Book Reviews

Review of Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

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 Alice Tsay

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst
HarperCollins, March 2010
336 pages
ASIN: B003ATPQWU

Between the vampire craze and digital age, the hapless “bite” has been pressed into all kinds of literary labor in recent years. A quick foray on the internet produced Bite Club and Love at First Bite as well as Reality Bytes and The Digital Diet: Today’s Digital Tools in Small Bytes. There are even books riding both waves at once: according to Amazon, Byte Marks tells the story of a modern-day vampire who falls in love with a witch who runs a dating website. In contrast, Christopher Hirst’s Love Bites hearkens back to the golden olden days of double entendre, before bloodsuckers and computing reconstituted the terrine of popular culture.

This aura of datedness is what makes Love Bites both charming in its tone and occasionally hackneyed in its attitudes. Subtitled Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen, the book presents itself as the scullery edition of the gender wars waged between Christopher Hirst and his wife, referred to throughout as “Mrs H.” A short interlude in the introduction gives them each a chance to float a kitchen-centric take on the opposite sex: “Men disappear if they have to do some work, but they are quite handy for reaching things from high shelves,” says Mrs H. “Women tend to be excessively pedantic about recipes and things,” Hirst retorts.

Fortunately, the book quickly moves beyond these sweeping indictments to explore the frustrations and rewards of learning to merge one’s little rituals with those of another, both in a kitchen and in life. The parallel is particularly close for Hirst, who writes early on, “My passion for food began when I became passionate about Mrs H.” For Hirst, who had little cooking experience before he began dating the woman who became Mrs H, the kitchen becomes both canvas for expressing himself and a staging ground for their relationship.

Thus, while Love Bites contains a collection of recipes, these recipes are cushioned between narratives of experimentation and discovery, some of which made earlier appearances in “The Weasel,” a column Hirst wrote for the London-based Independent for many years. At his best, Hirst manages to combine annotation and anecdote in his prose, as the marmalade-making chapter illustrates:

“You didn’t add [water] when you were making strawberry jam.”
     “Well, that’s different. Get on with chopping the peel.”
     Ah, yes. I’d forgotten that bit. Unlike normal orange consumption when the peel is chucked away, unless you shove a chunk in each cheek to do a Marlon Brando impression […], marmalade-making is a very satisfactory activity for those who detest waste. To chop the peel, you need a short, sharp knife, a chopping board and Radio 4. Bisect each squeezed hemisphere, so you get the peel of a quarter-orange. You then slice this wedge to create ten stripes of peel. At least that’s how I was directed, but just to show the old anarchic spirit wasn’t entirely dead I sometimes did a random amount with some bigger chunks.

A few pages later, the cooking process is underway:

The rolling boil in a big pan is rather impressive and a bit scary. The golden goo churns and seethes with hundreds of little bubbles. It’s the sort of thing that used to be poured on besieging forces from the top of battlements. Had that thought ever occurred to Mrs H?
     “No.”
     A foam forms amid the churning orangey boil. The effect is a bit like a film of the surface of the sun. Had that ever struck Mrs H?
     “No. Are you stirring properly? You should be stirring with a figure-of-eight movement.”

While these sections contain lots of useful information for anyone who intends to test the included recipe, they also have many moments of Hirst’s winsome humor. Armchair gastronomers will be grateful for his vivid and good-natured descriptions, whether Hirst happens to be attempting Heston Blumenthal’s modernist take on Black Forest gateau or mired in the great outdoors, trying his hand at foraging. (“Free food is only for the time rich,” he concludes.) Figures such as Blumenthal, Fergus Henderson, and Lady Shaftesbury may be unfamiliar to some U.S. readers, but it doesn’t matter much: Love Bites is about enthusiastic amateurism and its delights, not Britain’s culinary and social upper crust.

It is, in the end, a book that is best when it embraces being uncool:

“Yum,” said Mrs H as she munched the combination of cheesiness and ooziness and crunchiness and almost-burntness. “When you come down to it, there’s nothing better than Welsh rarebit.”
     “Rabbit.”
     “I’ll do anything for a bit of cheese on toast, as long as it’s not too strenuous.”
     Crumbs! No wonder I decided to explore every feasible variation of the dish in order to keep the fire of love burning. Or at least lightly toasted.

Here, trivial domestic quibbling combines with silly wordplay and unsophisticated description, and yet the scene has a satisfying complexity echoing that of the Welsh rarebit’s “cheesiness and ooziness and crunchiness and almost-burntness.” Like comfort food, it’s almost too much, but just right: a bite answering to the appetite for simple things and simpler times.

January 15, 2012