Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Soup Nights (and Days!)

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Betty Rosbottom spent her formative years in areas known for their food. In her childhood home of Memphis, Tenn., she enjoyed that city’s signature barbecue. She attended college in New Orleans, where she learned to love Cajun and Creole dishes. She spent her junior year at the Sorbonne savoring French cuisine.

Nevertheless, she spent no time in the kitchen herself until she married. “I couldn’t cook a thing during any of my upbringing,” Betty told me in a recent telephone interview. “I was just an appreciator.”

Her husband gave her a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a wedding present. “It was my first learning experience about food,” recalled Betty. “I was so naïve I thought ALL recipes were five pages long.”

Once she started cooking, she never stopped. She founded a cooking school in Columbus, Ohio, in the late 1970s and learned from guest teachers like gourmet legend Jacques Pepin and “queen of cake” Maida Heatter. Eventually, she attended the Parisian cooking school La Varenne.

Betty has written a syndicated food column, hosted a PBS food show, taught cooking in many venues, and written 11 cookbooks. The most recent of those books is Soup Nights, published just in time for National Soup Month (January) by Rizzoli.

I asked Betty about her earliest happy recollection of soup. Ironically, she told me, her first beloved soup—French Onion Soup Gratiné—graces the front cover of “Soup Nights.” She fell in love with this classic French favorite at les Halles, Paris’s big central market, during her junior year abroad. Les Halles has since closed; I am lucky enough to have visited the market and tasted that ambrosial soup as a small child.

Betty loves soup in general as well as in particular, however. “For me [soup is] just a sense of well being,” she explained. “Every culture has soups. They’re comforting. They can be hot. They can be cold. In the winter they warm you up, and in the summer they cool you down.”

They can also be very forgiving,” she added, noting that a thin soup can be thickened or a thick one thinned. “If you put a little too much salt in a soup, you can put in a raw potato.”

Soups are handy for anyone looking for a simple, inexpensive way to entertain, she noted. “Not only can you make soup in advance and it’s helpful for you as a host or a hostess, but it improves with time.”

I asked Betty to walk me through the process of creating one of the recipes in Soup Nights. She explained the thinking behind her Winter Tomato & Garlic Soup, which uses ingredients she tends to have in her cupboard—canned tomatoes, chicken stock, onion, garlic.

“I love tomato soup,” she enthused. “As a child I the only tomato soup I ever had was the one that came in the red-and-white Campbell’s can. It was a revelation to me that you can make tomato soup.

“I always like to give a kind of citrus taste to tomato soup. This one has orange zest. It lightens the soup a little bit.”

Eager to help readers figure out what to serve with their soup (her book features sandwiches, salads, and desserts as well as straight soups), Betty Rosbottom suggests pairing the tomato soup with Gorgonzola bruschette.

“When we have a nor’easter coming, this soup will serve a lot … and it gets better when you make it ahead of time.”

Betty Rosbottom wasn’t at liberty to tell me what her next project will be, but she predicted that it will be “very popular.” She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, but she is spending January in her favorite city in the world, Paris, doing culinary research.

In fact, when we spoke she was in her Paris apartment. The long distance connection made me happy if just a little jealous. During our conversation I could almost smell the onion soup!

Courtesy of Betty Rosbottom

“Midnight in Paris” Onion Soup Gratiné

© Soup Nights by Betty Rosbottom, Rizzoli New York, 2016. Used with permission.

Ingredients:

for the soup:

2 quarts beef stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick, to yield 10 cups
kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar, plus more if needed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dry white wine
freshly ground black pepper

for the croutons:

18 baguette slices, cut about 3/8-inch thick
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 12-ounce piece good quality aged Gruyère grated to yield 1-1/2 cups and the remainder cut into slivers (1/4-inch by 1-inch long) to yield 1/2 cup

Instructions:

Set the stock in a pot over very low heat; then cover it. Keep the stock warm at a very low simmer while you prepare the soup.

