It's true: nearly five hundred pages can be devoted entirely to the historical importance of salt. I won't take my little blue Morton's canister for g...moreIt's true: nearly five hundred pages can be devoted entirely to the historical importance of salt. I won't take my little blue Morton's canister for granted again.
Expansive in its historical scope, this book covers the economic and cultural importance of salt throughout recorded history -- and back even further by extrapolating from archaeological finds on various continents. But for all the sprawling history, the book's focus is more narrow than I expected: it's primarily concerned with the commerce, trade, and engineering behind salt production. Though not what I was expecting when I picked this book up, it was an interesting read, and a look at history from a perspective I'd never considered.
The most entertaining -- and the most humanizing -- aspect of the book were the recipes scattered throughout, selected from Roman cookbooks, advice books for young Renaissance wives, magazines published during the American Civil War: anywhere people have recorded their favorite recipes, which is just about anywhere the written word has flourished. Food is necessary for survival, but cuisine is necessary for culture.
This book could easily have gone from three stars to four, however, had a more discriminating editor combed through and eliminated some of the redundancies and meanderings. Later chapters contained multiple restatements of the book's earlier sections, as if Kurlansky expected the reader to be skimming the book out of order. Periodically, the book also devolves into a recounting of events in chronological order, as if the author were stringing together a series of essays rather than synthesizing a single, thematically-tight book.(less)
I found a "buy two, get the third free" table of non-fiction on my last visit to Barnes & Nobel. Any sale sign's enough to catch my eye; in a book...moreI found a "buy two, get the third free" table of non-fiction on my last visit to Barnes & Nobel. Any sale sign's enough to catch my eye; in a bookstore, it's like waving a flag in front of a bull. This would be the second of my three books (the others were Salt A World History and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Not as thorough as Salt or as amusing as Bryson's Short History, Standage presents the history of the Western world as a sequential progression of beverages, touching on the social impact of each on the dominant culture of the time (e.g. beer in Egypt, wine in Greece, hard liquor in the American colonies). If the British had stuck with coffee through the 18th century, we wonder, and had not abandoned London's coffeehouses to seek an afternoon cup of tea, how different would her policies have been in India? In China?
Worth picking up if only for the appendix, which describes the flavor of ancient beer to the point where I went looking in the fridge for a Sam Adams, this is an interesting, if superficial, read.(less)
More psychology and sociology than diet book, this was an entertaining read. Useful, too, as Wansink illustrates his straight-forward message with num...moreMore psychology and sociology than diet book, this was an entertaining read. Useful, too, as Wansink illustrates his straight-forward message with numerous studies: no matter how nutritionally educated you are, you're not fully aware of how much you're putting in your mouth. Nor are you honestly aware of how hungry you actually are, as social and environmental cues influence our eating choices far, far more than we're willing to admit.
Lots of little tricks here for the person looking to change their approach to food. Wansink's advice has nothing to do with traditional diets. By illuminating the way we trick ourselves into eating more than we should, he hopes to show the reader how to trick yourself in to eating a little bit less -- maybe a hundred calories a day -- but doing so over the long haul without deprivation or denial.
And even if you're completely, entirely satisfied with your current diet, the case studies lifted from Wansink's Food Lab are worth the read.
But you can borrow this one from a friend (hi, Tammy!) or from the library is you're on a book-buying diet. With a sketch or sidebar on nearly every page, this is a quick read with a simple take-home message.(less)
Part memoir, part exposé, and part history of the Manhattan restaurant scene in the 80's, this was one hell of a good read.
Bourdain's written voice is...morePart memoir, part exposé, and part history of the Manhattan restaurant scene in the 80's, this was one hell of a good read.
Bourdain's written voice is fabulous: he's that bad boy in a leather coat, smoking cigarettes and holding court after school. You want to hate him for being a cocky, smug bastard, but he knows he's a bastard, he admits he's an asshole, and he's just as quick to sneer at his own behavior as he is to sneer at everyone else's.
