Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

My Kitchen Wars

 

by Betty Fussell
Bison Books, 2009
264 pages
ISBN: 978-0803220973

Review by Kat Saunders

It is Christmas Eve eve, and my mother and I are sitting in our car, heater on, observing the blinking lights before us. These are not Christmas lights fl, but two fire trucks parked side-by-side in our driveway.

“Did it occur to you to make sure you removed all of the plastic wrapping from those fish sticks you heated earlier?” my mother says coldly.

“The fish sticks turned out fine,” I mutter, although this is surely an unsatisfactory reply.

“But not the snickerdoodles.”

I think of the smoldering tray of cookies, twisted and blackened like those snake bombs people set off on the 4th of July and I feel guilty for the melted plastic coating the bottom of the oven, the kitchen filled with smoke. I promise myself I will not touch the oven again if only the hunky firemen save our oven, our house, and most importantly, my Christmas presents. It would be a promise I would keep for the next 5 years.

Like my own questionable past in the kitchen, Betty Fussell is quick to remind readers that her love of classic French cooking and immaculate entertaining was anything but innate. In her memoir, My Kitchen Wars, she wryly recounts how she only knew how to cook hot dogs in the early years of her marriage. Her culinary education was sparked not by ambition, but of necessity. Similarly, my own return to the kitchen was mitigated by my move into an off-campus apartment. As Fussell grew frustrated with feeding herself and her husband mediocre food, she began to explore cookbooks and tips from Julia Child and other emerging voices in the culinary world. The Fussells threw lavish parties in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which transports us to the world of George and Martha, the academics who loved good cocktails, conversation, a glorious, airy soufflé, and partner swapping. Fussell and other housewives in her circle were “discovering with excitement how to upgrade [their] Irish stews into bouef bourguignonne and boeuf en daube.”

While I eventually graduated from flipping grilled cheese sandwiches on the stove, I still haven’t mastered the Art of French—or any other culture’s Cooking However, this past summer I planned a lavish dinner party of my own. The guests did not include Kingsley Amis or Phillip Roth, but rather my parents—my biggest supporters and harshest critics. For their 26th anniversary, they mentioned that in lieu of a gift, they’d love if I cooked them an elegant dinner, and demonstrate some of the techniques I learned in the past year I’d been cooking for myself. I painstakingly planned the menu and purchased ingredients, selected the wine, and sliced shallots through burning eyes. If Fussell underscores the potential tedium of planning such an event, she deftly reminds readers that the sense of accomplishment felt in presenting a series of beautiful dishes is incomparable. I might not have saved lobster shells for months, but I did manage to slow-roast red peppers for a bisque and lovingly nurse the roux that thickened it, bake a zucchini gratin—as delicate as it was devilish, wilt a bunch of Swiss chard in garlic and fresh bacon, and roast chicken in a Dijon and caper sauce.

In contrast to Fussell’s era, learning to cook for myself and for my family was my own choice, rather than a requirement. Fussell notes that for many women, the kitchen is not a space free from the influence of the rest of the world, naming it:

…a midden of unpaid bills, half-spent candles, soiled napkins, mail-order catalogues I will never order from, tear sheets of recipes I will never make, last year’s letters I will never answer.

As I and other young women and new cooks struggle with our own less-than-perfect lives, trying to balance our educations and careers with tasks at home, I sense that there’s a fear about devoting our time to domestic work. This fear might come from a concern over setting an oven on fire or whether the mold was adequately scraped from the hot dogs, but it could also come from that thought that if we enjoy cooking we’re reinforcing certain stereotypical roles that women like Fussell struggled to escape. Although Fussell is 85-years-old, her work is a lively reassurance that there’s an inherent satisfaction in learning more about cuisine and even throwing a dinner party, and this message is relevant even for young women and cooks like me in their early twenties. In choosing to cook and enjoying the process, the kitchen doesn’t have to be a battleground.

May 2013