Monday, October 24, 2016

On the Bookshelf: All About Food!

Hello, everyone! As you hopefully know by now, I love books. And, I really love food-eating food, reading about food, making get the idea. The vast majority of books I've gotten from the library are all about food, and I enjoyed them a lot! I found some fascinating memoirs, and I also read some fantastic cookbooks. So let's talk about food!

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya Von Bremzen.  This was a fascinating memoir, in which Anya goes through several decades of Russian history, discussing the impact of events on her relatives and herself. She does much of this reminiscing through the lens of food, which I found very creative. It was a moving and eye-opening book, and reading about life under the regimes of Stalin and Lenin was very sad. This book was a bit heavier on the history than I thought it would be, and there were a lot of historical facts to keep track of, but it was extremely interesting! (although I could have done without some of the sexual references) It also made me realize how I should really appreciate all of the food that I have-on a whim, I can drive a block to the grocery store and buy bananas, which were a treat for many people in the USSR. My cupboards are full of incredibly tasty food, where so many people in the Soviet Union-even withian the past several years!-had nothing. I recommend this book to adults who love food and are interested in learning more about Russian history and culture. 

Mastering the Art of French Eating, by Ann Mah. Ann's husband is a diplomat, and when the two of them are sent to live in Paris for his work, she is delighted...until her husband's assignment is suddenly changed, and he's sent to work in a war zone while she stays in Paris. At her husband's encouragement, Ann decides to visit various regions of France to learn about the food there. This book spoke to my creative nonfiction-loving heart. I loved seeing Ann travel around and talk with locals in small cities about the food which they made and loved. This book included recipes for the food that she ate, which I thought was cool, too. I recommend this book to people who love food, love France, or love creative nonfiction. 

Japanese women don't get old or fat: secrets of my mother's Tokyo kitchen, By Naomi Moriyama. Since I once read the book, French Women Don't Get Fat, I was greatly intrigued to see this book about Japanese women. Naomi discusses how she left her home in Japan to attend two years of college in America, and simply by being in America and eating the food here, she gained several pounds. When she returned to Japan, simply by eating the food and going about her typical day-to-day activities, she lost all of that weight in weeks. So, she sets out to discuss the health benefits of Japanese cuisine in this book. I really liked that this book was filled with factual research and studies as it described food and health. Naomi discusses, in practical ways, how anyone can cook in a Japanese manner. She clearly mentions that the style of cooking she presents isn't fancy restaurant meals or sushi, but the simple cooking which she grew up eating. In each chapter, Naomi provides an easy-to-use recipe. I really enjoyed this book, and liked how the author presented Japanese food in an approachable manner, as well as laying out the health benefits of eating Japanese cuisine. In the back of the book, she also lays out some simple meal plans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the recipes that she provided. I recommend this book to people who like learning about other cultures, enjoy food, want to live a healthier lifestyle, or want a simple introduction to Japanese food. 

Recently, I decided that I want to expand my culinary skills by learning Japanese dishes. So, in addition to these memoirs, I also read a handful of cookbooks:

Donabe: classic and modern Japanese clay pot cooking, by Naoko Take Moore. This book was a delight to page through. Gorgeous photographs displayed a variety of cooking pots and steamers. The recipes all sounded delicious. Quite a few of the recipes seemed designed for specific Japanese cookware, so I haven't attempted any recipes from this cookbook. However, there are one or two which I am hoping to try out sometime. Out of all the cookbooks I read, this wasn't my favorite, simply because it seemed more geared towards people who normally cook Japanese cuisine and have more cooking abilities than myself. 
Everyday Harumi: simple Japanese food for family and friends, by Harumi Kurihara. Known as the "Martha Stewart of Japan," Harumi Kurihara is a celebrity homemaker and cookery writer. I sometimes veer away from celebrity chefs/homemakers, because their recipes and techniques often seem scary and not practical for me personally. But, this book does not come off like this at all. Kurihara discusses the bare-bones ways in which you can adapt your kitchen to Japanese cuisine, and she provides extremely simple recipes (with gorgeous photographs) so that you can bring Japanese food into your home. I made her miso paste meat sauce over udon noodles, and it was fantastic. I really enjoyed this book, and I liked how it included a couple recipes in different categories, so that one can try out a wide variety of foods! 
Japanese hot pots: Comforting one-pot meals, by Tadashi Oni. The concept of a "one-pot" meal is what made this book jump out at me. I am all about one-pot, one-bowl recipes! (I'm that girl who makes a recipe "one-bowl," because I don't like using bunches of different dishes to mix ingredients separately) The author does a great job discussing the various ingredients and aspects in Japanese hot pots. He clearly mentions that if you dislike certain ingredients or cannot find them at the store, that it is A-OK to leave them out and adapt recipes to what you have and can use (perfect! This man knows how I roll). This cookbook basically shouted out, Hey, even if you don't have a portable burner next to your table, or a clay pot, you should use your resources to make hot pots anyway. So I did. I made the Beef and Taro Root hot pot as well as the "Strawberry" Hot Pot, and they were both awesome. I'm hoping to make more of the recipes in this book sometime, and I highly recommend this cookbook to anyone who wants to give hot pot cooking a try. 
My Japanese Table: a lifetime of cooking with friends and family, by Debra Samuels. This cookbook was so much fun to look through and use in the kitchen! Tons of photographs adorn the pages, and an extremely wide variety of recipes are given. Anything from appetizers to meat to desserts are discussed! I thought it was cool that the author had a small section on bento boxes and picnics, giving simple recipes and ideas for taking a delicious Japanese meal with yourself on-the-go. I tried out many dishes from this book (the Japanese Fried Chicken was probably my favorite), and I recommend it! 

I had so much fun reading these different books, and I'm excited that I have discovered super-cool Japanese foods which are quite easy to make. I will be talking about some of the foods I've made in the near future, so that y'all can see what they look like. Have you ever decided to try making food from another culture? 

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