Photo credit Dylan York
‹‹ LONELY HEARTS OF THE COSMOS: The Story of the Scientific Quest For the Secret of the Universe // Dennis Overbye ››
I have my suspicions that the working title of this manuscript was Physics For Poets. The chapters have evocative, grandiose titles like “Delegates To Eternity” and “Bonfires On The Shores Of Time.” The author even uses the lyrics from the chorus of Talking Heads’ “Heaven” as an epigram. It takes a very relatable approach to the biggest of big questions, profiles the people who grapple with those questions, and allows itself ample room to reflect. It’s a science book without a single chart or graph. Needless to say, I loved it.
‹‹ HEAT: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker, and Apprentice To A Dante-Quoting Butcher In Tuscany // Bill Buford ››
Bill Buford has a lust for life and a nose for a good story. Here, that story is him leaving his cushy New Yorker editorship to work his way up from the bottom rung of the kitchen at Mario Batali’s Babbo, then leaving Babbo for rural Italy to learn old-world traditions and skills — a narrative that affords wonderfully candid portraits of legends like Batali and Marco Pierre White. It’s funny, and moving, and informative, and often gorgeously written.
‹‹ EATIN’ HIGH ON THE HOG WITH THE RUDY FAMILY: A Collection of Recipes From the Rudy Folks of Pennington Bend ››
I discovered this charmingly illustrated, 70s-vintage Nashville family heirloom in a particularly dusty corner of a local Goodwill, the handwritten pages hole-punched and bound by a plastic spine. The title has something to do with the anatomical location of tenderloin and apparently denotes living extravagantly well. Happily, that extravagance embraces souse, sweetbreads, smoked ham hocks, liver stew, pickled trotters, and sow’s-ear sandwiches. If any Rudy objected to brains for breakfast, it must not have been deemed worth mentioning.
There are, of course, more familiar entrees for the squeamish — like a white wine-braised loin called “A Drunk Pig (Or Cook).” There’s the requisite gallery of sundries like beaten biscuits, drop doughnuts, and poke salet [sic]. But it’s the utter lack of distinction made between the wide range of porcine ingredients that’s most intriguing to me. It’s like a humble Appalachian forbear of Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast. One page calls for canned soup, and one permits (without endorsing) margarine, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Someone could bring the rest of it to life with the full food-porn photo treatment, then print it on oversized glossy stock with embossed coffee-table binding, and the end result would be hailed as a benchmark of rustic “New Southern” cuisine. Behold, everything old is new again.
‹‹ THE DRUNKEN BOTANIST: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks // Amy Stewart ››
I had the pleasure of hearing Stewart give a talk at the Atlanta Botanical Garden last year. The subject was the list of plants that are present in a classic Manhattan cocktail, how each of them got there, and what purpose each serves. It followed much the same progression as this eminently useful reference book — starting with the starchy species distilled to create the alcohol itself, continuing through those used as flavoring agents, and finishing with the standard garnishes. “I’ve written numerous other books about plants, and no one’s ever offered to carry my luggage until this one,” Stewart remarked while detailing how she spent three weeks drinking her way around southern France for “research.” Cheers to that.
‹‹ CONSIDER THE OYSTER // MFK Fisher ››
This book is an oyster. It’s small, and it’s strange. It’s not for everyone. It may be consumed swiftly and thoughtlessly, but a few special souls will savor it, take a deep breath, and know they now feel alive.
Chris Riley is a writer, musician, and food enthusiast. His sporadic beats can be heard at http://youngsquireriley.bandcamp.com. You can find him answering wrong-number phone calls at Argosy or playing funk and soul records every other Thursday at the same.