This cookbook starts off with an incredibly helpful table listing the possibly problematic ingredients in dozens of Asian ingredients and condiments....moreThis cookbook starts off with an incredibly helpful table listing the possibly problematic ingredients in dozens of Asian ingredients and condiments. If, like me, you've ever spent a long befuddled afternoon scrutinizing the labels in an Asian market, you will be thrilled with this section - and maybe even more so with Russell's suggested substitutions for the hopelessly gluteny ingredients. That section alone was worth the cover price for me, but the recipes that follow are also simple and delicious. The Japanese Pub Style Fried Chicken is particularly awesome. Grab a copy and prepare to feast, my fellow avoiders of gluten!(less)
This was one of the more controversial books we carried this year. A quick look at the online reviews will tell you the same thing - people are worked...moreThis was one of the more controversial books we carried this year. A quick look at the online reviews will tell you the same thing - people are worked up about this thing. Lierre Keith is a brave, brave woman. I wouldn't want to pick a fight with every vegan in the world at the same time.
What I think has been lost in the furor is that her point - the heart of her point, at any rate - is very simple, and very hard to argue with. We take turns eating and being eaten - we consume today, but will be consumed in our turn. If you stop to think about this simple fact, and how it weaves all of us on earth together into an unending cycle of renewal and need, it can give you shivers. It's holy. And it's an idea that encourages us to be more reverent towards all of our food - not just the food with faces, but all of it, the seeds and fruit and leaves, and even the soil itself, richly and deeply alive.
To be reverent and respectful is to think about where your food comes from. It's not enough to give up animal products and think you're doing the world any favors. Monocrops and industrial agriculture, reliant as they are on huge amounts of water, fossil fuel, and chemicals, are not sustainable. And they're slaughtering animal and insect life all around them, so that even your vegetarian meal carries a heavy toll. And who is growing and processing your food, and how? How much fossil fuel is used to get it to your plate? It's at the very least a gross mistake for vegans to feel that their dietary choices have exempted them from considering these things. At worst it's a self-serving lie.
Honestly, I don't care if people are vegan or not. I have known healthy vegans and seriously emaciated unhealthy vegans, who really just needed to eat a steak or something. Keith's nutritional arguments in favor of meat eating are well constructed and meticulously footnoted, but I think it's a little beside the point. Which is hard to argue with: we are not, as a people, healthy, and we are quickly fucking up the earth.
There are some flaws in the book. People have taken issue with her flowery, personally revealing narrative, but I thought it was lovely and compassionate. She could have drawn from a wider range of books for her research, but that's a minor quibble. A larger point of issue is her attack on agriculture. It seems clear that the advent of large scale single crop agriculture brought with it a decline in ecological and human health. But the hunter gathering model, which she favors, isn't an entirely unagricultural enterprise. Many such societies managed certain resources - plants, berries, shellfish - for maximum yields, or controlled the environment in other ways, like by burning. If this is the model to strive for - semi-wild, with a diversity of plant and animal life mixed in (including meat and dairy animals) - then what we're looking at is starting to sound a lot like permaculture. Right? Maybe I'm just being too picky about terminology.
Anyway, there is a great deal to chew on in this book. I can see it stimulating some great discussions, and helping spur people to action. It's unfortunate that the online discussions I've seen have sort of devolved into mudslinging, though given the deep philosophical feelings of the vegan community, it's not surprising.
I just now pulled a crusty, flavorful, tender loaf of gluten free bread out of my oven. I could have cried. And it's thanks to this book here.
I've pre...moreI just now pulled a crusty, flavorful, tender loaf of gluten free bread out of my oven. I could have cried. And it's thanks to this book here.
