The Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn

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Certain memoirs grab me but if you add a foodie element to the mix, count me in.  This was a well written accounting of Emily Nunn’s journey and healing process after her brother’s suicide, the lack of emotional support from her significant other and facing alcoholism.

Some of my random thoughts after reading this book: 

    • Every one us deals with loss and death differently.  Some are stoic, some fall apart at every little thing and others keep it together only to collapse emotionally later.
    • She deleted Oliver’s messages without listening to them! Both of my siblings are now deceased but neither took their  lives.  Not that it would have played a factor as far as unheard/unread messages from them. When I read that part I actually exclaimed aloud, “She deleted the messages!  Why would she do that?” Because I placed myself in that situation, and I would have reacted differently.  No right or wrong about it, everyone deals differently.
      • The breakup was so cold and one sided with emotion.  I tried to consider the very small amount of empathy with a side of  annoyance The Engineer displayed when he was confronted with Emily’s grief?  It was so black and white and zero gray areas for him.

     

     

    • Checking into the hospital – that scene where Emily needed to go and had the strength to know it, to act on it, was pure raw emotion.
    • The scenes where she and her sister Elaine visit their father was good yet sad.  I miss my father, he’s been gone over 10 years now but the proverbial heartstrings are pulled now and then, especially when I read those chapters. I had quite a bit of empathy for the father and how they left off with his portion of the story.
  • Maggie, the rescue poodle, actually belonged to Emily’s sister Elaine. This wasn’t clear to me in the beginning of the book and I fretted about Maggie for a bit, worried she was abandoned again.  But she wasn’t, she is Elaine’s dog and was cared for.

I swear, characters can die in books but nothing tears me up like an animal who gets abused, abandoned or killed.  That makes me cry.  Yeah, I’m like that.

All the talk about food had me inspired to cook and bake.  I made French bread, always a favorite here, and slow roasted tomatoes.  There were soooo many recipes in this book.   That’s all I have.  Thoughts from anyone who read this one?  Did you like it?

Provence 1970. Enjoying conversations from Beard, Child, Olney & Fisher

1970ProvenceProvence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste

I have been a fan of Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher for some time now. This book intrigued the Francophile and the foodie side of me. Imagine being in Provence in 1970 when some of the esteemed creative forces in the food industry meet up. That’s a recipe for success and great stories (yes, pun intended). Fisher has written wonderful books full of detail – through her notes we are treated to a play-by-play of some of the meals and conversations shared between Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney and M.F.K. Fisher.

Way before the Food Network was a staple on television and chefs held a celebrity status, these four were enjoying good basic foods and inspired to teach the average American cook to use fresh ingredients. Julia, and her writing partner Simone Beck, sought to make French foods simple and less formal for us average cooks. As I mentioned, there are good stories in this book but some of it is evidently conjecture by the author Luke Barr. He is the nephew of M.F.K. Fisher and had access to her notes. But there are some stories and conversations that can’t be anything other than pure speculation on Barr’s part.

There were disagreements between the aforementioned food giants, that’s natural, but some of the portrayals and scenes were quite uncomplimentary. Was Olney truly such an odious man? Who knows as they are all deceased and so, no rebuttal will be possible.

The scenes of Provence are written of in great detail, you can almost smell the food and flowers. The menus are equally detailed, some have your mouth watering. Overall I give this book a solid 3 out of 5. Great detail, I just question some of the conversations.

A basic dish I see in many books for us Franophiles is Quiche. This simple recipe may be viewed at Squirrel Head Manor.

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*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions, nice and no-so-nice are my own 🙂

Adding my review to Goodreads and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

kitchenCONFID Anthony Bourdain is a very descriptive story teller. Using the written word to present his childhood interactions with food, you can vividly imagine his first experience with “stinky runny cheeses that smelled like a dead man’s feet.” Couldn’t you almost smell the salty air when he described the taste of his first salty oyster (“this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive”).

If he truly did experience this at the tender age of nine and honestly did not recoil at smelly food or the look of a goopy oyster fresh from the sea…..then he must indeed have been destined to make a living and relationship with fine foods and acquired taste cuisines.

Perhaps his calling was planted when he was young and impressionable, visiting France with his parents and being exposed to a very different culture than I was as a child in a blue collar American household. We didn’t equate sensuousness with food. At least it wasn’t evident to my young palate or outlook on life. But then my parents were not able to whisk me away for a month long vacation in France.

I am older than Anthony Bourdain by a mere 23 days. We grew up in very different circumstances. For his summer vacations he was exposed to watered down wine, oysters and tangy cheeses. Me on the other, well I was ferried to Atlantic City New Jersey, the two hour ride bringing me closer to the salty air and promise of salt water taffy, hot roasted peanuts from a boardwalk vendor, raspberry fudge and a seafood dinner of fried clams at Captain Starn’s restaurant.

I am presenting one of my favorite French dishes, Chicken Chasseur, in honor of this book. The cookbook info and recipe for this delectable dish may be found at Squirrel Head Manor.

Happy reading!

