Monday, August 31, 2015

more books about food

I have a research project in mind, and it is giving me the perfect excuse to read endless numbers of cooking memoirs and other books about food. Here are a few I've read lately:

Image result for poor man's feastPoor Man's Feast is Elissa Altman's lovely memoir about falling in love and the food that accompanied that process. Altman's upbringing involved fancy, fancy food, and she is in love with tall food and expensive ingredients and elaborate cooking, yet Susan cooks simply yet in ways that nourish more fully. These memoir explores what it means to eat well, and Altman gently mocks the tall, ridiculously overpriced meals while also revealing her family history. The book is primarily about food and love. I highly recommend reading this one: the recipes it contains are mouthwatering (I was craving tomato sandwiches for days), and the writing is outstanding. Altman also keeps a blog, Poor Man's Feast, which I intend to read after devouring this incredible memoir.
Image result for bon appetempt
The second book I happily plowed through was Bon Appetempt: A Coming of Age Story by Amelia Morris. Morris also began her memoir in blog format, creating Bon Appetempt as an avenue to mock the notion of perfection. (She would post a picture of a food-styled recipe, then her own less successful, though delicious, attempt). The memoir focuses on Morris's coming-of-age, her transition from six-year-old wrestler, to awkward teen, to adult and mother. She gives us the story of her family, often wonderful and supportive but also dysfunctional and troubled, and how she worked to make it as a writer in LA, more often failing (and flailing) than succeeding. Morris's voice is engaging and funny, and while there are moments of gravity throughout the text, the overall message is full of love and delight. And this book's recipes also add to the story and are things you'd actually enjoy eating, rooted as they are in specific moments of time in Morris's life.

Image result for four kitchensFinally, Lauren Shockey's Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris was one book that is the exception that proves the rule about the cooking memoirs I'm most interested in looking at. Originally, I grabbed the book because it looked interesting, but I didn't think it would match what I've been examining in other cooking memoirs, memoirs that often start out as blogs written by women who are not trained chefs but who link their memories to the food they ate or cooked. These memoirs invite their reader to eat with them, to share their table and their memories. Shockey's book starts off a little gimicky--she wants to learn about food, so she takes a year to cook in four professional kitchens around the world. Unlike the other texts, there is no love interest; however, like the other memoirs, there is a yearning to connect with food and feed people. Shockey may be trained as a chef, but her heart is not in professional cooking. Instead, it's in the food she makes at home for other people, the joy of sharing a table with friends and family. The recipes she shares are mostly disconnected from the restaurants that she inhabits for the year, though she does translate professional cooking in an accessible way for the reader, making her book in line with the other cooking memoirs I have been reading. Shockey's book, while not as well written as the other two, was an enjoyable read, and allowed me to journey with her as she explored the wide world of food in Vietnam, Israel, France, and New York. It was culinary tourism from my couch, and her recipes enable me to perhaps replicate the food experiences she had as she traveled from place to place, meeting incredible people and eating amazing food.

I have many, many more books to explore, but I wanted to share the books I've been reading (and very much enjoying) if you're also interested in these kinds of memoirs. It turns out there's a pretty significant market for them, and, like these writers, I hope to transform my interests in food and writing into my research and work.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

things I like about Boise

We departed lush, green Arkansas 1.5 months ago for the northwestern state of Idaho, specifically a town not that far from Oregon that has a distinctly Portlandia vibe. Besides my job and my colleagues (both AWESOME), we've found a lot to love about Boise since landing here in July. In no particular order, they are:

  • The climate. Oh, my, the climate. This morning, I'm sitting in my robe enjoying the chilly morning air which will warm to the 80s today. And because it's not humid, 80s is pretty fantastic for being outside (with proper sun protection, of course).
  • Biking. We have discovered that it's basically easier to get anywhere near the downtown area on bike than it is via car. And we don't have to pay for parking! Boise abounds with bike lanes and the Greenbelt, which is the way I travel to work every day. I actually haven't driven the car in weeks, and L only drives it when he's running errands. Bicycle racks abound. And since skateboarding is also a thing, I noticed the other day on campus that the library had a skateboard rack to stash a skateboard. Amazing.
  • Secondhand things. We basically furnished our house on secondhand, thrifted goods. L obtained a bunch of new clothes that were awesome, including some biking gear, from secondhand stores. He even built a portable dishwasher from secondhand parts and a free dishwasher obtained off of Craigslist. Score.
  • Running places. I can run on the Greenbelt. I can go up to the foothills and run trails. I can run by myself or with a huge running group. The variety is incredible, and it means I won't get bored with what's available.
  • Also, few insects. We keep terrorizing people with stories of ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes. It's pretty entertaining.
  • Food options. We have a Trader Joe's, a Whole Foods, the Boise Co-op, a Natural Grocers, not to mention L's favorite place on earth, WinCo. What is this WinCo, you ask? Why a massive, employee-owned grocery store that has bulk items and all kinds of delightful things for a reasonable price. We are also members of the local co-op, where you can get 10% every month as an owner, which means your beer and wine are also discounted. Which my Fayetteville friends will totally get why we're excited by that.
  • Restaurants. We haven't really eaten out much, but every place we've been, including a diner-type place, had gluten-free options for me that didn't suck. And there are lots of places doing local food. And there's a whole restaurant that primarily makes fries (of course! with burgers on the side!), but since they don't fry anything else in their fryers, I can eat there. Guys, I can go and eat french fries any day I like.
These are just a few things that come to mind right now. We've also been exploring the great outdoors, which is also pretty amazing--Boise is down in "the valley," but if you drive out a bit, you're in the mountains. We had a chance to camp up in the Sawtooths a few weeks ago, which I fell in love with, and we're headed out again next weekend for a "running retreat." L is tagging along to hunt mushrooms, which also grow like crazy around here.

We're really looking forward to sharing our new town with our friends, so make a plan and come visit us!