Entries tagged with “Books”.


A new take on the cookbook, Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking With What You’ve Got, is one of the first offerings from a new Oregon-based small press.

I wrote a bit about it in today’s Christian Science Monitor. If you’re intrigued, you can meet author Tod Davies at a celebration of Exterminating Angel Press at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, at the University Bookstore, or at a book signing at 5 p.m. Thursday at Pilot Books. (Bring a list of what ingredients are in your fridge for inspiration, a la Thierry).

One of the things that caught my eye was the take Davies, a screenwriter, had on photographing food for the book. She didn’t approve. (More here.) It’s as far as you can get from the world of food blogs, which I’ve come to view as modern-day cookbooks. Cornichon thought the book itself “reads rather like a series of posts by a wordy blogger; it’s like listening to a particularly chatty guest at a boring dinner party.” It struck me as a transcribed cooking show, or a podcast, meant for a relaxed perusal over the weeks. It’s making me think about what the word “cookbook” means — and making me think I’ll make her “eggplant caviar” with the contents of my crisper.

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The new book by James McWilliams, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, set out to be provocative, and I guess I got provoked. My review of it is in today’s Christian Science Monitor here.

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Anyone who eats dessert in my home often knows what a fan I am of David Lebovitz. He’s the guy who (on paper) showed me it was easy to make marshmallows and meringues and macaroons; his wonderful recipes in The Perfect Scoop are the main reason I invested in a serious ice cream machine.

I feel like I know the guy, between his books and his blog. But, of course, I don’t. I wrote about that in my post in The Christian Science Monitor this week on Lebovitz’s new book, The Sweet Life in Paris. It’s online here.

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The endless cycle of the foie gras wars goes on in Seattle with weekly protests that, as far as I can tell, follow the same pointless cycle as I used to find in my years as a restaurant critic. Mentioning foie gras in a review brought on automatic form letters from protesters saying it was cruel to force-feed ducks to produce the dish, which I answered with my own form reply. No one’s mind was changed, or even challenged.

That’s part of why I tip my hat to Mark Caro, a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, and his new book ”The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Fiercest Food Fight.”

Caro is coming to town July 14 for a Words & Wine event (cost: $45, including the book, wine and nibbles). He knows his subject as intimately as only a guy who’s stuck his hand up a duck’s rib cage to pull out its liver can know it, and I’m looking forward to hearing him talk with Warren Etheredge about the facts, the morality, and the politics of this culinary flashpoint. (The event’s at the Pan-Pacific Hotel, by the way, not Lark or Quinn’s.)

As I wrote  here for the Christian Science Monitor, I admire how thoroughly Caro embraced “the moral whiplash” of his research, uncovering revealing facts on all sides. He avoids delivering absolute conclusions in the end, leaving readers to draw their own.

“I’m trying to tell you what I learned and what I know, but not tell you what you should do with that,” he said in a phone conversation last week.

He does, though, give readers as complete a look as they’re ever likely to get of the foie debate; enough information to draw conclusions, no matter which side readers choose in the end. Caro visited farms in the U.S. and in France for his research, observed the animals from force-feedings through slaughter, spent the time it took to understand the views of protesters and restaurateurs, politicians and veterinarians, and just about everyone else with a duck in this fight.  

Here are some highlights from our conversation: (more…)

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<em/>Tall Skinny Bitter/images by Chris Munson

Tall Skinny Bitter/images by Chris Munson

Here’s a different kind of coffee talk: Dani Cone, owner of Fuel Coffee, has teamed up with graphic designer Chris Munson for a book that takes “a visual tour” of the Northwest’s independent coffeehouses. The publication party for “Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture” will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday (June 20) at Bailey Coy Books, 414 E. Broadway. (Yes, liquid caffeine will be served, along with Cone’s High 5 Pies.)

In the book,  Cone interviews baristas and coffee shop owners from throughout Seattle and Portland, providing 112 pages of browsable — or maybe, given the context, I should call them sippable — stories. There are brief profiles, bites of information, guest essays, quotes, and lists.

(Sample: Top 5 Things Customers Say That Make Baristas Want to Punch Them In The Face. Surprise: “Can I have a caramel macchiato?” only comes in at #4.)

Some of the features are formal, e.g. a look at the geographic differences between Caffe Vita’s different blends, some are casual, as with the comic strip look at Kapow Coffee in South Lake Union. The whole look and feel of the book, actually, reminded me of a graphic novel; the layout and artwork are as integral as the words.


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Writing about cheese is as tough as writing about wine. Try describing five of your favorite cheeses, and see: Once you get past past the basics of nutty, tangy, creamy, and all, it’s surprisingly difficult to explain to a reader just what you’re eating. That’s why I’ve  always been impressed by Tami Parr and her Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, which stood out from its 2004 start with its descriptive tasting notes. In my look here at Parr’s new book, Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest: A Discovery Guide,  I wrote that Parr is one of the rare writers capable of translating cheese’s flavors into words. (The blog, actually, goes more into the tastes; the book concentrates more on the cheesemakers.)

We had an e-mail exchange on blogs, books, and Northwest cheese, and only a fraction of Parr’s comments could fit in my review. I’ve included much more of her lengthy, thoughtful replies below. And if anyone wants to take a stab at cheese description in the comments, write in your favorites!

