Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Reports

The last few weeks have contained more-than-usual downtime and travelling, both instances in which I catch up on my reading list.  Lately this has been headed by recently published works of nonfiction recommended by you, gentle readers, or that I heard about via radio/newspaper/magazine.  All have been superb.

First up, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler,

a collection of gorgeous essays on home cooking, with emphasis on using everything (no such thing as scraps!) and the emotionality of food preparation and consumption.  One might enjoy this more or less based on your Myers-Briggs type; if you are looking for America's Test Kitchen-style exactitude and scientific rigor, you will not find it here: 
Frying the leaves of parsley, rosemary or sage is a good if messy way of making an especially elegant garnish from something ordinary.  Fried herbs' colors and shapes crystallize.  Fried parsley becomes a little solider.  Fried sage is an exaggeration of the leaf's almost animal curve.  Fried rosemary looks like rosemary would in the realm of ideas. 
                                                     (My italics)
You will find beautiful prose, however, that is substantive and supple, and appreciation for the author's reverential approach to food, eating and entertaining.  The realization that all can be fixed by accompaniment by Parmesan and good olive oil (these words/phrases appear in the book 27 and 100 times, respectively).  And what to do when you are sick of cooking, sick of the neverending hunt for and consumption of food:
There are times when I can't bear to think about cooking.  Food is what I love, and how I communicate love, and how I calm myself.  But sometimes, without my knowing why, it is drained of all that.  Then cooking becomes just another one of hunger's jagged edges.  So I have ways to take hold of this thing and wrest it back from the claws of resentment, and settle it back among things that are mine. 
 This is a lovely book, and very much worth reading if one if interested in home economics, slow food, locavorism.  This book is a book of slow things (intuitive) to America's Test Kitchen fast things (tested and precise), with a common goal of culinary aptitude leading to togetherness and enjoyment.

Swift things are beautiful:
Swallows and deer
And lightning that falls
Bright-veined and clear,
Rivers and meteors,
Wind in the wheat,
The strong-withered horse,
The runner's sure feet.
And slow things are beautiful:
The closing of day,
The pause of the wave
That curves downward to spray,
The ember that crumbles,
The opening flower,
And the ox that moves on
In the quiet of power.

Elizabeth Coatsworth

Next, Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books by Leah Price:

Interviews and photographs of the bookshelves and libraries of 13 writers, plus Top Ten Most Important Books to each.  As the introductions states:

We display books that we'll never read; we hide books that we thumb to death...To expose a bookshelf is to compose a self.
Fabulous, interesting, made me feel woefully under-read.  A wonderful little book.


If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley:

A marvelous book about home life in Britain from the Middle Ages through the present: home design, sleeping arrangements, personal hygiene, sexual mores, childbirth, diet, sewage systems... just fascinating.  Worth a read and a re-read.

Also of interest may be William Broad's The Science of Yoga for you yogis and yoginis out there -- the science, mysticism, benefits and dangers of yoga practice.  You can read and listen to his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air that sparked my interest in the book here.

And The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by former FDA commissioner David Kessler MD -- I read this book about a year and a half ago, and am re-reading it now after my sister reminded me about it.  Now, unlike at the time of my initial reading, I prepare a much (much) greater proportion of the food that I eat from scratch, and this book (along with recent reads An Everlasting Meal, Ruhlman's Twenty, America's Test Kitchen volumes, Mark Bittman's books) makes it clear why that effort is so very paramount.  The first part of the book deals with the neurobiology and behavior of eating (it turns out rats will work almost as hard for a reward of Froot Loops as cocaine), and the second part the food industry's efforts to design foods that are hyperpalatable, addictive and easy to swallow.  This last component interferes with the recognition of satiety; less chewing means less work means more food gets eaten.  So, of course, there's room for dessert... 

[Another way to tenderize meat] is through needle injection.  Hundreds of needles are used to pierce the meat, tearing up the connective tissue.  "It's been prechewed," said Billy Rosenthal, former president of Standard Meat.

"Processing... creates a sort of 'adult baby food'".

This book enforces for me the importance - perhaps even the health mandate - of eating at home as much as possible.  [It also makes me feel under siege at restaurants, at the grocery store, at the pharmacy checkout].  The third, fourth and fifth parts of the book discuss ways to recognize that we are all rats existing a world of always-available Froot Loops, and how to be cognizant that food and the food industry manipulate the very chemistry of our brains, and how to gain insight and control.

Happy reading, all!

WPA poster (1941), via

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