Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Review: A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell

Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Published on: June 18, 2013
Page Count: 360
Genre: Cookbook, history
My Reading Format: Advanced reading copy in e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover, Kindle book

My Review: 

William Sitwell, food writer and television personality in Great Britain bid on several 19th century cookbooks at an auction in 2010 and won them. While reading through them later, the idea for this book was born. What he discovered was that even centuries ago, those who wrote down recipes became authorities on food, and therefore, in some cases, also culture and hospitality, either in his or her own circle of friends or to a larger audience. Things haven't changed much over the years. With more research, Sitwell chose 100 recipes written down by cooks that we may already be familiar with or have never heard of. Either way, those recipes, in some way, shaped the food culture of its time. (He makes the disclaimer early that a recipe from centuries past may not be cookable by someone in a modern kitchen today, but that some of his chosen recipes would be.) Starting with ancient Egyptian bread, the recipe for which was painted on the wall of a tomb in 11 BC, Sitwell takes us through food history, all the way to modern-day recipes by cooks that are a regular part of our lives through their books or television shows today.

Though the 100 recipes are from a wide range of countries and cultures, Sitwell's cultural references are heavily British assuming in places that his readers will know exactly what he's talking about. I didn't always. However, that didn't take much away from my enjoyment of the book. 

I enjoyed reading about recipes I'd never heard of and never realized what a major impact some of them had in their time. Some of those were very interesting, such as John Evelyn who was the first person to advocate for salads and create a dressing for them in the 1600s and Mary Eales, who invented ice cream in 1718. As an American, the buttered apple pie recipe from Amelia Simmons' American Cookery in 1796 was an important one, as was Eliza Leslie's cupcake recipe from her 1834 book Miss Leslie's Behaviour Book: A Guide and Manual for Ladies. Also included were other fun things like the evolution of the cocktail party in the mid-20th century, the start of Gourmet magazine and, and today's TV food personalities like Emeril, Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver, and food personalities we'll never forget (i.e. Julia Child).   

If you're interested in food culture and its history, both ancient and modern, you'll like A History of Food in 100 Recipes. 

Four out of five stars

If you think you'll like this book, I also recommend Eating by Jason Epstein.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook and Building My Own Syllabus

Last week I was putting together my syllabus for a year-long American literature course I'll be teaching to ninth and tenth graders at a homeschool co-op starting in the fall, my favorite genre. There are so many wonderful things I've considered including that I needed advice and perspective from others to help me make sure I wasn't overloading the class. So I tossed the question out on Facebook to find out people's favorite and least favorite books they read in high school. For my purposes this time I threw out everything that wasn't American lit and made my choices from the feedback I got.

Did you see Silver Linings Playbook a few months ago when it was out? I loved the complex characters, plot and the balance between funny and serious moments throughout the film. I thought Bradley Cooper as the main character Pat was wonderful. While I liked him just fine in The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, I loved seeing what else he could do.

I just read the book version by Matthew Quick earlier this week. There are some big differences between the book and the movie, but I liked each of them for different reasons. In both the book and the movie Pat is trying to win back his ex-wife by getting in shape and reading everything she has put on the syllabus for her high school English students. Though he doesn't love what she's selected, he plows through them, looking forward to the day when he'll be reunited with his ex-wife and they can discuss the novels.

Two-thirds of the books Pat reads are ones I've chosen for my syllabus: The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms, The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn. The two Pat read that I didn't pick are The Catcher in the Rye (which almost made it on to the syllabus. If I teach this class again I might teach this one.) and The Bell Jar

Here are the rest of the novels that made it in: My Antonia, Of Mice and Men and The Color Purple. We'll also read A Streetcar Named Desire and bits and pieces of Phyllis Wheatley, Anne Bradstreet, Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, Sandburg and Dickinson. I'm looking forward to rereading all these classics myself to prepare.

Have I missed anything What other books do you consider to be important to American literature?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Simon Callow's Charles Dickens

Two people have recently said exactly the same thing to me: that I must be planning to assign a lot of Dickens to my high schoolers this fall, because I'd loaded my Goodreads to-read shelf with a bunch of his novels. The real reason is that I've just finished Simon Callow's new biography, Charles Dickens (or called Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World in the U.S.), which I picked up in London to coincide with Callow's one-man play on Dickens which I saw (it was wonderful, by the way). For nearly two hours Callow gave the audience Dickens' bio, hitting all the highlights of his interesting life. Sound a little boring? It wasn't. Callow was highly entertaining. So was his book. I'd learned a lot of new information about Dickens on my 2010 trip to London when I visited his house museum in Bloomsbury. A lot of what Callow did for me though was give both extra information and a fresh perspective on what I already did know about Dickens. Also while reading the bio, I realized how few novels by Dickens I've actually read (only Bleak House, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol), so I'm motivated to change that. I've got Oliver Twist downloaded onto my Kindle to start when the right moment comes. Here are a few photos from the Charles Dickens Museum:


Monday, June 3, 2013

It's Monday. What are you reading?


This event is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey. Go check out her blog.

I'm currently enjoying Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again. It's been patiently waiting on my shelf for me to pick it up ever since I visited the Old Kentucky Home on a trip to Asheville several years ago. It will definitely take me the rest of the week to finish it. 
Up next on my to-read list are The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell (for future book review) and Elaine Neil Orr's A Different Sun (also for future book review).

Also, I'm still currently listening to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Migration by Isabel Wilkerson in the car. 

What are you reading?