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


  1. Food memoir books are terrific . . . I'd add the Frugal Gourmet books to the list. They're great reading and full of fantastic recipes . . . .

  2. I must confess I haven't read any food memoirs. I'm too busy trying to keep up with the culinary (and other) cozies.

  3. Laurie Colwin's Home Comforts and Home Comforts II are a wonderful mix of memoir and recipes. And MFK Fisher still sets the standard.

  4. Hi Leslie! Looking forward to reading Crime Rib.

    One of my favorite writing resources is The Times Picayune's Creole Cook Book. I have the Sesquicententennial Edition, which gathered recipes from the paper's weekly food column since 1901, but it's also a wonderful social history of New Orleans and the parish people who came to town to shop for foods (and linens, household goods, etc.) The editor, Marcelle Bienvenu, has published several of her own cookbooks that serve as food memoirs. She calls them Creole family albums. My favorite is Who's Your Mama, Are Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux?

  5. You're making me hungry, Leslie, and it isn't even seven AM on the east coast! I also loved Cooked, and have been doing wonders with my sourdough starter every week or two. But I must read more by and about Julia Child. And can't wait to read Crime Rib!

  6. OH Ramona, what a wonderful title!

    I love Laurie Colwin's books too. Here are some others I've enjoyed: BORN ROUND by Frank Bruni (former NYT food critic), SPOON FED by Kim Severson, THE SWEET LIFE IN PARIS by David Lebovitz, THE SHARPER YOUR KNIFE, THE LESS YOU CRY by Kathleen Flinn.

    Congrats on CRIME RIB Leslie--looks like a winner!

  7. Great recommendations, Leslie! And congratulations on the book.

    In my TBR pile I've got LIFE IS MEALS: A FOOD LOVERS BOOK OF DAYS by James and Kay Salter. Looks thick and juicy.

  8. So proud of you and what you are doing!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  9. The Book of Salt: A Novel by Monique Truong -- main character is the live-in cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas -- lots of intrigue.

    I think I read more cookbooks than I cook from.

  10. Trying to wean myself from collecting recipes and cookbooks and food books now that there's the internet. NOT being successful at this.

  11. Michael Pollan groupie here, too, starting with his first bestseller, The Botany of Desire. Which, in my opinion, is a must read. As are all his books.

    Heat, by Bill Buford, is excellent. In addition to chapters about working with several chefs, including Mario Batalli, and he writes about Dario Cecchini, the famed Italian butcher whose Panzano macellaria was the site of the "funeral for the bistecca", after the Italian government called for the slaughter and disposal of all the beef in Italy. Mad cow disease was tainting the meat in many countries--including the US--but Dario said Italians took better care of their cattle.

    I happened to be in Tuscany a couple days before this "funeral" (there were cool graphic invitations and everything-Dario does nothing halfway), visiting his shop when Italian TV came to interview him. My group ended up on TV; one of our members was even interviewed. In Italian. And she replied in English. We got to see it that night at our hotel in Florence.

    My favorite food writer of all time was Jeffrey Steingarten, who compiled a lot of his Vogue Magazine columns into a book, The Man Who Ate Everything. His goal as food critic was to explore all kinds of food, especially foods he had always avoided or assumed he wouldn't like. I was so sad when he left Vogue; his columns were the biggest reason I read the magazine. He was a little crazy, a little prejudiced, and a little braver foodwise than I will ever be, but he was a wonderful writer.

  12. PS If you want to see a whole different take on food and its preparation, Google Dario Cecchini and take a tour of his amazing butcher shop. Which is pristine, incredibly beautiful and decorated with priceless art. Dario is as likely to be singing along to opera as he is to Buena Vista Social Club playing from the speakers in the shop. Also, he's one handsome devil.

  13. Hi Leslie - Welcome!

    I just love it when we talk about food. And food books! I'm adding all these to my list - Thanks!

    I have to add a book I mentioned here recently Pat Conroy's cookbook. It's filled with fun recipes, but also filled with food related essays that never fail to delight and move me.

  14. Wonderful suggestions Karen, I have HEAT on my pile. I might have the Jeffrey Steingarten too.

    And Denise, I also have THE BOOK OF SALT. Must make more time to read!

    Ellen, I know, it's a problem and we are not helping you this week:)

  15. Thanks, Kaye! I had no idea Pat Conroy had a cookbook, but that sounds fantastic.

  16. Kitchen Confidential! Terrifiying. (My sister is a chef, trained at Michel Giraud, and she says it's all true.)

    What a great list of books! and oxxoo Leslie!

    (I am at the airport at the gate...surrounded by other people going to Las Vegas. It is pretty funny. xoo I am on the way to ALA--I predict they are not :-)

  17. 916I'm looking forward to reading your books!
    Barbara Kinsolver's Animal Vegetable Mineral is quite good reading.

  18. Only culinary mysteries so far but you are tempting me everyone.
    Leslie, I read Death al Dente the week before last and loved it. Now I want to read Crime Rib.

  19. I'm with those who favor food books on particular foods or elements of. Mark Kurlansky's books about salt--Salt: A World History and the picture book, The Story of Salt--are high on my list. I've read parts of the first one, and I thought I had the picture book, too. Must conduct search. Kurlansky also has books entitled Cod:A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and The Big Oyster:History on the Half Shell. A book of his that has caught my recent attention is The Food of a Younger Land:A Portrait of American Food Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants ...

    Spice: The History of Temptation by Jack Turner is one I'd like to take a look at. There are also books on coffee, tea, sugar, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, and ... Well, you get the picture.