In a 5-quart heavy pot (with a lid) over medium-low heat, heat the butter and oil. When hot, add the onions. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, 15 minutes.

Remove the lid, and raise the heat to medium. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, the sugar, and the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan so that the flour does not burn, until the onions are rich golden (like the color of light brown sugar), 35 to 40 minutes or more.

(While you are cooking the onions, the flour will start to darken too and the onions will cook down considerably. That’s okay.)

When the onions are done, add the simmering stock and 1/2 cup of the wine. Season the soup with salt and pepper, and a pinch or two of extra sugar if desired. Simmer, partially covered with the lid set ajar, 40 minutes more.

With a large spoon, skim off any foam that forms. Add the remaining 1/4 cup wine and season the soup again with salt and pepper. (Soup can be prepared three days ahead. Cook to this stage, then cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)

While the soup is simmering, prepare the baguette slices and the cheese topping. Arrange a rack at center position of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Brush the baguette slices generously on both sides with olive oil and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake until the slices are crisp, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove and cool. (The baguette slices can be prepared two days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.) Retain oven temperature.

Arrange 6 ovenproof soup bowls or ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and fill them 3/4 full with the hot soup.

Divide the slivered cheese among the bowls. Float 2 to 3 baguette slices on top of each serving, and sprinkle generously with some grated cheese. Depending on the size of your bowls or ramekins, you may have some soup, cheese, or croutons left over.

Bake the soups until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned, 15 minutes. Watch constantly. If desired, run under a hot broiler to brown more, 1 to 2 minutes. Serves 6.

Winter Tomato & Garlic Soup with Creamy Gorgonzola Bruschette

© Soup Nights by Betty Rosbottom, Rizzoli New York, 2016. Used with permission.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained well
3-1/2 cups chicken broth or stock, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon dried basil
a scant 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more if needed
kosher salt

a scant 1/2 TSP red pepper flakes, plus more if needed
kosher salt
2 small pinches sugar
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon grated orange zest

Instructions:

In a heavy, 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the onions and stir until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, 3-1/2 cups broth, basil, red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sugar. Stir well to combine and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée the soup in batches in a food processor, blender, or food mill, then return the soup to the pot. (Or use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot.) The mixture will be somewhat chunky. Stir in the half-and-half, Parmesan cheese, and orange zest and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the soup is heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. If the soup is too thick, thin it with 1/2 cup extra broth. Season the soup with salt if needed and, if you’d like more heat, add a pinch of red pepper flakes. (Soup can be prepared two days ahead. Cook to this stage, then cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring often, over medium heat.)

Ladle the soup into bowls. Serve with the Gorgonzola Bruschette alongside or, if you prefer, float one on top of each serving. Serves 6.

Gorgonzola-Rosemary Bruschette

Ingredients:

12 baguette slices, cut 3/8-inch thick
olive oil for brushing
1 8-ounce piece creamy Gorgonzola, such as Gorgonzola Dolce, softened slightly
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Instructions:

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Have a foil-lined baking sheet ready.

Brush both sides of the baguette slices generously with olive oil and place on the baking sheet. Bake slices until golden and just crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (Slices can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Keep at room temperature.)

Spread each slice with Gorgonzola; then return to the oven until cheese has melted, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle each slice with chopped rosemary.

© Harry Zernike. Used with permission.

“Living and Working with Your Entire Self”: Susie Chang

Monday, October 17th, 2016
Susie Chang (all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

Susie Chang
(all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

The voice coming out of the computer is upbeat, musical, and fun. “If you love to cook, if you love recipes, if you love eating, stick around. Anything could happen,” says Susie Chang near the beginning of the inaugural podcast of “The Level Teaspoon,” her informal and entertaining look at cookbooks and recipes.

Susie (her pen name is “T. Susan Chang”) lives in Leverett, Massachusetts, not too far from me. For many years she has reviewed cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR. She is also the author of the frank, charming food memoir A Spoonful of Promises.

