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Monday, Nov 18, 2013
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s food is the Middle East on a plate: clamorous, intense, each bite demanding your full attention. This is food shrieking with yogurt and lemon, garlic and tahini.

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook is actually Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s first cookbook, originally published in England in 2008. It’s the last to be published in the United States, after the insane popularity of 2011’s Plenty and 2012’s Jerusalem. I’ve no idea why the reverse order of the books’s appearances, only that they’ve captured the American imagination on a startling scale.


For those struggling to obtain American healthcare, or absorbed by the former Hannah Montana’s poor performance choices, meet Ottolenghi and his business partner, Tamimi.  The men have much in common: both are professional chefs, born in Jerusalem, now living in London. Both are homosexual (they bring this up as partial reason for leaving the Middle East for England, where they met). But Ottolenghi is Jewish, born of an Italian father and German/Israeli mother. Tamimi is Palestinian.


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Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013
Amy Bremzen’s memoir is informative, moving, and at times, harrowing

Anya Von Bremzen is a skilled writer whose first cookbook, Please to the Table, landed her a James Beard Award. Five more cookbooks and extensive journalism followed.


But what distinguishes Von Bremzen is her background. Born in the Soviet Union in 1963, she has always strongly identified as Soviet. Other individuals hailing from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics don’t identify as such; they invariably revert to the names of their former (and/or current homelands), e.g. “I’m Latvian”, “I’m Ukrainian”, (this last spat with especial rage.) I am, that is, whatever my family and region were called before the October 1917 revolution destroyed our lives, took away our homes, our lands, the very food on our plates.


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Friday, Oct 11, 2013
Author of the seminal Moosewood Cookbook, Mollie Katzen brought vegetarian cuisine—in 1977 still considered weird hippie food—into the mainstream. Now, almost 40 years later, she's written one of most confounding cookbooks I’ve ever encountered.

Rarely does a cookbook elicit a passionate response, but Mollie Katzen is a revered American cookbook writer. Author of the seminal Moosewood Cookbook, Katzen brought vegetarian cuisine—in 1977 still considered weird hippie food—into the mainstream. It can be difficult to realize what a feat that was, before farmer’s markets and the internet. Now even those of us living in remote areas can order unusual foodstuffs online, while people living in metropolitan areas take the wealth of produce, grains, and artisanal tofus on offer for granted. 


In 1977, Katzen had to explain tamari, mirin, and alfalfa sprouts to readers. Interested cooks had to search ethnic markets and health food stores, then few and far between, to find ingredients like wheat berries or quinoa. But Katzen’s welcoming voice and inviting food drew readers in. So did the books themselves. Unlike many of today’s glossy cookbooks, which seem destined for the coffee table instead of the kitchen, those Ten Speed Press books were well made, their bindings tight: cookbooks meant to sit open on the counter while the cook leaned over them, spoon in hand. And thousands of cooks did just that.


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Monday, Sep 16, 2013
Fresh pepper season is maddeningly short in Northern California. We get but a few colorful weeks in late August and early September. The clock is ticking.

Fresh pepper season is maddeningly short in Northern California. We get but a few colorful weeks in late August and early September. I’m not speaking of hot peppers, which contain the heat-causing chemical, capsaicin. They’re a whole other peck, botanically speaking. I write of sweet peppers, beautiful bells, red, orange, and yellow.


Hurry.The clock is ticking.


The world divides between pepper fanatics and normal people, who stand by, bemused, while the preservers amongst us amass gallons of lemon juice, olive oil, and white wine vinegar to can, marinate, and pickle, frenzied, before the squash shoulders in and takes over.


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Wednesday, Aug 7, 2013
The eggplant does not blend with other flavors as, say, the onion, or the carrot do. The eggplant, no matter what one does to it, remains irresolutely itself. And I am rendered despondent.

Amid the happy tumble of heirloom tomatoes, near the scalloped yellow pattypan squashes perched beside their elongated, green-skinned brethren, down the aisle from the fresh corn; just as little Heather O’Rourke warned us in another context: there’re here. Piled high, purple-black, glistening like so may pairs of patent leather boots.


The eggplants are in.


And I weep.


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