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memoirs

Oct 4 2013

Life changes…in the kitchen

by Dea Anne M

The economy may be slowly improving (according to some sources) but I think most of us would agree that any particular economic situation could alter in a sudden and dramatic fashion. We hope it won’t but sometimes it does and when it does we have to find inner resources and develop strategies to meet new challenges. One place to do that is in our kitchens. Broad agreement seems to exist that cooking at home saves money over eating out (although even that seemingly reasonable tenet comes under dispute now and then).

Maybe our financial situation remains stable but our life changes in some other way. Maybe we fall in love and relocate. Maybe we become parents. Or maybe we want to develop a more focused and resourceful  lifestyle. Even here, some of the most significant changes come about through shifting our perspective towards food and cooking. Here are a few memoirs that I’ve read over the past year that center around life changes and how those have effected the author’s perspective on the kitchen.  All are available at DCPL and all are, I think, well worth your time.

feastThe author of Poor Man’s Feast: a love story of comfort, desire, and the art of simple cooking is Elissa Altman, who also creates the popular blog by the same name. Altman was living a busy life in Manhattan, a life filled with work and complicated dinner parties, when she fell in love with a woman who lived in rural Connecticut. Altman moved to be with her new love (now her spouse) and, over time, found herself embracing Susan’s devotion to simple living and her practical (yet passionate) approach to food and cooking. My favorite andecdote is when Altman suggests making lobster bisque at a time when both women are between jobs. Susan gently insists on split-pea soup instead and the results prove that often simple is best and sustenance has a meaning beyond mere fuel.

nearbyThe title of Robin Mather’s The Feast Nearby: how I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week) may seem like an exagerration but you soon find that this is not so. Within the space of a week, Mather lost her job and learned that her husband wanted a divorce. She moved to rural Michigan to re-group and start over and, lacking unlimited funds, determined to eat locally produced food and limit her food budget to $40 a week. Not everyone can, or wants to, grow vegetables and keep chickens – much less roast their own coffee beans – but Mather’s experience helped her forge connections in her community and develop a life both rich and deep. This is a moving, and quite upbeat, book that has lessons for all of us.

breadWhen Jennifer Reese, who writes the very funny food blog The Tipsy Baker, lost her corporate job she decided to experiment with trying to make food at home which she had previously purchased ready-made. The result is Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: what you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch — over 120 recipes for the best homemade foods (which I’ve mentioned before on DCPLive). Reese found out that homemade is often best…but not always. Some things are worth making yourself (hummus, marshmallows, peanut butter). Others aren’t worth the time and trouble ( butter, ketchup). Some foods Reese recommends either buying or making (yogurt, mayonnaise) depending on one’s available time and energy level. Wildly humorous, yet practical ( the recipes really work), I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.

eatingTwenty-something Brooklynite, Cathy Erway, experienced an epiphany of sorts while dining out with friends. A no-better-than mediocre burger and a ho-hum beer made her realize just how much time (and money) she was spending eating out in the city where “no one cooks.” Erway decided to experiment by making all her food at home (for two years!) and blogging about it. Not Eating Out in New York is still going strong five years later and inspired Erway’s interesting memoir The Art of Eating In: how I learned to stop spending and love the stove. Erway experiments with urban foraging, freeganism, and competition cooking. Along the way, she faces challenges such as “If you can’t go out to dinner,  what do you do on a date?” Erway also forges a deeper connection with her friends and family and she does indeed save money.  This is a fun read that poses provocative questions about what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.

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Nov 3 2010

Culinary Goddesses

by Dea Anne M

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very interested in food. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur of fine dining per se, although I do love eating a good meal. What I actually enjoy more than eating is putting food together. I love the process of constructing a pan sauce, roasting vegetables and watching them caramelize, using spices and herbs in a way that makes a balanced and satisfying soup. Most days of the week find me cooking something from scratch simply because, for me, it is such a pleasure.

Even more enjoyable than cooking though is reading about cooking. I devour cookbooks, so to speak, follow a number of cooking blogs, and Bon Appetit is my favorite magazine. My favorite writing though has to be a species known as the “culinary memoir,” and while I have enjoyed the muscular prose of writers such as Anthony Bourdain and Jacques Pepin, my favorite writers of this sort are women. Here follows a casual “pantheon” of those who I most admire…at least this week.

