Yes, I know, I know. IT'S A COOKBOOK!#$%!! And we don't read cookbooks for 18 Reasons' Food Lit Book Club!
But, actually, it's a graphic novel. So that counts.
I really enjoyed Dirt Candy, because of its visual component, but also because Cohen seems always to be representing the minority view of her subject, whether it is
restaurateurs and diners, historic French cuisine versus the rest of the world or vegetables for dinner.
Toby Sonneman is passionate about lemons. When faced with debilitating migraine headaches she stopped eating different foods one-by-one, in hope of discovering the cause. After dramatically restricting her diet, lemons were the ingredient she longed for the most. So Sonneman vowed never to take them for granted again.
But past the introduction this book isn’t about its author at all, which is a refreshing change and may partially explain why Lemon was so popular with my Food Lit club. After reading more than 42 other food lit books over the past three-ish years, we have realized that while memoir and creative non-fiction can include elements of each other, a single book cannot be both at the same time. Either the personal narrative competes with that of other people and events, making the author’s self reflection appear superfluous and heavy-handed, or the details of those same people and events get in the way of the author’s own story, which bogs down the pace and continuity of her monograph.
Instead, Toby Sonneman has written an engaging and well illustrated history of the lemons themselves. An “ancient natural cross-breed” of citron and mandarin, two of the three naturally occurring wild citrus species that originated around twenty million years ago, lemons first came to the western world with Muslim Arabs as they traveled from India and Persia, “filling gardens and courtyards in Spain, Sicily and North Africa”. The lemon was not the first citrus to gain popularity in the Mediterranean however, that title goes to the citron, which was (and still is) considered sacred to Jews, who discovered it in Babylonia and then introduced it to Palestine, where the armies of Alexander the Great brought it with them to Europe.
Sonneman further traces the development of the fruit into modern times, giving detailed reports about its cultivation and culinary traditions in Sicily, throughout Europe and on into the United States. The book is sprinkled with vignettes of the men responsible for much of the written history on citrus that the author draws from and it is fascinating to learn the background of how we know so much of what we know. She also covers the nutritional benefits of lemons - how they solved a centuries old problem causing the death of more than 2/3 of the sailors on many voyages until 1795 and then became a health drink and beauty aid in the twentieth century.
Lemon is a quick and fun read. It is also one of the best sort of books that inspire further investigation: Sonneman’s vivid descriptions of paradisal gardens along the lemon’s historical trail have enticed me to visit Sicily’s Lemon Riviera, Granada’s Alhambra Palace and eventually tackle a trip to the middle east in search of citrus trees. For starters, I’ll be be researching a variety of new and old Middle Eastern cookbooks and checking my local library for Giovanni Batista Ferrari’s Hesperides.
Author Charlotte Druckman interviewed over 70 female chefs
from around the United States for this book, and that is no small feat in itself. She has also done a great job of organizing those interviews into a cohesive narrative, teasing out frequently reiterated issues and concerns and actually offering a surprising yet realistic resolution (I, for one, didn't see it coming) to the problem she addresses head on: what can be done to get and keep more women chefs in professional kitchens?
Marcus Saumuelsson lives with the deference and respect of a nice Swedish boy and he works with the dedication of a driven Swedish man, or at least that is the feeling I get. Having not known many Swedes in my life or visited their country yet, I cannot say for sure.
Throughout his memoir he is sweet in his respect for of his parents, family and daughter, strong in his desire to succeed and surprising in his candor. Compared to most other chefs' coming of age memoirs, this one brings far more than stories of frenetic bosses and bad behavior. The authors introduce Swedish, Ethiopian and African-American cultural history, keep an eye on the development of dining and celebrity chefs in the nineties and naughties and offer hard-won encouragement for a having a good work ethic.
A joy to read, "Yes, Chef" is one of my favorite books of 2012.
Madhur Jaffrey is not only an award winning actress, but also the author of 29 cookbooks, which she has been publishing since the year I was born (that's 1973, if you must know). Jaffrey is often recognized for introducing Indian cooking to Americans and this fascinating insight into her childhood helps explain why she is so well suited for that role.
Growing up in a family associasted with both the British Raj and and traditional Hindu culture, Climbing the Mango Trees tells of Jaffrey's struggle to exist simultaneously within these differnt worlds. It is also a great introduction to the politics of mid-twentieth century India, especially leading up to, during and immediately after the country's partition into modern India and Pakistan, which occured in 1947.
In spite of personal struggles faced by Jaffrey and her family, her Indian childhood sparkles with the joy of ripe fruit and magical spices, along with the kindness of family. All together they shape the woman she becomes, bringing grace, beauty and patience to her voice as a writer, actor and teacher.