Law and Conversation

December 16, 2010

Three food books for 2011

Filed under: Books and writing,Cooking,reading — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
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Dos Hombres, a Mexican restaurant in Colorado Springs, recently tweeted a quote from the writer Laurie Colwin:  “One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating.”  The quote, from the foreword to “Home Cooking,” her first collection of essays on food, continues “And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.”  Colwin was a wonderful storyteller, and I can well imagine that she told and listened to many wonderful stories about food and many other matters over good meals with her friends and family.

This week I wrote about Laurie Colwin and her books as part of my Read This! series in which I recommend books that I really, really love and want everyone in the world to read.  As Christmas approaches, with opportunities and occasions for those very delights of life about which Colwin wrote so many lovely essays, I’m still thinking about her, as well as about some other writers’ wonderful books on food that I posted about last week.  

During the end-of-the-year holidays, it’s traditional not only to make and share special foods and meals with family and friends but also to look forward to the New Year and make plans and resolutions.  Why not take some time to include some reading plans for the year to come?

Inspired partly by rereading Laurie Colwin, here are three books from my reading list that I hope to get to in 2011.  All are well-known as landmarks of culinary writing, and all three writers had colorful and fascinating lives–a storyteller’s dream.

1)  My Life In France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme.

2)  The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher.

3) Italian Cooking, by Elizabeth David, which Colwin particularly recommends–or any of David’s other books, none of which I’ve read.

What foods are you making and sharing for the holidays, and are there any food books on your reading list?

December 14, 2010

Read This: Laurie Colwin

I never met and never corresponded with writer Laurie Colwin, but when I learned of her sudden death in 1992 at the age of 48, I felt as if I’d lost a good friend.  Judging from the tributes to her on the Internet, I wasn’t alone.

Colwin wrote short stories, many of which were first published in The New Yorker, and a few novels, all of which focus on the inner and domestic lives of comfortably well-off upper middle-class professionals, all of whom are fundamentally good people. 

Stories about uniformly nice people who have no problems in their lives and always behave themselves would be boring, of course.   So Colwin gives all of her characters some measure of dissatisfaction with their seemingly perfect lives and has some of them shake things up with less than perfect behavior.  She doesn’t go into the depth about her characters’ angst or the effects of their unseemly behavior on their loved ones that, say, a Dostoevsky would, nor does she provide as much of a resolution of her characters’ stories as some might like, but then again, every writer doesn’t have to be Dostoevsky.

Colwin also wrote a column on food and cooking for Gourmet magazine and published two collections of those columns in “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking,” which are even more popular than her fiction.  In each of these essays, she tells a story about some aspect of food or cooking, often including a recipe toward the end.  Like other effective writers, she shows how a good story makes any topic interesting.

I started thinking about the stories in those books again after trying the famous no-knead bread recipe from Mark Bittman’s column in The New York Times, which I mentioned last week.  In her essay on breadmaking, Colwin voices the same feelings many of us home cooks have:  much as we love fresh, crusty, yeasted bread, because making it seems like a long, fussy, difficult chore, we seldom do it.  Her essay and Bittman’s video debunk that conventional “wisdom.”

Colwin’s sudden, untimely, unexpected death illustrates the need for end-of-life and end-of-career planning no matter what your age, which I recently wrote about in an article on selling a law practice that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Illinois Bar Journal.

All of Colwin’s books are still in print, a further tribute to the effectiveness of her writing and the love that so many old and new readers find for her.  What writer seems to speak to you as if he or she were a really good friend, even though you’ve never met?

UPDATE:  Here is another blogger’s lovely post about how Laurie Colwin’s books comforted her at a difficult time in her life.  And here is the link to the new home of that blog, The Cleaner Plate Club.  It’s beautifully written–do check it out!

December 9, 2010

Three fun books on food

For my Read This! post on Monday I highlighted Jeffrey Steingarten’s “It Must’ve Been Something I Ate,” a delightful compilation of Steingarten’s columns on food from Vogue magazine.  Today I have three other books on food as part of my weekly series recommending three books with a common theme that tell great stories:

1) Heat, by Bill Buford.  Account of the amateur chef and former Granta magazine editor of learning culinary techniques by working in the restaurant kitchen of his pal, renowned chef Mario Batali.  For a fun book group activity, count the number of times Batali uses the f-word.

2) Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.  Memoir of how the Travel Channel superstar got interested in food and started his career.  Bourdain tells a great story and doesn’t flinch when it comes to the less attractive aspects of his own behavior, one of the marks of a really good memoirist.

3)  Food Matters:  A Guide to Conscious Eating, by Mark Bittman.  Bittman’s articles on food and cooking in The New York Times are superb examples of storytelling; as I noted on Monday, the one on no-knead bread can change your life.  In this book, he recounts his own journey toward awareness of what he eats.  As a bonus, he includes a number of recipes.

If you have an interest in cooking, the forums on are a great place to go for advice. 

Three’s a lovely number, but any list of three books necessarily omits many others that are equally good or even better.  What food books have you enjoyed?

UPDATE:  Commenting on an editorial by David Frum on CNNMark Bittman weighs in on obesity and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

December 6, 2010

Read this: Jeffrey Steingarten on food

Today’s Read This! recommendation is especially for those who love both good food and good writing.  And it’s a book by a lawyer, to boot:  “It Must’ve Been Something I Ate,” by Jeffrey Steingarten.

The book is a compilation of columns that Steingarten has written for Vogue magazine as its food critic.  One of his specialties is examining conventional wisdom to see how it holds up, a skill which he displays to particular effect in his essays on salt, MSG, chocolate, and cheese.

As a lawyer myself, I read “Cheese Crise,” his essay on raw milk cheese and the FDA, with especial delight. 

Steingarten begins by recounting a Parisian cheesemonger’s telling him with satisfaction, “Not even the dogs at Kennedy Airport will smell through this,” while wrapping in several layers of plastic and carefully taped paper a package of raw milk cheese for Steingarten to take back on the plane to the US.  With satisfaction equal to the cheesemonger’s, Steingarten then reveals his own elegantly simple and foolproof scheme for getting food items from abroad that are prohibited for sale in the US through US customs, which, as an additional advantage, ensures that he’ll never be prosecuted for violating any law:  “My secret method is called declaring everything.”

For more good writing on food by a renowned nutritionist, check out Marion Nestle’s blog, “Food Politics.”  Lately Nestle has been writing about S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which passed the Senate last week.

And for still more good, intelligent food writing, check out Mark Bittman’s columns in the New York Times (where Steingarten’s work has also appeared).  If you like fresh, crusty bread, his column on Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, accompanied by Lahey’s recipe and an instructive video, may change your life.

August 16, 2010

Read This!

I’ll be featuring a Read This! recommendation on Mondays going forward in addition to my Friday posts.  The first one is the “Aya” series of graphic novels written by Marguerite Abouet, from the Ivory Coast but now living in suburban Paris, and illustrated by Clement Oubrerie of France.  Only the first three, “Aya,” “Aya of Yop City,” and “Aya:  The Secrets Come Out” have been translated into English.  Beautifully drawn, the series depicts the lives of residents of Yopougon, a middle-class suburb of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from the viewpoint of Aya, a studious teenager with a good sense of humor and her head on straight.  The books include a glossary of Ivorian terms (deh!) as well as Ivorian recipes at the end.

It looks like Abouet and Oubrerie have collaborated on a total of six “Aya” books.  I can’t wait for the last three to appear in translation; also very exciting is the report that an Aya movie is in production for 2011.  Bookslut has an interview with Abouet from 2007, Wild River Review has another interview with her by Nigerian writer Angela Ajayi, and The Brown Bookshelf has another from just a few months ago

Abouet founded the association “Des Livres Pour Tous”, which supports literacy education of children in disadvantaged districts in Africa.

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