Reading Suggestions

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Foodie Memoirs & Essays

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Books about the intersection of life and food.foodie memoirs

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Anna Badkhen. Peace Meals: candy-wrapped Kalashnikovs and other war stories.

Travel books bring us to places. War books bring us to tragedy. This book brings us to one woman’s travels in war zones: the locals she met, the compassion they scraped from catastrophe, and the food they ate. Peace Meals is a true story about conflict and food. It illustrates the most important lesson Anna Badkhen has observed as a journalist: war can kill our friends and decimate our towns, but it cannot destroy our inherent decency, generosity, and kindness—that which makes us human.

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Alex Witchel. All Gone: a memoir of my mother’s dementia, with refreshments.

Recounts the author’s efforts to provide love and care for a parent with increasing dementia, a journey marked by her decision to prepare comfort foods from childhood that occasionally triggered her mother’s recall.

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Barbara Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a year of food life.

Follows the author’s family’s efforts to live on locally- and home-grown foods, an endeavor through which they learned lighthearted truths about food production and the connection between health and diet.

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Ann Vanderhoof. The Spice Necklace: my adventures in Caribbean cooking, eating, and island life.

While sailing around the Caribbean, Vanderhoof and her husband befriend a collection of unforgettable island characters. A wonderful escape into a life filled with sunshine (and hurricanes), delicious food, irreplaceable company, and island traditions.

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Jill Conner Browne. The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner).

A whimsical collection of fattening recipes, hilarious anecdotes, and financial advice from the author of God Save the Sweet Potato Queens includes such treats as Chocolate Stuff and Pig Candy, along with tips on planning a divorce party and finding financial security–marry it.

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Anthony Bourdain. Medium Raw: a bloody valentine to the world of food and those who cook.

In the ten years since his classic Kitchen Confidential first alerted us to the idiosyncrasies and lurking perils of eating out, from Monday fish to the breadbasket conspiracy, much has changed for the subculture of chefs and cooks, for the restaurant business—and for Anthony Bourdain. Medium Raw explores these changes, moving back and forth from the author’s bad old days to the present. Tracking his own strange and unexpected voyage from journeyman cook to globe-traveling professional eater and drinker, and even to fatherhood, Bourdain takes no prisoners as he dissects what he’s seen, pausing along the way for a series of confessions, rants, investigations, and interrogations of some of the most controversial figures in food.

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Gabrielle Hamilton. Blood, Bones & Butter: the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef.

The chef of New York’s East Village Prune restaurant presents an account of her search for meaning and purpose in the central rural New Jersey home of her youth, marked by a first chicken kill, an international backpacking tour, and the opening of a first restaurant.

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Julie Powell. Cleaving: a story of marriage, meat, and obsession.

Julie Powell thought cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the craziest thing she’d ever do–until she embarked on the voyage recounted in her new memoir, CLEAVING. Her marriage challenged by an insane, irresistible love affair, Julie decides to leave town and immerse herself in a new obsession: butchery. She finds her way to Fleischer’s, a butcher shop where she buries herself in the details of food. She learns how to break down a side of beef and French a rack of ribs–tough, physical work that only sometimes distracts her from thoughts of afternoon trysts. The camaraderie at Fleischer’s leads Julie to search out fellow butchers around the world–from South America to Europe toAfrica. At the end of her odyssey, she has learned a new art and perhaps even mastered her unruly heart.

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Alyssa Shelasky. Apron Anxiety: my messy affairs in and out of the kitchen.

Apron Anxiety is the hilarious and heartfelt memoir of quintessential city girl Alyssa Shelasky and her crazy, complicated love affair with…the kitchen. Three months after dating her TV-chef crush, celebrity journalist Alyssa Shelasky left her highly social life in New York City to live with him in D.C. But what followed was no fairy tale: Chef hours are tough on a relationship. Surrounded by foodies yet unable to make a cup of tea, she was displaced and discouraged. Motivated at first by self-preservation rather than culinary passion, Shelasky embarked on a journey to master the kitchen, and she created the blog Apron Anxiety(ApronAnxiety.com) to share her stories. This is a memoir (with recipes) about learning to cook, the ups and downs of love, and entering the world of food full throttle. Readers will delight in her infectious voice as she dishes on everything from the sexy chef scene to the unexpected inner calm of tying on an apron.

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Luisa Weiss. My Berlin Kitchen: a love story, with recipes.

