Bluets, Maggie Nelson’s Exploration of Blueness

Maggie Nelson's Bluets tackles the varied permutations of the color blue.  It's the perfect book for someone like me, someone who loves the short eccentric entries writers make in their notebooks. Like Somerset Maugham's A Writer's Notebook, Nelson's Bluets ricochets all over the place, only in her case, every observation concerns blue in some way. On one…

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Women and the Building of America: Reflections

Last night, I stayed awake far longer than I normally do, reading Gayle Forman's new novel, Leave Me. The hook for me was "Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train…

Madhur Jaffrey’s “Vegetarian India”: My Review on the”Modern Salt” Site

I love food from India, I mean, I really, really do. And  so when I had a chance to review Madhur Jaffrey's latest, well, what could I say??? Heck, YES! Here's my review, of a marvelous book, on that wonderful new magazine from the U.K. - Modern Salt: MADHUR JAFFREY’S “VEGETARIAN INDIA: A JOURNEY THROUGH…

High Society Dinners: Dining in Tsarist Russia, a Model of Culinary History Methodology and Translation

Many writers and researchers around the world now write prodigiously on the topic that engages all of us several times a day: food. And its history. It used to be that those of us interested in the history of food found the pickings pretty slim. Of course, there was Reay Tannahill’s Food in History (1973)…

The Culinary Imagination

Right now, Life is clawing away, making exorbitant demands on my time. Think 24/7 with no let-up in sight. That said, I wanted to share a delicious find with you, something to really sink your teeth into, not balm for the brain but ballast instead.Grab yourself a copy of Sandra M. Gilbert's The Culinary Imagination:…

The Gaza Kitchen: A Portrait of Cooking and Culinary Exile

Cookbooks, if you look closely, contain more than recipes. Even when recipes predominate - in books with no headnotes, contributor names, nothing more than ingredients and methods - you learn a lot about the people who wrote the books. By scrutinizing the text, you develop a sense of what’s important to the authors and the authors' intended audience.…

Mushrooms at Female & Fungi

I know, I said my last post was the last until after Christmas, but I wanted to share something with you this bright sunny day. Not long ago, some people who write the remarkable web site "Female & Fungi" contacted me about my book, Mushroom: A Global History. They wanted to know more about the…

And More Gifts: A Selection of Food and Culinary History Books Published in 2013

Before I list my choice of books for 2013, a caveat: I have not read all of these yet. What I attempt here is to list the food and culinary history tomes that interest me (and hopefully you!), published in 2013. The descriptions of these books come from various sources, usually the publisher. That said, if…

Cuisine & Empire: Cooking in World History, a Book You Simply Must Read

Today, I am happy to share something with you, a marvelous gift to the world of culinary history: Cuisine & Empire, by Rachel Laudan (University of California press, October 2013). I had the pleasure of reading some of the book while it was still in manuscript,* and that bit whetted my appetite so much that…

* A Cuisine Created by Slave Women: A Review of Kitty Morse’s Mint Tea and Minarets, and a Brief Word about Dadas**

Dealing with the death of beloved parents takes a great toll on people, leading them on journeys of self-discovery often not possible while parents still live and breathe and exert influence on their adult child’s life. Rarely does settling up an inheritance take sixteen years of patience and hair-pulling, constantly reminding the bereaved of their…

Julia Child’s “The French Chef, ” by Dana Polan

“a history of early American television telescoped through the persona and history of Julia Child. . . . fascinating . . .” When you walk the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, you can’t miss the lingering traces of heroes and history. From the names of the men who brought you the Boston Tea Party to the…

Macarons – Food of Dreams and Fairy Tales

Macarons. Truly an example of "Don't try this at home." But how I longed to recreate the taste and the crunch of the macarons I greedily ate as often as I could, when I passed that fairy-tale bakery on the Rue de Rivoli, close to the Hotel de Ville metro stop: Maison Georges Larnicol. Although…

French Bistro: Seasonal Recipes

“A visual feast as well as a gastronomic one . . . Organized by ten essentials that any successful bistro must have, French Bistro almost reads like a graphic novel, thanks to the prolific and colorful photographs.” When you walk into a Paris bistro straight off the street on a cool fall day, the odd leaf rustling…

At My French Table

If as a child you loved fairy tales and dreamt of being Cinderella, or if you longed to be the handsome prince with a turreted castle, you’re going to adore Jane Webster’s gloriously illustrated At My French Table: Food, Family and Joie de Vivre in a Corner of Normandy. The book imparts the warm feeling you get…

Cooking Classic French Food, the Easy Way

If French cuisine, or at least the cooking of it, intimidates you, you're not alone. A perception of too many fussy techniques and hard-to-obtain ingredients stops people who might otherwise wield a wooden spoon with Julia Child's enthusiasm. The great popularity of Italian food testifies to people's desire to take simple ingredients and transform them…

Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends

“Rich with the flavor of words . . . a marvelous and kaleidoscopic view of Paris . . .” Gazing on Paris now from the vantage point of the Pont Neuf or the top of the Eiffel Tower or down the Champs Élysées, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the fact that in 1871 Paris lay…

Paris to the Past – Traveling Through French History by Train: A Book to Love and Cherish

“If you’ve even the slightest interest in France and her history, you will enjoy this highly innovative book. If you love France, and you’re a committed Francophile, you will swoon over Paris to the Past. As Ina Caro writes in her introduction to this delicious book, ‘I charted a route you could follow.’ And indeed she does.”…

La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life: Explaining the French

In celebration of the 2012 French elections ... “. . . your best bet for understanding the French would be to pick up La Séduction and read it at your leisure, preferably with a glass of wine and Debussy playing on your iPod.” While making coffee one morning in Paris, where she now lives, journalist Elaine Sciolino…

War. Cook. Eat. Love.

Annia Ciezadlo, author of Day of Honey* (Free Press, 2011) , isn’t the first person to cook her way through trying times. Nor will she be the last. But the makeshift kitchens where Ms. Ciezadlo peeled purple eggplant or stirred onions caramelizing for Mjadara Hamra (Lentils with Bulgur Wheat) happened to be in a couple…

Assimilating “The Other”

Leslie Page Moch, author of Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe Since 1650 (1992, Indiana U. Press), has written another book, Pariahs of Yesterday: Breton Migrants in Paris (Duke University Press, 2012). Her book promises insights into the process of integration, a very useful understanding of present-day migrants in France, people from France's former colonies:…

Arabs in France: An Early Account by an Egyptian Imam

Rare is the native English speaker who reads and writes Arabic, classical or otherwise. And thus a vast body of literary work lies inaccessible to those who desire to increase their understanding and appreciation of the Arabic-speaking world. Because there is this hole in the material available to scholars and others, the scholarship of much…

The Expert (French) Cook in Enlightenment France: A Review

If you scrutinize sixteenth-century Dutch artist Pieter Aertsen’s painting, “The Cook in Front of the Stove,” you will see a rather stereotypical image of servant cooks, one that persisted in popular memory in Europe until well into the nineteenth century. Sean Takats, assistant professor of history at George Mason University and codirector of Zotero, attempts…

Give the Gift of Cooking French Food at Home: Some Cookbooks That Make a Seemingly Impossible Task Possible

I have to tell you that the cookbook lists that come out every year around Christmas time drive me crazy. Like you’re really going to savor, say, 101 Recipes Using ___________? (Fill in the blank.) Or you’re going to run out and buy another Italian cookbook when you already own somewhere in the neighborhood of…

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant: Sifting Through the Nostalgia

It’s not often that the words of poor peasants appear in print. And when they do, it’s a cause for rejoicing, especially for scholars pertaining to the Braudel/Certeau school of the history of daily life. What's more, our current nostalgic longings for a more paradisiacal past evaporate quickly in the light of these often ruthlessly real…

Who was Ginette Mathiot? And Why Should You Care?

Ginette Mathiot wrote books that bring up long-lost taste memories in France, much as Marcel Proust's oft-quoted prattle about about madeleines. Only her work proves infinitely more readable and enjoyable. She also basically sticks it to Julia and makes French cooking seem less like a prolonged session at the dentist's. One of her books, Je…

Unquenchable: Natalie MacLean’s Terrific New Book on Wine

If, like me - overwhelmed by the hundreds of possible choices in front of you at the grocery store or local wine shop - you’ve ever stood in front of the endless shelves of stunning wine bottles and felt like just closing your eyes and grabbing a bottle, any bottle (preferably one on the lower…

Culinaria Russia: A Picture Cookbook for Grownups

I’ve only known two Russian cooks in my life. First there was Olga, the cook who sustained me during my Peace Corps years, whose Russian roots rarely extended to the table of her Paraguayan pension. Always tripe and manioc and beef à caballo, never borscht or blini or piroshki. Sometimes meat laced with chimichurri, a…

The British Melting Pot

I recently ran across these books, mentioned on an interesting British Web site providing glimpses and glances at cookbooks published in Britain, cookbooks that we here in the US of A rarely see. Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems that the British cookbook market features more books concerned with other cultures and not so…

Food Studies: A How-To Guidebook, a Bit Underdone

Since one of my primary interests is methodology for studying food in history, when I learned that Berg Publishers recently came out with Food Studies: An Introduction to Research Methods (2009), you can imagine how quickly I got my hands on a copy of this book written by Jeff Miller, a sociologist, and Jonathan Deutsch,…

A Russian Cook

Another good appetizer is stewed white mushrooms, with onion, you know, and bay leaf and other spices. You lift the lid off the dish, and the steam rises, a smell of mushrooms ... sometimes it really brings tears to my eyes! ~~Anton Chekov, "The Siren" With the publication of Gourmet magazine beginning in 1941, stories…