Her free podcast debuted on September 14. A new episode will be available every Wednesday on ITunes and other podcast venues (including its own site), where listeners can also hear back episodes. The podcast features cookbook reviews, cookbook highlights, and recipe-testing sessions with enthusiastic home cooks.

I spoke with Susie on the phone recently to talk about the genesis of “The Level Teaspoon.” She explained that she had come to realize that journalism had changed over the past couple of years.

“Cookbook reviews in print are something that people are less interested in,” she told me. “We use cookbooks in different ways. A lot of us will just Google recipes….

“I started thinking about how I would like to find out about cookbooks. I listen to an absolute ton of podcasts.”

She began to investigate the possibility of creating her own podcast. “I love doing radio. I always thought it would be nice to do more voice work, but I never could figure out how to do it,” she said.

“I spent a day looking into how people are managing to do podcasts, and I realized that it is possible to make a living running a podcast.”

The trick, she added, is that the podcaster has to build up thousands of listeners in order to attract a sponsor for his or her work.

She decided to take a chance, to invest her money in a good microphone and her time in creating a podcast she knew people would enjoy.

“I decided to give myself a few months to try and just see how it goes. I’m really, really hoping that I can make this work because I love doing it!” she asserted.

“I still get to write. I love writing. I always have. But there is something about the immediacy of sound to me that really goes with the immediacy of cooking. Cooking is a social activity.”

Susie is very proud of the sound effects she has begun to generate in her podcast. She found her theme music almost by accident.

“It happened the day I got my mike,” she recalled. “I’d been all worried about finding theme music. I had no idea how I was going to do it. I just happened to be working on my laptop across the street at the library and they were having their ‘Music on the Patio’ night. A couple of my neighbors are in the band.

“Anyway, I was just sitting there working and I thought, ‘Hey, that sounds pretty good!’ So I ran back across the street to my house and got the new mike, which I’d NEVER used before. And when they were all done I said, ‘What would it take for you guys to record just like 30 seconds of music for me?’ And they said, ‘Well, you want to call us tomorrow?’ And I said, ‘Well ACTUALLY, I happen to have a mike in my bag!’ And that’s how I got it.

“One take; you can hear talking and crickets and everything. I thought they did an amazing job.”

podcast-picweb

Susie’s favorite part of the podcast may be the segment in which she interviews “ordinary people,” including friends, about their experiences testing cookbook recipes.

“With cookbooks that’s the thing we never get to hear of, how [a recipe] ends up in somebody’s kitchen,” she told me. “It’s really hard to know from just looking what your experience with a cookbook is going to be like.”

She added that she enjoys being able to use the words of her many friends who love food and are articulate about it. “I just wanted their voices to be heard,” she said.

“Instead of being holed up in my office writing about these cookbooks, now I’m actually getting to see my friends, taste things with them, hear what they think.”

She looks forward to interviewing cookbook authors as well as friends as the podcasts develop. “The trick is that [the authors] can’t test their own recipes. They can talk about their book, but they will test a recipe from [someone else’s new] cookbook,” she explained.

At the moment it is taking Susie a full work week to prepare each podcast. “Thursday I write,” she noted. “By Friday I should be recording. I squeeze in interviews when I can.”

She edits on Monday, prepares online notes for the show on Tuesday, and gets ready to promote it when it hits the internet on Wednesday.

She also has to fit her other work into her week. “Plus I’ve still got kids,” she joked, referring to her 15-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. “And at some point I have to figure out what I’m testing for the next week.”

She expressed the hope that her husband and daughter will test recipes with her on the podcast soon. She portrayed young Zoe as an enthusiastic recipe tester.

The cookbooks just flood in [here],” said Susie. “I take the ones that are aimed toward kids. [Zoe] goes off with a pile of cookbooks and basically goes for broke. She just starts cooking.”

