Lauren Groff’s “Florida”: Nurturing Noirishness

This is the last post I plan to write for "Gherkins & Tomatoes." At least for a long while. After almost 10 years, it's time to fold up the tent, so to speak, and move on. Thank you, all of my regular readers, for stopping by, I've loved getting to know you and sharing opinions. …

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A Pinch of Alchemy: Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat

"Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious." That's what chef/teacher Samin Nosrat promises, right up front, page 5, in her stunning debut - Salt Fat Acid Heat. Everybody loves an optimist. And I count Ms. Nosrat among that merry band of people, those who amble through the world with a smile on their faces, their…

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…

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.…

The Wonder Spice: A Review of Turmeric, a Cookbook by Colleen Taylor Sen and Helen Saberi

Several years ago, I set up an informal experiment with an observation of two: in my tiny two-person household, I cooked and ate only Indian food for one month, relying heavily on cookbooks by Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey. I felt terrific, with more energy and alertness than I knew what to do with. Of…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Christmas Cheer, or, Fire Up the Reindeer

Black Friday marks the first "official" day of Christmas, er, shopping, that is. (You know it's almost Christmas when the day after Halloween, the grocery stores start hauling out the red ribbon and fake mistletoe.) A bit premature, but that's cultural change for you. Used to be that you couldn't find a bit of tinsel…

La Toussaint:* The Saints and Souls Who Preserve Us

A novel about an arrogant food critic could only happen in France. Bien sûr! Some time ago, I set myself the challenging and Sisyphean task of reading Muriel Barbery’s first novel, Une gourmandise, in French.  (Barbery’s reputation rests on her extremely philosophical second novel --- The Elegance of the Hedgehog [what a title!], which took…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Ghoulish Goodies

Check this out --- a recent cookbook all about Halloween, for kids young and old: Ghoulish Goodies: Creature Feature Cupcakes, Monster Eyeballs, Bat Wings, Funny Bones, Witches' Knuckles, and Much More! (Frightful Cookbook), by Sharon Bowers (2009). Eat, drink, and enjoy the creepy yuckiness of Monster Eyeballs, Chocolate Spider Clusters, Buried Alive Cupcakes, and Screaming…

Goat Song: Romancing the Pastoralism (Not)

People today seek a connection with the earth in many ways. The shape of that seeking takes many forms. First it was buying a house in Tuscany, making dreams of Paradise concrete. Or at least set in rough stone. Now it seems to be goat-herding and cheese making. Truthfully, there’s something about herding that calls…

Fresh: A Look at the Meaning of Freshness and the Refrigeration Revolution

A review of Susanne Freidberg’s Fresh: A Perishable History (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2009) The debate continues on the local foods argument ... To listen to many food activists talk these days, one would think that for dinner --- up until now --- most people just simply stepped outside their doors and plucked fresh…

Reveling in Books: Fresh, Bones, Fat, and Meat

Like Susan Bourette in Meat: A Love Story My Year in Search of the Perfect Meal (did she get this subtitle from Roy Andries de Groot, a food writer popular in the sixties and seventies who wrote In Search of the Perfect Meal (1986)?), many people temporarily eschew meat at some point in their lives.…

Reveling in Books: The Garden Cottage Diaries

Most of the time, I judge food by its looks and books by their covers. Sorry, but give me a little art, a bit of color, and a mob cap any day of the week. Mob cap? Take the cartoon-like cover of The Garden Cottage Diaries for example. Like a magnet, this visual rendition of…

Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio”

When two elements combine and form more than one compound, the masses of one element that react with a fixed mass of the other are in the ratio of small whole numbers. ~~ Humphry Davy Although there are those who claim that they who know how to cook never need recipes, they actually follow recipes,…

Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal

To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor,* a good African cookbook is hard to find. And so when such a book appears,  the bubbly comes out and the music crescendos. Senegal-born Chef Pierre Thiam wrote the first cookbook on Senegalese food, Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal,  and ended up nominated for a prestigious IACP (International Association…

Pie in the Sky: A Review of Janet Clarkson’s “Pie: A Global History”

You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die. ~~ Joe Hill*, "The Preacher and the Slave" chorus, 1911 Everybody knows what pie is, right? Wrong, and Janet Clarkson (The Old Foodie) tells us why in…

Food History Isn’t Just Old Stuff

Convenience in the kitchen, a state of affairs that most of our great-grandmothers would have killed for, snuck into food history about the time the Russians sent Sputnik into orbit. Science ruled, even in the kitchen. An interesting thing happened, though,  when everybody happily dove into easy-to-fix dinners and eating out. People started looking like…

The Washington Post on Best Cookbooks (Gifts) of 2008

An interesting and REAL list (for the most part) of cookbooks for serious and not-so-serious home cooks. Some of the 18 titles anointed and blessed  by The Post include: A Platter of Figs, by David Tanis (So popular right now that it can't be had from any of the big online --- or local ---…

Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Festa dei Sette Pesci)

If you like comic books, graphic novels, and cartoons, you'll love Feast of the Seven Fishes: The Collected Comic Strip & Italian Holiday Cookbook. Let the author himself tell you what the book's all about: "All I wanted to do was write a little romantic comedy about my family cooking fish on Christmas Eve. Little…

MILK: That Old White Magic

[Note: Ironically, I just came across this December 15, 2008 NPR interview with Anne Mendelson:  "A Culinary History of Milk Through the Ages." The NPR story includes a recipe for Apple-Onion Cream Soup.] Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages, with 120 Adventurous Recipes that Explore the Riches of Our First Food, by…

Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book

Nearly everyone on the planet, or at least those with access to education --- unfortunately many areas of the world and even this country lack miserably in the teaching of the young --- will know the name of Charles Darwin, as the blurb below allows. Now, maybe  some people don't buy into the theory of…

Let Me Entertain You … A New Food Encyclopedia Bellies Up to the Shelf

Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl: An Encyclopedia might not grab you with a catchy, seductive title, but it's a new and welcome addition to the food history literature. Published by Greenwood Press and edited by two respected culinary historians --- Melitta Weiss Adamson (Food in Medieval Times, Medieval Dietetics, Regional Cuisines of…

Out of Africa: Review of “Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa”

Say “African food” and most people visualize a cartoon with two missionaries boiling in a black iron pot in the middle of a jungle clearing. That’s the “Dark Continent” picture, deeply rooted in the West’s persistent attitude of colonialism toward Africa. Or, instead, they “see” stick-thin children sprawled out on their mothers’ laps, listless, flies swarming everywhere.