Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
(Knopf, 2016, 368 pages)
I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader’s copy of Sweetbitter. There has been a lot of buzz about this title, and it was certainly well-written. Set in New York we come to the city along with our protagonist, Tess. A young woman from the Midwest, Tess feels like she can finally embrace the future she’s envisioned for herself. She is pleasantly surprised when she’s offered a job at one of the top restaurants in New York. She starts low on the ladder but she is quickly taken under the wing of Simone (a server who has been at the restaurant for decades) and just as quickly Tess finds herself falling for the distant but appealing bartender named Jake.
Jake and Simone have a unique relationship and as Tess tries to find her place with the two of them, the reader learns the ins and outs of the restaurant business along with her. I think Danler does a great job catching the inner workings of the restaurant scene. It wasn’t as food-focused as I’d thought it would be, but Danler did an amazing job depicting the excitement of the world of wine.
Look for more buzz this month – the book has a pub date of May 24th.
Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal by Jenny Rosenstrach
(Ballantine Books, 2014, 240 pages)
My last cookbook-focused review was earlier in April and I talked about how much I enjoyed Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners. Well, this book shows how serious I am about wanting to get back in the kitchen. Rosenstrach got into the food world thanks to her popular blog, Dinner: A Love Story. This little cookbook is meant to be a motivator for parents who value the idea of family dinner but feel overwhelmed at the idea of trying to pull one together every night. I’m lucky enough to have a husband that enjoys cooking, but I miss my time in the kitchen. As it stands, when I want to make dinner I often feel like there’s not enough time to do it and that I don’t have anything in the kitchen anyway. This book helped change my kitchen outlook.
Rosenstrach presents a “challenge” wherein you have family dinners for 30 days. She outlines how to approach everything from shopping and food prep to convincing picky eaters to eat what you serve. A lot of the recipes seem so simple, and that’s kind of the key. Sometimes you just need someone to lay everything out for you. I pulled a number of recipes from this book that I can easily implement for my family. Plus I’m using the tips she offered on how to effectively stock my pantry/fridge/freezer and making the most use of my time by getting some food prep tasks out of the way on the weekends or in the morning.
I definitely plan on picking up her memoir in the near future because I really appreciated her approach to cooking and family. If you’re in something of a cooking rut and want to reinvigorate your family meals, this is a great book to pick up.
Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners by Sara Moulton
(Simon & Schuster, 2010, 400 pages)
Oh, how I’ve missed reading about food! I discovered Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners when I realized I was in something of a food rut at home and wanted to find a cookbook that could help guide me out of it. I just don’t have the time to play around in the kitchen like I used to now that I’m constantly keeping an eye on a toddler who has to explore everything.
This cookbook is one I definitely plan on buying and adding to my collection. I really liked Moulton’s writing style. Each recipe had a short introduction and then the recipes themselves were clearly written and easy to follow. There are also tips and tricks interspersed throughout. The nature of the cookbook is to make it easy to put together a good, quality family meal on a weeknight when time is always at a premium. There were a lot of recipes I wanted to try, some with ingredients I might not otherwise gravitate towards.
Lest you doubt, I did read this whole cookbook 🙂 If you’re looking for ways to change up your family’s food repertoire this would be a good place to start – even if you’re something of a cooking novice.
Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook
(W. W. Norton & Company, 2015, 336 pages)
Normally when it comes to books that address things like animal treatment and factory farming I tend to steer clear because I don’t like feeling depressed about the nature of our food system. But Estabrook’s Pig Tales seemed to offer the promise of ending on a brighter note rather than being all doom and gloom. The book focuses on how pigs are typically raised for slaughter and how it is detrimental to the animals, the environment, and society as a whole. But he goes forward from here and offers examples of farmers that are doing things humanely, healthily, and successfully.
This was a really good read. While it’s definitely depressing at times, it does offer ways to encourage the general public to speak with their wallets. Take the time to seek out sustainable meat options – yes, it might be more expensive but you’re paying for quality and humanely raised meat. I won’t get on a soapbox, but I did come away from this book more aware of what I could do and what could be done more broadly to enable the animals raised for us to eat to have a better quality of life before giving it up.
The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee
(St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 375 pages)
The Glass Kitchen is the story of a gal named Portia Cuthcart. Portia and her sisters were raised by their grandmother in Texas after the death of their parents. Her grandmother owned a restaurant called The Glass Kitchen and Portia helped her run it. Portia was always fascinated by the fact that her grandmother would always come up with a different and very elaborate menu every day and inevitably it would suit the needs of her customers. Her grandmother called this magical gift “the knowing” and as it turns out, the gift has been passed down to Portia.
Portia never intended to leave Texas or The Glass Kitchen, but after the death of her grandmother and a failed marriage she is led to New York to be closer to her sisters and to forget about cooking. As she is trying to put the pieces of her life back together and keep cooking out of it, “the knowing” is trying very hard to make its way back into her life.
Linda Francis Lee did a wonderful job with this story. It is sweet, magical, and quirky with lovable characters and so much sensational food! This would be a good choice for foodies who love a story about engaging romance, friendship, and power of family.
Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen
(Doubleday, 2013, 368 pages)
I don’t remember what prompted me to reread Blue Plate Special but this time around I was reading it with a different understanding of its author. Christensen has written a number of novels that I really enjoyed. The kicker is that I didn’t pick any of them up until after reading this memoir back in 2013. If you’ve followed my reviews you know that if it’s a book that’s in some way related to food I’m all over it. So even though I wasn’t familiar with Christensen’s work, at the time the book sounded like it would appeal to me. And it did.
Rereading this book allowed me to see just how much of herself Christensen has put into her novels. She has a follow-up book coming out shortly called How to Cook a Moose that is meant to pick up where this book left off (where Christensen is happily living in Maine with a man half her age). I’ll certainly be reading it because I like this author and I like food-related memoirs.
Even though this book didn’t “wow” me, it did turn me on to Christensen’s work and I’m so glad it did. You don’t need to have read her fiction to appreciate Blue Plate Special, but I think it adds something to the reading experience if you have. For more of a summary of the book you can check out my first review of this title 🙂
Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food
by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
(Vermilion, 2008, 256 pages)
This was a different type of food book from what I used to read, but with a baby in my life and starting to eat solids this was a book I was curious about. Essentially Rapley and Murkett make the case that you don’t need to go through the process of introducing your child to food by spoon-feeding them super-pureed baby food. They explain that once your child is old enough to start eating solids you can allow them to eat the foods you are eating. Obviously there are guidelines with what types of foods you should share and how they should be “prepared,” but the point is that babies will respond well to exposure to different tastes and textures.
The logic is pretty sound. Starting out babies don’t have a lot of dexterity so you’ll want to offer food that it will be easy for them to grab in their fists and eventually maneuver to their mouths. With that in mind, the idea of them choking on food isn’t really something you need to worry about. Also, the case has been made that this approach helps children to be more adventurous eaters while simultaneously encouraging the family to eat healthier as a whole (if you don’t want your baby to eat it, you shouldn’t eat it yourself). So less processed foods and encouraging the “family meal” dynamic from a young age are just a few of the perks from baby-led weaning.
I already started testing a few things out with my daughter this weekend. While I’m still going to use the baby food I have at home, I’m also going to feel more comfortable with the idea of exposing her to the food I’m eating and allowing her to explore her food however she wants. I’m already used to the extra cleaning that comes into play when a baby’s diet expands so we might as well all have fun with it. 😉
This is a book I’d recommend if you’re a parent who’s interested in learning more about different ways you can approach introducing new foods to your child.