With every new show Food Network puts on the air, the life of the chef receives another layer of veneer, but it is, underneath, a filthy, brutal, and back-stabbing business. You need to be crazy to be an entrepreneur, but you have to insane to open a restaurant. There's no shortage of the insane in New York, and Bourdain's more than willing to dish the dirt.(less)
The teeny font's a bitch to read and the binding's falling apart already, but for a $5 bargain rack find at Barnes & Noble, this was worth the pri...moreThe teeny font's a bitch to read and the binding's falling apart already, but for a $5 bargain rack find at Barnes & Noble, this was worth the price. There are numerous bartenders' companions out there for the amateur who wants to mix up something new, but the first half of this book is a history and overview of the most common spirits, liqueurs, and mixers. Nevermind the recipes, this is worth it to learn the difference between curacao and triple sec, and why kirsch is a spirit but cherry brandy is a liqueur.(less)
My girlfriend stole this one from her mother's bookshelf. Thank goodness she did, because this is certainly the best, clearest, most sensible cookbook...moreMy girlfriend stole this one from her mother's bookshelf. Thank goodness she did, because this is certainly the best, clearest, most sensible cookbook I've ever seen. More that a cookbook, it's a book on how to cook, step by step, from pot roast to bread from scratch. It's a true shame this gem's out of print. When we sat down to plan our Christmas menu for this year's grand buffet, this was one cookbook we couldn't do without. (less)
It's February. I live in Baltimore. I live in a second-story apartment in Baltimore with no balcony.
You know I'm sting...moreI'm desperate to plant tomatoes.
It's February. I live in Baltimore. I live in a second-story apartment in Baltimore with no balcony.
You know I'm stingy about giving five stars to a book, but when I'm seized with the urge to sink my hands into some rich, hefty dirt even though flurries are coming down outside, you know this has got to be a good book. It begins with Kingsolver, her husband, and her two daughters packing up their Tuscon home and heading to western Virginia to take up residence on a farm. Not a farm of the sprawling corporate sort that increasingly seems to be the only financially viable option; Kingsolver's a writer and her husband's in academia, and neither has delusions of making a living from a farm these days. Their Virginia homestead is too hilly for modern farming, but just right for a hobby/experimental effort at eating locally for one completely year.
And eat locally they do, thanks to farmers' markets, their own vegetable garden, and a number of neighboring farmers still eking out a living by going organic. But what's so wonderful about this experiment is that Kingsolver and her family aren't hard-core locavores, and they aren't fanatics; they may be willing to give up Chilean bananas, but they still buy coffee beans. And if tales of the imploding pumpkin-cum-soup tureen, the endless quest to use up the abundant zucchini, and Kingsolver's attempts to get her heirloom turkeys to mate don't make you giggle, you're a stronger woman than I.
Eating locally/organically/non-corporately shouldn't be a crusade. It should be a celebration of the flavor and the taste of truly fresh produce, of the sort that ripens in the garden and not in a box on a semi. It's about eating in season because that's what tastes best; it's about eating from gardens in your own region because that's what makes local cuisine so distinctive. With a huge dose of humor and realism, that's exactly the point Kingsolver imparts.(less)
A down-to-earth, excellently researched look at your local supermarket, aisle by aisle, without any of the preaching you've come to expect from nutrit...moreA down-to-earth, excellently researched look at your local supermarket, aisle by aisle, without any of the preaching you've come to expect from nutritionists. Sure, Nestle's got opinions, but they're the opinions of your grandmother who lives in New York and who wants you to eat, to enjoy what's on your plate to to give everything a taste before you turn up your nose.
And like your sensible grandmother, Nestle's concludes that real, minimally processed foods are better for you than most of what's out there. She disdains marketing tricks and corporate bullying of the USDA; she doesn't care for anything that pretends to be healthy when it's really just a dessert in disguise (see her take on the super-sweet yogurts heavily marketed towards dieters and children). Nestle would much rather see you put a dollop of butter on your food than hem and haw on which faker-than-fake low-no-less-than-before option awaits you in the dairy isle this week.