I've previously bitched about gluten free cookbooks that were either a) gross or b) weirdly complicated. Most cookbooks I've seen have either been written by nutritionists (boring, complicated, strange reliance on powdered gelatin) or require a professional kitchen to pull off. Here is - finally - a useful, simple gluten free cookbook. No weird admixtures or expensive ingredients, no overly complicated steps. After the awesome way the sandwich bread turned out, I am really looking forward to cooking my way through the rest of the recipes (cream puffs!! bagels!! cheese crackers!). I may never buy a mix again. (less)
There's some good basic stuff in here - I felt compelled to say that first, because it's true enough, though the nutritional information is overshadow...moreThere's some good basic stuff in here - I felt compelled to say that first, because it's true enough, though the nutritional information is overshadowed by the recipes, which look astonishingly awful. One calls for a can of Hormel chili and a tub of cream cheese AND a tub of sour cream. In fact, Hormel chili might be the most frequently referenced ingredient in the whole book. After a little while it starts to seem weirdly sort of homey and comfortable in its awfulness. There's lots of brand name, fairly cheap ingredients, and most recipes have very few ingredients and short prep times. Sure, some it might make you cringe a little inside - velveeta-based sauces or baked spaghetti casseroles - but maybe they're delicious. They are certainly approachable. Unlike the Other School of gluten-free cooking, which requires you to marry a professional chef with a fully stocked restaurant kitchen to pull off, this is the sort of gluten free cooking a normal poor person could pull off. As an introduction to the fussy, daunting, and expensive world of gluten-free cooking, you could do worse. (less)
People keep trying to loan me this book. I wish they would stop. I also have celiac disease, and lean towards sounding like a newly converted missiona...morePeople keep trying to loan me this book. I wish they would stop. I also have celiac disease, and lean towards sounding like a newly converted missionary at times, and like many other people with the disease, I spend a lot of time stewing over the terrible foods I ate in my benighted ignorance, and the horrible ramifications my diet had for my health. Seriously - I lived on those cans of fried mock duck chunks you find at Asian markets (wheat gluten fried in wheat sauce), noodles, and beer. It's no wonder my body gave up on the stuff, probably out of fear and despair. But Ahern out-stews me, easily. You'd think she'd suffered more than anyone ever, and she blames her mom for most of it. I felt really bad for her poor mom, probably just doing her best, feeding her what in retrospect was a bad array of wheaty foods, but no different from what most people eat. It's seriously uncomfortable to read. Blame slinging and navel gazing aside, the food writing is too twee for my taste, all misty rapture and preciousness. If you enjoy Thomas Kincade paintings or Christian television, this is the food writing for you. (less)
I'm reserving full judgment until I see if I can get the bread recipes to work. So far I have produced only tasty bricks, but I haven't tried using a...moreI'm reserving full judgment until I see if I can get the bread recipes to work. So far I have produced only tasty bricks, but I haven't tried using a mixer yet. I hear this makes a difference. (less)
All over the world, impassioned people have put their livelihoods on the line to preserve our endangered food traditions. Each story here is a tale of...moreAll over the world, impassioned people have put their livelihoods on the line to preserve our endangered food traditions. Each story here is a tale of love and endurance - people who walked away from good jobs, or who have resigned themselves to a lifetime of wrangling with inane bureaucrats; craftsmen who have chosen lives of hard work and little monetary reward in pursuit of their calling. Pellegrini's mini biographies are vivid, capturing these eccentric and devoted craftspeople with all their charm and quirks, and explaining why exactly their work is so important. She's got a lovely, sentimental but understated style, and the recipes following each chapter are a bonus. (less)
It looked so promising: effusive cover blurbs, snappy synopsis, nice pre-publication cover art. I guess the cooking community is probably like the sci...moreIt looked so promising: effusive cover blurbs, snappy synopsis, nice pre-publication cover art. I guess the cooking community is probably like the sci-fi community or the romance writing community - too small to criticize your fellow writers, even when they've produced something really bad. Or maybe Christopher Kimball, founder of Cook's Illustrated and the guy behind America's Test Kitchen, is the kind of man you don't want to cross. He sort of gives off that vibe, and surely there is a good reason why this book is so poorly edited - maybe whatever luckless editor was assigned to whip this haphazard mess into shape was simply too intimidated to pull it off. I don't mean to just blindly insult this book. As a work of history, it's a failure. Kimball spews an assortment of trivia and facts, some of it barely related and some of