Regrets, I Ate a Few

The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks. Crown Publishers, 2001. 0609607820.

Sarah: Part of the significance of this book, because there are plenty of people out there who make fun of the horrible illustrations in old cookbooks, is that James Lileks was one of the first. He was really early on the Internet scene, he has this wonderful website that he’s been working on since the nineties — it’s a great collection of weird old stuff. He’s also funny; he’ll comment on the pictures and not just say “oh, how disgusting!” He’s really amusing, and he’ll start bizarre mini-fictions that continue within and across his captions.
G: (looks at photo and laughs)
S: He talks about how his mom in, I think, 1962 was given a terrible promo cookbook from the North Dakota durum wheat growers… that was the start of his collection, when he found it in his mom’s closet, untouched, in the 90s.
He has a fictional recipe in there based on all the recipes in these books, where you carefully put one atom of chili powder in a dish with a pound of hamburger meat, 36 pounds of flavorless cheese… “if substituting spackle, crumble one yellow crayon for color,” one cup dusty crumbs from the toaster, three grains pepper, one pound salt, then that one atom of chili powder.
Continue reading “Regrets, I Ate a Few”

The Ink Panther

Panther by Brecht Evens. Translated by Laura Watkinson and Michele Hutchison. Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. 9781770462267. 120pp.

Gene: Evens is a Flemish graphic novelist, one of the two I’ve read books by, and he’s is the more upbeat. I love his The Making Of, which is the story of an artist who goes to a small town to help put together an art exhibition. Evens’ art, which I want to show you before starting to talk about this book, is see-through. He uses transparent inks or watercolors — I suspect he uses ink because I don’t see watercolor texture much, but that could just be the paper he uses.
Sarah: But yeah, you can see through things.
G: When I first looked at his art, it looked insane. It was visually difficult to make sense of, it was hard to tell what was happening. But then I fell in love with it. It adds a level that I don’t know how to explain, but it’s beautiful in the way it shows bits of a scene that would normally be hidden behind other bits.
The other thing that Evens does, each character has a different color. There are no word balloons in his comics —
S: Oh! Their words are spoken in a matching color.
G: So I love his art but it took me a few tries to fall in love with it. But when it clicks, you’ll agree he’s a genius.
This book is creepy as shit. There’s another book Drawn & Quarterly put out called Beautiful Darkness, which is all the little cartoony creatures that live in and around this little girl’s dead body in the woods (which isn’t overly emphasized or gory). Very strange but creepy, and it’s kind of a kids book about darker things, so it reminds me of this book.
So back to Panther. Here’s the girl Lucy trying to get her cat to cheer up.
S: The scene — things are see-through, so you see through her legs. It’s almost like a cutaway where things are still there. It’s this weird flattened almost Escher-esque feeling to tesselations and stairs.
G: You look at it and ask yourself, “What’s going on there?”
She goes to her room to cry alone for a bit and out of her drawer comes a magical panther.
S: It’s terrifying! It’s wearing a suit jacket and a bow tie.

Continue reading “The Ink Panther”

You won’t like him when he’s angry

The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating by Anthony Warner. Oneworld Publications, 2017. 9781786072160.

