On food critics

Food critics can be a pompous lot. I have said before that much restaurant criticism is little more than posturing: ‘Look at me! Don’t I write well and with such culinary wit!’ The truth is, as one interested in food and restaurant culture, I find most reviews unhelpful. Granted, jealousy could be a factor. A prominent…

Barnes on cooking

“Cooking is the transformation of uncertainty (the recipe) into certainty (the dish) via fuss.” Julian Barnes, The Pedant in the Kitchen, London, Atlantic Books, 2003, 94.

Nigel Slater on cooking

“As I said, you don’t have to cook. You can get through life perfectly comfortably without lifting so much as a wooden spoon. Fine. Do that. What I want to say is that if you decide to go through life without cooking you are missing something very, very special. You are losing out on one…

Food as biography

Laura Shapiro’s book What She Ate demonstrates a fact: food provides a window into our lives. Indeed, food can shed light on issues of identity, longing, fear, and need. While biography may traditionally treat what’s on the plate as incidental, Shapiro’s work does not. “Food happens every day,” she argues. “It’s intimately associated with all…

Cooking as a Spiritual Practice

It’s an old school exercise book, “190 ruled pages” it says on the front, with “nine-millimeter spacing.” The cover is tattered from age, a faded postbox red bound along its edge with a strip of woven tape. At the cover’s center is a box for the owner to insert name and subject. In hand-printed uppercase…

Slow Food & me

We got divorced. It was an amicable split. In the end I bit my tongue and went quietly. Years later I still grieve for what could have been. It was good in the beginning, but the disappointments gradually mounted. Five years in and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I left. It was back in…

‘Table of Plenty’ by Susan Muto

Recipes are an interesting form of writing. At their butt end, they’re nothing more than a perfunctory list of ingredients and dot-point rules of construction. I don’t like them. I don’t want to be told what to do in my kitchen. At their best, however, recipes can be rich repositories of cultural history, family lore…

‘Soil and Sacrament’ by Fred Bahnson

I am no gardener. Though I recall tending to my designated ‘plot’ in the suburban garden of my childhood, the passion never took root. My beloved, however, is a gardener. I appreciate the beauty, abundance and joy of what she does. Though the city balcony on which she has to work is frustratingly small, the…

‘Keeping the Feast’ by Milton Brasher-Cunningham

‘We make bread so that it shall be possible for mankind to have more than bread.’ So said the ecologist John Stewart Collis back in the 1970s. He’s right. Food is never just about the food. In fact, when we write about food as an end in itself, it’s likely we’ve misunderstood our subject. That…

Gopnik on Cafes and Restaurants

I quoted yesterday from Adam Gopnik’s beautiful book The Table Comes First. As one who tries to write about tables and food, I bow down to writers like this. Gopnik not only writes well and ranges broadly, he sees in food so much more than food. The book is a delight to read. I don’t…

De Botton on the Table

The popular English philosopher Alain de Botton has gotten a mountain of press over his book Religion for Atheists, and not all of it glowing. I’ve commented on it more generally here. But what he says about the table is worth a separate mention. In one of his early chapters, de Botton argues that embracing the stranger…

Poole’s ‘You Aren’t What You Eat’

Not long ago I read Stephen Poole’s biting little book You Aren’t What You Eat: Fed Up with Gastroculture. In the final chapter I scrawled in the margins ‘I am drenched with sarcasm’. Truly, it drips from every page. Still, despite the lasting damp, Poole’s critique should be heard. Poole takes aim at the current cultural obsessions with…

Southern Fare III

With my beloved far away in rural Texas, I’ve been re-reading Michael Lee West’s Consuming Passions, a delightfully written memoir of food and family in the South. It makes me wish even more I was there with her. West’s personal observations about gender in the kitchens of her Tennessee childhood illustrate how much has changed in…

Southern Fare II

Another installment from Michael Lee West’s southern memoir Consuming Passions on family, identity and recipes …. Even when I’m all by myself, I never cook alone. My grandparents are dead, along with my father and some favorite aunts …  but my family lives on in their recipes. I bring Mimi’s chocolate cake to potlucks and Aunt Tempe’s…

Southern Fare

My beloved is in Texas; returned to the place of family, sweet tea and barbecue. In honour of her travels (without me!) I’ve been re-reading Michael Lee West’s Consuming Passions: A Food Obsessed Life. It’s a wonderful book, an easy-to-read memoir of family and food in the South. For the most part, the stories centre around the…

Capon on Feasting

Let us fast–whenever we see fit, and as strenuously as we should. But having gotten that exercise out of the way, let us eat! Festally, first of all, for life without occasions is not worth living. But ferially, too, for life is so much more than occasions, and its grand ordinariness must never go unsavored….

Gopnik’s ‘The Table Comes First’

The table comes first, before the meal and even before the kitchen where it’s made. It precedes everything in remaining the one plausible hearth of family life, the raft to ride down the river of our exitence, even in the hardest times. The table also comes first in the sense that its drama–the people who…

Kitchen Table Memoirs

I’m not long back from a few days in Christchurch, New Zealand, with the wonderful communities that make up the church formally known as Spreydon, now Southwest. More of that later. On the way home I passed the transit hours (always too many) reading Nick Richardson’s Kitchen Table Memoirs: Shared Stories from Australian Writers. It’s a…