Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Grateful #2 (aka, kari's confessions, part 2)

Many women love a great romance novel. Generally, (Twilight excluded) I find them boring, but I admit I haven't read a ton of them. I figured since we are all airing our guilty pleasures this month (or is that just me?), disguised as "things we are grateful for", I would introduce you to my very favorite type of reading. I gobble up these books whenever I need something light, and especially read a ton of them when I was nursing Annika. I am grateful for: Cooking AND/OR Living Abroad Memoirs.

Just for kicks, in case you need something new to read and just happen to be obsessed with food like me...I think that excluded most of my readers. But plunging ahead, I am going to give you a brief synopsis of my favorite ones - at least the most memorable ones, because really, this list is just the ones I remember liking after only thinking about it for ten minutes.

The title above is one of my favorite books of all times, filled with the nerdiest possible details about food all around the world. Wonder what the difference is between wet & dry aged beef? I can tell you, thanks to this book. Ever wanted to know how blood sausage is made? What exactly goes into Pot de feu? Enjoy hearing about the fascinating world of Japanese haute cuisine? Then read Jeffrey Steingarten's book. (click on images for amazon links) Oh, and he's even funny too.

Each chapter is a story in and of itself - in fact I think they were all articles written for Vogue magazine. So its perfect for those with short attention spans.
Man goes to work for Mario Batali, lots of hot stoves, steep learning curve, learns to cook with his nose. He can actually smell when a piece of meat is done. Love it. Then he goes to apprentice with a master butcher in Tuscany. Pretty fascinating, although sort of a weird thing to do just so you can write a book about it. My favorite part was learning that Batali can drink like 6 bottles of wine in an evening and stay on his feet. Amazing.

The life of a restaurant critic in Manhattan and all the amusing stories that go with the job, especially when she starts disguising herself to go places so that they don't know she's a critic.

Oh I loved this book. Two women from Great Britain somehow (I forget how) end up buying this cute little stone house with an olive farm on the Italian Riveria. The town they are in is not touristy and it is such a romantic notion, you can't help falling in love with them. Simple life, lots of hard work, and very interesting insight into the culture they moved into.

They constantly offend the old farmers or break traditional rules/customs - even living in this house is a breach, since they aren't usually a residence for Italians, just a place to stay while they do some farm work. Who would want to live out in the middle of nowhere instead of in town? So antisocial! So dangerous! The culture communications was my favorite part. Unique because the women are pretty young & flippant instead of adoring like the next book....

American cookbook author buys a dilapidated but AMAZING house in a french village & fixes it up, learns to deal with the culture & makes friends. There are so many of this genre, but this one is probably my favorite (it, and the tuscan one below). I think this one had recipes in it or maybe she just described this lunch that I made for dinner several times: an omelet, with an apple, blue cheese & walnut salad on the side. Yum.
I am reading this one right now and love, love, love it. It inspired this post actually. Last time (the first time) Kyle went to China, he brought me back a small package of Sichuan Pepper that his agent's wife had given him. They are little crunchy seed pod things, but when you bite them, this menthol-y incense-y flavor fills your mouth. And your lips tingle and go numb.

So I went to the library to find a Sichuan cookbook and came back with Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking" It was marvelous and I made a couple things from it, but when I saw she had a memoir, I knew I had to read it.

Mostly, I love how she explains chinese culinary aspects. Why there are 30 different words for the shape you could cut a cucumber into. (sliver, slice, half moon, thumbnail, wedge, triangle...on and on) How she went from generally avoiding offal to eating rabbit heads as a snack on the way home from a night of drinking. Why goose intestines, chicken feet, eyeballs, abalone, goose tongue and rabbit heads are actually worth eating. (all these are things eaten almost entirely for the enjoyment of their texture)

The book does get a teeny bit slow as she talks about herself to much, sometimes I wish she'd just stick to the food explanations. But maybe that's just because they are so interesting.
After marrying a Venetian, and American woman and her husband move to a small town in tuscany and she befriends one of the older more traditional men in the village who teaches her all the ultra traditional & rustic food methods of that area. Amazing to hear what they used to eat, why they eat it, why they liked it and what it was like living in Tuscany through two world wars. Fascinating glimpse into an Italian village food culture & history.
What list wouldn't be complete without this classic? Discover France through the eyes of Julia Child. I remember loving it, but I'm tired, my memory is growing frail, so I will just suggest you read it.

There, SEE! I can write about things other than my kids!


Shauna said...

oooOooo, some of these books sounds great - do you have them or did you borrow from the library/friends? If you have some, I would love to borrow one or two! :) Great descriptions!!

Sandy Young, Coldwell Banker Bain said...

PLEASE warn me before we come to dinner at your house! I don't want to experience the culinary delights of "goose intestines, chicken feet, eyeballs, abalone, goose tongue and rabbit heads!" Bleach!

Sandy Young, Coldwell Banker Bain said...

Oh, this is a fun post!

Amanda said...

Have you read Born Round by Frank Bruni? It's fantastic- he's the New York Times food critic, and it is his life story. Very well written and enjoyable!

amy said...

i love how much you love these. thanks for the recommendations. :)

AndiMae said...

I am so excited about this post! I love reading food books too- A Homemade Life is definitely one of my recent favorites. But out of your list here, I have only read one (My Life in France), so I am totally putting these on reserve at my library, starting with The Man Who Ate Everything. Speaking of food books- have you seen Julie + Julia yet? I am not a fan of Julie Powell's book, but I loved the movie!

Miss you so much!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I return because you make me laugh out loud and seem to love the things that I love in life. Thank you for posting such wonderful things.
Carrie in CA

Kari said...

That was so nice, you made my day. Thank you!

TheFiveDays said...

Interesting! Thanks for the suggestions. I have missed reading over the past few years but I managed to squeeze in a book recently and I think now that my threesome are getting so darn old (haha) I might actually be able to start up again! I think I'd love some of these...