Wednesday, July 29, 2009

foodie lit roundup 2

I have plenty of projects to blog about. But go figure - I left my camera on my desk at work. So my one evening free to update has been halted by my lack of photos.

Rest assured, they are coming. So instead of projects, I will use this opportunity to update you on the foodie lit I've been reading.

#1. "Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder & a Pinch of Salt" by Leslie F. Miller

I was utterly enamored by this book when I started. It has much to teach even those of us who have been "into" cake for quite awhile - because it's about cake on many different levels. Ingredients - I learned about Sweetex, a Crisco-like shortening that many bakers use in "buttercream" frosting to eliminate that scrape-the-roof-of-your-mouth feeling that many frostings induce. Cake history - I learned about the history of regional cakes in the U.S. Food memoir - I learned about Leslie Miller's family and her own passionate love for cake.

Leslie is the furthest thing from a cake elitist in some respects. She eats a cake from Safeway's bakery with the same gusto as one from a boutique bakery like Charm City Cakes or Fancy Cakes by Leslie. (Here I am vastly different. I hate cakes from Giant Eagle and would probably sacrifice a great deal of things in order to eat a piece of Charm City pumpkin chocolate chip cake.) However ironically, it is this proletariat cake mentality that actually makes her just as much as a cake snob as those of us on the Charm City side. She paints Duff Goldman as an immature frat boy with a puffed up ego and swagger that doesn't match his product. While this may very well be true, as obviously I have not met Duff or any of the other staff members at Charm City, to paint what Duff and so many others do with extreme cakes as inferior to what is made in small town bakeries or grocery stores simply because he receives a great deal of publicity for it is rather childish. Plus, we all know what happens "when professional cakes go horribly wrong." When it comes down to it, is it really necessary to have good cake people and bad cake people? Read the first 75% of this book, but don't be afraid to jump ship when the tone becomes cranky. I wish I would have.

#2. "The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City" by David Lebovitz

If you love food and if you are at all interested in Paris, you must read this book. It is beautifully written with hints of humor and fantastic recipes for everything from ice cream to pork ribs interspersed throughout the text. Lebovitz is a respected pastry chef and ice cream expert (Mark and I tested his chocolate peanut butter recipe this past weekend and it made me forget Ben and Jerry's even exists), but the book doesn't read as yet another tale of life in Paris through the lens of food. His tales tell of the difficulty of acclamating to life in Paris (he moved after the death of a beloved partner) and mention food as part of the daily discoveries he had to make regarding everything from painting his new apartment to buying linens or drinking chocolate. This book was charming yet realistic. Read this one the whole way through. It was worth my library fines. (Also check out his blog (link to left) and his ice cream book - "The Perfect Scoop")

#3. "The Language of Baklava" by Diana Abu-Jaber

I happened across the name of this book in a New York Times article about leftovers of all things. I started it on the plane en route to Nashville, and had two thumbs way up by page 12. Even Mark was reading over my shoulder at one point and commented on how engaging her writing style was - he read one sentence and ended up reading pages. This book was a cool breeze through a genre that can have a tendency to stagnate with recycled stories. Abu-Jaber writes stunningly about growing up in both America and Jordan, with an American mother and a Jordanian father. I have never read a food memoir that focused on any culinary tradition beyond America, France, or Latin America until I started this book. I felt like I was swept away into another world, at once enticing and mysterious. I know virtually nothing about Arab-American culture, and this book was illuminating. I look forward to reading another of her books in the near future. If you like food literature at all, go straight to the library or bookstore, grab this book, and devour every last page of it. Perhaps baklava needs to be on the menu in the near future...

1 comment:

Leslie F. Miller said...

Thank you for reviewing my book! I appreciate your opinion and thoughts. The Duff portion bothered me a great deal because I could only present him in the light he allowed me to see, and, unfortunately, all three of the times we met, he did not stray from his persona.

As far as snobbery goes, I think you might have misunderstood about the good cake people/bad cake people. I don't think there are categories. Cake is delicious when it's delicious, and it has little to do with who is creating it. I wanted desperately to like my $200 cake. I truly did, and so did all of the guests at my party.

But fondant is just not my bag. Most fancy cake bakers admit that they are making cakes for the appearance, but many of them want to make puffed up claims about the taste. I don't think a cake that takes several days to decorate can be as good as the one you make from scratch. Wouldn't you agree?

Anyway, cheers. I'm glad you liked 75% of the book!