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin

Apprentice
This is one of the most engaging memoirs I have read in a long time. I didn’t know anything about Jacques Pepin’s personal life, his childhood or training in the culinary industry. After reading this book I know so much about him and enjoyed each and every chapter. The funniest story, ok it was a little gross too, was about the calf’s heads. Actually there were many amusing stories in this book so it’s hard to pick just one.

Sometimes memoirs can be dry, a bit on the boring side. Not this one. I found myself reading some passages aloud to my husband.

As a child he worked in his mother’s restaurants and loved the hectic pace. His younger brother Bichon was the same way while older brother Roland felt it was slavery. As Jacques moved to an apprentice position in his first real job you learned how the new kid was “initiated” by running a fool’s errand for the chef.

He was sent off to a neighboring restaurant to get a heavy kitchen appliance where it had supposedly been loaned. Oh no, they had loaned it to another restaurant and so, off he ran. He was sent on to other places until he secured the item, making his way back across the village with a heavy load strapped to his back. It was just a load of bricks but it showed the drive and initiative of the young apprentice.

As he gained more experience he moved to larger restaurants and more responsibility. Learning to cook by observing and making a dish over and over and over was the teaching method. No recipes, no measurements.

The most surprising thing to me was he was in on the ground floor of Howard Johnson’s restaurants learning to reproduce good quality food that would be consistent in any of the HJ restaurants. He turned down a chance to work as a white house chef under the Kennedy administration to pursue his initial (American) career at HoJos. The standards were higher back then and you didn’t get sub-quality foods. That changed over the years, particularly after Howard Deering Johnson died. Subsequent owners concerned themselves with cutting costs at the expensive of good dining.

Reading about the differences in French and American cultures as seen through young Pepin’s eyes was interesting. Can you imagine being mocked for asking a question in a college class?

That was another good chapter where Pepin saw a startling difference between the two nations. Showing up for a dinner and patiently awaiting the bread and wine to arrive, only to realize the American hosts were tucking into their roast beef, potatoes and carrots without a thought of wine. Many more examples are detailed and I don’t want to ruin some of these stories for anyone who has not read the book.

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You’ll meet Pierre Franey, Craig Claiborne and Julia Child in this book and hear of their good times and business involvements. You’ll learn about hunting wild mushrooms, his military service, working for de Gaulle and his first experiences arriving in America.

Recipes follow each chapter so there are many to select and drool over. French cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. Any of the French cookbooks I own call for absolute simplicity and this is what Pepin delivers.

Semi-Dry Tomatoes and Mozzarella Salad

1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes (about 6) cut lengthwise into halves
¾ teaspoon salt
10 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into ½ inch slices
2 tablespoons drained capers
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
About 1 cup loose basil leaves

Method

Preheat oven to 250 F. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Arrange tomato halves cut side up on the sheet and sprinkle ½ teaspoon of the salt on top. Bake 4 hours. For a shortcut you can heat the oven up to 400 F and put the tomatoes in then turn off the oven. I do this as an overnight method sometimes.

Now remove tomatoes from the oven and place in a serving bowl. Let them cool then add mozzarella, capers, remaining salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and lemon rind. Mix gently to combine.

Drop basil leaves into boiling water and cook about 10 seconds. Drain and cool under cold running water. Press basil between your palms to remove most of the water, then chop finely. Add to salad and toss well.

Let’s have a toast to Jacques Pepin!

I am cross posting to my foodie blog, Squirrel Head Manor.

Adding my review to Goodreads, Words and Peace French Book Challenge and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Words And Peace

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

sous Sous Chef by Michael Gibney is another be behind-the-scenes look at life in the kitchen of a busy restaurant. It’s hectic, stressful, hot and fast paced. The book encompasses 24 hours in the life of a sous chef. It’s a collection of interesting events and moments that occur during a 24 hour time frame, from prep to plating a delicious meal.

Informal story telling in a similar fashion to Bill Buford (Heat) makes this an interesting narrative. When I read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Buford’s Heat I was certain it takes a special breed to survive the long, hot shifts in the kitchen. Sous Chef confirms it. I like the focus on one position in the kitchen (sous chef) and interactions with the chef, wait staff and more. It’s not helter skelter in the kitchen as one may think when you see scenes of people rushing about with plates, wine glasses, food being dished up by cooks…it’s organized chaos. Except to them, it’s not chaos. Everyone has a job and everyone adheres to their duties. There is structure.

This would not be the life for me but I am happy there are dedicated artists in the kitchen who provide us with memorable meals. It was an easy read, enjoyable. Sending it on to my sister-in-law who is also a foodie lit lover.

A simple but delicious meal is what I have here to represent the book. For no particular reason, just because it was pretty, it tastes great and it was my last time eating pearled couscous. (We have since gone gluten free due to health reasons. If you want to read about our healthy living project click HERE)

Tuck into this roasted chicken with balsamic onion sauce, pearled couscous and pole beans.

One of my favorite book sites is Beth Fish Reads. She did a much better job with the description/review of this book which you may read HERE.

Adding my review to Goodreads and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Happy reading!!