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reginaI’m blogging on food books over at The Christian Science Monitor, and this week I took a (virtual) stab at the Alinea cookbook. The short version is that I couldn’t wait to take a look when I first hauled home my copy. I even thought I knew what I was getting into: Hey, I can hold my own around words like “spherification” and “tapioca maltodextrin,” and I thought The French Laundry Cookbook made good bedtime reading. But after just a few pages, I knew this book was something else. What, I wasn’t sure — I had to connect with some specialists. First came art critic Regina Hackett, who has a flawless talent for talking about art in a way that makes sense to people both in and out of the professional fishbowl. I thought she might have some thoughts on whether Alinea should be considered art. (Certainly, it’s beautiful.) And then I went on to see the good-hearted guys at Spur, the ones who put the “gastro” in “molecular gastronomy”, to get their take.

The full story is here. If you want more of the details I couldn’t fit into that post, they’re after the jump here. And, after the initial blog post ran, the folks at Alinea sent a thoughtful and classy note, letting me know that they had debated these issues when writing the book, and made their choices deliberately. They also made me want to eat at the restaurant. But I am still no Carol Blymire.


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Usually, when I write about Bill Marler, I’m talking about his work as the nation’s go-to lawyer when it comes to  food safety. E. coli in beef? Salmonella in peanut butter? He’s there. But if you’ve heard his name in the last few days, it’s for cleverly — at some personal cost — cutting through rhetoric and restoring Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, to Washington State University’s “common reading” curriculum for incoming freshmen. 

The plug had initially been pulled on the program, in a controversy the Spokesman-Review summarized this way:

A book chosen by a Washington State University committee as appropriate food for thought for all incoming freshmen will not be distributed at summer orientation after a member of the board of regents raised concerns about the work’s focus on problems associated with agribusiness.

WSU’s president said the decision to halt the “common reading” program was related to the university’s financial crisis.”

The college had estimated the book program, which included bringing the author to speak on campus, could cost $40,000+, though that figure has been considerably disputed. (Pollan told The New York Times he could do a videoconference instead.)

Marler, a “Cougar through and through” and past president of the WSU Board of Regents, wrote a few days ago that he had an idea for how to show whether the decision was political or financial:

To show that it was not political, I will pay to get Mr. Pollan to Pullman and find a place for him to speak – I’ll even introduce him.  My hope is that it was not political, because the following quote is what Washington State University – in being a “Coug” – is all about:

“It strikes me that the real value of the university is basically the way it serves the public, researches without fear and favor and being a place where issues can be aired, which are by nature controversial,” said Richard Law, the outgoing director of general education at WSU and a founding member of the common reading committee.

I have my checkbook ready.”

End of story? The university accepted Marler’s offer. The freshmen will read the book, and Pollan is coming. The eminently practical Marion Nestle wrote today that she hoped the program would cost Marler less than $40,000. Marler replied that it wasn’t about the money, it was about some issues being too important to walk away from. He’ll donate anything left over to the next speaker.

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Of course having children changes our lives in fundamental ways. But what writers so often fail to remember are all the ways children don’t change us.

So if you knew Matthew Amster-Burton’s writing before his daughter, Iris, was born, I can tell you he’s still one of the sharpest, funniest food writers around. He operates with a scientist’s sense of kitchen adventure, a well-rounded palate (know anyone else who enrolled in a Thai language class because he liked Thai food?), and a well-calibrated bullshit meter for his own foibles as well as those of others. All these things — smarts, humor, perspective — seem to vanish when otherwise sane people start writing about children and food. That’s what makes Amster-Burton’s first book, Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, a find that should be required packaging with every high chair. 

The subtitle talks about raising an adventurous eater, but the book is mainly common sense perspective for anyone who plans to raise any kind of eater. At childbirth classes, I would hand out the chapter where he talks about the “terrible lie” that most new parents hear about breastfeeding (i.e., that it’s automatic and instantly fulfilling.) For any new parent investing in a blender and baby food purees, I would share Amster-Burton’s recipes for pad thai and bibimbap. And for anyone who doubts whether 5-year-old Iris can be for real, or whether a kid who eats what adults eat  is as charming a literary creation as Sal or Frances, I would refer them to Boom Noodle. That was Iris’s restaurant of choice when I asked Amster-Burton if I could meet them both for lunch, and it’s where Iris politely requested a bento box of “crunchy shrimp,” while my own 2-year-old scarfed down his first plate of okonomiyaki. (Next I want to see if she’ll take my boy to Jerry Traunfeld’s Poppy, her next favorite.)


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Even before we got to the speakers part of the evening, the Palace Ballroom was a microcosm of Seattle’s food world last night. In line for “What We Talk About When We Talk About Food,” I was right behind Kim of A Mighty Appetite, followed a minute later by Bon Vivant and Lorna Yee and Jon Rowley. Then I turned around to say hi to Sheri and Barnaby from Foodista, and met Tea in person for the first time, and it went on from there.

We were all gathered for a book reading and panel discussion led by Maggie Dutton, featuring authors Matthew Amster-BurtonShauna James AhernErica BauermeisterKathleen Flinn, and Molly Wizenberg. The actual readings were fun — Kathleen Flinn turns out to do a mean Julia Child impression, and it was lovely to hear baby Lucy chirp from her father’s arms whenever Shauna spoke. What I enjoy most about these events, though, is learning a little more about the people behind the words. Here are some of the highlights:


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