Though a nutritionist by training Nestle has the soul of an investigative journalist, using her scientific background to read through the conflicting (and often corporately-funded) research that's out there. When she comes to the conclusion that the organic vegetables in the freezer section are better tasting (and better for you) than the so-called "fresh" conventional veggies in the produce section, it's only after she's taken you through her analysis of the literature. Nor is she shy about busting the prolific and questionable health claims on food packaging: there is, for example, no reason to claim your vegetable oil is cholesterol free (of course it is: all vegetable products are cholesterol free) or the chickens who laid your eggs weren't treated with hormones (no chickens are treated with hormones -- cattle may be, but not chickens).
Though a good deal of this information may not be new to a reader who's attentive to food and nutrition, this is still an excellent resource for deciphering the gray areas and learning more about the USDA and FDA's role (or lack thereof) in determining what makes it to the supermarket shelves and what claims can be emblazoned across the packaging.(less)
Living in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, but eating well in Manhattan isn't. That's the one thing I learned when I lived there in 1998.
When Reichl...moreLiving in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, but eating well in Manhattan isn't. That's the one thing I learned when I lived there in 1998.
When Reichl came to the New York Times as restaurant critic in the nineties, however, the paper was not known for reviewing the incredibly delicious (and incredibly affordable) ethnic restaurants that are thick upon the ground. For the Times, a four star restaurant was inevitably French, inevitably required reservations, and inevitably granted you superior service if you were rich, famous, or both.
This memoir of Reichl's years at the Times is partly about the restaurants of Manhattan (where the national chain is still a rarity), but mostly about the people who patronize them. Her insistence on reviewing fine sushi bar and noodle shops alongside classic French cuisine was only the one hurdle; the superior service she received when recognized as the Time's restaurant critic was more harmful than even the paper's entrenched policies. To cope, Reichl resorted to subterfuge, developing a series of costumes that would allow her an unbiased experience at the restaurant du jour.
Nothing, however, is without bias. Reichl does a wonderful job blending what she learned about restaurants with what she learned about herself, alternately masking and amplifying her personality with her disguises. Well-worth reading for both Reichl and for New York, both the subject and the treatment are excellently presented.(less)
Having thoroughly enjoyed Garlic and Sapphires, I was thrilled to find this first of Reichl's memoirs on the 2-for-3 table at Barnes & Noble.
In th...moreHaving thoroughly enjoyed Garlic and Sapphires, I was thrilled to find this first of Reichl's memoirs on the 2-for-3 table at Barnes & Noble.
In the preface, Reichl admits to modifying certain stories for dramatic effect. But unless she's made entire years out of whole cloth, she's lived one hell of an interesting life. Throughout it all, the power of a meal -- sometimes spectacular, sometimes spectacularly bad -- has been a constant.
And to be honest, I don't care if the tale's been embroidered, and I don't really care about Reichl's ultimate success as a critic. Growing up in Greenwich Village in the fifties with her loving, but distracted father, her manic-depressive mother, and her not-blood-but-close-enough grandmothers; her wanderings around the Bowery on the edges of the early seventies art scene; her accidental creation of a commune in Berkeley -- it's an entertaining, slow-unfolding story, accentuated by the recipes she encounters along the way.(less)
I happened to see this one at the library while picking up another book I had on hold. An entertaining (if slightly dated) collection of columns from...moreI happened to see this one at the library while picking up another book I had on hold. An entertaining (if slightly dated) collection of columns from Steingarten's stint as food critic for Vogue, I was alternately giggling out loud and reading excerpts to my girlfriend for the first half of this book. Steingarten's joie de vivre and his serial obsession with the perfect bread, the perfect paella, the perfect whatever-Vogue's-editors-assigned-him-this-month is infectious. Don't read this on an empty stomach.
