In this book, part memoir, part cookbook, Anya Von Bremzen traces her family’s history living in Russia (then the Soviet Union) by discussing the type of food they ate. She starts with her maternal grandparents living in Russia in the 1920s but jumps back and forth in time and space between her homeland and 1980s Philadelphia where she and her mother immigrated to. At the end of each chapter Von Bremzen depicts a dinner party her mother is hosting in the present day, where she and Anya are attempting to cook through the history of Soviet food.
Unsurprisingly there is a lot of hardship throughout the book, especially when Anya is discussing life in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. In addition to the food rations, Von Bremzen also discusses the indoctrination of Soviet youth and how her mother was once a proud Soviet citizen before becoming disillusioned with the system. The depictions of the meals are vivid, although I could have definitely used a glossary; I had a hard time keeping all the Russian terms straight and knowing what was what.
At the end of the book Von Bremzen has included a number of recipes discussed in the book and I am looking forward to trying my hand at at least one of them. I had been familiar with Russian cuisine from its imperial age (Thanks Anna Karenina), but know less about Soviet cooking. I love food and think that cooking another culture’s cuisine is the perfect way to get to know them.
This podcast from The Table Set that discusses hosting a Russian themed dinner party.
Recipe To Try:
An adaptation of Anya Von Bremen’s pirozhki recipe from the tasting table.
A video showing the AV Club sampling Soviet Sodas.
It’s quite surprising given that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks are my two favourite actors, that I hadn’t seen Catch Me If You Can. I saw it on Netflix, gave it a try, and loved it. Obviously. The next step was to read the book, which was equally as entertaining especially since I didn’t realize that Frank Abagnale was a real person who did pose as a Pan-Am pilot among other things.
There are some striking differences between Abagnale’s memoir and the movie, most notably Tom Hank’s character doesn’t actually chase Abagnale around the world and all of his mishaps don’t really happen. Abagnale is able to avoid capture by law enforcement in multiple countries but the Detective is much smarter than the bumbling Tom Hanks.
Overall the book is a great companion to the movie. Abagnale goes to great length detailing exactly how he accomplished his multiple cons including posing as a doctor, a lawyer, and most famously a Pan-Am pilot. A con like his would be impossible to pull off in today’s internet driven world, but it’s still fun to think about and quite unbelievable what Abagnale was able to actually get away with. This was a great read and well worth it.
Recommended Reading: This article in which Frank Abagnale talks about the demise of the con artist amid the rose of cybercrime.
Continuing with my love of food writing I picked up Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef and liked it almost immediately. Gibney blends his journalistic style of writing into the Anthony Bourdain-world of being a chef that Gibney inhabits. This is by no means the first account of what it’s like to work in a kitchen of a restaurant, nor do I think it will be the last, but Gibney presents his story in a creative way telling the story in the form of “24-hours on the line.”
Gibney takes the reader through every stage of his day from ordering food to kitchen prep to staff tastings and finally closing and after work activities, giving a glimpse into the effect that the job can, and does have, on his personal life. Working such insane and unpredictable hours make it difficult to maintain friendships with people who don’t work in the industry. As Gibney writes however, he enjoys the people he does work with and the strong sense of camaraderie comes through in his writing.
The only complaint I have is the overuse of jargon. I can forgive this though, Gibney is a chef and writing with the terms he uses on a daily basis makes this an authentic experience. There’s also a glossary of terms at the back which was helpful. While this book isn’t a huge game changer it’s a quick paced and enjoyable look at the life of a sous chef.
For some reason reading this felt kind of like reading Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, if that book had been written for adults and if Margaret had turned out to be a lesbian later in life. This was a great read in which Florence King details her life growing up in Washington DC under the tutelage of her Grandmother, determined to make Florence a lady despite failing with her own daughter, Florence’s mother.
