Monday, 29 July 2013

Summer reading: food books


Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey
This is the best cookbook I've ever read. Amanda Cohen runs a well reputed vegetarian/vegan restaurant 'Dirt Candy' in New York. Set in comic strip form, this book talks about the problems setting it up and going on Iron Chef.  She talks about feeling insecure, dealing with staff and she also gives some innovative vegetarian recipes: smoked cauliflower, cheddar powder, coconut poached tofu. This is not high-octane Gordon Ramsay alpha-male style, but a seriously talented female chef who has humour, humility and is completely honest about running a restaurant. So many times I thought: I recognise that, I've had that problem. This is a funny, human book with amazing recipes. Get it.


Firstly this book is beautifully designed, with great photography, before you even get to the writing. Tim, as always, writes wittily and succinctly. The first chapters talk about meat, charcuterie and cold smoking, subjects upon which Tim has been writing for ages, being a pioneer in urban home smoking. There are many useful DIY food techniques: for instance, pickling, sourdough and a little bit about canning. I couldn't write about this book without mentioning that everybody in the food world is seethingly jealous of Tim's massive advance for this book, over 250k, unheard of for a non-telly chef. (Most people get between 5k and 25k.) You could say he's the male Pippa Middleton (also signed with Penguin for a ridiculous 400k), although I don't know if his arse is as nicely shaped. Although this book has clearly been released to coincide with the barbeque season, this book would be a great Christmas present for dads, husbands and boyfriends too.

This is my toilet book right now, which is not an insult, it means I want a chance to re-read short passages of the book at my regnant leisure. Bee Wilson is a food historian who comes from a good pedigree, her dad is writer A.N.Wilson. There are no photos, so you could download it onto your kindle app on the iPad and read it on the beach. I love the fact that there is a whole, albeit short, chapter on the importance of rice cookers to Asian life. As a kitchenalia freak, who can hardly pass a car boot sale or a cookery shop without buying yet another piece of cookware, this book is right up my street. There is a chapter called 'Measure' which explains why America is frustratingly 'volumetric', and is essential reading for anybody writing recipes. Similar to 'A history of the world in 100 objects', however, in Consider the Fork, those objects all relate to cooking. Which is just as accurate as a record of humanity, for what distinguishes us from animals, is cooking and clothing.

Cooked by Michael Pollan
Written in an accessible way, this book has good pacing, reading like a food adventure story. Pollan never talks down to the reader and seems excited by what he is discovering. Trish Deseine and I have had rows over this book and how to educate people about food. She believes it's unrealistic to talk about cooking from scratch in this way when people are resistant to cooking at all. As a food geek, of course, I love his journey into food, and hope that this approach to cooking will eventually filter through to everyone. The issue of food poverty have been much talked about in the media recently. As a single mum who spent years on benefits, during the previous tory regime, prior to New Labours' more generous benefits, I can honestly say we never went hungry. Apart from cooking from scratch, I skipped food from bins. Lidl is great for that, you get free unopened food in perfectly good condition. I didn't feel humiliated by this, I felt resourceful. It helps that we didn't eat or expect meat and that fish was a rare treat. So, if you are poor, go veggie for gods sake! Buying basic ingredients such as flour, which don't cost much, and learning how to make your own bread, is something anyone, who isn't working full-time, can do.
The real problem is twofold: fuel poverty (you need fuel to cook with and cheap foods often require slow cooking) and lack of food education, and this is what Michael Pollan is giving here. It's great to hear that the government is bringing back cookery classes into schools. We need dozens of Michael Pollans spreading the word about sourdough and other 'from scratch' techniques. We need a whole food programme on the dole, giving people a leg up by helping them start a micro food business.


Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts by Gizzi Erskine
Love the style and pizzaz of this book by Gizzi in which she reunites the 'cook yourself slim' of her early career, her rock n roll image with her genuine interest in street food and Korean food. This book ascribes to the 80/20 theory of healthy eating, which is if you eat fairly low calorie 5 days a week, you can feast 2 days a weeks. Most of the 5:2 diets are the other way around, you eat what you like 5 days a week and fast on 500 calories for 2 days a week. Frankly Gizzi's book makes more sense, otherwise it's just too good to be true. (Mind, I tried the 5:2 diet and by 5pm on my first diet day, felt so hungry I just thought 'screw this' and succumbed to roast potatoes.) However the food in this book, skinny or wicked, looks so delicious it's hard to believe that it might be 'diet food'.



The Forager's Kitchen by Fiona Bird
I first saw this book for sale in Alberquerque in a very chic cafe/bookshop. I haven't heard too much about this book over here, so I'm guessing Fi Bird is big in America. Fiona was a runner up on Masterchef and has been teaching cooking to school children. She's passionate about eating well and education. She has plenty of kids herself, about five I think, and lives with her doctor husband in the outer Hebrides. I've always been interested in foraging and this book demonstrates in depth knowledge while beautifully illustrated with photographs. Although for some reason the photographer is not credited. Fiona forages not just at the hedgerow but at the beach. There are enticing recipes for seaweed popcorn, Douglas fir chocolate pots, minted pea and ramps soup, plus things to do with berries, herbs and flowers. It's inspirational and another way to eat on the cheap: forage! 

12 comments:

  1. I'm definitely investing in both Wilson and Pollan for my loo reading material. But as for Hayward, I think I will go to the library instead.

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    1. I recommend all the books on this list! I do love a loo book.

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  2. Oooh, interesting. Consider the fork sounds fascinating. And Cooked. And Dirt Candy... It's really nice to hear about some books that are food writing, not just recipe books. Not to mention the goss from the food writing world (250k!!).

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    1. Thanks Nora for your comment. Yes, it's a great deal of money, but the book is doing well, so maybe their investment was worth it!

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    2. Oh yes, I'm sure they wouldn't have paid if they didn't think it was worth it. (And I've added it to my long list of books I want!) It's just that working in quite a different type of publishing, I'd never see advances like that - so I'm interested to learn that's what can happen in food writing.

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    3. But I've also heard that publishers are willing to have loss leaders, such as with Pippa Middleton, because having her is prestigious even if her book loses money.

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  3. Great post! I've seen some of these books but not bothered to pick them up as I wasn't sure what they could offer me. Now I will go back and give them a proper look. Apart from Consider The Fork - I'm not sure I can cope with a book like this without pictures . . .

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    1. Hi Kirsten, Consider the Fork is actually a very easy read...

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  4. As usual your honesty and clarity keeps me smiling as I read your posts from my bed of a morning. You really are a tonic. I wish I could keep you in my house.

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    1. Aw thanks Holly. I wish I could stay in your house and enjoy all your lovely baking!

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  5. I now want all these books....and only you could make me start imagining what Tim Hayward's arse might look like in a book review!

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    1. Tim Hayward does have a fairly good arse but nobody can compete with Pippa. I like to think mine is pretty pert too.

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