The Best of Foodie Memoirs

April 3, 2013 at 10:00 pm (Recipes, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Lunch in Paris

Lunch-in-ParisAuthor: Elizabeth Bard

Publisher: Back Bay Books

Genre: Travel/Memoir/Cooking

If you are looking for Eat, Pray, Love or Julie & Julia at the bookstore – STOP.  Pick this up instead.  It’s friendlier, wittier, and far more relaxing.

It was the water color that got me first.  That and the fact that I love memoirs with recipes, they pretty much dominate my source of kitchen plans.  Then, that first page of that first chapter: Coffee, Tea, or Me and her description of herself – I felt so at home, so in league with a kindred spirit.

She says things like “I stood pressed against the wall, like a field anthropologist caught in the middle of a buffalo exorcism,” when describing a French dance party.  How can you not fall in love with a writer that expresses herself like that?  I literally started laughing out loud, and I hate using that phrase since all the texters in society have begun speaking how they type, so when I use it I really mean it.

Bard is pleasant and loveable.  She has dilemmas that I can sympathize with, as opposed to Gilbert’s laments in Eat, Pray, Love which seemed all a little over the top and self inflicted.  I did laugh a few times when she chalked something her husband did up to his being French, a lot of times it just seemed very husbandy to me.  But for the most part, I think I was only laughing when I was truly meant to, when she utilized some turn of phrase or told a story that should make the corners of your mouth twitch while you read.

My favorite moment was when a friend tells her she can’t just go to the market for the rest of her life.  Before Bard got a chance to say it herself, I inwardly pleaded… why not? It doesn’t matter whether you loathe or love the grocery stores here in the states, Bard will make you fall in love with European markets and long desperately to go make purchases at a butcher shop in Paris and linger over vegetables in the streets.

Go. Buy. Enjoy.  I know you’ll love it.

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A Homemade Christmas

December 20, 2012 at 12:30 am (Recipes, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Homemade LifeTitle: A Homemade Life

Author: Molly Wizenberg

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 313 pages

It was the cover that got me first.  I saw a stack of these books and thought, those little white mugs look so lovely against that sage green.  Those crystal glasses look so clean.  I want my life to look like that; I need my life to look like that.

Of course, my kitchen life looks a little more like someone’s rummage sale: hodge-podge glasses; mugs of all shapes, sizes, and colors; I never have any idea what kind of utensils are in the kitchen as they have all been gifts, hand-me-downs, or left behind by various room mates.  (I couldn’t possibly imagine where my waffle iron came from, but it’s ancient, difficult to clean, and I love it.)  I say my ‘kitchen life’ as though it is only my kitchen that suffers from this unfashionably eclectic manner of acquiring my belongings, the truth is my whole life is this way.  The library is not the gorgeous leather bound, gold embossed on mahogany shelves thing of Beauty and the Beast or the Bodleian… instead it’s got some of those and a lot more ratty hard backs and tired old paperbacks, stacks, piles, a thousand different wood grains and colors, and pretty much a hot mess forgiven merely because it is a hot mess of books.  Even my cozy blankets have no continuity: quilts, afghans, fuzzy God-knows what kind; some made by old ladies, some by family, some just picked up at a thrift store, some from my childhood.

But it’s ok.  The cover is lovely and it gives us something to aspire to.  Even better than that, it isn’t fancy, it’s simple.  Molly Wizenberg may have a neat and organized life of homemade goodness, but it’s simple and easily attainable.  Her book isn’t about being the next Martha Stewart, and it isn’t about being a project obsessed Julie Powell, it’s just a cozy little recipe driven memoir – more than a memoir, actually.  Her book reads like little life essays, not life lessons, just life in the ‘and then I fell in love with coconut’ sort of way.  I like knowing these kinds of things about people… I don’t care about your degrees, your successes, your battle for this or for that, tell me how it was you fell in love with coconut.  Tell me your thoughts on white chocolate and all the memories those thoughts unleash.  Talk to me about rotten bananas and french toast, and what your parents were like in the kitchen.  Molly does.  And I love her for it.

Of course, if you bother to tell someone how you fell in love with coconut, your memories of the 80’s and white chocolate, your dad’s insights to making the best french toast on the planet, the moment you decided raw cabbage wasn’t half bad if prepared by the love of your life… you end up telling them about more than your food experiences, you basically tell them all the high and low points of your life, the parts that are way more personal than what degree you got in college.

