My Foodie Summer Reading Pile

Summertime is the time for reading.

Well, in truth, every season is the time for reading.

In the summer, you can lounge by the pool or loll on a blanket on the beach and devour a good book from behind movie-star sunglasses. Or, you can be like me as a kid, and climb up in a tree and park yourself against a good sturdy branch like a lioness sleeping off a gazelle feast and instead of snoozing, devour books that you hoisted up the tree with a basket-pulley system.

But winter is perfect for reading, too. Long, cold, snowy nights are perfect for curling up on the couch, with a mug of hot mulled cider, wrapped in a soft old quilt, engulfed in a book.

Spring is good, too–you can listen to the patter of gentle spring rain on the windowpane while a book takes your mind on journeys your body likely never will experience.

And then there is autumn–a nice cool crisp morning when the sky is brilliant cerulean and the leaves are a blaze of russet, gold and orange is perfect for sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee and a book to read while listening to the calls of blue jays and mockingbirds.

Of course, all of these idyllic images rely upon the reader having enough time to actually sit down and read–something that I find myself lacking a bit these days, but dammit–I really do intend to read this pile of books.

So, what is in my summer-reading pile?

The titles of interest to foodies (I admit to also having a few psychology texts, parenting tomes, quilting books and books of Fortean interest in my pile, but I am sparing my readers from having to hear about them) are as follows:

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuschia Dunlop. The truth is, I have had this book forever. Ever since it came out in hardcover, and I have tried to finish it about three times now. (That’s why it is sans dustcover in the photo–Kat long since denuded the book and destroyed the fragile paper, which is a shame because the cover image of the author drinking soup is quite fetching.) And my statement that I have tried to read it three times is really unfair, because it makes it sound like the book is boring, which it most certainly isn’t. Dunlop, the author of two of my favorite Chinese cookbooks ever, is a great writer, and her remembrances of living, working and learning cookery in China are filled with the flavors, sounds and colors of that unfamiliar, but fascinating world. The reasons I haven’t finished it have more to do with me and my lack of focus than they do with Dunlop and her storytelling ability. This time, I swear I will finish it, for real, and then write a right and proper review of it here.

My China: A Feast For All The Senses by Kylie Kwong Yeah, I’ve had this book forever, too. It is a gorgeous, oversized coffee-table tome of a cookbook, and is filled with photographs conveying the sights, sounds and flavors of China as seen through the eyes of Australian chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong. I have drooled over the pictures and scanned the text, but have I read it or cooked from it? No. A situation I am bound and determined to remedy.

Serve The People: A Stir Fried Journey Through China by Jen Lin-Liu Yes, this is another memoir/travelogue/eatalogue of an individual who goes through China, seeing it through the eyes and stomachs of her people. Do we detect a theme in Barbara’s reading for this season? I think that we do. Right now you must be thinking that I have a one track mind, but that just is not so. As I noted before, I am also reading about child-rearing, quilting and Bigfoot, so you cannot say that I just want to read about other people traveling to China and eating their fool heads off and writing about it and am living vicariously through them. I resemble that comment, thank you very much. No, seriously, this looks like a fun read from a Chinese-American journalist, born of Taiwanese parents who spends years living and working in Beijing and Shanghai, and while there finds a love for Chinese food and culture. What’s not to like, really?

Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States by Andrew Coe This book just came out, but it looks good to me. It is so new that there are no customer reviews for it on Amazon, so I have to admit I bought it just because I have read Coe’s writing in Gastronomica and liked his writing style. That, and I am fascinated with the subject matter, which will most likely include the development of the Chinese restaurant as a mainstay of American food culture–a story which I find endlessly fascinating, in large part because I have spent plenty of time eating and working at such establishments.

The Food and Cooking of South China by Terry Tan I just got this book yesterday, and boy is it a keeper! The photographs are enticing to say the least and there are recipes for delicacies I have never heard of before–including pork and nut dumplings–how can that be bad–and steamed chicken with ginger wine. Again, how can this be bad? Look for a full review with recipe presentations later in this month or next for this book–it is definitely a keeper.

So, there is my foodie reading for the summer.

What books are in your stack of foodie reading for this season? I need to know so I can add even more books to my pile!


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  1. That Chop Suey book looks a lot like Jennifer 8. Lee’s Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Probably no need to read both, but an alternative.

    Comment by Jonas Lemmingsson — July 15, 2009 #

  2. I’m cheap and I dont want any more books on my bookshelf, so I’m waiting for the saucy book about a pastry chef, molly katzen’s book and david lebowitz’s book about paris all to become available at the library!

    Comment by jennywenny — July 15, 2009 #

  3. Sounds like a heavy dose of China on your reading list 🙂
    I’m right now in the middle of “Chasing Harry Winston” a beach read kind of book.I just reread James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” for the ‘n’th time(I’ve been doing this for years)-and I still manage to find it SO much fun!!
    I read “Raising A Spirited Child” last summer-a must read for all mom’s! It was highly recommended by my son’s pediatrician 😉
    Have fun with all the reading!!

    Comment by Sweta — July 15, 2009 #

  4. Oh yes I forget-on the foodie side I recently flipped through a book called “Cooking With My Indian Mother-in-law”.I realized that I was already making most of the dishes-so returned it to the library!!It has a waiting list of about 20 people 🙂

    Comment by Sweta — July 15, 2009 #

  5. Mmmf, mostly media theory and a comic book or dozen…

    But what I’d LIKE to read on the foodie side is a book about daals – the different varieties, of course recipes, suggestions for how to throw one together with what you have in the cabinet – something like that.

