Comfort Reading

August 21, 2008 at 5:19 pm 1 comment

As I come closer to the end of the summer and the beginning of graduate school, I am finding myself getting more and more apprehensive about my future. And, like many others, when I get nervous, I eat. Or at least cook – sometimes the only cure for a bad case of nerves is to pound a cup of toasted slivered almonds into crumbs for a batch of Almond Cookies. It’s amazing what fifteen minutes with a rolling pin and a Ziploc bag full of nuts can do for your sanity.

But I can’t cook all the time, and I’d rather not gain the freshman fifteen before I become a first-year again, so sometimes I have to replace the rolling pin with a book. Here are my “comfort foods” of literature, some chicken noodle soup for your soul, if you will, but a little more literally (and a little less annoyingly – does anyone else hate those books like I do?):

The Fourth Star by Lisa Brenner
This book follows the staff of Daniel, a formerly four-star New York restaurant that was bumped down to three stars when a new food critic came to the New York Times. The staff tries desperately over the course of a year to gain back that last star, and reporter Lisa Brenner shadows them in all aspects, from front of the house service to back of the house food preparation.

It really impresses me how much Ms Brenner manages to cram into this book, and how much real dialogue she is able to capture. I felt as though maybe this book could have been more like a movie or a TV show, what with all of the drama and action in there. It’s one of my favorites, and a definite must-read.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
Julie and Julia is the story of Julie Powell, who comes to a crisis when she is told she has a hormonal imbalance that will make it hard for her to have children if she doesn’t do it soon. This, of course, in typical Sex and the City fashion, makes Ms Powell feel as though she has done nothing useful with her life. Her husband suggests she go to culinary school, and Ms Powell retorts that if she wanted to learn to cook, she would just work her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

And the rest is history. A copy of the book is procured, a blog is started, and ingredients like beef marrow and squab start appearing in the Powell kitchen. The book is well-written; Ms Powell is kind of abrasive at times, but her redeeming factor is that she is aware of her tendency to overreact and there is generally a little undertone of either amusement or shame when she recounts her more dramatic episodes. I didn’t think the pieces of Julia Child’s life that punctuate the book were strictly necessary, but I also didn’t think there was anything really wrong with them – I just found Julie’s life more interesting than Julia’s.

Waiting by Debra Ginsberg
I think everyone should read one book on waitressing or restaurants in the course of their lives, and preferably sooner than later. Though it’s nearly impossible to fully understand the things servers have to put up with from clients and back of house staff alike without actually ever working as one, reading one book like this will convince you that servers work a lot harder than most of us give them credit for.

I have read a few blogs by servers that are amusing and enlightening, and one thing that seems common to all of them is the lament that people simply don’t know how to behave when they go out to eat. Poor tipping, over-the-top demands and the inability of parents to control their children are the main topics that get these servers steamed up.

Debra Ginsberg also gets rather angry throughout the course of the book, but since she breaks up her rants with stories about working in a diner and a few bars, as well as statistics on tipping and other matters, she’s much more readable than many of the server blogs out there. She also clearly defines characters, as if writing a novel, which many bloggers don’t. However, if you’re still interested, check out Waiter Rant, The Insane Waiter and I Serve Idiots (I know he tells you to go to a different URL, but that address is defunct).

French Lessons by Peter Mayle
I am pretty sure this is the first food book I ever read, so it’s on here for the purpose of nostalgia, if nothing else. How can I neglect the author who taught me that truffles are mushrooms, not just little balls of chocolate, and yes, people really do eat and enjoy snails?

Mr Mayle begins the book with a story about traveling to France for the first time and sampling their version of the British classic, fish and chips. This first meal is like a revelation to him, as British food is notoriously bad, and French food is notoriously awesome.

The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichel
It is impossible for me to resist a bargain, which is how I ended up taking this book home with me from a discount store. I used to read Gourmet magazine, and having read Ms Reichel’s Garlic and Sapphires and Tender at the Bone, I knew at least the preface of this cookbook would be worth reading.

It was, of course, but the rest of the book proved just as amazing. As promised on the back of the dust jacket, this is, in fact, the only cookbook I think I will ever need. Short of pulling a Julie and Julia-type cooking marathon with Gourmet, I know I will never work my way through everything it has to offer. Still, I can try…red wine risotto, anyone?


Entry filed under: Collections and Lists, Non-fiction.

Summer Lovin’ What’s the story, morning glory?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. The Grift by Debra Ginsberg « Literary Transgressions  |  January 6, 2010 at 12:17 am

    […] about her many years serving tables while waiting for her big break as a writer. It’s one of my favorite food books, and I feel it’s worth mentioning because it not only changed the way I tip servers, but it […]


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