The Tao of Martha, by Jen Lancaster
Jen, a Chicago area writer, closes out a very bad year by deciding to tackle her house, garden, and life with tips from Martha Stewart. She figures that if Martha can bounce back from adversity, the practical advice in her books and magazines should help Jen. For his New Year’s resolution, her laid-back husband Fletch resolves to grow a beard. Jen is funny, tends to take on more than she can handle, swears a lot, and is devoted to her dogs, especially Maisy, who has major health issues. Guests arriving for a party are likely to be handed a recipe card and directed to the kitchen. Thinking like Martha helps Jen clear out her kitchen’s “Drawer of Shame”, organize and decorate her house, learn about gardening, throw some great parties, become an obsessive disaster prepper, and get her priorities straight when life throws her a curve, such as forgetting that Thanksgiving was just around the corner. Jen finds that while learning new crafts can be rewarding, if you’re not having fun, it’s not for you. For example, pumpkin carving is tough and messy, but decorating pumpkins and gourds with glitter is a breeze. And if you’re going to stop wasting food and cook more, you might as well learn to make comfort foods that are expensive to buy, such as cheesecake. I enjoyed this entertaining and insightful memoir of the year Jen chose organization and happiness.
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
As many sweet and savory treats are prepared and enjoyed in the winter, it seems like a good time of the year to learn about the history of food by looking at the tools and equipment used in cooking and dining. British food writer Bee Wilson describes important inventions over the centuries, and how our tastes in food have changed along with the equipment. The first big inventions were roasting spits and clay pots. Wilson describes the evolution of the stove and refrigerator, appliances we would struggle without today. Chopsticks versus eating knives reveal the difference in culture, and how a cuisine that began by conserving fuel by quick cooking in a wok now consumes billions of disposable chopsticks annually, many now made in Georgia. Many cooks occasionally enjoy using a mortar and pestle, but a food processor can save large amounts of time and labor. Why do American recipes use measured amounts while other cultures give weights? Wilson has a theory. Even the grating of nutmeg and cheese get their turn here, as does an amusing look at the spork. And who would have guessed how much forks changed during and after the English Civil War? I really enjoyed Wilson’s look at food and history. Readers might also enjoy At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, and John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk.
2012 James Beard Foundation Book Awards
Book Talk tends to feature reviews and booklists of fiction and narrative non-fiction books, so I thought it was time to highlight another big part of our library’s collection: cookbooks. Here is a list of some of the best cookbooks published in 2011:
Cookbook of the Year:
by Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet
[We do not own this 6 volume, $625 set, but have ordered the 2 volume Modernist Cuisine at Home, to be published in October, 2012.]
Cookbook Hall of Fame:
Home Cooking and More Home Cooking
by Laurie Colwin
[We don’t own these classic cookbooks from 1988 and 1993, but they are available for interlibrary loan from libraries in our area.]
A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen
by Hugh Acheson
Baking and Dessert:
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
by Jeni Britton Bauer
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, & Formulas
by Brad Thomas Parsons
[Available for interlibrary loan]
Cooking from a Professional Point of View:
by Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet
by Michael Ruhlman
Focus on Health:
Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen
by Heidi Swanson
The Food of Morocco
by Paula Wolfert
Reference and Scholarship:
Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880-1920
by Andrew P. Haley
[Available for interlibrary loan from several college libraries in Illinois]
All About Roasting
by Molly Stevens
Writing and Literature:
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
by Gabrielle Hamilton
An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler
The subtitle of this remarkable book is “Cooking with Economy and Grace,” which is what attracted me to the book. This is not a cookbook, but a book about making the most of whatever food you happen to have on hand. I think of myself as a frugal person, but Adler takes frugality to a different level.
For example, I think it is frugal to take a smallish piece of meat (perhaps a boneless, skinless chicken breast) and prepare it with some delicious vegetables and have a very nice meal. Adler finds it challenging to approach the meal in a different way—she thinks of gelatinous bones and marrow and broth, and adding the peels and leaves and “ends” of vegetables, ending up with several delicious meals instead of one very nice one.
The author suggests using instinct when cooking. Trusting your instinct. Practicing until you have it just right. She says, “Those are the fundamentals: cook your meat until it’s done, not a minute longer. If your broth tastes too thin, let it go on cooking; if it’s too salty, water it down.” (p. 12).
Adler recommends tasting your boiling, salted water, whether you are preparing vegetables or pasta. I have been cooking for many, many years, but I have never, ever tasted my boiling water. After reading this book, I will probably taste boiling, salted water.
There are recipes scattered throughout the book, but the main idea is for the cook to be philosophical and inventive when cooking and making the most of what you have on hand in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable book!
To read the first chapter of An Everlasting Meal, visit the publisher’s web site.