After the first few seasons of Downton Abbey exploded in the United States, books like this one started to be published and quickly became a dime a dozen. There’s nothing especially remarkable about this particular book, but I liked it nonetheless. Mollie was obviously a spitfire in her day and that spirit and sass comes through in her writing even though she was 93 at the time this was published.
This book takes place pretty close to the Downton Abbey period as Mollie takes up service just before the Second World War. Her memoirs detail the friendships she made (and kept) as well as the hardships she bore and the things she learned as she worked her way up from scullery maid to head chef in a manor house. The appendix also contains a number or recipes that are made reference to throughout Mollie’s writing. She writes about the importance of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a book I’ve become quite familiar with, and includes one of my favourite quotes, “Sauces are to cookery what grammar is to language.”
It’s a neat little read and while it doesn’t shed light on anything particularly new about the time period, fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy it.
I came across a recommendation for this book as I was looking for more food writing to read. I knew absolutely nothing about Eddie Huang except that he started BaoHaus in New York. Huang turned out to be super interesting and I sped through this book.
First, not only is Huang a chef, but he also studied Law before deciding to open a restaurant. He writes extensively about his experiences growing up, his tumultuous relationships with both his parents and struggling with his identity as an Asian-American. As a teenager Huang caused all kind of trouble ending up in fights and getting arrested at one point in time before deciding to turn his life around. Even still Huang never fit the mold of the stereotypical Asian-American and complains about all the advocacy groups he encountered on campus who refused to try and break through the “Bamboo Ceiling.”
Huang’s writing style is also great, it’s conversational and flows so well, which is unsurprising as he is a huge fan of R&B and hip-hop, which is reflected in his writing. Huang is also so educated and it was hilarious reading about his experiences in school. One second the dude is praising Kanye and talking smack about specific basketball players and then in the next line he’s dropping quotes from The English Patient, and going on about how Jonathan Swift changed his life.
I loved this book, it’s more Anthony Bourdain than Anthony Bourdain’s own writing. I so badly want to go to Baohaus (Because I loved this book, as well as a good Bao). Because this book is about Huang’s growing up, it’s not exclusively about food and can appeal to a wide audience. I haven’t seen any of the show yet, but I’m definitely planning on starting.
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.