Dave Wood's Book Report, May 14, 2008
Most good food writing is not found in recipe books or in cooking magazines, which usually focus on nuts and bolts issues of technique. There are, of course, exceptions, like the late Will Jones, Rosetta Lynn Casper and Al Sicherman all of the Twin Cities, whose cookbooks are a joy to read and writers like Anthony Bourdain, the chef-turned-writer.
No, much of the good writing about food you'll find in magazines of a more general nature, like the work of Corby Kummer in The Atlantic Monthly, Adam Platt in New York magazine.
Best of all is The New Yorker, which for three-quarters of a century has turned out hundreds of food stories by some of America's finest writers, which include A.J. Liebling, Calvin Trillin, M.F.K. Fisher and the aforementioned Anthony Bourdain.
Publishers are usually very good about sending me review copies, but Random House screwed up late last year and didn't send me "Secret Ingredients," David Remnick, Editor ($29.95). So my wife did the unthinkable in our household. She actually bought a book and gave it to me for Christmas. "Secret Ingredients" is a collection of New Yorker food writing from the 1930s to the present.
Want to know about martinis? Read New Yorker staffer Roger Angell and his recollection of his stepfather, E.B. White and that wonderful writer's affection for the world's most famous cocktail.
After White retired from the New Yorker to live with Angell's mother up in New England, he would come on weekends to the train station to pick up his stepson -- always armed with a thermos of martinis for the trip home.
Years back, I read a wonderful story by Minneapolis Tribune foodie Will Jones and how Jones was inspired by a Joseph Mitchell story about the tradition of the New York City Beefsteak and organized one for Minneapolitans at Dania Hall back in the 1950s. The Mitchell story is included in the new collection. Wonderful.
Anthony Bourdain gets into the act with his scary essay entitled "Don't Eat Before Reading This" based on his life as a New York chef and how restaurants don't always come up with the freshest or tastiest food. Hint: Don't order fish on Monday night because it's probably left over from Friday.
Calvin Trillin has several essays in the book, including a short history of buffalo wings and story about bagels.
Even versifier Ogden Nash gets two old New Yorker poems he published years ago. Here's a sample:
Some ladies smoke too much and some ladies drink too much and some ladies pray too much,
But all ladies think that they weigh too much.
They may be as slender as a sylph or a dryad,
But just let them get on the scales and they embark on a doleful jeremiad;
No matter how low the figure the needle happens to touch,
They always claim it is at least 5 pounds too much;
No matter how underfed to you a lady's anatomy seemeth,
She describes her self as Leviathan or Behemoth;
So then their goal would be to look like somebody's 14-year-old
brother's ghost, or rather not the ghost itself, which is fairly solid, but a silhouette of it,
So I think it is very nice for ladies to be lithe and lissome
But not so much so that you cut yourself if you happen to embrace or kissome.
On the regional front there's a clever kid's book from Lerner Publishing in Minneapolis. It's "The Vowel Family: A Tale of Lost Letters," by Sally M. Walker, illustrations by Kevin Luthardt (CarolRhoda Books, $16.95). Here's the first line:
Whn Pm Smth mrrd Sm Vwl, sh sd, Lfs wndrfl! "xcpt whn w tlk," Sm sd. "Tlkng s vr hrd."
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org