sidebar on my own homepage. My latest excitement is over English food writer Diana Henry, and I am barely restraining myself from ordering copies of at least two of her cookbooks. I’m eager to see Andrea Nguyen’s The Bahn Mi Handbook; she is the Viet World Kitchen blogger and author of the beautiful Asian Tofu and other very popular cookbooks. I’m also hot for The Mija Chronicles, since I love Mexican food, and am eager to see writer Leslie Telléz’s upcoming 2015 cookbook. See? It never ends…

My cookbook addiction shows no sign of slowing up, and while a publisher will usually send me a requested copy of a new release so I can write about it, I tend to just buy what I want when it comes to older titles. I just got Pasta and Verdure, two little books from the Rome Sustainable Food Project, having previously written about their Zuppe. Someday my nephew and niece will have a bonanza of cookbooks to choose from, before the rest go (hopefully) to a library or book sale somewhere!

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