Tag Archives: Food

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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Book Buzz: Burnt Toast

Some kids dream of being a doctor, an airline pilot, a teacher.

Me? I wanted to be a farmer.

Like a country mouse in the city, I felt out of place in our suburban neighborhood. My destiny was to live on a farm, of that I was certain. A farm with horses and cows and chickens, where I would get up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows and muck out the stalls. I would gather eggs from the hen house and bring them to my mother (Maw) who would scramble them up for a hearty breakfast with homemade biscuits and strawberry preserves to top it off.

I begged my parents to ditch the suburban nonsense and move to the country. Also? We needed to grow our family. Look at any farm family, I told them. You need a passel of kids to help with the chores. So we needed to adopt a few, and a big sister would be much appreciated. They listened patiently, but it was only cute for so long. When my beseeching disintegrated into petulant whining they either changed the subject or sent me to to my room.

A life on the farm was not in the cards.

Burnt Toast

However, my fascination with farm life has remained strong, and that’s why I enjoyed reading “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family.”

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Author Kathleen Flinn, who has written two previous books on her fascination with the culinary world, including the New York Times bestselling memoir, “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry,” has penned this homage to a childhood short on luxuries but long on farming, love … and home cooking.

Good cooks and food enthusiasts run in Flinn’s Swedish and Irish family, and this memoir is chock full of anecdotes related to the joy of eating. From foraging for morels to fishing for smelt and preparing Grandpa Charles’ chili, each chapter is a page of Flinn’s childhood, recounted with charm and a sense of fun.

I was amazed to learn how voluminous a family farm operation can be. From the bounty of their garden Flinn’s mother canned 80 quarts of applesauce, 120 quarts of tomatoes and 80 quarts of peaches each year. And that was just the beginning.

Because money was tight in those early years, her mother learned how to stretch a dollar while making wholesome, tasty food for her growing brood. Flinn has compiled many of the family favorites and each chapter ends with a recipe, such as this one for Apple Crisp.

Apple Crisp from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

If you’re wondering why the title is “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good,” it refers to Flinn’s grandmother’s phrase used to get a picky child to eat. Grandma Inez had other memorable quotes, like this:

Grandma Inez from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

I’ve already tried one recipe and can’t wait to try more. I made these rolls this week and they were a big hit with my husband. They are best hot from the oven with a dab of butter.

No-Knead Yeast Rolls from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Aunt Myrtle’s No-Knead Yeast Rolls

Makes 2 dozen

1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
1/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
1 c. boiling water
1 large egg
3 1/2 c. all purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let sit 10 minutes.

In a different bowl, combine the shortening, salt, sugar, and boiling water. Let cool slightly. Add the dissolved yeast, egg and flour and mix well; the dough will be slightly sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least two hours and up to 24.

Coat a muffin pan with cooking spray. Pinch off dough and fill each muffin slot about 1/3 full. Brush the tops with melted butter. Let rise for about two hours in a warm place, until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, or until they rise up firmly and are slightly browned. Let cool slightly before removing from the pan. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

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Maybe I’ve still got some of the farm girl in me. I’m hankering for some homemade strawberry preserves to go with those rolls. I’m going to learn how to make it myself.

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I am delighted to be able to offer a copy of “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and the winner will be contacted next week. Only US addresses eligible.

Disclosure: I received a copy of “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good” from Viking and Penguin Books for an honest review. Which this is.

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