Susie loves cooking with her daughter, she told me. “I did not get to grow up cooking next to my mom and grandmother. I’m glad Zoe has the willingness and ability to do it.”

I asked Susie how many cookbooks she receives to review per year. “Oh, my God,” she exclaimed. “I usually tell people it’s 400 or 500. It probably is at least that. I try to keep it down to 1000 in the house.

“Luckily, I live across the street from the library. The Leverett library now has an extremely large collection of cookbooks!”

All in all, Susie is happy and hopeful with her life and her podcast, both of which promote the idea of food as a community. “I feel satisfied with work for the first time in a long time, even though there’s no money yet,” she said.

“At least this way, whatever I do, I’m responsible for it. I can reject it. I can accept it. And whatever comes out of it is mine…. It’s fun to be living and working with your entire self. That’s a gift.”

level-teaspoon-iconweb

Lightening Up (Y’All)

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016
My nephew Michael's burger, complete with cheese and a bun.

My nephew Michael’s burger, complete with cheese and a bun.

January is in full swing. After a couple of weeks of holiday overindulgence, I have been back on my nutritional cleansing program for a while now. I don’t know whether I’ve been brainwashed by the program (my coach is a very convincing woman!) or I just like being a little lighter, but I’m actually enjoying dieting.

Like many Americans, I have spent much of my life on diets. Experience tells me that the greatest pitfall for the dieter is a feeling of deprivation. Virginia Willis understands that problem and addresses it brilliantly in her recent book Lighten Up Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome (Ten Speed Press, 232 pages, $24.99).

Virginia is a French-trained chef who specializes in quality Southern cuisine. She lives in Georgia but spends a lot of time near my own corner of western Massachusetts. I have been following her writings for several years; she is an expert in one of my favorite styles of cuisine: elegant but simple comfort food.

Virginia confesses early in the book that she has always had a weight problem and was recently counseled by her doctors to “lighten up.” She set out to develop a series of recipes that would lose calories and gain nutrition but not sacrifice taste.

The book includes healthier versions of such perennial favorites as macaroni and cheese, fried chicken (made in sticks on the oven), biscuits, seven-layer dip, and shrimp étoufée. Virginia even offers desserts: strawberry shortcake, cream-cheese brownies, and carrot cake, among other sweets.

I have tried only one recipe from the book so far—Virginia’s chicken, apple, and cheddar burgers. My current regimen doesn’t allow me to eat any cheese, not even the small amount called for in this recipe, so I had to change the flavor profile slightly by serving the burgers without the cheese. (I did serve them with organic mustard.)

The burgers were a delight. Ground chicken has less fat than ground beef and can tend to dry out. Virginia’s recipe cleverly incorporates both grated apple and grated sweet onion into the chicken to add moisture and flavor. My family eats the recipe WITH the cheese and loves it.

I plan to make several more dishes from Lighten Up, Y’all in the near future. Virginia Willis has clearly worked hard to find formulas that retain the flavor in foods while making them healthier.

Best of all, I envision using some of Virginia’s lightening-up techniques in dishes of my own. I trust her as a chef, a writer, and a dieter. And I look forward to the debut of her forthcoming PBS TV series.

lighten up web

Virginia Willis’s Chicken Burgers

Courtesy of Virginia Willis and Ten Speed Press. Used with permission.

Note: You may prepare these on the stove in a frying pan as well as in the oven, but they stay together better for me (and presumably for Virginia since she suggests doing them this way) in the oven. The ones in the pictures above and below were actually fried by my sister-in-law!

Ingredients:

1 medium sweet-tart apple (such as Gala, Granny Smith, Cortland, or Fuji), cored and quartered
1/4 sweet onion
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1/2 jalapeño chile, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2 ounces (1/2 cup) sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (optional for me but yummy)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Grate the apple on the large side of a box grater. (If you grate the apple skin-side out, you can grate it without having to peel it; a bit of peel is okay.)

