4 Irresistible Summer Reads for Food Lovers

It’s the dog days of summer, time for lounging by the pool with a novel, reading on a blanket near your cabin, or hanging in your hammock with a book.

The point is to be outside. My favorite place to read food writing is my sun deck’s lounge chair, perhaps followed by a nap. There’s something luxurious about dreaming on a summer day.

So what’s good to read right now? I’m not talking about summer cookbooks. There are lots of lists of those. Instead, here’s a mix of novels, memoir and non-fiction narratives, some old and new, that are worth your time when you’re prone in the sun or sitting in dappled shade:

1. The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones. It’s been out since 2007, but I resisted reading this book for years, even though friends kept telling me about it.

I finally read this novel and couldn’t put it down. It’s a love story about a food writer who goes to Beijing for a magazine assignment and meets a chef. I also learned about the Chinese culinary arts and ancient food culture and enjoyed every minute. The author was a freelancer for Gourmet magazine who travelled to China frequently, and she’s a powerful storyteller. [Read more…]

Agent Couldn't Sell Her Memoir, so Cookbook Author Publishes it Anyway

It took Kitty Morse 10 years to write her memoir. Her agent couldn’t sell it, even though she was an award-winning cookbook author. (Photo by Owen Morse.)

A guest post by Kitty Morse

As a cookbook writer with nine books under my belt, I always harbored a desire to write a memoir centered around Dar Zitoun, the riad that my father willed my brothers and me 50 miles south of my native Casablanca. I fantasized about writing my own story, free of editorial constraints such as word counts. But how? I was just a cookbook writer.

Frances Mayes’ bestselling Under the Tuscan Sun provided the impetus I sought. Her stories of restoring a Tuscan farmhouse struck me as similar to those I experienced at Dar Zitoun. I too was living on two continents and learning to deal with [Read more…]

Food Studies at Universities Now Includes Blogs, Memoirs and Recipes

Food Memoirist Judith Newton was surprised to learn her book is studied in university classes. (Photo by Eliot Khuner)

A guest post by Judith Newton

Judith Newton is Professor Emerita in Women and Gender Studies at U.C. Davis. Her recent food memoir, Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen won an IPPY (Independent Publishers Award) in May. She blogs at Tasting Home and the Huffington Post.

In American Food Studies classes, college undergraduates read the food blogs Smitten Kitchen, Orangette, Pinch My Salt, and The Pioneer Woman Cooks with the keen eyes of anthropologists studying the customs of an unfamiliar land.

They analyze the values embodied in recipes, cookbooks, food-related memoir, and fiction. They also study film, cooking shows from classic [Read more…]

Go On a Quest: Write a Food Memoir

Food memoirs are shaping up as “quests” these days, quite tidy and well organized. If you can master the form, there’s room for your story.

But first, as always, you’ll have competition from chefs, who are still writing traditional memoir. Typically, these books bore me (except for Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential). But then I read Blood, Bones & Butter, an adrenaline-fueled memoir of Gabriel Hamilton’s relentless ambition to make good food and find love. It won the Beard award for Best Writing & Literature earlier this year.

Like Bourdain, Hamilton has the writing chops to craft an exceptional story. Lest you think these two were both just chefs when penning their memoirs, The New Yorker published Bourdain’s first story, and he had [Read more…]

A New Take on Food Memoir

Time for an embarrassing confession: I stopped reading food memoirs. After leafing through dozens in the past few years I found they cover the same territory: nostalgic stories about growing up around food; cooking challenges; and/or  escapist travels and idyllic stays in Italy and France. There’s a similarity to the authors as well. They’re mostly white, middle-class women.

images-1Now, since I am a white, middle-class woman, I can’t say  the themes are unattractive. I was just bored. Enter Novella Carpenter. I heard her read from her food memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, at a Berkeley church. Now here’s a white woman  who does the hard work of raising animals that I won’t do (including growing 350-pound pigs  in an abandoned lot), in a part of Oakland that’s not gentrified enough for people like me. I thought she was a little insane, but I couldn’t get enough. She was hilarious, cranky, sweet, intellectual and humble in a hip, white trash kind of way. I don’t know any food writers who swear easily, mention chin hair, or dumpster dive to feed their pigs, for example.

But along with that foreignness, she fit in to where we middle-class white women are at. Right now it’s so cool to raise a few chickens,  can your own produce from a vegetable garden, and wonder where your food comes from a la Michael Pollan. And when it came time to process one of her pigs, she ends up in a trendy Cal-Ital restaurant learning how to break down its carcass from a former Chez Panisse chef. Then she makes prosciutto and other cured meats, right back to the Eurocentric themes so dear to food writers and foodies.

Even when she writes about eating, it’s not the usual reverie. When her boyfriend tastes her home-raised braised saddle of rabbit, she writes: “‘This is better than chicken,’ he said, smacking his lips and slicing off another piece of juicy meat. Then, be still my heart, he gave me a sloppy kiss before stuffing more rabbit into his mouth.”  How refreshingly politically incorrect.

After her reading, her professor, Michael Pollan beamed as he asked her questions. She was an older student at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Imagine getting support and advice from one of the most revered food writers of our day. I tried not to be too jealous. Mostly, I couldn’t wait to read the book.

imagesI reserved my copy online at the Oakland Public Library. Only 45 people ahead of me. When my turn came, I read Farm City straight through, fascinated by the sacrifices she made to raise her own food in the hippest kind of way, quoting Wendell Berry and all.

I’m planning to take a tour of her farm during Oakland’s Eat Real festival weekend at the end of this month. She has foolishly agreed to give a tour to the public, and has no idea how many middle class white women like me plan to show up.