Molly grew up in Oklahoma, being from Houston, TX, I don’t exactly consider that the south, but if you were from Montana I guess you probably would.  Nevertheless, reading something written by an Oklahoman during an 80 degree December feels a little more weather-mood appropriate than reading something written by, let’s say, a Canadian.  For a warm, southern winter, A Homemade Life perfectly fits the bill as it is all about the warmth of family in the kitchen, making a cozy way for yourself, and fabulous but mostly simple recipes… great for the holidays.  But only if those holidays are warmish, because there are several summer and spring recipes that would totally throw me off my game if it was snowing outside.  I’m a mood reader.  For me to enjoy a book to the max, the weather, the house, the book, and the stars all have to align.  Not entirely, I’m pretty good at getting completely lost in a book with absolutely no awareness of what is going on around me, but let’s face it, not everyone can write a 5 star book that doesn’t need ambiance guidance, and not every book is supposed to be read void of ambiance.

A Homemade Life is well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable, but it was written with the kitchen in mind.  I’ve read much of it at the kitchen table over coffee or soup.  Not every book is a coffee and soup at the kitchen table kind of book, but this one is.  This book has made me greatly long for a window seat in my kitchen.  The window seat would have a little garden box attached on the outside for all my kitchen herbs, I could open the pane and inhale the glorious scents of rosemary and green onions.  I don’t have that.  Instead, I read this sitting on a 30 year old, uneven chair with a rip in the leather, looking out the nearby window to my deck and tree.  It’s a great view, but when I open the pane I get a strong whiff of dog, ancient wood, moss, and whatever smell is coming from the water treatment plant in the back of my neighborhood that day.  My good days are in April when my jasmine masks all of that with vengeance.

But in my kitchen, I’m not just in my kitchen, I’m in Molly’s kitchen too.  I’m falling in love with her character of a father, lovingly referred to as Burg.  I’m living his grand moments, his love for breakfast and dinner, his love for his daughter, and his legacy after death.  In Molly’s kitchen I am introduced to her husband, their friends, and their exciting life together.  She shares all of this simply, eloquently, and with recipes.

In the spirit of recipe sharing, which in addition to being a lovely writer, is Molly’s forte, I will share a recent one of my own.  I used to do this more often, but lately I’ve been hoarding my recipes to myself and a few friends, not intentionally, my blog is just book driven and my facebook page is picture driven.  This recipe was birthed from a strong desire for Greek Chicken Orzo Soup and a simultaneous urge to hop in the car and get some Potato Soup from Panera Bread.  I can see your eyebrows raised in suspicion as I type, but I assure you, it came out pretty fabulously and I’ve since made about four variations of it.  I’m pretty lazy in the kitchen and this was all dumped in a crock pot…

Andi’s Greek/Potato Soup-ness:

1 can of cream style corn

1 can of whole kernal corn (optional, depending on the size of your pot)

1 can of water (I use the corn can and fill it with water)

1 chicken bullion cube

(in a vegetarian version we skipped the can of water and the chicken b. cube and used one can’s worth of vegetable broth)

a bit of milk (anywhere from a quarter cup to a whole can, depending on you and your pot)

mushrooms if you like, I’ve done it with and without

lots of chopped potato, just fill that pot up with as much as you can fit

celery, chopped… include the leafy bits, this is a must

and the part that makes it what it is… wait for it… ALL PURPOSE GREEK SEASONING, just shower it in over all those potatoes floating to the top, stir it up and shower some more.  Greek Seasoning is absolutely the most awesome ‘secret’ ingredient to a soup ever.  If you have an aversion to peppery flavors hold back, there’s a lot of black pepper in the flavor, but I have  a black pepper allergy and it didn’t cause me problems so that made me happy

Because I’m from Texas, I put Tobasco in everything

The first time I made this was shortly after Thanksgiving and I added left over chunks of Thanksgiving ham to it, it was heavenly.

After a few years of sitting on my shelf (this is pretty typical unless the book is sent to me by an author or publisher to review), I picked the book up for the HPB Humble Book Club, we will be discussing it in January.  I’m hoping the other members of the group enjoyed it as much as I have and maybe even tried out some of the recipes.  I still can’t decide which concoction to bring on the first Monday in January, but I plan to make something of Molly’s to celebrate the joy of a life homemade.

