If you are a wine connoisseur, you will want to read Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste — and you will undoubtedly like it. What’s more intriguing is that a non-drinker, or a cynic who thinks that the drinkers who mumble about tasting blueberries and grass and dirt (!) must be faking it, will both find the book fascinating. The author spent a year studying wine (and passing a difficult sommelier exam) and it turns out that it is, indeed, possible to taste blueberries, grass, or dirt, although many experts really use the words to telegraph a particular type of grapes rather than a particular taste. Who knew? She also touches on the restaurant business and restaurant people, and her descriptions of the very rich who are able to buy the most expensive wines could have been excised without diminishing the rest of the story at all. But the tasting stories are worth it!
Tag Archives: food
The Temporary Bride made me feel acutely uncomfortable. It is a memoir of a daring Canadian woman who loves to cook and discover new food cultures and has travelled to unlikely locales, alone. (Think Sana’a, Yemen). In this book, she travels to Iran and learns cooking from a homemaker she finds through her son, and the stories of her relationship with this woman living in a world so different from hers are wonderful, as is her avid interest in restaurants, street vendors, and even a camel slaughterhouse.
And then she starts a relationship with the son, one that begins with ambiguous violence and then continues with, to me, unhealthy cultural undertones, as she seems to think of him as slightly inferior, untrained, uncouth. Although she proclaims her love of him, the revelation of so many personal details seemed exploitative and inappropriate.
The author of The Case Against Sugar is convinced that sugar is killing us. He is so sure of it that he sometimes overstreches his argument, almost saying that over-consumption of sugar causes high blood pressure, which does not seem to be supported by research, at least at this point. Still, it would be good to see anti-sugar campaigns similar to anti-smoking campaigns as millions suffer from diabetes, obesity, and other diseases that are clearly linked to sugar consumption.
A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression describes how Americans fed themselves, and were taught to feed themselves, between the end of WWI and the start of WWII, focusing on the Great Depression but starting with heroic descriptions (and menus!) of what it took to feed large farm families in early 20th century. Let’s just say that farm women worked hard and were not afraid of fat, gluten, or animal products! As the authors move to the Great Depression, there are harrowing descriptions of food lines and malnutrition diseases amongst children, and a fascinating account of how the government stepped in with food distribution programs inspired by home economics experts who also provided recipes and tips to stretch out limited supplies. Not surprisingly, the recipes came with heavy cultural and racist baggage.
The last chapter is an incongruous, rushed description of various food technologies that took flight during this period and I could not quite understand what its purpose was, but the rest of the book is wonderful.
Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations is a rich Grandma’s attic: a jumble of witty odds and ends, tiny objects and large wardrobes, all with some funny or profound meaning, and with only a vague connection between them. So we get stories about bass fishing contests (much more serious than I would have thought!), a rant against culinary foam (sorry, El Bulli), a four-day exploration of biscuits, an essay about chicken gizzards (they are tough, don’t buy them), a biography of Louis Prima (jazz musician who had a few songs about food), an ode to compost (yeah!), and hunting habits of baboons (really; they do eat their prey, after all). And this is without naming the many short poems about vegetables.
I chose to read the book in one go, which was definitely a mistake. Maybe leave it on the table and sample a few tidbits every day?
Written by a scientist in a light, storytelling mood, The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History talks about all kinds of seeds, from cotton (to explain dispersion by sea) to castor beans (killers of spies), to nuts (predictors of large teeth, when hard), wheat (to illustrate that building dams may be motivated by the need to move grain)
The author’s adventures with fossil hunters are hilarious, but he takes advantage of them to remind us that spore plants may dominate the fossil record, but did not necessarily dominate the world. They just preserved better. There’s always some science under the stories.
Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat explore the complicated science of taste — and gives notice to budding (haha) scientists that there is much to discover in that area. The book starts by exploring the elements of taste and how they are rooted in evolution, then moves on to exploring specific areas such as desserts, chili peppers, cheese, and wine. I through it lost its way a bit as it moved on to the chili peppers, with the author making rather gratuitous trips and choices, but it should still be enjoyable by all who love food.