What are you reading this summer? I’m up to about three or four books a week at this point. Some are just fluffy page-turners while others give me a deep dive into a topic I want to learn more about. Any book with mentions of food and drink gets my attention. I find it interesting when fiction writers pay a lot of attention to what their characters eat and drink. It brings those characters into sharper focus for me.
Here are some of the books I’ve read so far this summer, so take a look and maybe one or two will spark your interest.
“World Travel: An Irreverent Guide illustrated Edition”
Even if we can’t go to some of the world’s wonderful places, this book by Anthony Bourdain (Ecco, April 20, 2021) is a transporting read. Experience the world, Bourdain-style through essays by the chef and food writer as well as by guest writers and friends. He offers information on how to get to and around so places including Manila, Toronto, Hanoi, and Austin. You’ll also get advice on what to eat, of course. The illustrations by by Wesley Allsbrook are great, too.
From the food journalist who explored how the four classic elements transform nature into things to eat in “Cooked” and gave us “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” comes “This is Your Mind on Plants” by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press, July 6, 2021) which dives into three psychoactive plants – mescaline, opium and caffeine. In it, he tries to grow poppies and gives up caffeine, discusses taboos and experiences these plants from different angles including historical, scientific and participatory. I learned so much about caffeine and its contribution to different cultures and eras, including the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.
A related book I learned of while watching a video interview with Pollan on Joe Rogan’s show is “Taste of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants” by Wolfgang Schivebusch who also talks about caffeine and many other spices and their contribution to civilization.
“Recipes from the World of Tolkien: Inspired by the Legends”
Because I’m a big nerd, this book by Robert Tuesley Anderson (Thunder Bay Press, 2020) definitely got my attention. Enjoy mushroom pastry cauldrons, Grey Havens garlicky grilled mussels and the mulled wines of Morea. Even if I never make anything from this book, it’s entertaining to flip through.
I wrote about this book a few weeks ago but want to remind you all that Seacoast ethnobotanist John Forti recently released “The Heirloom Gardener ~ Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World” (Timber Press, June 22, 2021). This is a great summer book because you can pick it up and read an essay or two and go off to the beach or bring it to the beach to enjoy between dips in the ocean or your beach town snacks. Chapters are organized alphabetically from A to Z and include personal essays on plants, trees and herbs including angelica, elms and sage as well as concepts important to preserving garden and nature craft like distillation, the language of flowers and May Day. Along the way, readers get advice on cultivating not only their gardens but honing craft and culture. They are all so lovely to read.
I’ll be writing more about this but our friends at Kalamata’s Kitchen, Sarah Thomas and Derek Wallace, who self-published three books about cool Kalamata’s food adventures got a huge book deal with Random House and the first in the new series is out on July 20. The series helps kids open their minds to new cultures through food and traditions, asking them to take the Kalamata pledge: “I promise to keep my mind open and my fork ready, to try each new food at least two times, and share what’s on my plate when someone doesn’t have enough.”
“Tasting the World… One Country at a Time: 192 Countries, 192 Meals”
Nicole Jordan O’ Donnell (Fathead & Edmund, 2020) offers us a recipe from every independent country in the world, many of them beloved national dishes. Learn to make conch chowder from the Bahamas, Peking duck from China and Wat with injera from Ethiopia. For Belize she includes “Boil-up” from the Kriol culture.
Bill Buford who wrote “Heat” came out with “Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking” last year. (Vintage, 2020). He moved from New York to Lyon with his wife and 3-year old twins and got a job in a Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s a very fun read.
In fiction, I recently read three fun and food-filled tales.
“Arsenic and Adobo”
Mia P. Manansala’s book (Berkley, May 2021) is the first in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series and explores Filipino-American food and culture. Protagonist Lila Macapagal has come home to help with her Tita’s restaurant after a break-up and oh! Her ex is a mean food critic who keels over dead. The other fun read (but also a bit sad) is “Lizzie and Dante” by Mary Bly. Lizzie falls for Dante, a Michelin-starred chef in the U.S. who also has a small restaurant on Elba off the Italian coast. Love, food, wine and difficult choices abound.
“Animal: A Novel” by Lisa Taddeo (Simon & Schuster, 2021)
This is one of those books where the author includes food and drink details that say a lot about each character. It’s a disturbing story full of suspense and one I’m still thinking about weeks after I finished it. It may resonate with many women out there.
I also loved The Rajes series by Sonali Dev (William Morrow). It’s about “an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco” so start with “Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors” first, then “Recipe for Persuasion” and finally “Insense and Sensibility.” “Recipe for Persuasion” has the most food in it because it’s about Ashna Raje, a chef and the food descriptions are so lush and alluring.
Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner, reviewer and Seacoast resident, who now lives in Austin, Texas and Belize. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.