Unfortunately, things seemed to peter out over the last third of the collection, perhaps as Steingarten scraped the bottom of the barrel to make his word count. Fortunately, each essay stands on its own, so this didn't have a significantly negative impact on the remainder of the book.(less)
Using Nestle, bottler of Poland Spring, and the town of Fryeburg, Maine as an axis, Royte explores the history of bottled water and its rise in ubiqui...moreUsing Nestle, bottler of Poland Spring, and the town of Fryeburg, Maine as an axis, Royte explores the history of bottled water and its rise in ubiquity throughout the 90's and early 00's. Royte doesn't hesitate to make clear her instinctive opposition to the hundreds of millions of bottles Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi churn out each year -- that's no surprise to anyone who's read her Garbage Land -- but she's neither extreme nor greener-than-thou. She's equally interested in exploring the state of tap water, water treatment, and water conservation in general.
Most interesting is Fryeburg, Maine's example of the hellaciously lopsided struggle between corporate and municipal America. Though not an economist, Royte asks the same question I've seen crop up elsewhere: when did negative corporate behavior, no matter how unethical, become acceptable in this country so long as it's not explicitly illegal? Sure, it's legal under Maine law to pump as much water as you can from an aquifer -- but no one would say this is ethical. When did "sustainability" become a radical concept only used by militant environmentalists? When did this quarter's corporate profits become the sole justification for corporate activities, and a stable business model become irrelevant?
Royte hasn't got the answers, either: just a lot of very good food for thought.(less)
Based on Steve Dublanica's blog of the same name, this is an entertaining look at life as a fine-dining waiter. Unfortunately, Dublanica spends much o...moreBased on Steve Dublanica's blog of the same name, this is an entertaining look at life as a fine-dining waiter. Unfortunately, Dublanica spends much of the book talking about writing the book and indulging in self-psychoanalysis, rather than actually telling the waiter stories that got him the book contract in the first place.(less)
During the Depression, the Federal Writers Project employed thousands of out-of-work writers. One of the FWP's unfinished projects was an overview of...moreDuring the Depression, the Federal Writers Project employed thousands of out-of-work writers. One of the FWP's unfinished projects was an overview of the regional cuisine of the United States. Even in the thirties, regional specialties were starting to blend into the homogenized menus we see across the country today.
Roughly categorized by region, there are some true gems in this rough. Kurlansky offers some small amount of commentary and context, but primarily lets the drafts of the FWP writers' work stand alone.
This certainly isn't a recipe book -- very few of us would have the time or skills to reproduce these meals -- but more an anthropological document. The section on southern cooking, for example, is full of patronizing caricatures of people of color. It was physically uncomfortable to read such unapologetic racist language, demeaning black Americans even as these writers were exulting (appropriating!) their cuisine. I would have appreciated more commentary from Kurlansky on this point given the significance and impact of the material.(less)
I happened to see this on the shelf at my local library when picking up something I had on hold. I've read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed...moreI happened to see this on the shelf at my local library when picking up something I had on hold. I've read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed it a great deal, but found this an even better read.
If you've seen an episode of No Reservation (which was being filmed while this book was being written), it will come as no surprise that Bourdain approaches food with unalloyed gusto. More importantly, however, that's also how he approaches life. Though outwardly about the food, this is more about the people who prepare, share, and enjoy those meals with Bourdain.(less)
Hrm. A well-written discussion on the state of the food production industry, this takes a look at the underlying reasons behind the rapid increase in...moreHrm. A well-written discussion on the state of the food production industry, this takes a look at the underlying reasons behind the rapid increase in obesity in America. Kessler's certainly done his research, using his clout as former commissioner of the FDA to garner interviews with numerous players in the industry... and yet I was underwhelmed.
Perhaps it's simply that there's not a lot of new information here, at least not to someone fairly informed about nutrition and the state of food industry. I also found Kessler's ultra-short chapters (some as short as two pages, with most averaging about a half dozen) to be somewhat distracting, but that's a minor grievance.
The final portion of the book addresses Kessler's title directly, but it's nothing you don't already know: adjusting our eating habits is going to require a tremendous amount of attention to portion size, to cutting back on overprocessed foods, and it's going to be a slow, life-long process. I have no serious complaints with this book, but I don't think it was worth my time to read.(less)