    Any suggestions?

    Comment by Heather — July 15, 2009 #

  6. My mother-in-law gifted me about half of her cookbook collection; they are downsizing. Half is quite impressive – her husband traveled extensively for work for many years and brought her back a cookbook from each place he visited, so I now have cookbooks from every region in the United States, and some of them are vintage. I’m working my way through those, because I love reading cookbooks, as well as Julia Child’s My Life In France.

    Comment by Jan — July 15, 2009 #

  7. It’s funny – I was actually thinking last night I needed to e-mail you and recommend “Shark’s Fin,” but then I didn’t as I assumed you had probably already read it. I loved it and gobbled it down in a day and a half of non-stop reading.

    I have the big Kylie Kwong book, which is beautiful to look at but I have had less luck cooking from it than I’ve had from her other books. Some of that (all of it?) is no doubt due to my very poor technique with Chinese cuisine, but some may be that her other books are just so darn approachable and easy that I had been spoiled in my expectations. Either way, it is a very beautiful book.

    I don’t have a lot of food books on deck this summer, which is kind of unusual.

    Comment by Diane — July 15, 2009 #

  8. It’s a good thing I’m a fast reader, because I added almost all of those to my to-read list. Which is now….63 books long.

    I’ll spare you the science fiction, the essay collections, the poetry, the medieval history, and the constitutional law. But there are some other books on it that you might like:

    Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner
    Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky
    Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen, by Elizabeth Andoh
    Food in History, by Reay Tannahill
    Foodways and folklore, by Jacqueline S. Thursby

    …I live in New York City, you always need a book for the subway, okay?

    Comment by Elizabeth Yalkut — July 16, 2009 #

  9. They is a new Rick Stein Chinesse cookery show and book out in the UK

    Rick Stein

    Thought it might be of interest to you.

    Comment by trading in china — July 16, 2009 #

  10. Thanks for these great book selections. I love coming to read your blog. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on aluminized steel baking sheets. My husband just bought two and I am unclear of the current ideas on aluminum cookware. What is your expert opinion? Do you use them? Would you?

    Comment by Marcella Grail — July 16, 2009 #

  11. My most recent favourite cook book is the “Complete book of Indian Cooking” by Suneeta Vaswani. It is awesome.

    Comment by Grace — July 16, 2009 #

  12. Diane–that is so funny about Shark’s Fin! Now that I have the ability to concentrate on reading back–probably a side effect of the mental side effects of vitamin D deficiency, I am enjoying the book again!

    Heather–there is a book I just ordered used by Mona Verma, called The Ultimate Dal Cookbook. It is from 2004 and is out of print–I read descriptions of it on Bookfinder and it sounds good. But I will let you know when my copy comes in.

    Grace–I will have to check that book out.

    Marcella–aluminum is a better conductor of heat than steel–which is why you see the baking sheets coated with it. Anodized aluminum is less reactive than plain aluminum, but it is generally acidic foods that cause the metal to react with the foods in a toxic way. If you use baking sheets to bake stuff like pastries, breads and cookies, you are not likely to have any health effects from using it and you will get the benefit of even heat conduction and retention, which means that the browning on the bottoms of your baked goods will be even.

    Comment by Barbara — July 16, 2009 #

  13. I adore Fuschia’s books. I just bought Into the Vietnamese Kitchen(Andrea Nguyen) and Secrets of the Red Lantern. I’m on a Vietnamese kick.
    The garden is redolent in Vietnamese coriander, Saw leaf, Lemongrass, cardamom..I hope to use them all!

    Comment by jo — July 16, 2009 #

  14. Thank you, Barbara!

    Comment by Marcella Grail — July 17, 2009 #

  15. Am always behind on my reading and the stack beside my bed is ever growing. It is a mixture of food related books, non-fiction, and many craft books.

    Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 by Ann Hagedorn This reminds of some of the things we are currently dealing with – the end of pandemic flu, end of WWI, soldiers still being sent to Russia & like Iraq they were sent without enough food, clothing and equipment. There was the great molasses wave where a wave of molasses 35 ft tall travelling 35 m/hr destroyed and killed people in the north end of Boston.

    Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee – the biography of the restaurant and its owner.

    Fabulous Woven Jewelry: Plaiting, Coiling, Knotting, Looping & Twining with Fiber & Metal by Mary Hettmansperger

    Diane Fitzgerald’s Shaped Beadwork: Dimensional Jewelry with Peyote Stitch by Diane Fitzgerald

    Luncheonette: A Memoir by Steven Sorrentino – The true story of son taking over his father’s restaurant after father became ill.

    Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

    Comment by Maureen — July 17, 2009 #

  16. Have you read The Food Of A Younger Land? Seems like you might enjoy it–my husband got it for me for mother’s day and I have been reading bits inbetween my fiction reading.

    Comment by Laura — July 18, 2009 #

  17. No, I haven’t read it yet, Laura, but it is on my “to read” list, though I don’t have a copy of it yet.

    It looks like a good book to review here.

    Comment by Barbara — July 18, 2009 #

  18. Had to pass on a rec for a food book that I am enjoying at the moment. “Miriam’s Kitchen” by Elizabeth Ehrlich – a memoir about her Askenazi Jewish family, with memories of her family dishes and stories of cooking with her mother-in-law, Miriam. I say “enjoying” reservedly as it is making me cry – it reminds me a lot of my grandma who passed away two years ago at the age of 99. I regret to this day I never got her stuffed cabbage recipe. I’ve tried making others, but they are not hers.

    Comment by Diane — July 22, 2009 #

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