Next, grate the onion and the cheese. In a medium bowl combine the chicken, apple, onion, garlic, chile, cheese, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mixture into 4 equal-size balls; each will weigh about 7 ounces. Shape each into a patty about 4 inches in diameter. Place the patties directly on the prepared baking sheet.

Transfer the sheet to the oven and roast the burgers until they are lightly browned, flipping once during cooking, and the temperature measures 165 degrees when measured with an instant-read thermometer, about 18 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

My own burger, sans cheese but with mustard (and lots of flavor!)

My own burger, sans cheese but with mustard (and lots of flavor!)

Cast-Iron Inspiration

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

cast iron

A friend recently decided to outfit a new kitchen and asked for my advice. She was getting ready to purchase a high-end set of cookware, she informed me, and wanted to know what brand I recommended.

I dismayed her by telling her that I wouldn’t recommend purchasing one full set of ANYTHING. Instead, I thought (and still think) that a kitchen needs a little bit of a lot of types of cookware.

I like my stainless-steel saucepans. I like to have both a nonstick and a regular frying pan. I like a huge pot for stocks and soups. And I believe that every kitchen needs a bit of cast-iron.

In my case, that cast-iron consists of one enameled Dutch oven in a convenient size (about 5 quarts; larger is hard to lift!) and black cast-iron skillets of varying sizes.

Most of my skillets came from relatives or tag sales, although I do have one new one, from Lodge Manufacturing Company.

I use my skillets for a variety of tasks—most commonly for toasting nuts or for baking cornbread, frittatas, or upside-down cake.

Reading Dominique DeVito’s brand-new Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook, which publisher Cider Mill Press sent me for review, has given me a number of additional ideas for cast-iron cookery.

In addition to my favorites, DeVito provides cast-iron-friendly recipes for unexpected dishes: casseroles; coffee cakes; vegetable roasts; and a variety of breads, from dinner rolls to Indian naan.

I have to admit it would NEVER have occurred to me to try preparing General Tso’s Chicken in my cast-iron pans—or to bake a giant chocolate-chip cookie.

Most helpful of all, DeVito provides hints on caring for cast iron. I knew one wasn’t supposed to wash these pans with soap. It turns out that I have been seasoning my pans incorrectly all these years, however!

If you’d like new ideas for your old pans, or if you are thinking of adding a cast-iron pan to your cookware collection, leave a comment below. The comment can describe your own favorite use of cast iron—or anything else you would like to express.

Cider Mill Press has generously promised to send a copy of the cookbook to one of the commenters. Please comment by next Tuesday, March 24. The next morning I will select one comment (randomly, I promise!) and get in touch with the winner to get his or her mailing address.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a recipe from the cookbook suitable for this week. I have already made my own favorite soda bread, but I’m seriously considering trying this savory take on a Saint Patrick’s Day favorite as well.

Let me know if you make it—and don’t forget to sing a few sentimental Irish (or Irish-American) songs today. My solo for our local Saint Patrick’s Day concert will be George M. Cohan’s “Mary.”

And the whole assembled group will sing “An Irish Blessing.”

blessingweb

Cheesy Chive Soda Bread

   Courtesy of The Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook

Ingredients:

3 cups white flour
2 cups spelt flour
3/4 cup rolled oats (not instant)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
2-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped chives
1-1/4 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk to combine thoroughly. In another bowl, combine the butter, buttermilk, and egg.

Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and stir vigorously to blend. Dough will be sticky. Stir in the chives and 1 cup of the grated cheese.

Liberally grease a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with butter. Scoop and spread the dough into the skillet. Grate pepper over the top; then sprinkle the remaining cheese over it. Using a sharp knife, make an “x” in the center, about 1/2-inch deep, to settle the cheese further into the dough as it cooks.

Bake in the oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes until the bread is golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to sit in the skillet for a few minutes before serving.

Makes 1 loaf.

A Saint Patrick's Day image from the past: my mother kneading soda bread

A Saint Patrick’s Day image from the past: my mother kneading soda bread

Cooking and Thinking in Provence, 1970

Friday, December 6th, 2013

30book "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr.

I review a lot of books for my local newspaper. I can’t remember the last one that spoke to me as Provence, 1970 has.

Subitled “M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste,” the book was written by Luke Barr, an editor at Travel + Leisure and Fisher’s nephew.

(M.F.K. Fisher, in case you haven’t read her, is another great read, perhaps the first American to write culinary essays that were taken seriously by both food lovers and literary critics.)

The book hones in on a few weeks toward the end of 1970 when six food luminaries converged in the South of France. In addition to the three writers in the subtitle, Barr writes about Simone Beck, Julia Child’s friend and the co-author of Child’s pioneering volumes on Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Richard Olney, an American writer and artist who wrote meticulously researched books about traditional French country cooking; and Judith Jones, the influential editor who worked with most of the writers involved.

Jones is the only major character in the book who is still alive. At 89 she is still cooking and writing and is a former judge at my very own hometown’s charity pudding contest, which will return in 2014.

Working from letters, diaries, and memoirs, Barr examines individuals and cultures at a defining moment. Most of his American characters had made their reputations (and built much of their lives) paying tribute to traditional French cuisine. At this point in their lives Child and Fisher in particular were beginning to feel ever so slightly oppressed by the Old World and their old lives in France … and to look forward to a new beginning in the New World.

Barr argues that this moment in food history, the time his characters spent together in Provence late in that year, marked a turning point in the way Americans write about food and consequently in the way we cook. Instead of trying to duplicate classic French modes of food preparation, we began to explore our own culinary possibilities.

Much of the food culture we now take for granted followed—including our renewed interest in local, fresh food; the status of chefs and food writers (although not this food writer yet, alas) as icons of popular culture; our curiosity about new, varied flavors; and what Barr calls the “moral dimension” of cookery in contemporary America.

Barr is careful not to overstate his argument; he doesn’t claim that these encounters in Provence CAUSED the way we cook today. He does convincingly maintain that his characters and their interactions “provide a unique, up-close view of the push and pull of history and personality.”

Provence, 1970 takes the reader on a thought-provoking, delicious tour of a remarkable time, place, and group of people. My favorite moment in the book comes when Julia Child and James Beard are improvising a simple supper in the kitchen at la Pitchoune, the small house built by Child and her husband Paul in rural France.

Julia Child and James Beard in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Julia Child and James Beard  at la Pitchoune in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission from/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

For them, as for most of us who love to cook, the preparation of a meal is a balancing act between the knowledge and tradition they have built up over the years in the kitchen and the demands of the unique foodstuffs in front of them. It is an opportunity for creativity and for camaraderie.

I treasure Provence, 1970 for scenes like the one in the Childs’ kitchen and also for its implicit message that change can come at any age. All the main characters are middle aged, ranging from Richard Olney at 43 to James Beard at 67. Yet all are preparing for new chapters in their lives and new chapters in books.

Above all, I love the book for Barr’s sensitivity to the enduring connections that food can forge between people who care for one another and for the preparation and consumption of meals.

His words about his mother near the end of the book speak to the impulse that made me call this blog In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

It was my mother, who died a few years ago, who taught me to cook. And when I make something she made for me, or with me, I feel her presence—not in any literal or even ghostly way, but in the form of an atmospheric shift, an emotional warmth. It is striking how cooking binds us to the past, and to the people we love, even when they’re gone.

As Christmas approaches, I raise a glass and lift a fork to Luke Barr and to the historical figures he brings to life in his book. And of course to my own late mother—and to you and those you love, dear readers.

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

P.S. If you have already purchased Provence, 1970 for a food lover on your gift list and are looking for other book suggestions, a bookstore, Amazon, or I would be more than happy to sell you a copy of my own Pulling Taffy or Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you order from me, you may get your copies signed—and you will be supporting THIS middle-aged food writer!)

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