My Favorite Things

{Dinner and a book, June 2007]

Two things I love are books and food (or, reading and cooking). So it makes sense that I especially love books — and not necessarily cookbooks — about food. I think I actually prefer books whose characters are cooks, or who are deeply fascinated by food, to traditional recipe-books; I am at the core of me a fiction-lover, so when I read a novel that deals with cooking, it is like the best meal you could imagine, made with the freshest, most delectable organic ingredients, served on fine china on a deck overlooking the ocean (or in the mountains; a place with a view, at any rate).

I just read Ms.Tea’s list of her own favorite food-y books — inspired by The Perfect Pantry’s Bookworms in the Pantry compilation, and I couldn’t resist detailing a few of the novels and nonfiction works that have caught my food-centric eye …

One of my most-loved books with a heavy food influence was recommended to me by my brother, who had read it the summer he worked on an organic farm in Virginia. I remember going deep into the quiet stacks of the Martin Luther King Library on a Saturday afternoon quest to find it for myself — and it was so worth it. Diana Abu-Jabar’s Crescent is the story of an Iraqi-American woman living in L.A. who is the main cook at a Middle Eastern restaurant. It’s mostly about her reconnection with her cultural identity through cooking and her relationship with an Iraqi professor; the food descriptions are glorious. I haven’t yet read Abu-Jabar’s memoir, The Language of Baklava, but it’s on my little mental list (and on hold at the library).

Another find I just came across (in the Atlanta airport, on the way to Greece, if you must know) is The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass, author of the more well-known Three Junes, (which also incorporates food, though not to the same extent). In Glass’s latest novel, Greenie Duquette moves to New Mexico to be its governor’s head chef, leaving her husband and bakery behind in New York. Amid all the finely wrought character studies are delicious-sounding menus prepared by Greenie as well as a friend who owns a restaurant (the description of the dishes she puts together for a sample meal was enough to make me buy the book).

This spring, a friend gave me Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: the Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution, by Thomas McNamee, and I devoured it in a few days. I mentioned it a few months ago; it’s satisfyingly gossipy, informative, and full of past menus and recipes, which I adore.

And Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, or an “apothecary of aphrodisiacs” is exactly that — a lusty, luscious tome with descriptions to make you giggle and blush at the same time.

In the queue: my beloved Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, which I’ve been saving as a treat for myself, and a re-read of M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating, which I keep close by whenever I need a bit of inspiration — or want to do some heavy lifting.

Any further suggestions?

Join the Conversation

  1. Nicole, thanks for being a Bookworm in the Pantry! I love your additions to our collective library of good reads.

  2. Thanks! And I’m so glad you liked the story … it was a fun one to write. Hope you enjoy Crescent – I couldn’t put it down.

  3. What a great list! Crescent is now on my “to read” list, very near the top (the Julia Glass book has been on the list for a while, I so enjoyed her first book). Thanks for the suggestions and further inspiration.

    (PS. I loved your story about parental remodel in the Chron–hadn’t realized that was you!)

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