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Friday, July 25, 2014

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan

I know that I generally have a favorable opinion regarding many of the books I read.  (I mean, hey, it's a book.  Most of them have something of worth to extract.)  As a result, you are probably thinking that I am just going to say good things about everything and yada yada yada.

But this book, dearies, this book is one you MUST get and read from cover to cover.  MUST.  This is not one that I am just haphazardly suggesting you read, this one I am telling you to go get - you won't regret it.  It is brilliant and worthy of your time.

Michael Pollan is the famous author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.  If you're into reading about food, it is likely you've read that book.  It is thought provoking, as his work generally is.  This book, if I must say, is even better.

Mr. Pollan sections the world of cooking into the classical elements: fire, water, air and earth, and explores their influence in the realm of cooking.  

Fire, as you may guess, is the manly act of grilling (mainly a manly task - he tackles why through history).  He goes deep south to explain to (especially us) northerners what the real definition of barbecue is (and according to his research and those he's apprenticed under - it is NOT a verb).  He brings you into the lives of the grill masters, their pit crew and their beginnings, and somehow makes you want to tackle roasting a whole hog in your yard (even if you keep kosher).

Water is his exploration into what we generally think of as homemade, from scratch, fancy cooking.  If you've read David Tanis - that kind of cooking.  He makes you want to linger over a pot of onions, slowly releasing sweetness over the course of 45 minutes, not being quick about any of it - but reminding you of being purposeful and taking it easy.  I would say in one way, it is carefully and artfully making every single bit of the meal perfect.  Not skimping and grabbing Pillsbury pre-made dough, rather making your own.  Not using anything that came from a box or a bag (unless your veggies and fruits and herbs come in a bag, I mean).  It is the satisfying taste of braised meat in a stew or a homemade spaghetti sauce that you took the whole day (on purpose) to make from scratch.

The section on air is the world of baking.  When you are not even halfway through the section, you may find yourself figuring out how you too can get yourself into making a sourdough starter, tossing that granulated store-bought yeast by the wayside.  The feel of the bread, the quest for baking perfection - using white flour vs. using stone milled whole wheat (and he explains just what qualifies as "whole wheat" here in these United States...I bet you can guess...it doesn't mean a whole wheat berry ground up, sorry for the spoiler...), who bakes, how they do it, and his experimentation with it all.

Then comes the section I was most excited about.  Earth.  What on earth is earth in cooking, you say?  Oh my dears, it's fermentation, of course!  Without this section there would be no yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, beer, mead, cheese and on and on.  You know - the things your modern mind tells you that you couldn't POSSIBLY make yourself.  He throws that idea in the garbage as he meets and mingles with Sandor Katz, the guru of fermentation (and author of Wild Fermentation, ever heard of it?).  He makes beer in his basement.  He hangs out with a nun who makes cheese and spanks the FDA with her wooden paddle (okay, not literally, but if you read it you know what I mean).  He peeks at the philosophy of the grossies and our fascination with it.  He goes to a convention for fermentos who ask Sandor Katz for his autograph.  Even though you hate sauerkraut, you kind of want to make it anyway, just to see.

If you have any interest in food or in cooking whatsoever, you will want to pick this book up.  If you want to see how far we have come as a society in our definition of what cooking actually means, go get this book.  If you want to be inspired toward perfection in your kitchen, look no further.  This is one of the best books I have read in several years.  I rank this up there with the likes of Food is Your Best Medicine (Dr. Henry Bieler) and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (Dr. Weston A. Price).  

Easy to read, spiked with humor, and overflowing with wonderful and interesting information and research - you are missing out if you miss this one.

Keep on reading,
Ms. Daisy

Monday, June 9, 2014

Anne Boleyn (Norah Lofts) and Jamie's America (Jamie Oliver)

 Yes, I suppose these two may be just a weensy bit unrelated (although you could argue that both of these people have made their mark on the world).  Nevertheless, I think these are a pair of books you ought to get your hands on.

As far as the Jamie's America goes, if you've ever read any of his cookbooks, you'll know that if it's from Jamie, it's going to be good.  He sections off his recipes based on different areas of the U.S. of A. and writes in those themes.  Jamie does food the real deal way.  If you have any interest in food at all, you should check this out.  (And the pictures and visual quality is eye-catching and equally delicious.)

The next book, Anne Boleyn (by Norah Lofts) is a quick course through the life of one of the most mysterious, ambitious, and passionate queens in the world.  I have read Alison Weir's work on Anne Boleyn and in comparison  with Weir's work, the work of Lofts is less-detailed.   This is not a bad thing, however, as Weir knows every detail about everything!  She is the go-to for Anne, but Lofts walks you through her life in an interesting way.  If you aren't too familiar with Queen Anne, Henry VIII's second queen, I'd recommend this to give you the quick and dirty deets.

It's summer (or winter in the southern hemisphere), so READ!
Ms. Daisy

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Edith Hahn Beer/Christinia Maria Margarethe Vetter

I've been reading a bit here and there, picking through some books, reading chapters of some and then forgetting them.  

In fact, this post was originally a draft for when I was reading the biography of Alexander the Great probably sometime in December, and has now been adopted to another book I'm tearing through.


I had never heard of this person before and was just wandering around the library shelves when the title stood out to me so much that I picked it up with a , "WHAT?"  It's a bit of a shocking title.  This one is called, The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust.  

Now, you will sometimes find a striking title and then the inside of the book will be nothing to write home about.  It was a trick, a lure to pull you in and leave you unimpressed.

I can assure you that this is not the case at all with this autobiography.

I opened the book to the middle and read a page, flipped to the front and read another, and then I got sucked in.

I was looking forward to starting it last night before bed.  I opened to the first page and didn't look at the time or stop once until it was 12:45 a.m. and I was on page 145.

This is the story of a Jewish girl in the time of the Holocaust.  She has a boyfriend who is a combination of a genius, a wuss bucket, a mama's boy, and a fantastic manipulator.  It walks with her through her adapting to someone else's name, and an entirely new identity.  She walked out of her life of a university educated lawyer and sunk down to silencing herself to survive, pretending she was a non-opinioned, quiet mousey younger woman.  She is sent off to work in asparagus fields, starving, cold and enslaved.  Through providential circumstances, she is able to adopt her Aryan friend's identity and papers and moves away.  She is terrified of everyone and everything, and the story weaves together the unlikely but fascinating story of how she met and married a Nazi officer.

I'm 80 pages to the end and I can't put it down, but I had to get on here to tell you about it.

If you want to get into the life of a fascinating person in frighteningly wild circumstances, hop over to your library and pick up a copy of this book.  Or get it on Amazon, however you like to, but get it.

This one is HIGHLY recommended.

Peace, love and read!
Ms. Daisy