Don’t forget to check out Molly’s blog, the Orangette.

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HPB Humble Spring Book Club Picks!

December 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm (Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

HPB Humble Spring Book Club Picks!

January – A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (cooking/memoir)
February – March by Geraldine Brooks (fiction/literature)
March – Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed (business/economic history)
April – On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (fiction/literature)

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Julie & Julia – & JJ

December 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm (Recipes, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Some people are appalled at this, and some find it wonderfully convenient, but I have friend categories.  With me, people always know where they stand, because that is what I appreciate most about my own interpersonal relationships.  I have a ‘best friend’, a ‘best friend since kindergarten’, a ‘roomie’ (my college room-mate),  a ‘sister-wife’ (a very bad long running joke with my bestie of a cousin, no we are not actually sister-wives), and a ‘favorite friend.’  I can proudly say that JJ Golightly, of the Tidbits from Miss Golightly, is my favorite friend.

Favorite friends are those people you can go lengthy times without seeing, but once you see them again they are like crack to your system and you want them more and more.  Favorite friends are those friends that if you ever chose to be lesbians (which we are not) you’d spend your life with them, because they are the ones you call randomly and say in the most superfluous and hyperbolic way possible: “I have a longing for you!”  Favorite friends are the ones that you’ll hold hands with in public and not care if people look at you funny or take it the wrong way, because like a surrogate sister, your favorite friend is someone you would love to have literally attached to your hip, or in your back pocket if you could keep a miniature of them.  They are also the person you happen to see the least of, and maybe that’s why the magnetism toward them remains forever in tact.

I recently had a wonderful visit from both my Roomie (Coffee Cups in Trees) and my Favorite Friend (Miss Golightly).  What happens on these trips is this:

almond cakeasparagus pestocaramel cheesecake

Roomie drinks coffee at the table, Favorite Friend bakes and cooks all sorts of goodies and photographs the results, I scurry back and forth trying to decide which I’d rather do, help cook or be lazy and drink coffee. The coffee usually wins.

Maybe it was because of one of these visits (in which all three of us gain five pounds over night), or maybe it was because Glen at the HPB Humble Book Club meeting brought up Julie Powell in our discussion of The Old Curiosity Shop, or maybe it was because I’d had the book sitting open to page five on my coffee table for about a year, but I finally got around to reading Julie & Julia.

Nothing like reading a memoir about a frazzled maniac with a serious obsession for obsessions and sci-fi shows – in the kitchen – writing a blog and book when you too are nearly 29, frazzled, obsessed (but not dedicated), writing a blog, and most recently lost your entire book (again) to a computer virus.  It gives hope.  It gives motivation.

I will write a book in the next 30 days.  Not the one I intended, I’m too crushed right now, but a different, lighter book that is loitering in a journal in my cabinet just waiting to be properly edited and put into a computer.  I have 30 days.  If Julie Powell can cook 523 recipes in 365 days, get published, and not be a loser by age 30, damn it, so can I.  Except I’m not cooking.  I’ll be ‘writing’ a nearly already book (from paper to computer) in 30 days and getting it to Smashwords by my 29th birthday.  This I do vow.

In the mean time, I will still be reading, writing this blog, eating if I can afford it, and teaching Kung Fu… because that’s who I am, that’s what I do.  Funny, that I had to be reminded of that by a memoir about French cooking.

julie-julia1

Which is a delightful, by the way, all the way down to her swearing like a sailor, something I wouldn’t have even noticed had she not pointed it out.  She may live in Long Island City, but when it comes down to it she’s from Texas, and as a Texan I can say there are two kinds of Texas women… the kind that swear, and the southern belles who don’t.

I appreciate her kitchen woes, I love to eat but have many cooking woes myself.  I appreciate her small and outlandish apartment, I have a once lovely home that has just been utterly broken by this recession and a foundation problem.  There’s just so much to relate to, and frankly, Julie Powell is down right endearing.  She’ll never be my Favorite Friend in real life, as that spot is forever taken and I doubt I’ll ever even meet her, but she is definitely a favorite on my bookshelf.

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