Sunday, June 29, 2014
The Food Lovers’ Bookshelf by Leslie Budewitz
LUCY BURDETTE: I got so excited reading this post--Leslie and I have discovered the same thing. The more you write about the food world, the more you want to read about it. But I'll let her tell you what she's found and then pile on with your suggestions, please!
LESLIE BUDEWITZ: In Crime Rib, the second book in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Erin Murphy is rushing to give a new friend a book she borrowed but left behind on the Merc’s stainless steel counter. How can a dedicated foodie like Stacia Duval have never read My Life in France by Julia Child? Erin is delighted that Stacia and her crew are filming the 35th Annual Jewel Bay Summer Food and Art Festival this weekend, and that Stacia is seriously considering chucking TV and moving her family to Jewel Bay. Thrilled, until she finds the woman dead.
Though I’ve long enjoyed perusing cookbooks and sinking my teeth into cozy mysteries with a food theme, I’m a relative newcomer to the foodie bookshelf. But now that I’ve discovered the kitchen memoir and the literary love-letters to all things culinary, I’m hooked. A few recent favs:
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, by Bob Spitz — I’d read My Life in France, cooked my way (with Mr. Right) through Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom—the simplified version of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, seen “Julie & Julia” three times, and still relished this biography of the queen of classic French cuisine. Her childhood in a wealthy family in Pasadena didn’t prepare her for much of anything, and she struggled through college and into the work-world, until a job with the State Department during World War II led her to the OSS, postings abroad, and marriage. That led to France, and our tables and tummies are happier for it. Thanks be for good biography, and for the amazing Madame Child.
The food memoir is a travelogue of sorts, transporting us into other cultures and deep into history. In Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love & War, by Annia Ciezadlo, an American journalist marries a Lebanese journalist and travels with him to Beirut, Baghdad, and beyond during the bloody years from 2003 to 2008. While she does report on the war and its consequences, what really fires her up are the meals and rituals, still vibrant despite the traumas, stresses, and shortages. I chose Day of Honey for my book club, and cooked for days: fattoush, or Levantine Bread Salad; kafta, lamb meatballs; yakhnet sbanegh or spinach stew; and Lebanese mighli, a rice pudding flavored with cinnamon, caraway, and fennel, topped with toasted pistachios and coconut flakes. Mail-ordered sumac, a dark red spice with a pungent, lemony taste, and made my own pomegranate molasses by boiling down a bottle of juice. Still my favorite book club gathering—though one of the group members said “good story, but too much food!”
No such thing, in my book.
My mysteries are set in food-related retail shops, not restaurants. But it’s impossible to write about a Food Lovers’ Village or the Pike Place Market (my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in 2015) without including a chef or two. Some live, some die. So I’ve been reading about chefs. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton is gritty, moody, and mouth-watering. On a trip to Italy with her “Italian Italian” husband, she describes the Negroni so deliciously I had to have one—me, who rarely drinks hard liquor, prefers sweet or tangy to bitter, and had no idea it’s trendy. I loved it.
For each drink:
1-1/2 ounces Campari
1-1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1-1/2 ounces gin
1 orange twist (a strip of peel, at least half an inch wide and 3-4 inches long, twisted to release the oils)
Pour the liquor into an ice-filled rocks glass and add the peel. Best drunk outdoors on a deck overlooking a freshly mowed meadow or water.
Two more to recommend: The Soul of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman. A journalist follows three very different chefs on their paths to the kitchen. And a book I first learned of when the author stopped by JRW: Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant by Scott Haas. A food writer and clinical psychologist spends a year and a half writing and cooking in a high-end, high-test Boston restaurant. (PS from Lucy, we had Scott visit us last year to tell us about his book!)
I can’t close without mentioning Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan. Mr. Right and I are Pollan groupies. Cooked explores food through the four elements: earth (fermentation), air (baking), water (boiling), and fire (grilling & braising). (The Chinese add a fifth element, metal, but I digress.) If I weren’t writing mysteries, I’d write nonfiction the way Pollan does, diving into the history of a food, interviewing men and women obsessed with it, and recreating their methods at home. My bread-baking and braises have improved, and my husband is eager to barbecue a pork shoulder on the back deck. (I draw the line at whole hog. We live in grizzly country.) Pollan makes a tasty case for cooking—of course, I’m already hooked.
Got a favorite kitchen memoir or food-ography?
About Crime Rib:
“Gourmet food market owner Erin Murphy is determined to get Jewel Bay, Montana’s scrumptious local fare some national attention. But her scheme for culinary celebrity goes up in flames when the town’s big break is interrupted by murder…
Food Preneurs, one of the hottest cooking shows on TV, has decided to feature Jewel Bay in an upcoming episode, and everyone in town is preparing for their close-ups, including the crew at the Glacier Mercantile, aka the Merc. Not only is Erin busy remodeling her courtyard into a relaxing dining area, she’s organizing a steak-cooking competition between three of Jewel Bay’s hottest chefs to be featured on the program.
But Erin’s plans get scorched when one of the contending cooks is found dead. With all the drama going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out who didn’t have a motive to off the saucy contestant. Now, to keep the town’s rep from crashing and burning on national television, Erin will have to grill some suspects to smoke out the killer…”
Leslie Budewitz is the national best-selling author of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries set in northwest Montana, and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Crime Rib, the second in the series, was published by Berkley Prime Crime on July 1, 2014. Her Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015.
Also a lawyer, Leslie won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books). Read more at her website or like her on Facebook: LeslieBudewitzAuthor