Sarah: I went to Seattle’s cookbook bookstore, Book Larder, and ended up buying a bunch. I highly recommend this bookstore because they don’t have everything, they just have good things. I grabbed several cookbooks plus this one, because the summary of it said it’s exactly the kind of thing I like to read. It’s by this guy with a background in cooking and in chemistry who is angry about fad diets and the bad science and the bad dietary advice they propagate. He covers some of the more recent fad diets and what’s wrong with them, and then has chapters in between where he talks about how to think more critically, more scientifically, how to ask the questions that you need to ask, why you might seem to have good results from a diet even if it doesn’t really work, and how people will recommend a diet if they think it has an effect but if it doesn’t they won’t discourage you.
Gene: If it doesn’t have an effect?
S: So if you try the amazing new whatever diet and it doesn’t do anything for you, are you going to put a testimonial to that effect on the website promoting the diet?
G: Probably not.
S: So I picked it up, expecting to love it because it’s exactly my speed. But I ended up not loving it.
G: Not loving this book?
S: Because it turns out I’ve already read this information. I’m already aware of all of the things he’s talking about, and he covers more of the how to think critically part and less about the crazy diets and where they came from. I ended up skimming to the parts about the new crazy diets and how they originated. I think it’s a good book, but it’s the wrong time for me to read it. This book would have been great for me twenty years ago.
G: Where did you get that information, did you find it in diet books and on websites?
S: I have read other, similar works by medical people and people writing general debunking and critical thinking books. It’s a genre that I read.
G: So you’re wowed by this book because it’s all there.
S: It’s all there! It’s all in one book.
G: And you’ve read enough on the subject that you know it’s good.
S: It’s really good!
G: But this is not the book for you right now because you have read enough books on critical thinking, especially about diets, that what you would get from this book you already have.
S: Exactly!
G: This is a new kind of Book Wow! So it did wow you, you just didn’t need to read it.
S: Right! He has this really great chapter explaining regression to the mean where he explains the concept in a really clear way with an example from his life.
G: What was it?
S: He had this sous chef, mostly he did fine, but every once in a while he would do terribly, he would really mess up in the kitchen. Then he’d get yelled at and the next day he would be better. And every once in a while he would have an awesome day and his bosses would think he finally was getting the hang of this and then the day after, he would drop back to his normal level again. But the author and another chef were talking about this, trying to figure out how help him. The author tried to be encouraging when he did really well, but the other guy only ever yelled at him when he sucked. Now he’s realizing that the whole thing was regression to the mean. The highs and the lows… if you have a really high day, do the best you’ve ever done, you’re not going to stay at the highest point, you’re going to drift back to your average. The worst day you’ve ever had, same thing. So if your health is terrible, and you don’t have a degenerative condition, you’re going to feel better eventually no matter what you do. No matter what diet you try, if you feel cruddy, eventually you’re going to feel better. And the reverse is the same, if you do really awesome, you’re going to get back to normal at some point. It’s this thing that makes an effect appear to happen with all sorts of interventions. If you’re doing a scientific study, you need to have various controls to spot this. He talks about how it’s very difficult to spot, and the whole idea of regression to the mean is recent, it’s only been around since the late 1800s, even though people have been evaluating information like this for a long time. But this was really hard to see.
G: This kind of non-effect effect.
S: You see something happen, but it didn’t happen for the reason you think it did.
G: So things seem to work for you because you are generally OK. Whatever you’re doing is OK. If you feel super-shitty after you ate X, then you feel better when you eat Y, you think you feel better because you ate Y, but not really. You just feel better because you generally feel better.
S: Yeah, and they have to control for this in medicine, when they test a new drug, because that’s exactly what happens with everything. The author says people will ask him, “If this guy feels better after he stops eating gluten, what’s the harm?” and he says that it’s because it’s really limiting your diet, it’s hard to get all the nutrients you need. People who legit have celiac disease have to be super careful. And people will tend to keep eliminating more and more things from their diet.
G: Yeah, that’s interesting.
S: And he has a very carefully-written chapter about eating disorders. He says that he had previously made this statement, that now he realizes is incorrect and apologizes for saying it and for being insensitive about it, and he’d had a lot of people talk to him and correct him: he had said that these fad diets cause people to get eating disorders. Now he says that it isn’t that they cause eating disorders, but people may have an underlying susceptibility to eating disorders and sometimes the thing that triggers them or maybe is the first sign of eating disorders manifesting is that they start doing Clean Eating, which is a particular type of fad diet. You’ll talk to someone who works at an eating disorder clinic and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, like 90 percent of people in this clinic started out with Clean Eating.”
G: What is Clean Eating?
S: It designates certain foods as “dirty” and certain foods as “clean.” Theoretically it’s emphasizing eating more vegetables, eating less processed food, but it ends up giving people a huge array of foods to avoid, that they must remember which are good and which are bad. You end up eliminating the bad foods, and feeling happy that you were able to eliminate the bad foods, that you are good and not bad. It’s really appealing to the part of your brain that can get disordered. The idea of cleanliness, the idea of goodness, the idea of purity associated with your eating really sinks its claws into the part of you that wants to have an eating disorder.
G: Is this like when people talk about a cleanse? Like a blueberry cleanse?
S: I think there’s some overlap, but I think it’s slightly different. (There’s a good overview of it in The Guardian by food writer Bee Wilson.)
You’re going to see it everywhere now, it’s been a fad for maybe five years. I had been seeing books on Clean Eating at the library and wondered, “Clean? How so?”
A lot of this originated on his blog and he talks about how it has changed based on input from his readers, people who wrote in and gave him more context and more information.

Why does that guy’s name always come first?

Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi. First Second, 2011. 9781596434509. 144pp.

Gene: This is the Lewis & Clark graphic novel by Nick Bertozzi, who is amazing. His Shackleton graphic novel is also famous among librarians. I really like his books. I have some of the original art from the Shackelton graphic novel on my wall. I’m a huge fan of his work. And I’m happy to report he seems super cool — I met him at SPX a few years ago.
I love this one even though I don’t enjoy nonfiction graphic novels much. I read it again recently because I wanted to have a sense of Lewis and Clark’s journey after seeing so many places they stopped on my drive from Seattle to North Dakota and back last summer.
Bertozzi’s art gives a great sense of being on the plains. And I’m sending it to my library school advisor Carol Doll (who I visited in North Dakota) because I’ve been looking for graphic novels she’d like. (I also sent her Marzi, about a girl growing up in Poland behind the Iron Curtain, and 3 volumes of Northlanders, and Brian Wood’s comic series about Vikings, which she said was a little too violent.) So I’m sending this, Sharon Shinn’s graphic novel from First Second (she’s a fan), and, because she’s interested in the history of the west, the Audubon graphic novel as well, which is my go-to gift of the year along with F*ck That’s Delicious.

Continue reading “Why does that guy’s name always come first?”

Yellow Dots About Comics

Pigmentation d’un Discours Amoureux by Mai Li Bernard. Dédales Éditions / Collection Détours, 2014. No ISBN in the book, but 9782955060605 found elsewhere. 48pp.

To see images from the book, go to May 2015 in Mai Li Bernard’s Tumblr archive.

Gene: This is a French graphic novel, but it’s wordless. Its title in English would be <Pigmentation of Loving Speech> or <The Color of Loving Conversation> or something like that. I bought it at Stuart Ng Books last time I was in Los Angeles. (I found out about his bookstore via his booth at the San Diego Comic-Con. He sells a lot of art books that are related of the comic scene: sketchbooks, graphic novels, reference books…and one of the things he does is he imports French books based on how beautiful they are. I find things in his showroom that I’d never see anywhere else.)
In this book, everyone’s thought bubbles and word balloons contain colored dots, and they’re more about that character’s mood during the interaction than anything else. Continue reading “Yellow Dots About Comics”

Four More Years!

Liartown: The First Four Years by Sean Tejaratchi. Feral House, 2017. 9781627310543.

Sarah: It’s weird, I recognized the image of the possum on the cover because it was the author’s twitter icon. He’s one of those guys, I don’t know if I ever followed him, but everyone thought he was hilarious and retweeted him a lot, so I saw his tweets. Then once I got into this book, I realized I know him from like five other things. He’s super creative and you will recognize some of these pieces from his Liartown blog.
Gene: It’s a sort of Photoshopped looking cover.
S: Almost photo collage. Tejaratchi’s background is in design and among other things he makes props for films. He also makes the things in this book. One of the reasons I like it and thought you’d really like it is

we’re both really into book and magazine and album cover design. We can recognize things from different eras. We’re trash collectors of cultural items.
G: We’re trash collectors! That’s a good way to put it.
S: He absolutely is the same kind of person. Here’s the first pieces, grocery ads that are… weirdly confused? Like if you had a grocery ad written by someone with a severe head injury or…
G: Like an English as a second language thing? I see peanut loaf, river nubs… I like this because it looks real and you wonder “Why am I even looking at this?” and then, oh!
S: Everything in the book is like that. They absolutely look like real things, real books and magazines and ads, then the jokes sneak up on you.
Continue reading “Four More Years!”

“It’s as much fun to scare as be scared.” — Vincent Price

A Treasury of Great Recipes: Famous Specialties of the World’s Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen by Mary and Vincent Price. Ampersand Press, 1965. 452pp plus some space for your notes and recipes.