While this book is Florence King’s memoir and tells the story of her life from growing up in the 1950s in Washington to her pursuit of higher education before falling in love with professional writing, Florence’s grandmother is by far the best part of this book. Her grandmother’s obsession with feminine weakness, even to the point of competition with other women over whether nervous breakdowns, or “female troubles,” were the true marker of femininity, is the most hilarious part of Florence’s story and becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the whole book.
Even though King writes about her grandmother with a sense of humour, she still maintains a great deal of respect for her and it becomes clear how much of an impact having such a strong willed grandmother, and mother, albeit in a different sense, had on her life. King writes beautifully which makes her memoirs a treat to read and enjoy.
As someone who loves Candy, I was excited to read Steve Almond’s book about his journey to the chocolate underbelly of America. While I love chocolate and candy, I do not think that anyone is as much of a self proclaimed freak as Steve Almond.
In this book that is part autobiography, part inside look at the small-scale candy industry, Almond takes the reader on a journey to the lesser known candy factories throughout the United States, a part of American culture which is often forgotten. Almond tours factory after factory sampling regional candy bars such as the Clark Bar, the Caravelle, Haviland Thin Mints, the Twin Bing, Valomilks and the Idaho Spud to name a few, detailing each the history, manufacturing process, and taste of each bar for the reader.
I liked this book, but found that Almond was sometimes trying too hard to engage with the reader with his self-deprecating view of himself. I also often found myself bitter and jealous anytime Almond mentioned the cases of free candy he received after all his visits. One thing I did find interesting however is how the industry favours the big companies so much. This should not come as a surprise, but often time these smaller companies cannot pay the shelf fee to have a presence in grocery stores or national chains like wal-mart and thus are resigned to producing chocolate bars for regional/local consumers. If you’ve ever looked at the knock-off chocolate bars next to the cash register at Dollerama, chances are they were produced by one of these factories.
It’s and interesting book and definitely a must read for anyone interested in the industry, or obsessed with candy in general.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, and even while reading, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Upon further reflection however, I decided that this book is quintessentially Steve Martin.
First off, Martin takes himself a bit more seriously in his writing than I was expecting him to. He starts with stories about his life growing up, and his tumultuous relationship with his father, and his sister. He began working at Disney world at a young age where he got a taste of performing (originally in a magic shop) and decided that he wanted to be a performer. In his typical style however, Martin will often be telling a seemingly very heartfelt and touching story only to add a sarcastic comment right at the very end leaving the reading guessing as to his intentions.
Overall I really liked the insights that Martin’s memoirs provided into his life and into the comedy scene at the time. While I growing up, I was only ever familiar with Steve Martin as a movie actor, my parents always talked about how funny his stand up was. It was only in recent years that I have watched, and re-watched footage of a very young Steve Martin performing in comedy clubs and on Saturday Night Live. He writes very fondly about performing on SNL, the people there, and the routines he came up with. It was interesting to see the roots of his comedy routines, and all the factors that contributed to Martin’s very unique sense of humour.
For those unfamiliar with Pattie Boyd, she is most famous for being both the wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, inspiring a slew of famous songs in her wake (Something, Layla, Wonderful Tonight). In her memoirs she tells of her experiences with both men in her own words.
Obviously there are always different sides to different stories regarding what actually transpired. Pattie Boyd was probably slammed in the media for leaving George Harrison for Eric Clapton, and here in her own writing, Boyd has the chance to justify her actions, not that they need justification to begin with.
While Boyd is writing in a way that puts her in a slightly better light, I think that everyone has to acknowledge that being in a relationship with such creative people would not be an easy task. She details how difficult life was married to George, a member of the most influential rock band, and then with Eric Clapton. While sometimes the book can be a little too “woe is me,” I don’t think that Boyd is overstating the challenges she faced in her relationship with both these men.
What I liked the most about this book was the fact that even though Pattie Boyd was the inspiration behind so many famous songs, she does not take the credit for them and states quite openly that the songs were only written due to the immense talent that both these men possessed.
Overall I liked her writing and it provides a good insight into the world of the 1960s-1970s British rock scene.