Tag Archives: Culinary

Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Hot Stuffed Eggs with Tomato Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Whole Wheat Bread and Butter
Prune Pudding
Coffee

–Lunch at the White House

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If you’re a foodie, you’re probably gagging by now. Not the most appetizing menu, is it?

But before you start tweeting about this disgusting sounding menu, I will tell you that it is not from the current administration.

This meal actually was served on March 21, 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, oversaw the catering operation.

Eleanor Roosevelt was open about her lack of interest in food. She declared that she really didn’t care what she ate. Consequently, the Roosevelt administration was not exactly known for its gourmet meals. That only deteriorated when Eleanor discovered her husband’s infidelity and retaliated by hiring the next head chef, who came to be known as the worst cook in White House history.

Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the women profiled in What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories. Author Laura Shapiro, herself a foodie and culinary historian, reveals the lives of women through the food that they ate, or didn’t.

How did these women view food, and how did their attitudes impact those around them?

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Dorothy Wordsworth was her brother’s companion, nurse, cook and caretaker. For a time she found fulfillment in making whatever William fancied, and taking pleasure from his enjoyment of her cooking. However, when he fell in love and got married, she fell into a deep depression, ate herself into oblivion, and wallowed in dementia for the rest of her life.

Rosa Lewis was a famous caterer in London who rose from obscurity as a scullery maid to become the most famous cook in England, the favored chef of the king. However, her queasy-sounding quail pies and other way-too-rich recipes lost favor after World War I and, refusing to change her style, she lost her clientele.

Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s mistress, was the charming hostess who wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time. Fussing over the procurement and preparation of the finest food and beverages for company, she was solicitous of every guest at the dinner table. She took no interest in the political dealings of her lover or anyone who visited. Instead, she made sure that everyone was well fed and having a good time.

I confess that this profile did not sit well with me and I wish it had been omitted, although Shapiro did acknowledge the moral distance between Braun and the rest of these women.

Author Barbara Pym was determined to make the best of the post-World War II deprivations in London by writing about food in delectable detail. Barely acknowledging there was a war, Pym writes lavishly about food in all her novels. She enjoyed sitting quietly in restaurants and observing the gustatory behavior of diners around her.

And finally, Helen Gurley Brown, who turned the old, boring Cosmopolitan into a racy, sexy best-selling magazine, also helped usher in the feminist era. At the same time, she doted on her husband’s every need and want, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to please him … in every way. Her appreciation of food was only for how it could make him happy. Most likely an anorexic, she was reed thin all of her life and famously deprived herself of nourishment.

What She Ate is a terrific concept for a history lesson, and a fascinating peek into the personal lives of women in different eras. A tasty and entertaining amuse-bouche.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Book Buzz: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

New York City’s dining scene; i.e., the growing impossibility of snagging a reservation at popular restaurants in Manhattan, came up in conversation at our breakfast table last weekend.

“Listen to this,” my dad chortled, peering over the top of The New York Times. “Getting a reservation now is crazy. Unless you’re a celebrity, you’ll have to wait weeks.”

Or unless you’re willing to fork over biggg bucks, according to Abraham Merchant, owner of the restaurant Philippe in Manhattan, who was quoted in the Times article.

He typically holds a private room for celebrity clients, but will make an exception. “Sometimes, people will order a bottle of Château Lafite ahead of time — you’ll get the room then,” [Merchant] said. “If they’re going to spend $10,000, we’ll give them the room.”

Truth can be stranger than fiction, I thought, still savoring the debut novel from J. Ryan Stradal, “Kitchens of the Great Midwest,” which gently lampoons the world of celebrity chefs and orgasmic dining experiences.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

The protagonist, Eva Thorvald, is born into a Minnesota family of meager means and in the first months of her life experiences tragic loss. She struggles through a difficult childhood but discovers early in life that she has an unusually sensitive palate and a passion for preparing gourmet food, a quality she inherited from her foodie father.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is about Eva’s ascent into the world of food cognoscenti, a journey sprinkled with whimsy and peppered with funny, multi-dimensional characters who float in and our of her life.

Eva becomes the most famous chef in the world and creator of the pop-up supper club, called The Dinner. This highly sought-after dining extravaganza takes place several time a year, always in a different place. One time it was on the edge of a cliff. Another time it was in a boat at the edge of a waterfall.

The cost of these epicurean dinners? A cool $5,000 a plate. You register online with a $60/person non-refundable deposit. And then, you wait. Because the waiting list is years long. If and when you finally get the call, you must show up at the appointed place and time, or lose your spot.

And if you are lucky enough to attend The Dinner, you are destined to have the most sublime, the most memorable meal of your life.

So $10,000 to get a room at a Manhattan restaurant? Maybe not so outlandish in comparison.

If you like quirky, get ready to fall in love with this book.

And fall in love I did. By the third page it hit me, with the confluence of lutefisk (a Skandinavian whitefish), a boy with a permanent fish odor dubbed Fish Boy, and the loopy family Thorvald, my goosebump barometer registered way high. I knew I was in for a fun ride. And there are recipes! Like French Onion Soup and Pat’s Bars.

The goosebumps came back as I turned the last page, with profound awe at the way Stradal tied it all together in a surprising yet satisfying way.

In spite of Eva’s renown, she never forgets her roots: the homespun Midwest culture of church bakeoffs and potlucks, of lutefisk and heirloom tomatoes, of family ties and obligations.

This is an excellent choice for book groups and Viking has provided this handy book club kit to facilitate the discussion. And here is a great Q and A with the author.

Stradal is a terrific story-teller and a keen observer of human nature (and all things gastronomy). Full of heart and soul, Kitchens of the Great Midwest was so utterly entertaining that I think I might go back and read it a second time.

And maybe I’ll pop a batch of Pat’s Bars in the oven.

One of my lucky readers will get a copy of Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Kitchens of the Great Midwest from Penguin Random House for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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