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Friday, December 13, 2013


For the more literate person, there are the histories and "memoirs" of writers, chefs,
and wine people. Some have called these memoirs "creative non-fiction", many with
embellishments and gilding. And most of them suffer from a lack of indexing, which
makes it difficult to find what the writer said about another person or subject. But this
also avoids the potential for lawsuits and disjointed noses. Nevertheless, they are
rewarding to read. Who cares about poetic license? Here then are some that stood out
from last year's run, and any of them would make great gifts for the reader. Here we go,
in no particular order…
--MAST BROTHERS CHOCOLATE (Little, Brown, 2013, 276 pages, $44 CAN hard
covers) is by Rick and Michael Mast. These are stories of the bean-to-bar craft
chocolatiers. They do small batch  roasting for leading chefs (Keller, Waters, Ducasse).
The book is part memoir, part cookbook, with classic desserts of chocolate cookies,
brownies, whoopee pies, chocolate cakes, and savouries (scallops and cacao nibs, cocoa
coq au vin).
--DINNER WITH MR. DARCY (CICO Books, 2013, 160 pages, $29.95 CAN hard
covers) is by Pen Vogler, who has recreated many historical recipes for the BBC and
Penguin Press. These are recipes inspired by the novels and letters of Jan Austen – they
are sure to be winners, especially with any Janeite. As the book says, Austen used food in
her novels as a way of showing kindliness among neighbours, as part of the dynamics of
family life, and for comic effect. Preps here have been updated, and there are sidebars on
Regency food. There is a breakfast at Northanger Abbey (a great b & b place!), Mrs.
Bennet's dinner for Bingley and Darcy, plus more suppers, teas, picnics, Christmas food,
and even preserves and drinks.
--IN THE KITCHEN WITH ALAIN PASSARD (Chronicle Books, 2013, 96 pages,
$19.95 CAN hard covers) has been written and illustrated by Christopher Blain (a 
graphic novelist), with some 15 recipes by Passard who runs the 3-star Michelin
L'Arpege in Paris (he removed meat from his menu in 2001). It's a "graphic novel" with
hundreds of panel illustrations, inside the world and mind of a Master Chef. It's an
insider's look at the creative process, first published in France in 2011. Try squab dragee
with mead or potato paillase with sage and garlic.
272 pages, $29.99 CAN hard covers) is by Julia Reed, who writes about the South in
food and drink.  This is a collection of 28 essays (with an index!) celebrating eating,
drinking, and making merry. It's got 100 recipes plus engaging anecdotes and stories. She
talks about the quenelle at La Cote Basque in NYC, the steaks of Alkaide in Madrid, the
southern garden, Afghanistan, the Mississippi Delta, Florida Gulf Coast, Paris, the gin
factories, and other stories dealing with her father and her mother.
--WHERE AM I EATING? (Wiley, 2013, 279 pages, $27.95 CAN hard covers) is a
travelogue undertaken to uncover the realities of the global food economy. Kelsey
Timmerman writes by product – the coffee of Columbia, the chocolate of the Ivory Coast,
the bananas of Costa Rica, lobster, apple juice of Michigan (but not of Canada) in which
farmers in China have cornered the apple juice market. Much of the book deals with
labour issues, such as Fair Trade practices, as he details what it is actually like to work in
that particular country's agricultural industry.
--THE CASSOULET SAVED OUR MARRIAGE (Roost Books, 2013; distr. Random
House Canada, 255 pages, $19.95 CAN hard covers) has been edited by Caroline Grunt
and Lisa Harper. These are "true tales of food, family, and how we learn to eat". 29
essays go over our relationship to food, with 28 uncomplicated recipes: foods dealing
with kosher, junk, soul, busy weeknights, holiday feasts, vegetarian table.
--IN MEAT WE TRUST (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 368 pages, $33 CAN hard
covers) is by food and beverage historian Maureen Ogle. It's a history of meat-eating in
America (nothing on Canada that I could glean), with a concentration on lifestyle and
culture. She clearly shows that concerns about agribusiness and safety are not new. And
while the average Euro had meat once a week, the average American ate 200 pounds a
year. The Colonial period gives way to the 19th century meat packers (Swift, Armour)
later joined by Tyson, Cargill and ConAgra. Cattle drives, feedlots, Chicago – it is all
here. Strangely, I didn't see any references to "killing floor".
--POOR MAN'S FEAST (Chronicle Books, 2013, 287 pages, $32 CAN hard covers) is
by Elissa Altman. The publisher describes it as "a love story of comfort, desire, and the
art of simple cooking". It's a series of witty thoughts with 26 preps. 30 different topics
have been culled from her blog, which won a Beard Award in 2012
for blogging. She has also written widely about food in many print articles. Endorsement
also comes from Mollie Wizenberg and Deborah Madison.
--A SUITCASE AND A SPATULA (Ryland Peters & Small, 2013, 144 pages, $28.95
CAN hard covers) is by Tori Haschka, a travel and food blogger ( She
experiences latte banana bread in Sydney and sangria prawns in Estoril, not to mention
sardines with fennel and Campari in Venice. Hey, she's even been to Menton! So these
are recipes and stories from around the world, like a scrap book with both long and short
--ONE SOUFFLE AT A TIME (St. Martin's Press, 2013, 320 pages, $31.99 CAN hard
covers) is by Anne Willan, founder of La Varenne (1975). It is mostly her autobiography
as she grappled with the smug closed world of French cuisine, but it is also the story of
her comperes: Julia Child, James Beard, Simone Beck, Craig Claiborne and Richard
Olney. She opens her memoir with a listing of 9 "things I've smuggled in my suitcase".
Over the years she's written books and done PBS food shows. Here she also adds 50 of
her favourite recipes.
…and some worthwhile novels:
--SOY SAUCE FOR BEGINNERS (New Harvest, 2013, 304 pages, $28.95 hard covers)
is by Kirsten Chen, a Steinbeck Fellow and Pushcart nominee. It's the story of Gretchen
Lin who leaves San Francisco for her childhood home in Singapore. But in order to avoid
a floundering marriage in Frisco by flight, she comes back to her mother's drinking
problem and the machinations of her father's artisanal soy sauce business. It's a definite
relationship book with some resolution.
--TOMORROW THERE WILL BE APRICOTS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 320
pages, $27.95 hard cover) is by Jessica Soffer. It's the story of a woman who pores over
cookbooks, re-connecting with her chef mother via recipes and food. Some preps are
here, such as masgouf (carp dish from Mesopotamia).
--PINOT ENVY; murder, mayhem, and mystery in Napa (Bancroft Press, 2013, 208
pages, $21.95 hardbound) is by Edward Finstein, my long-time colleague in the Wine
Writers' Circle of Canada. He's at where he dispenses wine
knowledge. Here, in his first novel, he is applying some of that skill in tracking down, by
investigatory work, rare artifacts in the wine business through his op, Woody Robins,
who practices in the Napa. Woody's been hired by a wealthy collector to track down a
stolen double-magnum red Burgundy that once belonged to Napoleon. He works with a
girlfriend and his Aunt Sadie, as well as a friend within the 'Frisco police department.
There are the usual scandals and murders along the way. It is well-plotted and moves
from page-to-page. It should certainly appeal to those mysteries' fans who are tired of
twee mysteries dealing with cooking subplots: here's a hard-driven, hard-bitten story in
the roman noir style, so much so, that it should actually be called PINOT NOIR (but I
guess that name has already been taken by a grape).

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