Thursday, October 23, 2014

My lost Wednesday

exciting!

There are lots of big, juicy cookbooks on the shelf (and horizon) this fall: Plenty More, Prune, Flour + Water, Bitter, Heritage. I want to cook from them and write about them and am resuming my cookbook reviews.

I was going to start small. I was going to start yesterday by whipping out a review of a new cookbook sent to me by a publisher. It's a low-profile cookbook that you probably haven’t heard of, but I was intrigued because it used up a lot of an ingredient I was trying to get rid of. I read the book cover to cover (earnest, inconsistent), studied the recipes (some appealing, some appalling) and cooked five dishes (just ok) from its pages over the weekend. I thought this review might take an hour, maybe two, from my morning and then I could move on to another project. I expected to be done by 9 am. I started typing.

At four in the afternoon, I was still typing. I had long ago migrated from the treadmill to the sofa. I kept moving sentences around, struggling to establish the right tone -- friendly and appreciative of the merely adequate dishes I’d made, but also gently baffled by some of the super-weird recipes and several other serious glitches in the book's concept. Shouldn’t be so hard, should it? What was wrong with my brain?

Seriously frustrated, I took a late afternoon break and went to the library, hoping to find Lena Dunham’s book on the “lucky day” shelf. Instead I found Lila, which I had thought I wanted to read, but realized the instant I saw it that I actually didn’t. While wandering through the stacks, it hit me the way things do when you step away from a problem: I had spent the whole day trying to bullshit my way through a post. I had tried to review a cookbook without saying what I actually thought. 

It seems like bullshitting would be easy, but it's really, really hard. Once you decide to tell the truth, everything just flows. But I couldn’t tell the truth. The truth was that I thought the book was amiable, confused, misguided, full of outlandish things I’d never want to eat, and, basically, a failure. I’d spent eight hours trying not to say this. 

And I was right not to say it. Unfortunately, I couldn't write around it, either. I came home from the library and erased the file. A small book like this one needs to be left in peace. If Prune or Plenty More disappoints, I wouldn’t hold back. 

Today I got up and wrote this post. It’s not much, but I had to squeeze something out of my lost Wednesday.
 instead of Lila 

30 comments:

  1. Have you read Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir? I listened to it a few months ago... she sounds like a pretty disagreeable person, but I enjoyed her writing.

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    1. I loved that book. She's an incredible writer, but I agree she sounds like a difficult person. I hope her new book has lots of writing in it. I'm more eager for it than for the recipes.

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  2. I just bought Plenty More too. I have been in love with Ottolenghi for the past year or so. I started with Jerusalem and worked my way backward, and now forward with the new one. His brand of Mediterranean fusion cooking is in my wheelhouse. He puts ingredients together that I would have never dreamed of combining, but I have yet to be disappointed.

    I love those blondies by Dan Lepard too. I have mentioned my affection for Short & Sweet in your comments before, but I really do think it's the best baking/desserts book I've bought in at the last 20 years. His breads make a weekly appearance in my kitchen (and I love his practically no-knead technique for them all). Earlier today I made his spelt & ginger cookies for the umpteenth time. They're so delicious and take all of 10 minutes to put together. (I use crystallized ginger rather than the rather obscure stem ginger he calls for).

    I find it interesting that Ottolenghi started out as a pastry chef because the dessert sections of his books seem to me the least interesting parts -- or perhaps I've just given them short shrift.

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    1. Don't you think the desserts in Plenty More are a cut above what's appeared in previous books? The first time I flipped through the book, I thought they were the most appealing part. The meringue roulade, the halvah cake, the halvah ice cream. I'm even intrigued by the pears with the cracker topping. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on some of the recipes in Plenty More. So far, I've made just one. As to Dan Lepard, he is the best. Did you recommend his book? Is that why I own it? I've made many recipes and I don't think they've ever disappointed. I should post more about him.

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    2. Yes, I do think the "Plenty More" desserts look more inviting than those in his other books. The two halvah desserts you mentioned also leapt out at me -- I hope you make one of them at least and report back.

      I did recommend the Lepard book here, which led you to buy it. I'm so pleased that you did and have enjoyed it. None of his recipes have disappointed me. (I also own the British version of his book.) I used to wait eagerly for his weekly "Guardian" column, but he seems to have taken a sabbatical from that newspaper. But fortunately, he's writing for another food site now: http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/cook/by/Dan-Lepard

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  3. I really appreciate the kindness you practiced in just erasing the post you had spent so much time on, trying not to be cruel. So much the opposite of the tone of Virginia Heffernan's essay in the N.Y. Times recently, slamming into women who like to cook and specifically into several food bloggers, cookbook writers. You acted so admirably. Honesty is so important, so is good judgment. I look forward to your reviews!

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    1. That was an interesting essay. I read it a few times to try to figure out what I thought. I do think people have gone way overboard with their piety about the family meal. It was easy for her to cherry pick pompous quotes about the value of home cooking -- there are plenty out there. But there was definitely a very, very sharp edge to the piece, largely disguised by her breezy, self-deprecating tone. She was basically saying cooking is silly while pretending to lament her "inadequacies." I don't think she really feels inadequate at all.

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  4. Just a little off topic here - worried by what the cover designer of the Katie Roiphe book is trying not to say...

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    1. We should discuss. I began reading and agreed with much of what KR had to say and thought, why is she so controversial? But about 74% of the way through I put the book down because I had come to dislike her intensely. It was an interesting and curious reading experience.

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  5. Thank you for the generosity of spirit and the honesty you show here. That's one of the many reasons why I keep reading your writing.

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  6. I am eagerly awaiting your new adventures! I will have to look for Short and Sweet. You and an Honest Cook have peaked my curiosity.

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    1. You'll like him. The recipes are unusual -- he pairs ingredients I'd never think of pairing, but not in a fancy, cheffy way. All of his recipes are for the home baker, few of them difficult.

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    2. I looked this up on Amazon, and there are lots of criticisms about the US version and measurements. Have you had this concern?

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    3. No, but that's probably because I have the British version. What a shame.

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  7. While I totally agree it was generous to disparage some small book, I'm also dying to know what it was. I hope I grow up to be a bigger person and not just a cookbook gossip.

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    Replies
    1. You can email me and I'll tell you -- tipsybaker@gmail.com

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  8. I just read Lila and loved it. And yesterday I met the author and got to chat with her. I am over the moon.

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    1. I know. She's wonderful and I've read all of her previous novels. But for some reason I felt duty-bound to read this rather than genuinely excited. It might have been my mood. She's very quiet and slow and graceful and I needed something more energetic.

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  9. I understand. She's not someone I re-read if I want something fast paced. When you do get to it, though, Lila is wonderful. And I got to watch her being interviewed about her work, and contribute to the questions, which was fun and also terrifying, because her work, especially her essays, make me feel awestruck at her intellect.

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  10. Lesley Taylor11/8/14, 12:33 AM

    I love that bowl! It's a thing of beauty. I also like Dan Lepard's book. The Caramel Christmas cake is good, but not as good as Jane Grigson's which I made last year and is now my "go to" recipe.

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