    Oh, and Kaye, you are so right about Pat Conroy's cookbook. When I got to hear him speak and had books signed by him, the cookbook was one of those. It's typical Pat Conroy in person, entertaining as entertaining can be.

    Leslie, I love the title and cover of your book, and your food writing sounds absolutely scrumptious.

  20. Barbara Kingsolver's book is actually titled "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". It's a must-read for foodies.

    And the best recipe for canned spaghetti sauce ever is in that book!

    Hank, I listened to Kitchen Confidential, narrated by Anthony Bourdain himself, on a trip. Could barely bring myself to stop anyplace to eat.

  21. I have read the Julia bio--must get! And so tempted by all these other books!!!

    I LOVE Kitchen Confidential--it's one of the books I always keep when I do a bookshelf purge. But would really love the audio version.

    And Leslie, can't wait for Crime Rib!

  22. I haven't read any food memoirs, but I do love old cookbooks. Some of the recipes sound very weird! But also, it's fun to see the way people entertained in the 50s and 60s.

    Ramona, I love the titles of those Creole cookbooks!

  23. Apologies for checking in late -- I'm out west, and took advantage of the rainy morning to sleep in a bit after a busy Book Launch weekend!

    Joan, my first job out of law school was for the Wash State Court of Appeals in Tacoma, where I frequented a small bookstore owned by Patricia Smith -- whose husband was Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet! Always a nice display of his books, of course -- and if I recall right, she came up with that name!

    Mark, yes! Some days I wish I could just read or cook all day -- a rich time for food-loving readers in all genres!

  24. PlumGaga -- love your name! Somehow, I missed Laurie Colwin's food essays, though they get mentioned on JRW regularly! On my list...

    Ramona, the Creole CookBook sounds fabulous! A newspaper reporter reminisced to me last week about his early days in the business, working at the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Small city paper, but it had its own food columnist and in-house kitchen. He loved being called on as a taste tester!

    (Those elephant-like sounds you here are my cat, bored by the rain, conducting one-cat races through the house.)

  25. Ah, Edith -- yes, these books do make one hungry. Hazard of the biz! I bet that sourdough starter gives your kitchen a yummy fragrance!

    Roberta/Lucy and Hallie, thanks for the suggestions. Have you seen A Matter of Taste, the documentary on Chef Paul Liebrandt? He's anxious about Frank Bruni's review and they celebrate when Bruni raves. Quite fun!

    David Lebovitz's blog makes me drool on the screen.

  26. Thank you, Thelma!

    Denise, that book's in my TBR -- moving it up!

    Ellen, I sympathize! Every so often, I tell myself to stop saving food blogs or printing out recipes. Works about as well for me as for you...

  27. Karen, yes -- I loved The Botany of Desire, too. Interesting to watch how Pollan went from there into investigating the food industry and eventually into cooking -- not where he started!

    Love your Florence stories -- and more terrific recommendations.

    Off to Google Dario!

  28. Thanks, Kaye! I think we've got another blog topic here: novelists who've also written cookbooks! Or in the case of Anthony Bourdain, chefs who've also written novels.

    And yes, Hank, Kitchen Confidential launched the modern kitchen memoir. There's a lot of Bourdain in a chef who'll play a big role in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries.

    (Why did Blogger just change the captcha from numbers, which I can usually get, to words, which trip me up?)

  29. Kelly, many thanks! Is Animal, Vegetable Kingsolver's book about living off what they grew on their farm for a year? What a brave and impressive venture!

    Danielle, so glad you liked Death al Dente!

  30. Kathy, Kurlansky's books are so wonderfully dense and rich, aren't they? Mark Bitterman also wrote a great book on salt. And Turner's history of spice is fascinating.
    I went looking for a book focusing on cinnamon and didn't find one. Wouldn't that be fun to write?

  31. Kathy, Kurlansky's books are so wonderfully dense and rich, aren't they? Mark Bitterman also wrote a great book on salt. And Turner's history of spice is fascinating.
    I went looking for a book focusing on cinnamon and didn't find one. Wouldn't that be fun to write?

  32. Karen, I listened to Bourdain read Kitchen Confidential, too. Could anyone else have possibly done justice to it?

    And Deb, when JB at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop showed me where my books would be on the shelf of "culinary mysteries," guess who was my next-book neighbor? Bourdain!

    Diane, cookbooks can be a snapshot of popular culture or a time and place, can't they? Your comment reminded me of The Pink Elephant, a little spiral-bound cocktail recipe book my parents had. We still consult it -- Champagne Cocktails, but no Negroni!

  33. Leslie, what fun to be next to Tony!

    Can we have your champagne cocktail recipe, pretty please?

  34. Deb, from A Guide to Pink Elephants:

    Lump of sugar
    dash of bitters
    chilled Champagne
    twist of lemon peel

    Saturate sugar with bitters and place in glass. Add champagne and garnish with the lemon twist.

    Gary Regan, in The Joy of Mixology, specifies Angostura bitters and 5-1/2 oz of champagne.

    Ingrid Bergman and Paul Hendricks drink champagne cocktails in Casablanca! Cheers!

  35. Thanks for sharing a great foodie list! Your series sounds awesome. Love the Crime Rib title--will look for it.

  36. Thanks, Marian! I admit, I've had to discipline myself not to run to the library website and request all these books!

    Thanks, Reds and friends, for spending the day with me -- and for taking the trip to the Food Lovers' Village!

  37. Good luck with your new book, Leslie!

  38. Not sure you will see this since I am several days late reading your post !! But I plan on being at the Crow's Nest in Polson to see you and get the new book. Very excited!