it outright irrelevant, hopping decades and sometimes centuries, at no point creating a cohesive picture. It reminded me at times of listening to a wikipedia-addicted nerd on a bad Mountain Dew jag (yes, I've been there); at others, of being trapped in a reference section with someone's genealogy-obsessed aunt (occupational hazard of bookselling). It's a pity, because there are some interesting tidbits jammed in there, but it's thankless work to fish them out. Especially annoying are Kimball's opinions expressed as facts - and herein lies the heart of his trouble with History as an actual genre. Kimball may have very good taste, but fails to see that taste is not an absolute, and cannot be removed from its context. For instance, historians tend to refrain from expressing their personal feelings about medieval food, though most would probably agree that it sounds really gross. I have cookbooks which tell me that fried sago grubs are delicious, something that might be true but which I will not put to the test, and I've been told that many cultures find our Western fixation on congealed blocks of moldy dairy products (aka cheese) to be absolutely vile. Taste is, as you see, relative. This might seem obvious to you and to me, but not to Kimball. For instance, he compares Fannie to a Martha Stewart 'bereft of taste' and wastes a lot of page space mocking her sadly provincial and ham-handed approach to baking, sauces, and table decorations. He rather bizarrely and unfairly persists in comparing her - unfavorably, of course - to contemporary French cooks, who, being male and in France, were unarguably better-trained cooks. His dislike for poor Fannie runs so deep that, instead of re-creating her recipes, he liberally re-writes them, and sometimes replaces them outright. It starts to seem a little weird that someone with such an active dislike of Fannie Farmer would undertake such a project, and in fact we learn very little about Farmer (except, of course, that she was a crappy cook). Fannie, though, is just a convenient excuse for Kimball to try out his authentic Victorian cookstove in his authentic Victorian house. He does unbend enough to permit the use of blenders, refrigerators, and other modern appliances, rendering his claim to have authentically recreated a Victorian dinner even more dubious. The snidely avuncular mockery of Fannie and her fellow Boston Cooking School cooks persists to the point where it begins to smack of sexism, despite Kimball's pointed inclusion of a woman on his cooking team. There's a particularly sad interlude towards the end where Kimball is describing an ice sculpture that he's had carved for the occasion. The sculpture, of a mermaid, is initially compared to Annie Sprinkle - but by the end of the dinner, Kimball snickers, she instead resembles a woman who has had two children. It was at this point that I started to wonder what the editors had been thinking. Who is the target market for this sort of genteel food writing? Women. Middle-aged, middle class women, with an interest in food history and very possibly an affection for Fannie Farmer. Some may have had children, and may not enjoy being compared to a melting ice sculpture. I think that it will very likely sell well - in a tidy pile at the local Big Box Bookstore, it will probably look to a lot of guys like just the thing to get Mom for Christmas. Guys, please consider what this book might do to your mom's feelings. But what about the food, right? These recipes are here to try to impress you, not to actually be attempted in your home. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you will run right out to buy a live turtle for boiling, or get a box of cow feet for gelatin. I think, though, that anyone so inclined probably already had some recipes on hand. The last chapter - about modern convenience food and how it erodes our quality of life - is sad, thoughtful, and well-constructed. It softened up the edges of my rage a bit, but mostly made me wish the rest of the book had not been so awful.
PS I've since removed star no 2, because every time I shelve in the cookbook section and see this book I get annoyed all over again.(less)
I see people didn't like this book much. I really enjoyed it. Not only was it refreshing to see the tough-guy cook memoir done by a girl, but her writ...moreI see people didn't like this book much. I really enjoyed it. Not only was it refreshing to see the tough-guy cook memoir done by a girl, but her writing is graceful - descriptive but terse, my favorite combination, and her descriptions of her coworkers and (most importantly) the food they create are vivid and well crafted. In addressing the sexism of the cooking world, she strikes just the right tone: acerbic but not bitter. Funny, captivating, unconventional - and I had to get up and make dessert in the middle of it, always a good sign with food writing. I hope she's planning a cookbook next.(less)
This is the way food writing should be done. In her careful, spare, elegant way, Fisher uses food to write about everything else that means anything i...moreThis is the way food writing should be done. In her careful, spare, elegant way, Fisher uses food to write about everything else that means anything in life: love, war, death, and second chances. One of the most beautiful works of modern English. (less)