Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Book review: Three food books worth reading

It does appear that a lot of my reading has a general theme. Food. After these three books, and the previous three, I am still not done. I have more to read and more I have read and should write about. But after my mean reviews last night, I thought you might want to hear about some good books. Maybe it is because food writing is so personal, so autobiographic, so either real or unreal, that these books felt true. They are all about personal experiences, but very different ones. Also, all these three books have really interesting subtitles. Here we go:

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, "Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly"
"They were pounding veal in the kitchen when I arrived; the whole crew, on every available horizontal surface, banging on veal cutlets for scallopine with heavy steel mallets. The testosterone level was high, very high. These guys were the A-team, and they knew it. Everybody knew it. The floor staff, the managers, even Mario seemed to walk on eggs around them, as if one of them would suddenly lunge through the bars of their cage and take a jagged bite. I alone was too stupid to see how over my head I was among these magnificent cooking machines. "
This book is by famous New York chef Anthony Bourdain, who in frank, rough words describes his often hilarious or desperate experiences as first chef-in-training, then major chef. It covers cooking schools, summer jobs making Italian food on the shore, garden parties and disasters, how to run and not run a restaurant, what to eat and not to eat in a restaurant (never fish on a Monday, never mussels, assume your bread has been on someone else's table, etc.). It is a great read, and you learn more about the food world than about food itself. Good advice too - if the restaurant can't even keep their bathrooms clean, imagine how their kitchen looks like.

Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern, "Our Love Affair with American Food"
Jane and Michael Stern is the couple behind Roadfood, which started as a book and now is a great website, where you can find local and better alternatives to McDonald's and Taco Bell when you are traveling. They seek out small family-owned places that still serve homemade regional specialties like barbecued pork, breakfast pancakes, and lobster rolls. This book is also autobiographic, explaining how it all started when they went on their first road trip to investigate food maybe 30 years ago. Their writing is delicious and funny, and they often write about tiny details such as the exact price of a hot dog, the curtain's color and the smell from the oven at a small diner, and how many cats the owner has. If you want to know more about American food and not read about fancy restaurants, this is the book for you. It has recipes too!
"We came to appreciate fairgoers' magnitude the first time we visited the Iowa State Fair. It is held in the big city of Des Moines, but attracts millions of people from small towns all over the state. Our attire was jeans and T-shirts, which was perfectly appropriate. The best outfit for fairgoing is a good set of overalls, preferably made by OshKosh B'Gosh, Big Smith, or Carhartt. These are good because they do not cinch your waist and therefore offer no impediment to serious eating."

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, "A year of Food Life"(website with more information and recipes)
Barbara Kingsolver is a fantastic American writer (Prodigal Summer), who always has cared about the environment and social issues like poverty and cultural heritage. This book, written together with her husband and 19-year old daughter, is a true story about how they move back into an ancestral farmhouse in Virginia's Appalachian mountains (USA), and decided to try to live a year on what they can grow themselves and buy locally. They made the rule that each person could make one exception and buy something from far away, like black pepper and coffee, which is never produced in Virginia. They start a large vegetable garden, have hens and turkeys, and buy meat and milk from local farmers. It is a lot of hard work but also an eye-opener how good real fresh food is when you eat it in season. A lot of canning and preserving is taking place in the kitchen, as is the making of homemade mozzarella accompanied by turkey slaughter outside.
Interspersed with the tale of each month's gardening and food issues are recipes and thoughts about the environmental impact of our food choices. This book inspired me, not in the sense that I want to become a farmer, but that small choices really can make a big impact in how and what we eat and how food is produced. It really matters if you buy a box of eggs from the store from caged hens with cut-off beaks, or if you get local eggs from hens that freely roam around and can eat grass and bugs while flapping their wings. I want to eat HAPPY FOOD. This is a great book, and just in time for the current food debate here in America about mass-production in food factories versus local, small-scale production. I am tired of buying organic peas from China, apples from New Zealand, and chicken in the store that taste like nothing and comes from hen houses with 30 000 hens in one room and no space to move an inch. Right now I am reading another book called "The ethics of what we eat", but more about that in a later blog post. What we eat definitely matter, not only to ourselves, but to the world as a whole.
"That's how springtime found us: grinning from ear to ear, hauling out our seedlings, just as the rest of our neighborhood began to haul out the plastic lawn flingmos and little Dutch children kissing and those spooky plywood silhouettes of cowboys leaning against trees. Lawn decoration is high art in the South, make no mistake about it."


Olle said...

How do you find time for reading so much beside job, family, blogging and all the other things life throw up in your way!?

LS said...

I guess I don't know, I just read. The only time I read is in bed, before I fall asleep, and when traveling. I can't imagine flying anywhere with at least two books in my carry-on luggage. But some of these books I wrote about here I read months and months ago. I just saved the blogging about them until now ;)

AnS said...

Det är roligt att du skriver om happy food. Numera försöker jag tänka efter hur långt maten har fraktats och hur den har framställts. Den mesta maten jag köper är närproducerad, men ibland gör jag undantag när det är något jag längtar efter.