Gene: Sarah just talked about looking up a recipe mentioned in Nancy Pearl’s novel George & Lizzie. Such a librarian moment.
Sarah: Nancy Pearl, a librarian, put in the citations so I could find the recipe, so I looked it up because I’m also a librarian.
G: It’s a non-recipe for pork chops and scalloped potatoes in The I Hate to Cook Book.
S: …by Peg Bracken. Also the author of The I Hate to Housekeep Book.
G: I have the opposite of that book to talk about. This is my Wow!: A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price.
S: You’ve been telling me about this book for years!
G: I finally found a copy of it. It was in a used book store’s display case for a price I was willing to pay. It is somewhat written in: “To Bonnie from Mom.” Smell it. It smells like the reference books from your parents’ collection.
S: Yeah!
G: So now I have a stinky book and I’m worried it’s going to make me sneeze here.
I saw this originally years ago when my friend Liz showed me a copy her university library has, and I just fell in love with the crazy-ass photos. The whole book is peach colored for no good reason.
S: It’s classy.
G: I remember Liz’s copy was velvety on the cover, so maybe this is the non-deluxe version.
(flipping pages) This is the room where the Prices welcomed their guests. It’s got a 17th century painting with their baby’s christening cup full of celery beneath it, along with cheeses. It’s a terrible photo: gothic, dark, the color isn’t quite right. All that money that is spent on cookbook photos these days, it turns out that’s well spent.
S: Some lighting would be good!
G: Maybe it’s the printing technology, because this was published back in 1965. Nothing looks that good. And it’s hilarious to me the way it’s off. There are great spot illustrations. But it’s the photos.
S: There’s Vincent Price tasting some sauce, or something in a spoon.
G: What’s weird is this is supposed to be a picture of crepes: “After a fine dinner at Chicago’s Whitehall Club, the last and best course of all was the one I took with Tony, who taught me the secret of his great crepes suzette.” Maybe he’s sipping some cognac out of that spoon. (Tony is making a crepe.)
S: Hard to say.
G: But he’s always dressed up. He looks great, especially with his lips pursed. This is them at home.
S: And his hair is always severely pomaded.
G: He looks like my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Evans, who pomaded his hair so heavily his dandruff just nested in it. Giant chunks of skin! But I digress. I thought you would love the Price’s kitchen. You love this 60s / 70s style.
S: Yeah.
G: But look at how crappy the lighting is. It’s terrible but somehow wonderful. Everything is tiled.
S: They have gorgeous copper pots.
G: This book is organized by region and then by restaurant. It’s a chance for them to talk about and show off all of these amazing places they’ve eaten.
S: That’s a pile of lobster!
G: And then they have menus from a lot of the places, with recipes based on them. Here’s fish covered with what looks like eyes. Trout “stuffed and sauced according to Fernand Point’s great recipe. Beautiful to look at, beautiful to eat.”
S: It looks right back at you.
G: Creepy.
S: There’s a great book by James Lileks, The Gallery of Regrettable Food. It’s all like this — the lighting is terrible, the food looks nauseating.
G: The first time I looked at this book all I could look at were the sweetmeat recipes. I didn’t go looking for those again this time. What fascinated me this time through were the menus from eras gone by. These reproductions of French menus list prices in francs.
(flipping the page, laughing) Here’s VP serving dinner in the most posed photo.
S: Is he in a private train car?
G: It’s in his mobile home, which he refers to as his “gypsy caravan.”
S: And he’s looking out the window at the beautiful scenery that we can’t see.
G: There’s a giant poodle looking on as he’s crouching in the middle of pouring something from a bottle. But it looks like he’s about to throw his back out.
I think I can comfortably scan a few photos from this for the blog post.
S: They’re for educational and critical use.
G: “Fried Cucumbers” — apparently they can be served as a hot dish, too.
S: Battered.
G: That would be a little close to eating hot dirt.
I think the dessert and pastry recipes might still be useful. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would make any meal out of this book, though.
S: My dad has this theory about cocktails of the 50s and 60s, that the only reason they made them so strong was was that everyone was smoking and couldn’t taste anything. So I feel like that’s true for some of these dishes too.
G: This is the Lordly Loin of Beef. It is a giant piece of meat. It looks like it’s 6 – 8 inches thick, cooked.
S: And at least 20% fat.
G: What is that around it?
S: Potato segments? Or fried dough?
G: It does look like pie dough.
S: And a really badly cooked Yorkshire pudding. Oh, it is Yorkshire pudding.
G: What’s that?
S: An eggy dough you put in a pan and cook it and it puffs up like a Dutch baby.
G: “This is a dish to set before a king. James I knighted just such a roast which, whacking off a slice with a sword, he said, “I dub thee Sir Loin….” Is that true?
S: Wah, wah. Seems unlikely.
G: I want you to check in your Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. There’s your homework.
Here’s the Price’s library, where they like to serve some food.
S: A pile of bagels!
G: Which is a mistake in a library. “The library is my favorite room in anybody’s house — a wonder world of books to suit each person’s taste. We like to take an informal breakfast in ours, with popovers and coffee for early morning guests.”
S: Were the Prices having lots of sleepovers?
G: I love these people. If we can ever go back in time, let’s go back to their place for a meal and a photo shoot.