First, here’s some of the newer voices. All three of these women have been strong voices in the culinary world for some time now but I think you could say that each one is still testing her powers.

Julie Powell (above left) is the author of  Julie and Julia a book that grew out of a blog she started in order to record her struggles and triumphs to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s hugely influential Mastering the Art of French Cooking within the space of one year. The book has, of course, since been adapted into a film starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.  Since then, Powell has published Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession an equally absorbing, though to my mind much darker account, of the aftermath of her publishing success and the changes that have taken place  in her marriage.

Amanda Hesser (above center) is a former food editor for the New York Times and is the author of Cooking for Mr. Latte, a compulsively readable (and re-readable!) account of the courtship between herself and her husband. Hesser now runs, with Merrill Stubbs, the food website food52. At DCPL check out  The Cook and the Gardener, Hesser’s story of a year she spent as cook at a chateau in France and the interesting friendship that developed between herself and the estate’s gardener.

[read the rest of this post…]

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Aug 6 2010

ShareReads: YUM!

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

My passion for books and my passion for food and cooking may seem disparate on the surface, but there are many similarities.  The layers and textures found in an expertly prepared meal are as enjoyable to consume as a triumphant work of fiction.  I appreciate the artistry of a well-constructed menu or dish in the same way that I recognize quality in literature.  Julia Child’s My Life in France combined these two loves for me in one perfect reading experience.  Her memoir, written with her husband’s grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, reflects on a life lived to the full.  She writes about France from the fresh perspective of a woman who had never been to Europe, didn’t know the language, and was amazed and entranced by the warmth and humanity of the French people.  She and her husband Paul moved to Paris, where he was assigned to work at the American Embassy, in 1948.  Shortly after arriving, they enjoyed what she considered to be a perfect meal at a small restaurant in Rouen, and this was the start of her love for French cuisine, culture, and people.  This passion led to enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu, and from there, the cookbooks, TV show, and life as a beloved food celebrity.

This book is worth reading for Child’s evocative descriptions of the culture and spirit of Paris, Marseille (where they moved after a few years), and the French countryside.  She introduces the shopkeepers, greengrocers, wine merchants, culinary instructors, and restaurant owners as dear friends and sources of inspiration.  Such a large part of her life in France and later was consumed by work on her masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and reading about the trials and successes surrounding that process is like gaining access to a quintessential culinary event with a backstage pass.  Most of all, Julia Child’s meals—what she cooked, what she ate—are described in such loving detail, you must read for yourself to fully appreciate.

Julia Child savored life, lived it with passion, and conveys that passion in My Life in France. Enjoy, and Bon Appetit!

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s-ashesFrancis “Frank” McCourt, an Irish-American high school teacher and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, died July 19 at the age of 73. He is best known as the author of Angela’s Ashes, a gripping memoir about his childhood growing up in both America and Ireland during the 1930s and 1940s. Angela’s Ashes was awarded the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, as well as the 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award (Biography) and the 1997 Boeke Prize. It’s success led to it’s adaptation as a feature film released in 1999 by Paramount Pictures. Along with Angela’s Ashes, McCourt has published two additional autobiographical works which continue chronicling his life after his move back to America. ‘Tis examines his experiences attempting to acclimate to life in New York City, his stint in the Army, and his attendance and eventual graduation from NYU and later Brooklyn College, while Teacher Man focuses mainly on his life as a teacher in NYC public high schools. In addition to his autobiographical works, McCourt has also written a children’s picture book entitled Angela and the Baby Jesus and appeared as the host of a travel DVD entitled The Historic Pubs of Dublin. For those interested in more information on Mr. McCourt, Time magazine has published an obituary replete with details of his life and work. Additionally, I have linked to a NY Times piece wherein several of his former students have written letters sharing their recollections of him and the affect he had on their lives.

“My dream was to have a Library of Congress catalog number, that’s all,” said McCourt, speaking of his modest hopes for the success of Angela’s Ashes. It went on to sell over 5 million copies. Sometimes dreams come true, and then some. E 184.I6 .M117 1996

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