Comfort in the Heat
Two Books About Cooks and Cooking
This week's heat in Vermont makes it a bit too warm to cook; thus, today we highlight books that are "sort of" about cooking. Maybe they will inspire you to cook. Maybe they will inspire you to sit and read, perhaps with a cool tomato salad and some watermelon as nourishment. We also note that both provide a great break from the news cycle we seem to be caught in of shootings and political divisiveness. So, when your news feed is too hot to handle, and/or when the thought of cooking fries your brain, find a nice icy drink, sit in a comfy chair, and try these two titles.
Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters (2017). It is a sweet and savory pleasure to read this American culinary icon's memoir. Learning about Alice Water's mid-western childhood, a pivotal family move to California in her teens, and traveling with her in the late 60's on a rather footloose and fancy-free trip through Europe sets the stage for the somewhat haphazard opening of Chez Panisse in the 1970's. She's a fascinating mash-up: her creative, free-spirited side reminds one a bit of Patti Smith, but her culinary vision is more of a Julia Child (minus the formal training). Her story offers a fascinating window into the vibrant art and political scene in San Francisco "back in the day." It also serves to remind us that the making of an influential and important institution, in this case Chez Panisse, does not necessarily start out with a big budget or perfection on opening night -- but rather with passion, intuition, and a deep desire to learn. I was struck again and again by how delicious food need not be fancy, but instead sourced with attention to the land and farmers. Several Alice Water's fans lamented the fact that there isn't a great deal of new information about her in this book, but for this reader who is somewhat new to her fan club, it opened the door on a good view into to her kitchen, her life, and influences. I appreciate the inspiration it offered, too: as soon as I turned the last page, I pulled out my copy of The Art of Simple Food and with her voice as a guide, whipped up a delectable aioli (with local Vermont eggs, of course) to serve alongside some gently steamed artichokes. ~Lisa Cadow
Comfort Food Diaries: My quest for the perfect dish to mend a broken heart by Emily Nunn (2017) - Part cook book, part memoir, part recipe for regaining one's equilibrium, this book by former New Yorker editor Emily Nunn, won some diverse recognition: NPR's Best Books of 2017, Best Books on Food of 2017, The Guardian, Best Food-Focused Memoirs, Eater, Top 10 Narrative Food & Drink Books, Booklist, 20 Best Cookbooks, The Telegraph. And while I saw these reviews and was intrigued, it was not until a former roommate (who went to college with Ms. Nunn) put this in my hands that I managed to read this tale. In it, Ms. Nunn describes how during one life-changing, alcohol-enhanced night, she takes to Facebook for help with managing her brother's death, a devastating breakup with her fiance, and her subsequent eviction from the home that they shared. The next morning, she discovers many of her friends want to help and offer their couches, guest rooms, and kitchens to her to use while she puts her life back together. Thus, her "Comfort Food Tour" begins. Luckily for us readers, she chronicled her journey across America searching for what food comforts others in the hopes one of these dishes will unlock something for herself. Ms. Nunn manages to make her descent into the depths of personal angst and depression funny, insightful, and delicious - with recipes sprinkled throughout. As the indie-booksellers state in their review, Ms. Nunn "delivers a moving account of her descent into darkness and her gradual, hard-won return to the living". I am glad my friend sent this to me. I hope you will be glad this found its way to you as well. ~ Lisa Christie
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