The cold-weather holidays get a lot of credit for being the most special eating days of the year, but I think when it comes to food, summer’s where it’s at. Suddenly, we have rare hours of sunlight after our evening commutes—what better way to use them than by leisurely sipping and dining in parks or on patios? Not to mention the new abundance of fresh, seasonal produce and the daily affirmation that yes, it’s hot out, and therefore yes, ice cream is a swell idea. With what’s left of summer, I’m using all this extra daylight to round up and read the food-related books in my TBR pile.
Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, by Samira Kawash
I listed these titles alphabetically, but they’re also, coincidentally, listed in order of importance—I love candy. There are several reasons for this. First, there are so many kinds of candy, and second, candy is delicious. Also, my grandparents worked for combined decades in a Chicago candy factory, which I believe is at least partially responsible for the corn syrup that flows through my veins. Also, before you even open this book up, you can admire its perfect cover and title. The Booklist review is stellar, proving this book is clearly more than marshmallow.
Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond
Author Steve Almond (oh, how I want to add “Joy” at the end of that name—do you think his kids are named Jordan and Chocolate-covered?) visits candy factories to learn more about his passion for candy, or perhaps cure himself of it. Subgenre: Brainy-candy-armchair travel.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach
A year ago, I read half of this book before it was due back to the library. Lucky for me, several months later I found a copy at Booklist and it’s been waiting on my office shelves ever since. But the half I read a year ago contained loads of interesting things. For instance, laundry detergent mimics proteins in human saliva! So, it actually is smart to rub some spit on the sleeve you just dragged through ketchup. But I have to remind myself that reading is about more than entertaining the masses at the many cocktail parties I attend. I love Mary Roach and I’m sure that the second half of the book promises as much “hilarious, mind-expanding inquiry” as the first.
Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
This is the most aspirational title on my list. My relationship with eggplant of late is to every so often purchase one and then, two weeks after that, find it sad and brown in the bottom of my fridge drawer. We look at one another longingly as I dangle it over the trashcan and whisper, “Let’s pretend this never happened.” Flash forward to this summer: me and eggplant, sitting on a couch opposite chef Yotam Ottolenghi, finally working out our differences. Recipes by Ottolenghi pop up often in my staid searches for dinner inspiration, so I think it’s time I read—and prepared—his oeuvre as he intended, eggplants and all.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan
Years ago, a friend summed up Pollan’s thoughts on food for me: “Eat everything, not too much, mostly plants.” Did Pollan ever say this? I actually have no idea. I like the sound of it and, clearly, the mantra has stayed with me, but I think it’s time to find out more. If I were tasked with killing my own food I would never eat meat, so I can say I feel an omnivore’s dilemma. I’m promised that Pollan evenhandedly considers issues like special diets, factory farms, and nutrition as a whole. Hit me, Pollan, hit me with all the dilemmas you’ve got.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley
Booklist‘s Graphic Novels Editor, my pal Sarah Hunter, handed me this book a couple of years ago because she thought I’d love it. I read only a couple pages before I was consumed with jealousy towards Lucy Knisley’s charmed, foodie upbringing, surrounded as she was by Manhattan cooks and bakers. I slammed the book on my desk, marched into my now former friend’s office, and asked how dare she recommend something so adorable, smart, and utterly . . . perfect? I’m older now, so I think it’s time to patch up my estranged friendship with Editor Hunter.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss
I love to occasionally ignore nutritional labels as much as the next guy (see above: Candy, Candyfreak), but most of the time I want to know what the heck I’m eating. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Michael Moss exposes the way the food industry manipulates our simple human desires by adding sugar and fat to our food. Moss gives me and you the tools to tackle the issue ourselves.