Tuesday, June 7, 2011

foodie book roundup

I realized that it had been some time since I've talked about any of the food books I've read, and since this is one of my favorite genres of books, that list is always growing. Here are a few that I've read recently and would recommend.

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love - by Kristin Kimball
This is a memoir by a woman who gave up her life as a journalist in NYC to start a farm from the ground up with her husband. It's beautifully written and tells the story of the nitty gritty reality of running a farm. Her descriptions of meals made lovingly from the fruits of the work of their own hands were captivating.

It also made me glad that we participate in a local CSA which helps small farms survive in the day and age of horrid factory farming and industrial agriculture.

Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms - by Nicolette Hahn Niman

Niman is ironically a vegetarian. She is an attorney who worked for Robert Kennedy's Waterkeeper project, and in her work began to discover the ugly truth of factory farming -- not only what it does to our food, but the animals, the water supply, and the environment in general, as well as the livelihood of farmers and industry workers. This book is partly a description of her own journey of discovery, but also gives practical advice on how we can make a difference and vote with our forks. Her husband was the founder of Niman Ranch, which raises animals in humane and sustainable conditions. This book is just one of the many voices that convincingly argue that we can choose to take back our knowledge of where our food comes from and how it is made, and make both practical and moral/ethical decisions we can live with based on that knowledge.

Fannie's Last Supper: Two Years, Twelve Courses, and Creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook - by Christopher Kimball

Christopher Kimball (of America's Test Kitchen and Cooks Illustrated fame) lives in Boston, and made it a project to discover as much as he could about Fannie Farmer and about how cooking and daily life would have been in her time. The book is devoted to the preparations for a 12 course, turn of the century meal that he and his staff prepared for a group of guests, in almost exactly the same way Fannie would have cooked such foods herself. His team even made their own gelatin from calves feet! Along the way Kimball discusses American culinary history, as it pertains to the different types of cuisine he was preparing and testing, using Farmer's famous cookbook as a reference. You would have to be really interested in food history and culinary arts to want to read the entire book, but it was truly fascinating, and I appreciated Kimball's dry wit. I'm glad that this book did not let me down, since I am such a devotee of ATK and Cooks. (The most foolproof recipes you will ever find, hands down.)

Also in my reading list since 2011 were two books about Julia Child. One, her memoir My Life in France by Julia Child, and the other, As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto edited by Joan Reardon. If you have any interest in Julia Child, these are both fantastic books. We sometimes forget that people who become celebrities (especially those that unlike the Kardashian sisters are deserving of their notoriety) had lives and relationships of their own. The book of letters was a fascinating glimpse into a friendship, and also a time where letter writing was important and something that people considered was a worthwhile expenditure of energy. I wish I had that patience. Of course Life in France is also a gem, describing her life and perceptions of living in France with her husband Paul while working on the manuscript for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If you read and enjoyed or saw the movie Julie & Julia, these books are far superior. Definitely give them a try.

Next on my food-related book list is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver.