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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Ravenous for more food media


I have a confession to make: I collect cookbooks like other people collect treasured pieces of art, sports memorabilia, or rare bottles of wine.  If there's one section that I lurk in at my local bookstore, or one theme among the titles Amazon.com so expertly recommends to me, it's cookbooks.  I have a running wish list completely dedicated to the next cookbooks I'm longing to purchase.  And like most others in the cookbook hunting tribe who have an insatiable hunger for more, I technically have too many recipes when compared with actual kitchen time available.  With each title I acquire, I add to the list of recipes that sit on my bookshelves, begging for my undivided attention.

When life's commitments pile up and I can't reach for the apron strings and spatula to do something about this, I live vicariously through the kitchens of others-- reading culinary-themed memoirs and diaries in the lives of chefs.  These tales of culinary pursuit are a way to connect with the kitchen even if your own kitchen remains neglected.  Best of all, they require no clean-up.  They offer inspiration and encouragement, and a reminder that a big part of appreciating food is learning about the stories behind it.  Perhaps its a chef talking about the first time he mastered a cooking technique, or a food writer reminiscing about their grandmother's famous potato salad.  It's the stories that surround the food that keep me turning the pages, ravenous for more.

Most recently I read Gesine Bullock-Prado's "My Life From Scratch", detailing her journey moving away from Los Angeles to open up Gesine, her bakery in Vermont.  While I have yet to make a strategic trip to the East Coast to visit her bakery, her love of honest ingredients and dedication to bakery culture certainly made me want to.  Much like the author, I cherish family recipes and the memories associated with them.  In one chapter, she discusses "bringing 3 pm" to America, a reference to the custom of afternoon cake and tea she experienced as a child while visiting her grandmother in Germany.  Many Americans would otherwise miss out on this tradition without bakers like her who create a space for such afternoon bliss.  The author says that at 3 pm in her community, there is a "steady, gentle stream of easygoing pastry-hungry folks" who visit the bakery.  We could all use a reminder to slow down a little and stop to appreciate life-- whether this involves indulging in an afternoon slice of cake or going for a jog. On top of appreciating her philosophy, I became even more of a fan when I read that she's a dedicated marathon runner who has done athletic fundraising for the American Cancer Society, a cause  close to my heart (and a sport that I love.)  You can bet that my first visit to Vermont, whenever that might be, will include a stop into her shop-- preferably around 3 pm when the pastry fans congregate.  And until life brings me to Vermont, I will look forward to her new cookbook Pie it Forward.

While waiting for her book to release, I'm already well on my way to meeting new chefs through more paperbacks, food blogs, and culinary internet columns.  Thanks to Huffington Post's "Food Informants" series, I now have a bakery to hunt in Virginia after reading about a day in the life of Red Truck Bakery owner Brian Noyes.  Michael Ruhlman has brought me inside the doors of the Culinary Institute of America through "The Making of a Chef."   Books like Dalia Jurgensen's "Spiced" and Yuko Kitazawa's "Career Diary of a Pastry Chef" have given me insight into the quirks and rewards of the pastry world.  Chefs like David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan provide compelling culinary content in books and through their blogs (not to mention some of my favorite content about food in Paris, content that therapeutically tends to my aching desire to make a return visit.)  I am equally in debt to Sara Rohen, author of "Gumbo Tales", who through her focus on the culinary tales of New Orleans, provided me with a valuable and entertaining education about the food culture of the Crescent City.  Beyond this handful of titles that are a part of the great food content out there, I won't even try to list all of the Julia Child related books currently on my "to read" list.

I'm very thankful to the hard work that goes into creating this content and getting it into the hands of culinary admirers like myself.  I'm especially thankful to those food narratives that bring the rush of the kitchen or the nostalgia of recipes into my home, even during those busy weeks when my cookbooks collect dust and my oven remains colder than I would like.

If anyone has favorite recommendations about other books to read (chef diaries, food narratives, memoirs, etc) I would love to hear them!
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