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).
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!