Friday, February 26, 2010

Reading Can Be a Fine Dining Experience

"Bear in that you should conduct yourself in life as at a feast." - Epicetetus

My feast of life includes books and food. It's no wonder I even love books about food. This goes way beyond the joy of cookbooks and Gourmet magazine. (R.I.P.). I even love books written by other people who love food about food.

The creme de la creme might be books by Ruth Reichl, the former editor-in-chief of Gourmet and restaurant critic. Ms. Reichl has delighted our senses with Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table and Garlic and Sapphires: the Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.

If your tastes run a bit more bitter, you are no doubt a fan of Anthony Bourdain. His Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly caused both an uproar in restaurant kitchens across the country and a spate of similar books. For example, Mark Buford demonstrated his chopping technique when he went to work for Mario Batali at his restaurant Babbo and wrote about it in Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany.
Of course, for the traditional palates among you, I'd be remiss not to mention M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992) , whom many consider to be the mother of this genre. For a treat, pick up The Art of Eating.

"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. " - - Calvin Trillin

Lately, food writing blended with memoir is very popular. Two of the most popular books are Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. In the former, Ms. Gilbert starts her search for metaphysical meaning deep inside a bowl of fettucine in Italy. Ms. Powell tries to find life's answers in nothing less awesome than Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She cooks a recipe a day from this institution-posing- as-a- cookbook and still found a few minutes to write a book about it. (Do yourself a favor and skip the aspic.) And I'd be sliced thinly and sauteed if I didn't mention Saint Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France.

"I went into a McDonald's yesterday and said I'd like some fries. The girl at the counter said, "Would you like some fries with that?" - Jay Leno

Still another sub-genre of the food writing trend is what I call the socio-environmental line. In Fast Food Nation: the Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser examines the impact of McDonald's on health, labor and agriculture. Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America and the companion documentary Supersize Me send author Morgan Spurlock around the country eating only McDs for one month and revealing his "robust" results.

Also consider Michael Pollon,the new darling of food writing with his ever-expanding bibliography: The Omnivore's Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals (the ecological impact of food choices), In Defense of Food (advise on how to make healthy and responsible food choices, summed up in Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.) and the recent Food Rules: and Eater's Manual (more advice on food choices).

Barbara Kingsolver also joins the buffet line with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life. In this combination memoir/environmental book, Kingsolver and her family move to Appalachia and spend a year trying to consume only locally produced foods.

"Food is an important part of a balanced diet." - Fran Lebowitz

Yet one more course of food writing features the history of food and food's impact on history. Mark Kurlansky is the master chef here with both Cod: a Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and Salt: a World History. You might also take a taste of The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation where author David Kamp analyzes why macaroni is now pasta and Wonder Bread is now whole grain.

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food. "- George Bernard Shaw

Which reminds me, our Des Plaines restaurant gift card raffles are just around the corner. Come on up to the 3rd floor and while you browse through the books and movies, why not fill out entry forms to win a free $25 gift card to one of these great eateries, compliments of our wonderful Friends of the Library.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Dotombori Japanese Restaurant

Little Villa Restaurant

The Mexico Restaurant

The Silver Stallion Restarant

Thai Square Restaurant

Via Roma Restaurant

... and we even have one for Pesche's Florists.

The contest ends on March 1, the end of our Winter Reading Club so we'll see you before that. Bon appetit!

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