I love to read. I often check out more books from the library than I can ever finish.
I recently added some food related (remembering the basics of growing, cooking and eating real food, inspiring true stories connected to foodies and food) books to my Want-To-Read-List. Perhaps you’re looking for a good book to escape into during the holiday frenzy or you have a book lover in your life who might enjoy a food related book as a gift.
Here are some of my book selections for this holiday season:
1. Life On The Line: A Chef’s Story Of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death And Refining The Way We Eat - By 2007 chef Grant Achatz had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine, he had received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, and he and Nick Kokonas had opened the conceptually radical restaurant Alinea, which was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine. Then, positioned firmly in the world’s culinary spotlight, Achatz was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma-tongue cancer.
The prognosis grim, Grant undertook an alternative treatment of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation that ravaged his body and left him without a sense of taste. Tapping into his profound discipline and passion, he trained his chefs to mimic his palate and learned how to cook with his other senses. As Kokonas was able to attest, the food was never better. Five months later, Grant was declared cancer-free and went on to achieve some of the highest honors in the culinary world. Life, on the Line is not only a chef’s memoir, it is also a book about survival, about nurturing creativity, and about profound friendship.
2. French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved To France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking And Discovered 10 Simple Rules For Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters- Moving her young family to her husband’s hometown in northern France, Karen Le Billon is prepared for some cultural adjustment but is surprised by the food education she and her family (at first unwillingly) receive. In contrast to her daughters, French children feed themselves neatly and happily—eating everything from beets to broccoli, salad to spinach, mussels to muesli. The family’s food habits soon come under scrutiny, as Karen is lectured for slipping her fussing toddler a snack—”a recipe for obesity!”—and forbidden from packing her older daughter a lunch in lieu of the elaborate school meal.
The family soon begins to see the wisdom in the “food rules” that help the French foster healthy eating habits and good manners—from the rigid “no snacking” rule to commonsense food routines that we used to share but have somehow forgotten. Soon, the family cures picky eating and learns to love trying new foods. But the real challenge comes when they move back to North America—where their commitment to “eating French” is put to the test. The result is a family food revolution with surprising but happy results—which suggest we need to dramatically rethink the way we feed children, at home and at school.
3. The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying And Start Making - In her debut cookbook, Alana Chernila inspires you to step inside your kitchen, take a look around, and change the way you relate to food. The Homemade Pantry was born of a tight budget, Alana’s love for sharing recipes with her farmers’ market customers, and a desire to enjoy a happy cooking and eating life with her young family. On a mission to kick their packaged-food habit, she learned that with a little determination, anything she could buy at the store could be made in her kitchen, and her homemade versions were more satisfying, easier to make than she expected, and tastier.
4. The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities- The son of a sharecropper, Will Allen had no intention of ever becoming a farmer himself. But after years in professional basketball and as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter & Gamble, Allen cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot a half mile away from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. The area was a food desert with only convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to serve the needs of local residents.
In the face of financial challenges and daunting odds, Allen built the country’s preeminent urban farm—a food and educational center that now produces enough vegetables and fish year-round to feed thousands of people. Employing young people from the neighboring housing project and community, Growing Power has sought to prove that local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Today, Allen’s organization helps develop community food systems across the country.
5. Folks This Just Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice For Happier Hens, Healthier People And A Better World- From farmer Joel Salatin’s point of view, life in the 21st century just ain’t normal. He discusses how far removed we are from the simple, sustainable joy that comes from living close to the land and the people we love. Salatin has many thoughts on what normal is and shares practical and philosophical ideas for changing our lives in small ways that have big impact.
Salatin, hailed by the New York Times as “Virginia’s most multifaceted agrarian since Thomas Jefferson [and] the high priest of the pasture” and profiled in the Academy Award nominated documentary Food, Inc. and the bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, understands what food should be: Wholesome, seasonal, raised naturally, procured locally, prepared lovingly, and eaten with a profound reverence for the circle of life. And his message doesn’t stop there. From child-rearing, to creating quality family time, to respecting the environment, Salatin writes with a wicked sense of humor and true storyteller’s knack for the revealing anecdote.
6. Who In This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish and Demolition- Based on autobiographic experiences, Who in This Room is a gripping collection of creative nonfiction that pushes the boundaries of story and memoir. Kate’s adventurous life is interrupted by a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer, giving her a ten percent chance of living five years. But her story isn’t just about cancer. It is a true tale of survival that is both lived and dreamt. It’s about joy found in lemon trees or fly-fishing. It’s about the survival instinct that helps us re-emerge and engage with the world.
