These are the people in your neighborhood

Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen by Meera Sodha, photography by David Loftus, design by Fig Tree. Flatiron Books, 2015. 9781250071019.
Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, photography by Jonathan Gregson and Sanford Allen. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 9781101874868.

Sarah: A couple of years ago, I decided to try to eat better and one of the ways I did that was to follow the USDA food plan. You know the thing you learned in elementary school, the food pyramid? They still have that, but now it’s called My Plate. You can look up by your age and height and weight and see how much of what kind of foods you should be eating. And I liked it because the plan is revised every ten years by a panel of people who look at current research on diet and health. The website had some cool free tools to track your food intake and exercise. I liked that it was based on scientific consensus and only changed every decade. It wasn’t based on whatever was on Oprah or whatever diet fad book is a bestseller.
Gene: I feel like everybody disbelieves science now, including educated folks, especially about what to eat.
S: Yeah, it’s really frustrating. And if you’re a total nerd, they have the scientific basis available in a long report where you can look up what the research says, all the citations, this is why we recommended this. And then you get to tease people on high protein diets. “Look how much bread I get to eat! Mmmm, yummy!” But if you’re on the 2000 calorie a day plan, you eat two and a half cups of vegetables a day, plus two cups of fruit.
G: That’s a lot.
S: It is. Compared to the usual American diet, that is a crap-ton of vegetables. I was having a hard time finding ways to eat enough vegetables. (Because salad is not very dense, so you have to eat twice as much as other vegetables.) It was becoming hard for me to do this.
G: But kale counts three times as much, right?
S: (laughs) Nope, kale counts the same as anything else, because this is not a fad diet. So I started looking at vegetarian cookbooks at the library, because I thought “Who eats a lot of vegetables? Vegetarians!” No, turns out the books were full of recipes for grains and other things. I had a hard time finding vegetable dishes in vegetarian cookbooks. So then I wondered where else I could try. I figured: India. I ended up reading through a lot of Indian cookbooks and, after discarding many, I ended up with two that I really like to use to cook. One is Vegetarian India by Madhur Jaffrey, who has been writing awesome cookbooks for 30 or 40 years. The other one is Made in India by Meera Sodha, I think this is her first cookbook.
G: It looks old, but it isn’t.
S: The cover is kinda cool, because it looks like a label you’d get on a bag of rice or something.
G: Because the cover has a matte finish, without a dust jacket — I assume it was issued like that? — it feels like a classic cookbook. The other is more glossy.
S: Part of why I chose India, besides it having a really established vegetarian culture, I felt like a lot of the other vegetarian books were approaching it like, “You grew up eating meat, so here’s something like meat that you can eat instead.” These recipes assumed you grew up eating vegetables, so here’s some tasty vegetables. Though Made in India has meat dishes as well as vegetable dishes.
G: I like it already, because I flipped to “A Simple Goat Curry” which sounds great.
S: The other reason I chose India is because my neighborhood has at least four different Indian grocery stores, so if I’m looking at an Indian recipe book, I have no excuse to not buy all the ingredients on the list.
G: Cool.
S: So I went out and bought a bunch of spices, bought a bunch of dry legumes, bought a bunch of vegetables and gave it a shot. I tried it for a year, and it was really good. The authors bring their own stories into the books.

Madhur Jaffrey has travelled widely and tells stories about the people she met and the food she ate. So let’s take a look at her book, Vegetarian India. She doesn’t assume you have a background in this sort of cooking. (Both cookbook’s authors are British, and they know their audience members come from a wide variety of cultures.) But they don’t cut corners or compromise — I ran across a recipe in another book for Saag Paneer that said if you can’t get paneer, substitute feta or tofu. Gross!
G: I love paneer. But every time I can, I eat too much and get a stomachache.
S: Paneer is so good. If you live where I live, it’s easy to buy, and if you don’t it’s actually easy to make. Jaffrey’s assuming you want to taste the real deal. She’ll have stories about how she got a recipe, or how best to serve it, and tons of great vegetable-heavy recipes. I feel like if you picked this up and cooked a bunch of these recipes and served it to people who eat meat, they wouldn’t even notice.
G: I agree.
S: They wouldn’t feel deprived, like if you were serving them a plate of raw kale.
G: The flavor’s great in all of these, right?
S: Yeah, and that made a huge difference for me in helping me stick to my plan to eat a lot of vegetables. It all tastes delicious. There are several recipes that are otherwise very simple, but spiced in a way that you enjoy it more, you look forward to it.
G: In the other book, there’s a recipe for how to make paneer!
S: It requires milk and lemon juice.
G: That’s it?
S: That’s it.
G: I don’t have to put in that stuff from a calf’s stomach, what’s it called, rennet?
S: Exactly, because it’s from India. (laughs)
G: Wait, this only takes three hours?
S: That’s time it’s draining. You hang it up over your sink.
G: You could make it in the morning and eat it for dinner.
S: Yeah. I felt like I ate a lot better using these books. At first, I was looking for recipes that I liked in restaurants, but it turns out those taste good because they’re full of cream and butter. So because I didn’t want to feel like a ball of grease, I liked that these call for peanut oil or olive oil, and aren’t heavy and oily. The dishes are more homestyle. The recipes are drawn from all over India, which is nice, because like the US the food isn’t the same everywhere in the country.
G: I like the look of Made in India, it’s a mix of old style designs and cool poster art looking illustrations.
S: I think they’re all original graphic designs, but based on bright product labels.
G: Good photos, too.
S: I think that’s important, because you can have a book of the best recipes in the world, but if you’re flipping through it and you don’t see something that makes you say, “Yum!,” then you’re not going to make it. You’re not going to take that extra time.
G: Everything in here looks like something I would eat in a heartbeat.
S: There are cookbooks where I get partway into them and realize they require more equipment and expertise than I have — these were not like that.
G: These look great, and I’m not even a cookbook guy.

Revenge That’s Hot Hot Hot

Sweet Revenge: Passive-Aggressive Desserts for Your Exes & Enemies by Heather Kim. Switch Press, 2018. 9781630790899.

Instead of taking your anger at your former friends and lovers to social media, Kim suggests baking them delicious revenge desserts. She emphasizes the catharsis in baking (smashing, beating, creaming) and each dessert gets an appropriate I’m-over-you name: Kiss My Molasses, World’s Biggest Flake, I Couldn’t Carrot All Cake.

This book is aimed at teen readers, but you might miss that at first. The explanation of terms is low-key and in the flow of the recipes themselves. Each dish has a difficulty rating and the directions don’t assume you’re an accomplished baker. There are sections comparing basic ingredients to aspects of relationships — flours are good for different purposes, like the flowers you send to a girlfriend or boyfriend; sugars are like the different kinds of people you can date. But the biggest hint that this is a book for younger cooks: the recipes. I think they’ll be hugely appealing to teens who love intense flavors and unusual combinations of ingredients, and they will probably sound pretty gross to older readers. That carrot cake? It’s carrot cake balls rolled in sugar and crushed Cool Ranch Doritos. There’s a butter pound cake with sriracha icing and muffins dipped in Chinese five spice mix. But the way I’ll sell this to teens is that unlike pretty much every other cookbook for under-18s, it doesn’t tell you to ask an adult before you do anything involving an oven or knives!

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”

“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.

Yum

F*ck, That’s Delicious: An Annotated Guide to Eating Well by Action Bronson with Rachel Wharton. Abrams, 2017. 9781419726552.

Gene: Do you know Action Bronson? He has a show on Vice called Fuck, That’s Delicious.  He’s a chef, a hip hop performer, a TV host, a stoner, and I fell in love with him I was when I was staying with friends during a Texas library conference on April 20th, not realizing the 420 pot smoking connection. The Vice channel had a show featuring Action Bronson and his friends getting high and watching the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens.  The show was “projected” onto a green screen behind them. I couldn’t stop laughing. It beat every Cheech and Chong movie ever.
Action Bronson is tattooed and has a giant beard and his look doesn’t scream “celebrity chef” or a “hip hop star,” but he is. He loves life and good food.
Sarah: I love that aspect of hyper-positivity in contemporary culture! It’s so nice. The book is dedicated to his nonna, his grandmother.
G: It’s 100 amazing things: moments, meals, places, people, artifacts, and accessories. His Albanian grandma cooked bread three times a day. That’s everything you need to know about him right there. Loves his family, grew up in Queens eating food from everywhere.
The first entry: “1. A Bowl of Crispix Over The Sink”. This is no BS. He talks about other cereals. Apparently he only eats the marshmallows out of Lucky Charms, which I think is wrong. #2 is —
S: Chankonabe! Sumo stew!
G: This sent me to the internet to watch a clip of him and his buddies wrestling in Japan.
S: That’s great.
G: He has a tip here to look up Big Japan Pro Wrestling, which features matches with piranha tanks.
Here they are wandering around Japan. They eat street food and in five-star restaurants.
The next section is on bagels. I’ve only eaten one of his “Five Bagels Around The World,” at La Maison in Montreal, Quebec. It was fantastic.
S: I still need to have a Montreal bagel.
G: Man! Cooked in a wood burning oven. So good. And that leads to his USDA food pyramid, which is all bagels.
There are some recipes here, here’s one for golden beet poke, another for chicken pot pie. Entry #7 is “A Key Food Bag”. An ode to a grocery store bag!  #8 is “Chewy Candies”. #9 is a list of incredible pairings, including Big Macs and Fat Camp. Each pairing is explained in a paragraph. Apparently a counselor at his camp slipped him food, and he sold it. He not only lost weight, he lost his virginity to his counselor.
Here’s a recipe for what must be the best chocolate chip cookies.
S: With butter on them?
G: Salted honey butter. There’s a recipe for how to make that, too.
S: Intense.
G: Its like, he’s not going to worry about anything. I probably won’t make the butter if I try these. But Action Bronson is just going to go for it because it’s awesome.
#11 is about crispy rice, including a list of what it’s called in different countries. It’s “nurungji” in Korean, and most often found at the edge of hot stone bowl bibimbap, which he mentions.
#21 is about toothpicks, including the plastic ones with floss (which he loves), the square ones in Europe (which he doesn’t like), and MetroCards.
#22 is a recipe for Explosive Chicken, which is the first thing I’m going to make from this. I’m going to use this to win Silver [my wife] to his side.
S: Szechuan peppercorns!
G: She’s not a fan of his shows or this book, but if it’s hot enough I’ll be able to put on an episode of Fuck That’s Delicious and she won’t notice until she’s laughing. And by then it will be too late.

Temps de l’Aventure

France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child by Alex Prud’homme and Katie Pratt.  Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500519073. 208 pp.

Julia Child was a California girl who knew nothing about France and its cuisine when she and her new husband, Paul, took up residence there. She claimed she was astounded by the flavors of French food and was also shocked to be drinking wine during lunch. When Julia found out she and Paul were going to be living there a good while, she began cooking lessons to bridge her personal cultural divide. This anthology is filled with beautiful black and white photographs of the young couple, of French landmarks, and of course, of Julia teaching students how to master French cuisine. It is apparent through these pictures that Paul and Julia were very much in love with both one another and with their lifestyle.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

Politics and Piroshky

CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine by Olga & Pavel Syutkin. Fuel Publishing, 2015. 9780993191114.

I picked this book up because of the vintage food illustrations. I’m a sucker for them in the cookbooks I collect, and I’d never seen any from the Soviet Union. Unlike the similar-looking promotional pictures for Crisco and Jell-O, the photos in this book promoted entire state-owned industries, or were illustrations from the cookbook that contained the required menu for all of the USSR’s cafeterias. The recipes are interesting (including a few I wouldn’t mind trying), but the short essays explaining each are solid gold. The recipe for Stolichny Salad tells the story of the elimination of Christmas and the gradual return of elements of it in later decades as a part of New Year’s celebrations. The one for Mimosa Salad tells how the ministry of fisheries used money earmarked for the Moscow Metro to purchase refrigerators so that fish could be processed immediately after it was caught. Later, there was a PR stunt to encourage people to buy canned fish: a rumor that smugglers had hidden jewelry inside the cans. The recipe for Solyanka Soup tells of the difficulties in providing something like fast food in time for the 1980 Olympics. (McDonald’s couldn’t be used because they wouldn’t reveal their ingredients, and Soviet officials were terrified that they would be jailed if something banned by their stringent regulations was found in the food.) And Pasta a la Navy starts with the delightful rumor that Soviet pasta was made on repurposed gun cartridge machinery because the noodles were the same caliber as Kalashnikov rifle rounds!