When food journalist Toni Tipton-Martin’s career took her to Cleveland, Ohio, she met test cook Vera Beck. The encounter changed Tipton-Martin’s life. Beck was “a self-taught kitchen genius armed with recipes handed down through word of mouth through generations of rural Alabama cooks. Her talent flowed from a photographic memory and her five senses.”
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In Consider The Fork, Bee Wilson took an invigorating look at the history of kitchens and the equipment furnishing them. Now, with First Bite the food journalist turns her attention to eating, a skill we must all learn. Yet how we are taught, by whom, and with what foods bode for a lifetime of good or ill. As obesity and obesity-related illness rates soar, are we truly powerless in the face of salt, fat and sugar? Or can we change poor eating habits?
First Bite’s extensive research carries Wilson from Ireland to Pennsylvania, through a 26-page bibliography of scientific papers, and her own painful struggles with food as a daughter, sister, and mother. The result is a book readers will be unable to put down until the final page.
After a nasty public divorce and endless scrutiny of her weight, Nigella Lawson returns to the spotlight on her terms with Simply Nigella. Long an outspoken opponent of the “Clean-Eating Brigade” Lawson begins her 10th cookbook by reiterating this stance, warning no diet can confer immortality, prevent loss, or allay suffering. But, she amends, what we cook and eat can offer “mastery over ourselves”.
While Simply Nigella exhorts the pleasures of cooking and eating, Lawson borrows heavily from the Paleo playbook. With its abhorrence of carbohydrates, sugars, legumes, potatoes, alcohol, and dairy, the Paleo diet is one of the more restrictive diets available, running counter to gastronomic pleasure.
Perhaps you don’t feel sorry for Ruth Reichl. Yes, Gourmet magazine’s former editor was left jobless after Condé Nast abruptly shut the magazine down in 2007. Yet as many Americans were losing everything during that time, Reichl got a generous a severance package, was in good health, and had residences in New York City and in the upstate New York hamlet of Spencertown.
Indeed, her long career in the food world was glorious by any standard: multiply-awarded, well-compensated and highly recognized. But suddenly, all that seemed to be over.
A stunned Reichl retreated to the kitchen, jotting down what became My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. A memoir, journal, and cookbook chronicling the year after Gourmet’s shutdown, the book is a heartfelt account of losing one’s life work, of mourning a magazine with a 69-year history, of picking up the pieces at age 61.
Lovers of both cooking and reading require a steady influx of cookbooks to feed both appetites. But spend enough time cooking and reading, reading and cooking, and soon your appetite becomes increasingly difficult to sate, within the kitchen and without. If you see another meals-in-minutes, another creme fraïche at home, more fun with kale, or God help us all, another Moroccan carrot salad, well, you won’t be held accountable for your actions, now will you?
How you long for the rare cookbook that’s truly a game changer.