7. Season To Taste: How I Lost My Sense Of Smell And Found My Way - At twenty-two, just out of college, Molly Birnbaum spent her nights reading cookbooks and her days working at a Boston bistro, preparing to start training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. She knew exactly where she wanted the life ahead to lead: She wanted to be a chef. But shortly before she was due to matriculate, she was hit by a car while out for a run in Boston. The accident fractured her skull, broke her pelvis, tore her knee to shreds—and destroyed her sense of smell. The flesh and bones would heal…but her sense of smell?
Not being able to smell meant not being able to cook. She dropped her cooking school plans, quit her restaurant job, and sank into a depression. This is the story of what came next: how she picked herself up and set off on a grand, entertaining quest in the hopes of learning to smell again. A moving personal story packed with surprising facts about our senses, Season to Taste is filled with unforgettable descriptions of the smells Birnbaum rediscovers—from cinnamon, cedarwood, and fresh bagels to rosemary chicken, lavender, and apple pie—as she falls in love, learns to smell from scratch, and starts, once again, to cook.
8. Growing A Farmer: How I learned To Live Off The Land- A bona-fide city dweller, Kurt Timmermeister never intended to run his own dairy farm. When he purchased four acres of land on Vashon Island, he was looking for an affordable home a ferry ride away from the restaurants he ran in Seattle. But as he continued to serve his customers frozen chicken breasts and packaged pork, he became aware of the connection between what he ate and where it came from: a hive of bees provided honey; a young cow could give fresh milk; an apple orchard allowed him to make vinegar. Told in Timmermeister’s plainspoken voice, Growing a Farmer details with honesty the initial stumbles and subsequent realities he had to face in his quest to establish a profitable farm for himself. Personal yet practical, Growing a Farmer includes the specifics of making cheese, raising cows, and slaughtering pigs, and it will recast entirely the way we think about our relationship to the food we consume.
9. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit- Supermarket produce sections bulging with a year-round supply of perfectly round, bright red-orange tomatoes have become all but a national birthright. But in Tomatoland, which is based on his James Beard Award-winning article, “The Price of Tomatoes,” investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry. Fields are sprayed with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green and artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue.
Estabrook traces the supermarket tomato from its birthplace in the deserts of Peru to the impoverished town of Immokalee, Florida, a.k.a. the tomato capital of the United States. He visits the laboratories of seedsmen trying to develop varieties that can withstand the rigors of agribusiness and still taste like a garden tomato, and then moves on to commercial growers who operate on tens of thousands of acres, and eventually to a hillside field in Pennsylvania, where he meets an obsessed farmer who produces delectable tomatoes for the nation’s top restaurants. Tomatoland reads like a suspenseful whodunit as well as an expose of today’s agribusiness systems and the price we pay as a society when we take taste and thought out of our food purchases.
10. 97 Orchard: An Edible History Of Five Immigrant Families In One New York Tenement - Author Jane Ziegelman explores the culinary life that was the heart and soul of New York’s Lower East Side around the turn of the twentieth century—a city within a city, where Germans, Irish, Italians, and Eastern European Jews attempted to forge a new life. Through the experiences of five families, all of them residents of 97 Orchard Street, Ziegelman takes readers on a vivid and unforgettable tour, from impossibly cramped tenement apartments, down dimly lit stairwells, beyond the front stoops where housewives congregated, and out into the hubbub of the dirty, teeming streets. Ziegelman shows how immigrant cooks brought their ingenuity to the daily task of feeding their families, preserving traditions from home but always ready to improvise. 97 Orchard lays bare the roots of our collective culinary heritage.
11. Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How A Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks- This book is essentially “What Not to Wear” meets Michael Pollan. Inspired by a supermarket encounter with a woman loading up on processed foods, Le Cordon Blue graduate Kathleen Flinn decided to use her recent culinary training to help a group of nine culinary novitiates find their inner cook. These students invited Kathleen into their kitchens where she took inventory of each person’s refrigerator, cabinets and eating habits. After kitchen “makeovers” and a series of basic lessons where they learned to wield knives, trust their taste and improve their food choices, the women found a common missing ingredient–confidence. In this new book, Flinn follows these women’s journeys and includes practical, healthy tips to boost readers’ culinary confidence, strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar and simple recipes to get readers cooking.
12. Fed Up With Lunch: the School Lunch Project: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed The Truth About School Lunches – And How We Can Change Them!- When school teacher Mrs. Q forgot her lunch one day, she had no idea she was about to embark on an odyssey to uncover the truth about public school lunches. Shocked by what her students were served, she resolved to eat school lunch for an entire year, chronicling her experience anonymously on a blog that received thousands of hits daily, and was lauded by such food activists as Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, and Marion Nestle. Here, Mrs. Q reveals her identity for the first time in an eye-opening account of school lunches in America. Along the way, she provides invaluable resources for parents and health advocates who wish to help reform school lunch, making this a must-read for anyone concerned about children’s health issues.