My Spice of Life “Feast”: A Pool of Books to Chose From

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I don’t usually write up a post for each new challenge I join; I just put my pool of books on my current challenges page. But, as I’m running the Spice of Life Challenge, I hope my list of hopefully delectable books will tempt you to join.

There are three levels of participation: “A Taste” (read just two books in any category); “A Sampler” (read four books, one in each category”); and “A Feast” (read six books from at least three categories).  To sign up, get some more information here.

Below, then, is my personal pool of books from which I will chose between six and eight for this challenge. These are just the ones I’m most likely to pick up in the next six months; there are dozens more I’d love to get to, of course. I posted a few much longer lists on the challenge site (link to by clicking the picture).

Recently Read

I’ve read and/or reviewed a few books in the past that you may enjoy too. In my pre-book blogging days, I reviewed The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman, so my review is in a different format. I really enjoyed the essays the beginning of the book best, and I appreciate the glossary at the end. I should revisit it. I also reviewed Ruhlman’s memoir of attending the Culinary Institute of America. Since he is a journalist, it’s a completely different type of perspective. A nonfiction book I read recently (Hunger: An Unnatural History by Sharman Apt Russell) details what happens when we don’t eat; it was an easy-to-read approach to a difficult subject. What the World Eats was also an interesting cultural look at what people in various countries eat in one week.

As for fiction, I just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, which is a fun novel about books. A key part of their book club is food, however, so it would fit for this challenge. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens also has a turkey dinner as a key element in it. Those are just two examples: any book with a major food or eating element (or lack of food problem!) would count.


  • The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters. I got this for Christmas and I’ve been dappling in it since then, but I’d like to write up some thoughts about it.
  • Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book: Her Biggest Ever Collection of All-New 30-Minute Meals Plus Kosher Meals, Meals for One, Veggie Dinners, Holiday Favorites, and Much More! by Rachael Ray. I enjoy the simplicity of her meals whenever I watch her show, so I think I should visit a book of just her recipes!
  • Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes by Giada De Laurentiis. I love Italian food. Giada kind of bothers me on the show for some reason, but I do enjoy her simple recipes. I may like her better when I’m just reading her recipes.
  • Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up by Molly Katzen. This sounds like so much fun! My son likes to “help” in the kitchen, and while he’s still too young (20 months) to really be much help, I look forward to nurturing that interest.
  • How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman. Bittman is pretty thorough, I’ve heard, so I may give him a try. Since I’m an amateur, I like the idea of a “how to” book with the recipes.
  • The Way to Cook or Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. To be honest, I hardly know anything about Julia Child. At this point, I don’t think I’m up to Mastering the Art of French Cooking but I’m willing to look at some of what Julia Child has done.


Reference/How  To Books

  • The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity by Karen Page. I won this from Bermuda Onion at the beginning of the year, and while I’ve browsed through it, I haven’t yet sat down and written out my thoughts on it.
  • Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman. I really enjoyed Ruhlman’s past contributions to my cooking reference library, and this one sounds incredibly useful for understand the science behind cooking.
  • What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke.  I’ve tried to read On Food and Cooking, and I have a hard time with the technical terms. I’ve heard this is an “easier” starting point. It’s scientific and yet approachable and conversational.
  • Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s Reference by Jill Norman. This sounds incredibly useful; I have a lot to learn about how spices can make a dish. This particular volume gets high ratings on LibraryThing.
  • On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. I’ve started it many times, but never gotten through it. It’s more of a reference book, rather than a sit-down-and-read-it book.

History/Science of Food

  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. A look at where our food comes from. I’m scared to find out.
  • Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal by Margaret Visser. This is another look at the history of where food comes from and the social aspects of dinner.
  • Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I’ve had this book on my list for years.
  • Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient by Jennifer McLagan. I’d be interested in how fat is “misunderstood.”
  • Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner. There are dozens of books about various different spices, but this one sounds comprehensive, to include many spices.
  • Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor and Fragrance by Patricia Rain. I love vanilla. It smells and tastes so good!
  • Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History by H. E. Jacob. A history of bread in its cultural context. Apparently, it’s a bit dated, but it still interests me.
  • The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. An evolutionary-organic look at plants that we eat.

