Tag Archives: cooking

Changing One’s Life One Recipe at a Time: The Call of the Farm, All or Nothing, and My Life From Scratch

22 Apr

Smells and tastes associated with foods are often evocative of certain significant times in our lives.  I still feel like I can smell and taste the fragrant chicken and corn on the cob my parents made on their grill the day I got engaged.  But sometimes food isn’t just part of a moment in one’s life, it can be the catalyst for change.  In all three of these memoirs food was a motivation for the authors to find themselves and to transform their lives whether it was through cooking, baking, or even growing crops.

The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself: A Love Story, with Recipes, by Rochelle Bilow.

the-call-of-the-farm
I grew up in rural Central Jersey before moving further north and closer to the city.  Although I had classmates who lived on dairy and pig farms, I still had only a vague idea of all that went into farming so I understand the curiosity Rochelle Bilow had about farm life.  Bilow’s father grew up on a dairy farm, but she herself only had minor experiences with rural living when visiting her uncle and cousins who now run the place.  In her years after graduating school and getting a culinary degree she struggled to get by with freelancing jobs as a food writer.  An assignment from a local paper brought her to a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in Central New York.  She was intrigued by what she saw at the farm with both the emphasis on sustainable local food and the camaraderie amongst the farmers (one in particular catches her eye).  She starts volunteering and then gets hired part time and moves onto the farm where she learns not only about how to plant a variety of crops and care for livestock, but also about herself.  Although throughout The Call of the Farm, one senses this love story may not have a happy ending, there are many sweet, funny, and touching moments.  The Call of the Farm is divided into seasons with recipes that take advantage of fresh produce.  Check out her book at the Hoboken Public Library today or you can also read more of Bilow’s writing in the magazine Bon Appetit, which the Hoboken Library subscribes too.

Although urban Hoboken seems removed from farm life we are only an hour or two away from some great New Jersey and New York farms with amazing local produce.  I love cheese, so my two favorite local farms to visit are Valley Shepherd in Long Valley for their fabulous sheep’s milk cheeses and Bobolink Dairy in Milford who has tasty cow’s milk cheeses and wood-fired breads including their amazing bread with garlic roasted in duck fat.

All or Nothing: One Chef’s Appetite for the Extreme, by Jesse Schenker.

all-or-nothing

Jesse Schenker is well known for his New York restaurant Recette as well as his recently opened The Gander.  He won his battle on the cult TV show Iron Chef America, but even more impressive in All or Nothing is the battle he won against drug addiction.  From an early age Schenker was obsessed with food (a peanut butter and jelly French toast he created as a kid is now in a more refined form a PB&J “Pain Perdue” on his brunch menu at Recette).  But unfortunately his restlessness and nervous energy led him to self-medicate as a teen with a variety of drugs.  His parents, while loving, were in denial about his behavior and he gradually spiraled further and further into addiction.  I found some of All or Nothing almost painful to read with its vivid, unflinching descriptions of his life as a junkie which eventually lead him to jail time.  Rehab while in prison leads him on the path to recovery, but it is cooking that gives him a new drive, leading him to a successful job at one of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants and then on to a successful pop up and then a place of his own.  In less than ten years he went from living on the street to being a successful, award winning chef.  I thought it was interesting to see how some of his skills hustling to get by on the street helped him with dealing with the trials of the restaurant industry.  No recipes are included, but each chapter in All or Nothing is based on a different cooking technique, with its definition, that correlates to its contents such as “coddled” for his childhood.  I found the way Schenker rebuilt his life was inspirational and his descriptions of food mouthwatering (I was left wanting to make reservations to check out Recette in person).  You can borrow the print book from BCCLS libraries or the eBook from eLibraryNJ.

My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time
Originally published under the title: Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman’s Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker, by Gesine Bullock-Prado.

my-life-from-scratch

Image via Amazon

Gesine Bullock-Prado is probably most famous for being the sister of popular actress Sandra Bullock, but she has plenty to be proud of in her own right.  She graduated from law school and for years she put her legal knowledge to use by reviewing contracts and helping to run her sister’s production company.  At some point though she got tired of Hollywood’s façade and moved to Vermont where she started her own bakery specializing in macaroons and a variety of mouthwatering pastries and other dessert treats.  The original title to Bullock-Prado’s memoir pokes fun at the fact that in image conscious Hollywood, loving to bake seemed more taboo than an eating disorder.  Each chapter looks at a different portion of her day, from opening to closing the store, which triggers memories from her past.  Some of my favorite parts of My Life from Scratch were when she described funny stories from her childhood with her opera singer health food obsessed mom.  She also captures insider looks at both less than glitzy Hollywood and quirky Vermont that few visitors get to fully see.  Bullock-Prado depicts herself as a bit misanthropic, but her warm feelings for her regular customers and her family shine through.

