Book Reviews

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


Reviews

 

REVIEW by Becca J.R. Lachman

How to Cook a Crocodile:
A Memoir with Recipes

by Bonnie Lee Black
Peace Corps Writers, October 2010
Paperback, 448 pages
ISBN: 1935925008

When my parents lived in Monrovia, Liberia for two years as humanitarian workers, they’d often compose lengthy emails describing their new eating habits. Food was a safe subject of conversation compared to the aftermath of civil war. Preparing meals also helped them connect with neighbors and a new lifestyle that provided only a few daily hours of electricity, a volunteer’s budget, and indoor markets teeming with unfamiliar ingredients.

While reading How to Cook a Crocodile, which highlights Bonnie Lee Black’s Peace Corps years in the central West African country of Gabon (at nearly 450 pages, a four-course meal in itself!), I wished that my mother and Ms. Black could meet. Anyone who’s watched a loved one serve abroad will connect to Black’s candid account of the emotional cyclone that often accompanies an American humanitarian worker’s overseas assignment. Indeed, the crocodile in the book’s title becomes a metaphor for self-transformation. As Black reminds herself and her readers: change can invite adventure and humility.

What makes Black’s story unique is that she started Peace Corps nearing the age of 50, leaving behind both a celebrated catering career, as well as deep emotional traumas. Yet her past experiences with loss bind Black to many of the women she befriends in Gabon. Mirroring her radically diverse life, How to Cook a Crocodile unfolds in a hybrid form spiced with letters, photographs, and flashbacks that provide focused glimpses into the author’s metamorphosis.

Through it all, food remains the universal language that enables Bonnie Lee Black to thrive. She often fuels her writing with quotes from M.F.K. Fisher (another author with ingenuity and pluck who refused to give up on humanity’s potential—and the meals that sustain both belly and soul). And at the end of each chapter, Black includes recipes, some from cooking lessons with local Gabonese master cooks, others clipped from the glossy pages of Gourmet Magazine and adapted to a refrigerator-less existence: Green Papaya Pie, Kidney Stew, Sautéed Fillets of Fish with Sorrel Sauce. She soon earns the nickname “The Martha Stewart of Gabon” and leads cooking schools for fellow aid workers, teaches English via cooking lessons, and develops bread-making workshops for Gabonese women. She even bakes the town’s first Western-style wedding cake, a not-so-minor miracle.

While How to Cook a Crocodile can be overly ambitious in its attempt to weave together a complicated backstory, it succeeds overall due to Black’s honesty, humor, and astonishingly creative resiliency. If given the chance, I’d travel—and eat a crocodile—with Bonnie Lee Black just about anywhere.

March 5, 2012