Memoirs, Autobiographies, and Essays

  • A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. I’ve got a hold request at the library for this; I’m just waiting for someone else to return it! I enjoy reading Molly’s cooking blog, Orangette. She writes with such ease about how food is a part of her life. Plus, her story is an interesting one: writing a cooking blog led her to her husband!
  • The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher. I’ve wanted to read Fisher’s collected essays for a long time, but I’ve never gotten to it. Maybe if I start with a slimmer volume, I’ll get inspired. One LibraryThing reviewer says this one is a memoir told through food. It’s also one of the most highly rated Fisher collections on LibraryThing. But I’m open to suggestions: is there a better volume of M.F.K. Fisher to begin with?
  • Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. I admit that I’m actually mostly excited about the upcoming movie; I’ve heard Julie’s book is a bit irreverent and crude, which may not be my thing. But still, it’s the principle of the project that gets me excited: she determined to cook all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And she did it!
  • My Life in France by Julia Child. Because Julia Child’s life is the inspiration for Julie Powell’s experiment, this seems an appropriate book to read too. I know, I’m going about it backwards.
  • Heartburn by Nora Ephron. I’ve never read any of Ephron’s essays, but I’ve heard they are great. This collection is about her pregnancy – when she found out her husband was having an affair.


  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. I’ve heard so much about this book.
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. There’s debate about whether this is a novel or a memoir of Hemingway’s life in Paris. He said we’re free to consider it fiction!
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Sounds like a fun, light read.
  • Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs. Sounds like another fun, light read.
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. A mystery; despite the title, I’m not sure it has much to do about food. I guess I’ll find out!
  • A Feast of Words: For Lovers of Food Fiction by Anna Shapiro;  Literary Feasts: Inspired Eating from Classic Fiction by Sean Brand; Kafka’s Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes by Mark Crick. These books all define classic novels by their food. I look forward to seeing literature through the perspective of the food in them.

Reading through this list of all those books I want to read makes me sound really obsessed with food. Really, I’m not. I simply try to cook healthful, delicious food for my family. I like food and I like cooking food, and I look forward to reading about it without guilt!

I think this challenge will be lots of fun, and I do expect that reading about food and cooking will help me be more aware of what I’m eating.

Do you want to join the challenge? Join here.

Do you write “start of challenge” posts? Do you read other people’s “start of challenge” posts?

I kind of would like to start doing so, but I have so many “administrative” posts, I’m afraid the book reviews will get lost in the midst of them all!

Reviewed on June 30, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I have had Ratio on my TBR list since it first came out, and it’s really about time that I read a Michael Pollan book too.

    Memoirs I’ve enjoyed – Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain, who I wager is a much better writer than he is a chef) and Heat (Bill Bryson, who is definitely a writer first and a cook second). I started Spiced today, but so far it’s a lot of name-dropping and not a lot of pastry-making.

    Good luck with hosting / reading!

    PS. I don’t write start-of-challenge posts. I don’t write wrap-up posts, either, but I really should.

  • Oooh, I love reading books like these and so many from your list are ones I’ve already read!! A few others are in my TBR pile.

    I’m a MFK Fisher fan, and “The Gastronomical Me” is the book I recommend for first-time MFK readers.

    I read, and liked, “My Life in France” (“Julie and Julia” the movie is supposedly based on this book also) but still have the “Julie and Julia” book in my TBR pile.

    I haven’t been reading “foodie” books lately, however…have not been in the mood for them…. So I’d have to think if I feel up to joining this challenge. I can definitely throw out some “foodie” book recommendations, though :-)!

  • Lily, I think that’s the case with most foodie memoirs — the writers are more in to writing than cooking. I thought Ruhlman’s was a very interesting take because he is a journalist who decided to write about what it means to go to culinary school — he was trying to learn and experience it! Too bad that Spiced is so disappointing thus far!

    Kathy, thanks for the well-wishes!

    Valerie, I’m glad that you like MFK Fisher, and I hope I like her book. I’ve read a few essays here and there but never a collection. I’m also looking forward to getting to know Julia Child too. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Obviously, I’d love for you to be convinced to read a couple books along with us for the challenge, but if not, I’m always glad for the recommendations!

  • Wow this is an incredible list!

    I had to giggle a little bit about your aside on A Movable Feast. I adore that book and love most of the “characters” in it. I consider it fiction but I’d like to think it’s not just so I can imagine that it actually happened. 🙂

    Enjoy, these all look great.

