It is early January. Many are eating with a new resolve, and putting the athletic shoes to use more consecutive days in a row than you have in … well, since last January.
Seems a perfect time to bring attention to a few books where the food is a supporting character, while tossing in a couple cookbooks for good measure. I think of cookbooks much like Paula Deen thinks of butter: it can only make it better.
Like Water for Chocolate came out in 1989 in Spanish, was translated to English and made into a book-honoring movie. The book tells of Tita’s life, bound to the unrelenting traditions of her mother, her heart’s cry for love and the cathartic cooking that allows her to express the depth of her emotions. The book is divided into twelve sections, each named for a month and beginning with a recipe.
The book is full of rich characters and an engaging storyline that intensifies like pepper oil that remains on your tongue after the bite is gone. Tita is held to a family tradition in which the youngest daughter sees to her mother’s needs until death, therefore forbidding any marriage. The tradition is challenged when love finds Tita. I don’t want to spoil the creative flavoring Laura Esquivel brings to reader as they observe Tita’s dishes of the heart consumed, but I do smile to myself believing you will find her as brilliant as I did in her exquisite story telling and unique twists.
“Without the Project I was nothing but a secretary on a road to nowhere, drifting toward frosted hair and menthol addiction.” Julia Powell, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.
The movie, Julie & Julia, was enjoyed by viewers, received well by critics and began with a blog that became a book. I found myself inspired by both to explore new realms of cooking and eating. Julie’s background is enjoyably detailed in this book. What she did was no small feat. In many ways, it was as precarious as baking a soufflé in a home full of boys who play basketball and slam doors.
What the book does best, in my opinion, is explore the drive that allowed Julie to complete her goal. Her drive comes from a hole in her heart that had yet to be filled and her quest to meet that need. Weaving back and forth allows the reader to understand each woman, their focus, passion and pain, in a way that touches your heart as you see how they are such a complement to one other. This brings the kind of delicious satisfaction you might experience while consuming a salted caramel.
“She moved from the window and walked quickly to the kitchen. She would do something that, if only for the briefest hour, had the power to solve everything, to offer certain and absolute consolation. She would cook.” Jan Karon, A Common Life (Mitford Series)
Jan Karon’s Mitford series have been read and loved by many. If you have not sampled the town of Mitford, where Father Tim lives among some of the most endearing town folk you will ever meet, please give it a try. I suggest you start with A Home in Mitford and work your way from there. If you don’t have time to read, the audio version is wonderful.
Father Tim, a bachelor minister, lives life among those who reside in Mitford. He eats at the local diner, takes part in the church’s potluck and comes home to meals prepared by his part-time housekeeper. What amazes me is the way Karon describes the food. I can smell the meals wafting through the air of the parsonage and feel my blood sugars rise as Esther’s Orange Marmalade Cake is served. In an interview, Karon explained how hungry she was as she wrote the first book. Having left full time employment to fulfill her call to write, she watched every penny. She spoke of making chicken bone soup and how writing about food allowed her to indulge in meals her budget would not permit.
This knack for writing about food and her personal enjoyment of cooking led to the creation of Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader, the cookbook divides the recipes by the book in which they are mentioned. The recipes are fantastic, but the cherry on top is the excerpt from the books where the dish is mentioned. Great southern cooking is the over all theme of the recipes.
Going back over the cookbook today causes me to pause and consider a “Jackee & Jan Project” when I whip up all the recipes in this cookbook over a year … <grin>. We’ll see.
While traveling this summer, Bob and I discovered Asheville, NC. We found Asheville to be an artsy and eclectic town, well worth exploring and then expanding the exploration to a slow drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This amazing drive winds along the mountain ridge and allows you stop regularly to take in each scenic view. This drive is easily paired with a tour of the Biltmore Estate, a summer cottage to the Vanderbilts. It makes for a great long weekend. While there enjoy a meal (or two) at the Tupelo Honey Café, where breakfast is amazing–and served all day. We left having enjoyed sweet potato pancakes, eggs Betty, red-eye gravy and the most amazing biscuits with blackberry skillet jam. Most of these recipes can be found in their cookbook, Tupelo Honey Café Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen, which we purchased on our way out. In addition to the recipes, you will find bits and pieces about Asheville’s rich history and cultural offerings.
I would be remiss to not mention that the book Julie Powell cooked her way through is Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Whether you are an avid reader or cook, I hope you settle in to one of the novels or break out an apron to tackle a new recipe. May your home and heart be happy in the provision that surrounds you. Bon appétit!