I like to linger around the cookbooks at the bookstore, imagining that those beauteous photos could be in fact pictures of my food. But out of all books, cookbooks are often the trickiest–they often fall into the gimmicky, food-trend laden world of mediocre recipes and horrific prose–and are more expensive than their fiction counterparts. Too many try to create a personality rather than let the food and the recipes speak for themselves.
But I caved last week and bought two books (they were in the sale bin) from the British publisher Kyle Cathie: Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own: Bob Flowerdew’s Guide to Making the Most of Your Garden Produce and Preserved by Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler.
Both books have gorgeous photos, though Bob Flowerdew’s includes more gardening and storage tips while Preserved demonstrates how to make various preserves (including pickles and cured meats) and then incorporates them into recipes. I haven’t made anything from either book, but I found it somewhat comforting to find recipes for traditional British recipes that I had been longing for like bubble and squeak (Bob Flowerdew puts brussel sprouts in his) and onion marmalade.
Normally I am not a fan of British chefs (Nigella Lawson drives me crazy with her hideous attempts to seduce and pander), but these celebrate the best elements of British food: locally sourced, traditional recipes that had incorporated sauces and spices from other cuisines. I also couldn’t help but buy them when I saw that Preserved showed you how to make your own trashcan hot smoker (this is going to be a smoked trout summer!) and that Bob Flowerdew describes cider making. (I also loved that he had an unironic ponytail, which brought back a few too many Berkeley memories.)
On another note, I just finished New York Times Restaurant Critic Frank Bruni’s new book, Born Round: the Secret History of a Full-Time Eater. Unfortunately, the book fell into a form of therapy and I think a new subtitle, something like “Confessions of a Bulimic Gay Man” would have more aptly described it. I am being overly harsh–Bruni has some great moments such as his tale of being a reporter on location during the Gulf War and riding in tanks without toilets for days across the desert, or the various disguises he came up with as a new reviewer. But most of the book describes his weight and waist size, as it bounced from 32 to 40, and while it may be a tribute to his efforts to finally take control of himself and his weight, it’s a tedious process. I found that for a book about struggling with over-eating, there was a surprising lack of food.