Gesine Gourmet and Confectionary closed in 2008, but throughout My Life from Scratch are recipes for sweet treats including Starry, Starry Nights decadent sounding chocolate cookies that you can bake at home.  Besides Confections of a Closet Master Baker, Hoboken library card holders can also borrow her cookbooks Bake It Like You Mean It and Pie it Forward from BCCLS libraries.  Those who prefer eBooks can borrow My Life From Scratch, Pie it Forward, and Sugar Baby from eLibraryNJ.  Plus you can check out her blog G Bakes! for more culinary inspiration.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

The Science of Food: The Drunken Botanist, Molecular Gastronomy, and The World in Your Lunch Box

20 Jan

Often cooking is described as an art.  Cooking also carries with it tradition.  You may not know why you have to chill something before baking, but you know it is what is your grandmother always has done.  But behind the art and the tradition also lies a great deal of science.   If you are curious about the science behind some of your favorite foods or drinks, then these books will be a revelation.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks
by Amy Stewart

drunken-botanist

Everyone knows that wine is made with grapes, but many would probably not recognize a hops vine, if they were standing in front of one.  Despite my high school proficiency test telling me my best choice of career was as a botanist (librarian was only number 10), I have avoided much exploration of the science of plants but, I couldn’t resist checking out Amy Stewart’s ode to the botany of alcohol.   Whether you are a foodie, a gardener, or simply someone who occasionally likes imbibing, you will enjoy this fascinating work.

I read the book straight through, but my husband enjoyed skimming through it and felt it would make a good coffee table book.  Part one begins with looking at distillation and fermentation and the plants that are frequently and sometimes not so frequently used in the process.  She then moves on to fruits, flowers, nuts, spices, and herbs that are used to flavor the drinks.  Finally part three includes items to use as mixers in cocktails.  She infuses humor and interesting historical facts into the brew. Throughout there are tips on how to make cocktails with the variety of alcohols described as well as an explanation of how to grow some of the plants discussed for home brewing.  If you are a fan of Stewart’s insect related works, you will be delighted by the inclusion of some insects commonly associated with the beverages including for marketing gimmick (the worm in tequila), coloring (in some Italian digestifs), or the source of an ingredient (bees making honey used in mead).   Her focus is worldwide and touches on everything from rice for sake in Asia to agave for tequila in Mexico.

If you would prefer to only peruse the work for your favorite libations or plants, an index is included for easy browsing.  And don’t worry despite the title, Stewart is not championing excessive drinking, she encourages throughout moderation in enjoying cocktails and portion sizes.  The Drunken Botanist is available at the Hoboken Public Library in print format and in ebook format from elibrarynj and ebccls.  Amy Stewart is the author of several other books available from BCCLS Libraries including Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs, and Flower Confidential.

Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor
by Hervé This

molecular-gastonomy

Hervé This’ Molecular Gastronomy looks at cooking from the perspective of physics and chemistry.   He tests commonly held beliefs, to see what the science behind items is.  The work is translated from French by Malcolm DeBevoise and there is a decidedly French focus on items such as quenelles, quiches, and soufflés.  Since I was raised with French food as a staple I enjoyed this, but for non-Francophiles this might be a slight issue.  But if you are adventurous, perhaps for those new to French food the work may be inspirational to try new dishes.

The work is broken down into four parts with further sections that focus on a specific topic.  I found myself browsing through for the topics and dishes that most caught my fancy.  Part One starts with Secrets of the Kitchen and includes discussions on topics of basic cooking techniques as pertaining to things like boiling eggs and making a fondue.  I had always used white wines in my fondue, but hadn’t realized that their more acidic nature over reds helps stabilize the emulsion with the wine and the cheese.  Part Two is the Physiology of Flavor which covers a fascinating discussion of the evolution of taste and how the process of taste occurs physically and in the brain.  It also looks at how things like taste and digestion are related.  It was interesting to learn that salt both increases agreeable taste and suppresses bitter taste, and that those who enjoy spicy foods may have burned out some of their receptors to sense the food’s heat.  Part Three Investigations and Models looks at how science can be used to improve culinary techniques like bread rising, lumps in sauces, and the best glasses to use for all wines (narrow bowled glasses of the type more commonly used for white wines).  It also explores how science can explain regional difference in things like Iberico ham and cheeses (helpful if you’ve ever wanted to justify to yourself on splurging on an expensive import).  Part Four A Cuisine for Tomorrow includes areas for further development such as new methods of heating food and cooking in a vacuum. A helpful glossary is included, but the section for further reading may be limiting to American readers since many of the articles listed are in French.

Molecular Gastronomy is available from BCCLS libraries in print and as an ebook from elibrarynjKitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Food by Hervé This (translated by Jody Gladding) is also available from BCCLS in print. If you are intrigued by the topic of molecular gastronomy and would like to learn more you should check out Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, an epic six volume work or Myhrvold’s more compact one volume Modernist Cuisine at Home.  Both are available from BCCLS Libraries.

The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods
by Claire Eamer

world-in-your-lunchbox

Adults don’t have to be the only ones to explore the science behind food.  Claire Eamer’s The World in Your Lunch Box allows kids to learn more about what they eat.  The book contains fun and bright illustrations by Sa Boothroyd.  This book would be appropriate for kids around grades 3-6.  The book is broken down into seven sections based on the days of the week with different food kids love on each day including pizza, hot dogs, bananas, ice cream and more.  It ends with dessert (a top 10 food facts list).  Kids will learn interesting science facts such as watermelons are more than 90% water and have a thick waxy rind that helps them from becoming dried out.  I even learned some interesting facts myself such as my favorite spice cinnamon can reduce people’s blood sugar levels.  Amongst the science facts are historical tidbits and jokes your kids will enjoy.  An index at the back allows kids to find their favorite food fast and Further Reading and Selected Biography selections will give kids and parents more to chew on.  The World in Your Lunch Box along with several of Eamer’s other works are available in print from BCCLS libraries.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

%d bloggers like this: