Five Reads for Foodies

This fall I repeatedly stumbled upon books about food that were irresistible.  I devoured one after another, some about Seattle, some from around the globe, and some fiction, but all were wonderful reads.  In the spirit of the holidays and breaking bread to celebrate, here are my favorite foodie reads.

The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

the hundred food journeyThe Hundred Foot Journey is about an Indian family struggling to start a restaurant, and a French woman struggling to keep her restaurant on top.  However, the true heart of this tale is about facing loss, overcoming prejudice, anger, and jealousy.  It is the story of crossing over into a place where a person is pressed and stretched beyond comfort, but made into a stronger and better person.  The book is finely written and the characterization is impeccable.  You will be able to taste the curries as you read, your mouth will water with the fine French cooking described in intricate detail.  To truly know what real food is and where it comes from; one must travel to small French towns and see the people slaughter, harvest, and cook earth’s bounty with their own eyes. By reading this book you can experience that journey through the rich prose.  The Hundred Foot Journey is rich with family loyalty, sprinkled with a love story, and finished with a dessert of redemption.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The school of Essential IngredientsBlending food and literature can be tricky.  Sometimes food fiction can fall too heavy on the food description side, with a weak storyline.  Other times, the use of food as an element in the story is contrived, and seems unnatural.  However, The School of Essential Ingredients blends these two elements seamlessly.

Lillian, the main character, owns a restaurant and teaches cooking classes in the evenings. A cast of characters walk through her doors, all seeking to learn to cook, but needing much more than a simple lesson in sautéing and basting.  Each person’s story is told, and they eventually find what they are looking for at The School of Essential Ingredients.  Lillian teaches her students more than just cooking, she instills in them passion for food and how to harness its power.   The lives of Lillian and her students are woven in among garlic, butter, spices, flour, and meat.   Her descriptions of recipes, food science, and life cycles are eased into the story with poetic grace.  The characters in the story evoke empathy and move from one emotional place to another.  A well told story.

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The School of Essential Ingredients

A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus by Renee Erikson 

A boat a whaleI needed one more book for this post, so this evening I sat down and read A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus from cover to cover.  Yes, I read a cookbook in one sitting, and I delighted in every word.  I confess I did not read every recipe word for word, but every personal story, anecdote, or informative lesson I read; word for word.

Years ago at the end of my college days here in Seattle my friend and I stumbled upon the Boat Street Café.  The original restaurant was tucked away in between Fremont and the University of Washington, close to the shore of Lake Union.  We were young, broke, and had no exposure to high culinary experiences.  We both still vividly remember it, I ate a poached egg for the first time, and we reveled in the delicate flavors.  We were impressed with the simplicity and loveliness of the quaint white restaurant with understated wooden tables.

Now Erikson has four restaurants in Seattle and is a local icon.  Her book gives due credit to her sources for local ingredients, for oysters, honey, meat, and produce.  She brings to life the people that supply food to her restaurants through story and photographs.  Erikson teaches how to cook octopus, choose the finest ingredients, and make anchovy butter.  Additionally, she explains how herring is caught, processed, and distributed, what capers actually are, and how to properly smoke salmon. The cookbook includes many recipes from her restaurants, which range from obscure to plain and simple.  The photographs are lovely and create a warm narrative of food, family and friendship over the dinner table.  This book is a perfect gift for a food lover or cook.

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A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories

Delicious! By Ruth Reichl 

deliciousDelicious! is part New York City history, part food industry history, and part library mystery.  What is a library mystery?  Read the book my friend.

An old mansion holds the offices of Delicious, a well-established food magazine.  Billy, the main character gets a job writing for Delicious, and lands right in the middle of the New York City food scene.   She has a perfect palate, an incredible ability to bake, but old wounds hold her back from her full potential.  This book is part historical fiction, and has a story within a story.  James Beard, the renowned chef, culinary writer, and educator makes an appearance.  His life is woven into the history of Delicious through letters found from World War II.  Delicious! is not strictly a food meets fiction story; it is a detailed account through lives past and present.  It was a bit long, but has interesting plot twists that came together in a satisfying ending.

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Delicious!: A Novel

Yes, Chef! by Marcus Samuelsson 

Yes-Chef-BookcoverNon-fiction as a whole is hard for me to read, but I press on, and try to make sure I am not living in a fantasy land all the time.  I walked into Yes, Chef without knowing anything about Samuelsson’s life.  Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Sweden, and now lives in Harlem.  His life has been full of perseverance and extremely hard work.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was slow at times, but I learned a plethora of information about fine cuisine, restaurant management, and cooking techniques around the world. I never knew how dangerous working in a professional kitchen is; losing a finger is a more than a reality.   My favorite section of Yes, Chef was learning how he re-created and revitalized The Red Rooster in Harlem. I was inspired by his passion for Harlem and giving any employee willing to work hard a chance.  Marcus never forgot where he came from and strives to serve his community.  I enjoyed the audio version of this book because Samuelsson is the reader.  The audio version provides a feel for Samuelsson’s heritage and passion through his accent, and the cadences of his speech. I considered it time well spent.

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Yes, Chef: A Memoir

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

I have always half seriously said I wanted to be a farmer.  I have maintained a meager garden.  I know the thrill of seeing two small starts produce 40 green cucumbers. I know the frustration of weeds and disappointment of a small or failed yield. However, I never knew the intensity of the time, labor, and grind on one’s body to run a working farm.  After reading this book I knew, and you will too.  Farming is more than kitchy decorations and fresh eggs.

To order this book on amazon click here:  The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love

the dirty lifeI adored this book from the first page to the last.   The author and her boyfriend, Mark pursue their dream to become farmers on a run-down plot of land.  She follows us through their first seasons of restoration, reviving, planting, harvesting, and an unrelentless amount of work.   I fell in love with their first milking cow, Delia, and their first draft horses Sam and Silver. I was amazed at the attatchment I felt for cows and horses.  The science of making cheese, whey, maple syrup, and butchering animals, are all described with the best blend of science and heart.  I learned how to cook liver, strain fresh milk, and kill a pigeon for dinner from reading this book. (Could I do it? No, but I admire Kimball for doing it.)  The farm to table movement has become such a hip and happening trend, but these two people live farm to table from sun up to sun down, and sometimes straight through the night.  Read this book, it is fantastic.

You can see pictures and read more about what they do on her blog and their website.  Here are the links:

Seattle Food Writer- Molly Wizenberg

Molly Wizenberg also deserves her own post, she is a local Seattle Restaurant owner, blogger, writer, and mother.  I highly reccomend reading both of her books, good fall reading, great for food lovers, seattle lovers, paris lovers, or anyone with a heart, soul, or palette.

My sweet friend Kim recently called this blog, my shop around the corner.  I consider that a high compliment, not only because it was Meg Ryan at her peak, but because it represents pursuing the stirrings of your soul.  Molly Wiezenberg’s books are her shop around the corner.  The restaurant Delancy is the shop around the corner their marriage built.  I have loved reading her journey of life through food, love, book writing, and restaurant building.

She captures the essence of following your dreams through the exciting and weary times.  She is honest, but never whiny, humorous, but never snarky.  I read Delancy in one day.  This avid reader has never finished a non-fiction book in that time frame.  These books are delicious slices of life.

A Homemade Life

A Homemade LifeTo finish this book I sat down on a Sunday night with a glass of wine, a plate lined with small rectangles of unusual cheese, and a hunk of bread ripped in half; half to eat with the cheese, half smeared with butter, a dessert of sorts.  A Homemade Life is rich and delightful.  The book reads like a story, but set in a land of delicious eats.  Molly tells the story of her life one recipe at a time.  It never lags, it never feel forced or contrived.  Her love story flows out of her shared love of food with her sweet and charming husband.  You will want to eat, cook, drink, love, and live boldly after you read this book.  I never buy books, I am a strict library patron, but I need this book on my shelf.  I am bringing her Apples Tarte Tatin to our book club this week.  I am thankful she suggests using pastry dough from Trader Joe’s, and I am anxious to try her fennel salad and Ratatouille.  When the author met her husband her friend cheered her on saying, “Don’t stop now.  This is the bread and butter! This is what it is all about.” I smiled as I finished the book and finished my bread and butter in my cozy home on a Sunday night.  This book is bread and butter.  Savor it to the end.

To Order this book on Amazon, click here:

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table


Delancey_coverGetting to experience Delancy was a practice in patience. I saw this book on the Seattle Public Library website and requested it.  I was number 184 in line. I waited from April to October to get my copy.   Then a friend asked me if I wanted to go to dinner at Delancy, she had heard it was good. It is a small pizza place in a tucked away Seattle Neighborhood.    We tried to go on a Saturday night, an hour wait.  We went to a neighborhood pub.  We went back on a Saturday night, prepared for a wait, and we waited 45 minutes.   The pizza was worth it, totally and completely worth it. I wanted a group of my great girlfriend’s to come and experience the pizza with me, we set a date.  I got there an hour early, put our name in, and then read in my car by flashlight for an hour.  We waited another hour for the diners before us to finish their pizza and chit-chat over coffee.  The wonderful hostess that handles the front playfully suggested we stare them down a bit.  I did.  They sipped their coffee.

Delancy, the book and the restaurant, were worth the wait.  I was enchanted by the story of their unrelenting determination to open their own little pizza place.  Many books I have read lately are about the pursuit of deep rooted dreams.  Delancy is the story of the dream to bring impeccably delectable wood fired pizza to Seattle.   I truly respect the people of Seattle with vision that make old things new and restore instead of destruct.  Molly and her husband do exactly that.   I felt a kinship with this book, at first I thought it is because I am Seattle resident; the story takes place in a ten mile radius from my home.  However, it is the story, not the setting that draws you in as a reader.  Regardless of where you live, the story is poignant, and reads like a novel.  It leaves you with a feeling of contentment and inspiration to pursue your relentless desires.   You will cheer for Molly and her husband.  Go to Delancy, you will dream of the White Pie long after it is finished.

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Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage