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Staff Picks Category: Food

Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin []

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This is a love story. A love story about Pizza. This silly tale is sure to draw many ears…

A raccoon has to figure out how he can get his little paws on what he cherishes most in the world, but he is having a difficult time getting anywhere close to a cheesy, gooey pie. Good thing the narrator is on this furry buddy’s side. Don’t worry, the end of this story is a happy one.

My least favorite thing about this book is how hungry I get while reading it. Let’s just say, I relate a lot to the main character.

If you enjoyed Secret Pizza Party, try Dragons Love Tacos.

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The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila []

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The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making, written by Great Barrington’s Alana Chernila is a practical guide to becoming more self sufficient in the kitchen. The book is cleverly organized by aisle and features staples that many people buy at the grocery store including pasta sauce, jelly, granola bars, and even a homemade version of the beloved Pop-Tart. Every recipe is accompanied by a personal story so if you don’t have a lot of time for cooking you can still enjoy some light reading.

I recently tried the recipe for whole wheat sandwich bread. Bread is one of those things I always really want to make for myself but usually the product is blatantly inferior to the local bakery or even the grocery store version. The instructions had the bread slowly rise in the fridge for up to three days so after nervously waiting, I finally baked my bread yesterday and was delighted to find that it was a success!
If you just can’t get enough of Alana, she also has a blog, Eating From the Ground Up.

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The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik []

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Here comes a mini review or what we’ll call an appetizer:  New Yorker mainstay Adam Gopnik meditates on all things food and dining in the delightful, The Table Comes First.  Gopnik, writing in a conversational style, interlaces history into personal anecdotes while sharing recipe favorites.  The origins of the restaurant, the evolution of cooking methods and the role food plays with family, are expounded upon here with great skill and humor.

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The Trip by Michael Winterbottom []

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This feature mockumentary, edited down from a BBC television series, stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as exaggerations of themselves in the entertaining fictional road movie, The Trip.  The two colleagues continue their antagonistic relationship that began on the screen with Winterbottom’s A Cock and Bull Story.  Coogan initially asks Mischa, his American girlfriend, to accompany him on an assignment where he’ll be writing a magazine piece covering restaurants and quaint inns in the northern English countryside.  We soon learn the actor’s relationship is in trouble and he reluctantly calls on comedian Rob Brydon to join him.
What follows is a one upmanship contest of mythic proportions.  The two bicker over their careers, public perception, height and general approach toward life.  In the car and at various breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner tables they battle it out with celebrity impersonations, vocal range and improvisational wars.  The comedic competition is never ending, but never ceases to be funny.  Contrasting the humor is Coogan’s desperation in private moments.  Cell phone conversations (with a weak signal) to Mischa, his ex-wife, son and agent reveal the actor’s lonelier side and his frustration dealing with aging.

The uncredited supporting role of this film are the beautiful hills and mountains and the elaborate dishes Rob and Steve are served.  Most importantly however, the friendship seen on screen, though obscured by Coogan’s condescension and bitterness, is rather touching at times.  Despite his best efforts to isolate himself, this is possibly a story about meaningful human relationships.

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Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton []

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Hailed as “the best memoir by a chef ever” by Anthony Bourdain, and a NY Times Notable Book in 2010, this unusual memoir follows the life of Gabrielle Hamilton, now chef/owner of Prune in NYC. It is unusual in that Hamilton is such a good writer, and seemingly holds nothing back, allowing us to see the bad and ugly along with the good.
The quality of her writing is partially explained with her MFA from the University of Michigan, an experience she relates in ambivalent terms, “It’s a tired reading style…it attaches more importance to the words than the words themselves — as they’ve been arranged, could possibly sustain, and it gives poets and poetry a bad name. Which is not what I came to graduate school for; I want to forever admire poets.”
The bad and the ugly includes her wayward youth and relationship with her family after her parent’s divorce. How she develops from a lost girl to opening an award-winning restaurant in New York and a marriage with an Italian doctor (and his family), is a compelling story, with lots of detail of the food along the way, that never feels like it bogs down the story.
And here, as a treat to celebrate my last day before continuing on my journey, when we drove to the coast, past fields of shooting asparagus and trees about to burst forth, and we stopped finally at the water’s edge in St. Malo- here are platters of shellfish pulled that very morning from the sea-langouste, langoustines, moules, crevetted, huitres, bigorneaux, coques. These are the pearl-tipped hat pins stuck into a wine bottle cork for pulling to the meats of the sea snails. The tide ran out, and the fishing boats slumped in the mud attached to their slack anchors like leashed dogs sleeping in the yard. The particular smell of sea mud went up our nostrils as we slurped the brine from the shells in front of us, so expertly and neatly arranged on the tiers.

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The Best One Dish Suppers by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated []

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This cookbook is a collection of recipes from American’s Test Kitchen that are all made in one pan or one pot or a dutch oven or a slow cooker. There are 180 recipes with 169 illustrations and tips, tricks and helpful hints accompany the step by step recipes. The recipes include stews, soups, casseroles, pot pies and stir-frys. Several vegetarian options are also included. This cookbook is great to try out some new twists on comfort foods and cool weather favorites.

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Outlaw cook by John Thorne with Matt Lewis Thorne []

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Outlaw Cook is a great collection of essays by local writer John Thorne. In its chapters you will find memoir, philosophy, social commentary, book reviews, and much else besides, all of it related in one way or another to the world of cooking. Thorne’s interests are wide ranging, and the content collected here is diverse, but the overall theme of the collection is that of cooking not as a means to an end (a meal) but as an experience in of itself. Equally important is Thorne’s emphasis on appetite and how it drives the actions of the cook. Whether writing about potato pancakes, garlic soup, or the search for the perfect pecan pie, Thorne’s enthusiasm is infectious and will leave you eager to get to the kitchen, cook, and experiment.

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The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis []

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Because she was by nature reserved and even shy, Edna Lewis never received the credit she deserved for helping recreate American cooking in a style that treasured in equal measure our culinary heritage and our fresh, local foodstuffs. In this, her autobiography, she lets us see how this came about—a childhood totally immersed in the living tradition of country cooking as practiced in a small Virginia Piedmont community settled by slaves.

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American Fried by Calvin Trillin []

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Trillin is just as serious about food as some of the more earnest writers on this list, but also hysterically funny. His main thesis is that the local food usually is best, not the “continental cuisine” served in the pretentious restaurants found everywhere which he names generically “La Maison de la Casa House”. This book is the first in his Tummy Trilogy, which moves on to Alice, Let’s Eat, and finishes with Third Helpings — a delectable three-course meal, all in our collection.

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Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser []

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Analyzing the influence of the fast food industry on American society, an award-winning journalist explores the homogenization of American culture and the impact of the fast food industry on modern-day health, economy, politics, popular culture, entertainment, food production, and more.

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