The creator of “The Wednesday Chef” blog discusses her youth spent shifting between her father’s home in Boston and her Italian mother’s home in Berlin and her decision to pursue a culinary vocation in Germany.

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Sam Sifton. Thanksgiving: how to cook it well.

From one of America’s finest food writers, the former restaurant critic for The New York Times, comes a definitive, timeless guide to Thanksgiving dinner–preparing it, surviving it, and pulling it off in style. From the planning of the meal to the washing of the last plate, Thanksgiving poses more–and more vexing–problems for the home cook than any other holiday. In this smartly written, beautifully illustrated, recipe-filled book, Sam Sifton, the Times’s resident Thanksgiving expert, delivers a message of great comfort and solace: There is no need for fear. You can cook a great meal on Thanksgiving. You can have a great time. With simple, fool-proof recipes for classic Thanksgiving staples, as well as new takes on old standbys, this book will showyou that the fourth Thursday of November does not have to be a day of kitchen stress and family drama, of dry stuffing and sad, cratered pies. You can make a better turkey than anyone has ever served you in your life, and you can serve it with gravy thatis not lumpy or bland but a salty balm, rich in flavor, that transforms all it touches. Here are recipes for exciting side dishes and robust pies and festive cocktails, instructions for setting the table and setting the mood, as well as cooking techniques and menu ideas that will serve you all year long, whenever you are throwing a big party. Written for novice and experienced cooks alike, Thanksgiving: Howto Cook It Well is your guide to making Thanksgiving the best holiday of the year. It is not fantasy. If you prepare, it will happen. And this book will show you how.

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Giulia Melucci. I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.

From failure to fusilli, this deliciously hilarious read tells the story of Giulia Melucci’s fizzled romances and the mouth-watering recipes she used to seduce her men, smooth over the lumps, and console herself when the relationships flamed out. From an affectionate alcoholic, to the classic New York City commitment-phobe, to a hipster aged past his sell date, and not one, but two novelists with Peter Pan complexes, Giulia has cooked for them all. She suffers each disappointment with resolute cheer (after a few tears) and a bowl of pastina (recipe included) and has lived to tell the tale so that other women may go out, hopefully with greater success, and if that’s not possible, at least have something good to eat. Peppered throughout Giulia’s delightful and often poignant remembrances are fond recollections of her mother’s cooking, the recipes she learned from her, and many she invented on her own inspired by the men in her life. Readers will howl at Giulia’s boyfriend-littered past and swoon over her irresistable culinary creations.

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Keith Dixon. Cooking for Gracie: the making of a parent from scratch.

Keith Dixon’s passion was cooking. For years, he sustained himself through difficult days by dreaming about the lavish recipes he was going to attempt when he got home—Thai curries, Indian raitas, Sichuan noodles. All that changed when his daughter, Gracie, was born five weeks early, at just four pounds. Keith and his wife, Jessica, adapted to life with a newborn as all parents do: walking around in a sleep deprived haze, trying to bond with Gracie and meet the needs of this new person in their lives—all while dealing with the overwhelming fear that they were going to catastrophically fail in their new roles. After Gracie became a part of their family, Keith no longer had time to cook the way he once knew; when he did find time to make something, he learned the hard way that his daughter woke easily to the simplest kitchen noise, and soon realized that if he wanted his family to eat well, he was going to have to learn to cook all over again.

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Elizabeth Bard. Lunch in Paris: a love story, with recipes.

Documents how the author fell in love and discovered the excellence of French cuisine during a life-changing lunch inParis, recounting her decision to leave her fast-paced New York life to build a life abroad.

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Beth Howard.  Making Piece: a memoir of love, loss, and pie.

Relates the sudden death of the author’s husband and her decision to pack up the RV he left behind and embark on across-country journey, during which she used America’s quintessential comfort food and the simple act of giving to overcome tragedy.

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Julie Pandl. Memoir of the Sunday Brunch.

The author shares her initiation, at the age of twelve, into the rite of the Sunday brunch at her father’s Milwaukee-based restaurant where she and her siblings learned life lessons that would shape them for all the years to come.

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Marcus Samuelsson. Yes, Chef.

It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister–all battling tuberculosis–walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later, they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, had only just begun–in the intervening years, there have been White House State dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room–a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home. With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures as a man–the price of ambition, in human terms–and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew.Yes, Chef is a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors–one man’s struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world.

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