Eight Flavors

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman

Food historian Sarah Lohman teaches, recreates historical meals, and researches American food. She covers eight flavors that highlight the history of American cuisine, omitting the too-popular coffee and chocolate. While I would have been more enthusiastic about a chapter on chocolate than one on MSG, the chapters on each flavor are interesting reading. Foodies and American history buffs are sure to enjoy reading about black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, sriracha and current food trends. Each chapter has a personal anecdote, most cover a historical figure, a few recipes and descriptions of her travels to restaurants, food trucks, festivals, museums, archives, plantations, farms, or factories to learn more about the flavor. Immigrants played significant roles in the introduction and widespread use of various ingredients, such as soy sauce, garlic, and sriracha sauce. This book was published in December, 2016, so I was interested to read the chapter on current food trends. The predictions that pumpkin spice and matcha or green tea flavoring would be popular are pretty accurate, although other recent trends might have surprised her, such as chocolate hummus.
Happy reading, and let me know if you try any of the recipes, such as black pepper-chocolate ganache or carrot cake with garlic.

Brenda

Death in Provence

Death in Provence by Serena Kent

Winter is a perfect time to read this first mystery set in the picturesque Luberon region of Provence, France. Middle-aged Brit Penny, recently divorced, buys an old stone house near a charming village, only to discover a body in the swimming pool. Helped by her exuberant friend Frankie and estate agent Clémence, forensic-trained Penny investigates the murder while restoring her house and getting involved in village life. Penny is excellent company, and the food and scenery descriptions are luscious. More books are planned, and will be very welcome. Visit the author’s website for photos of Penny’s Provence.

Brenda

Whiskey in a Teacup

Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits by Reese Witherspoon

Actor and film producer Reese Witherspoon has written a love letter to life in the south. Reese grew up in Nashville, where she learned to enjoy music, food, and holidays, and learned the importance of manners and community. I listened to the audiobook, cozily narrated by the author, and glanced at the photos and recipes included as a document on one of the discs. Many of the recipes are from her grandmother Dorothea who was an inspiration to Reese on how southern women can be strong and beautiful. Menu suggestions for all kinds of celebrations and events are included, from a Kentucky Derby party to a book club gathering, along with music playlists and gift suggestions (especially monogrammed items or cake plates). Reese talks about her happy childhood, how she learned that you don’t have to be good at everything or bake from scratch, but be sure to be hospitable, respectful, and have some fun, maybe even catch some frogs. This is a charming, family-friendly look at southern life.

Brenda

You Me Everything

You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac

A heartwarming book about second chances and dealing with a serious illness set in southwest France. Jess broke up with Adam a few weeks after their son William’s birth. He didn’t seem interested in being a father or settling down. 10 years later, Jess, a creative writing teacher in Manchester, takes William to spend the summer with Adam at the chateau and cottages he’s remodeled in the Dordogne region. Jess’ mother Susan is quite ill and it’s her wish that William and Adam develop a close relationship. Adam is quite busy, but two of Jess’ friends arrive for vacation, along with three children. Full of gorgeous scenery, good food, and family drama, this is an engaging summer read. Along the way, there are cookouts, castles to tour, a waterfall to slide down, along with some romance.

Brenda

 

Sourdough

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

This is an appealing and quirky contemporary novel, set in the San Francisco Bay area, among tech companies and farmers markets. Lois Clary, a recent college graduate from Michigan, is working long hours for a robotics company. Many of her new coworkers don’t eat any more, they just drink nutritional Slurry. Lois starts getting spicy soup and sourdough bread delivered by Mazg baker Beoreg. When Beoreg and his brother leave town they give Lois a crock of sourdough starter and some melancholy Mazg music. Intrigued, she builds an oven in the yard, and bakes unusual but delicious bread. Lois auditions for a spot in a Bay Area farmers market, and is sent to the underground startup the Marrow Fair, where she is challenged to use a robotic arm from her company to help make the bread. The market is predictably weird, but also charming, from a collector of vintage menus to keepers of crickets and goats. The sourdough starter becomes dangerously unstable, and Lois needs advice from the local Lois club and from Beoreg, who shares the folklore of the Mazg people by email. Another Library Reads selection, this is the second novel by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Readalikes include The Rook by Daniel O’Malley and Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink.

Brenda

Dinner with Edward

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent

Isabel, an investigative reporter for the New York Post, is befriended by her colleague’s father, Edward. They both live on Roosevelt Island, in the East River. Edward was married to Paula for 69 years, and promised before her death to keep on living. Happily, he’s a gourmet cook, and Isabel starts visiting weekly for dinner and advice. Edward tells stories about his life, shares his poetry, and turns Isabel into a foodie. She has moved many times with her husband and daughter, and her marriage is unraveling. In later chapters, Edward is visibly aging, while Isabel might be falling in love again. This charming memoir reads like fiction. I only wish that it were longer and included recipes.
Brenda

A Gentleman in Moscow

moscow-jacketA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Step back in time, to the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Count Alexander Rostov, 30, is living in a suite, full of family antiques, enjoying mingling with international guests and fine dining every night. Unfortunately, a revolutionary poem he’s authored becomes too popular, and a Bolshevik tribunal in 1922 sentences him to house arrest at the Metropol, for life. Stuck in an attic room, how shall he live? Fortunately, Rostov is wealthy, charming, and resourceful. Young hotel guest Nina has acquired a master key and explores the hotel with Rostov. While he is removed from the outside world, the staff and guests share their experiences with Stalinist Russia and later World War II with him, especially after he becomes the head waiter of the hotel’s restaurant. He can plan seating charts with ease, has perfect manners, and has a fine palate for wine and gourmet food. Daily meetings with the maître d’ and the chef lead to friendship, as well as some excellent bouillabaisse. Beautiful actress Anna Urbanova makes regular visits, and a young girl, Sofia, comes to stay and captures Rostov’s heart. This is a rich, layered novel to savor, with lyrical writing, marvelous characters, and both humorous and poignant moments. This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in the past year, and I enjoyed it even more than his first novel, Rules of Civility.

Brenda