  • I got my niece of the the Katzen books for Christmas this last year (she was almost 3) and she loves it. 🙂

    I read Spice several years ago, and I remember the style being kind of dry and boring. And I read The Botany of Desire earlier this and didn’t like it at all. But I think I’m in the minority! Like Water for Chocolate is wonderful. 🙂

  • Oh my goodness, I just made up my list yesterday, and now looking at your list, I want to add twenty more books to mine!

    This is an awesome challenge, thanks so much for hosting it, and I’m exited to hear your thoughts. =)

  • Pam, I haven’t read it yet — it’s just Wikipedia which was debating the “fiction or not” status. I’m glad to hear you love it! I’m looking forward to it!

    Ali, oh, good. Glad to hear that this tempted you to look in to it!

    Eva, I think you mentioned the Pretend Soup book to me a few month ago, so that’s why I had it on my short list. I’m hoping my son is getting old enough, but I may have to wait until he’s a little older. He really does like “helping” me cook! I’m a bit suspicious of popular diet books like the Pollan books, but I guess I should read them before I say so, so I’ll have to see! Looking forward to Like Water for Chocolate.

    Shannon, I made up really long lists and posted them on the challenge site; this list was trying to capture the ones I’m most interested in. You can always change you list, of course! I’m glad you’re looking forward to the challenge, and I hope you enjoy it!

  • The Botany of Desire isn’t a diet book. Instead, he looks at the history of four plants: the apple, the potato, marijuana, and tulips. I think what upset me was that I expected it to be what it says: a book about how plants have evolved to manipulate people. But it’s really not; it’s more about the history of Western society relating to the plants. So I just couldn’t adjust my expectations enough to enjoy it. And there were a few statements in there that had my eyebrows raised (he kept talking about the masculinity beauty of the tulip, and there was something about how “Every culture on earth grows flowers just to appreciate them with the minor exception of Africa,” which I had to read out to my mother because the idea of a continent with such a diverse collection of tribes, languages, ecosystems, etc. being considered minor blew me away.). But at that point, I think I was just being a bit pissy, lol (does that ever happen to you? If the book’s radically different from the blurb, I tend to get really annoyed with the author!). So it’ll be good to read your review if you get to it!

  • Eva, I hate it when a book blurb is not at all what the book was about!! It makes me think the publishers/publicists never even read it.

    I guess I was thinking of Omnivore’s Dilemma when I said diet books. Sounds like Botany of Desire was rather disappointing overall; I think I may start with Omnivore’s Dilemma and then reassess what I want to read next.

  • I’m glad you cleared that up about what qualifies. I don’t enjoy non fiction books about food at all. But I now see that several novels I have may qualify. I won The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer Lee (non fiction) so I have that.
    I’m assuming that Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen or Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris would do. I wonder about others on my shelves:

    Chocolat by Joanne Harris
    Kitchen Banana Yoshimoto
    Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe
    Mangoes and Quince by Carol Field
    The Journey Home: A Novel Olaf Olafsson
    Hungry Woman in Paris by Josefina López

    Of a more serious nature, I can highly recommend Hunger by Elise Blackwell, Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Famine by Liam O’Flaherty, and Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History by Giles Milton.

    I can always just read them and if they don’t qualify for this challenge they probably will for another one. 🙂

    Anyway, it seems that I’ve talked myself into doing it. I’ll go sign up.

    Yes, I write starting posts for all challenges, though I can be late doing so.

    Yes, I always read other participants post’s about the challenges, especially if they list titles they may read. I often find good reading recommendations there.

  • Sandra, Because I’m not familiar with most of the books you mention, I really can’t answer which ones will work! But you can choose and run with it if you want. They all sound good to me!

    I think I have some of those Hunger books on my lists. Thanks for all the recommendations! I hope you enjoy the challenge!

  • Rebecca, I’m in! I loved Like Water for Chocolate and would like to read more books about food. I’ve The Guernsey and Julie & Julia on my TBR, also the Fortune Cookie Chronicles, so those would be good. I also want to read The School of Essential INgredients and MOnica Ali’s In the Kitchen.

  • This is great list! I’ve been thinking whether I should join the challenge or not. I just feel I have enough challenges as it is. Joining or not, thanks for the list. I got a few titles that I want to read now!

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