ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Gratified at IACP award

For those who don't follow my Facebook page, you might have missed that In Search of the Perfect Loaf won the Literary Food Writing from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). The award was especially gratifying after being shortlisted for the Art of Eating award in February.

The book continues to get notice, including among home bakers who have written me emails about their grandmother's sourdough starter, breads from their local bakers, their favorite rye and questions and tips. I try and answer each one when I can so keep them coming. Or post a question, comment, or tip on the Facebook page.

 

In Search of the Perfect Loaf Gets Early Notice

Just under two months away from launch of In Search of the Perfect Loaf, reviews are starting to trickle in. Here's what Library Journal had to say in a starred review (July 1, 2014):

This impressive work falls somewhere between a cookbook, an exploration of bread-baking techniques, and a history of bread. It’s thoroughly researched and engagingly written, and his dedication is inspiring.

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The last pass of my manuscript, "In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey," is done!

And I'm sending it back in the mail to Viking/Penguin. (Yeah, at this stage it's hard copy, not electronic). This is the final stage before the whole thing goes to rest. I can't believe it's over. But there have been so many of these last stages, turning in the manuscript, going over the edit, doing the second draft, etc. etc that it almost feels anticlimactic. And any remaining mistakes are now my own damn fault!

For those who are curious, the book will be out right after the summer. 

The warrior: a remembrance of Sol Yurick

Shortly after I heard from my mother that our close friend, the novelist Sol Yurick, had died at age 87, the obits began appearing. I was glad that Sol, the first serious writer I knew and a strong influence on me as a teenager, was getting recognition. But I was also chagrined that the obits almost exclusively focused on The Warriors, a work he wrote in 1965 about warring New York gangs based loosely on Xenophon’sAnabasis that went on to became a movie and cult hit. Sure, it was a fast read and his most popular work, filled with his requisite cast of rogues, misanthropes, disaffected youth and innocents but the gang bang work hardly defined Sol, who liked to remind people that he wrote it in all of three weeks.

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Bread books and others for the holidays

I've been reading a lot of bread books lately -- a lot -- and each year brings more. What follows is a brief list of books that would help any aspiring baker as well as a couple of other cookbooks that have caught my eye.

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Inside the Jewish Bakery, Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg

For anyone interested in classic Jewish American baking, this book shouldn't be missed. It has all the recipes you'd want, but what makes the book stand out are the essays about Jewish baking. Who knew, for instance, that marble rye may have evolved out of an Eastern European practice of adding light rye flour to dark loaves in an attempt to make them look less impoverished? Plus, everyone has a challah recipe, but this book has a whole chapter of them -- and nearly 15 pages of pictures on braiding, including the "eight-dollar challah" (a five-strand braid topped by a four-strand topped by a three-strand). Now that's a challah!

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The Italian Baker Revisted, by Carol Field

When this book first appeared in 1985, it caused quite a stir. In fact, many professional bakers refer to it as inspiration, including Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery and Kathleen Webber of Della Fattoria. This revised edition is still chock-full of recipes, including standards such as ciabatta, but she also has unusual ones such as segale con pancetta (rye with pancetta) or pane di altamura, a famous bread from the south made with durum flour. Enriched doughs such as colomba pasquale, a panettone type bread for Easter studded with almonds and candied orange peel, are intriguing. More advanced bakers might be frustrated that Field hasn't included a true biga naturale (sourdough), instead relying on one kick-started with yeast. But in recipes that call for it, you can easily substitute your own natural leaven.

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The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking, the French Culinary Institute

This is kind of baking 101 in a well-designed, gorgeously photograhed volume. It reads a bit like a  textbook, but that's okay, because you'll find the classic preparations of classic breads. As a bonus, it includes a number of recipes from Didier Rosada, the unsung force behind a lot of artisan bread baking in this country. On my list to try, his buckwheat apple walnut bread. 

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Ruhlman's Twenty, By Michael Ruhlman

OK, you've got a dog-eared copy of Bittman's How to Cook Everything, just like me -- now it's time to graduate. Michael Ruhlman has done a lot to make culinary school techniques accessible to the home cook and he does so again in this clever volume focused on 20 key techniques. Some of them are less obvious (with chapters including "Think" or "Salt" or "Water") but he elaborates on his point in the recipes. Many are the culinary standards that might have faded, such as "simple butter sauce," but then there are standbys that every omnivore needs, such as "perfect roast chicken." His argument here -- truss the bird to prevent hot air from drying out the breast meat. Point taken. 

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All About Roasting, by Molly Stevens

Do we need a book about roasting, especially when Ruhlman has given you the perfect chicken? I was skeptical until I started reading this book, admitting and accepting that I've overcooked or flubbed one too many roasts. Now the reason for this is that I hardy every roast, because it's the sort of thing you do a couple of times a year, usually around the holidays. In this book, Stevens dissects the technique and offers up recipes for all cuts of meat cooked at various temperatures. For the ambitious, I recommend the oven-roasted porchetta, made with a rolled pork loin and pork belly. Needless to say, this book will be put to use this holiday season. 

- Samuel Fromartz

New Englander offers a few cookbooks for the holidays

This post is by Debra Kam, a member of Seacoast Eat Local, a non-profit organization that runs a Winter Farmers' Market in New Hampshire, and publishes Seacoast Harvest, an annual guide to local food. She writes about eating locally in Maine at her blog, Diary of a Tomato, and has got more cookbooks than anyone I know -- and the cooking talent to match. Here's her 2011 favorites. - Sam Fromartz

When Sam asked for my short list of this year's cookbooks, it wasn't difficult to choose. These are the ones that have made themselves at home in my kitchen, and have the food stains and handwritten notations to show for it. With local ingredients readily available from our garden or local farmers' market throughout the year, I view sourcing locally as less a limitation than a chance to cook with the best the season has to offer, and each of these titles have proven themselves able companions.

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Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Ottolenghi's Plenty is the cookbook I could happily eat from every day. This collection of his recipes for the Guardian focuses on vegetables, and his gift for transforming them into simple yet elegant dishes is clear. I was surprised to discover that he isn't a vegetarian, but to think of this as a vegetarian cookbook is slightly misleading — these recipes stand solidly on their own. Cooking with what's in season: The Ultimate Winter CouscousCaramelized Garlic Tart, Sweet Potato Wedges with Lemongrass Creme Fraiche. Still to try: Parsnip Dumplings in BrothBlack Pepper Tofu and  Mushroom Ragout with Poached Duck Egg.
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Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing
I often skip cookbooks that focus on foodsheds far from our own; the ingredients can be difficult to find or it may be a sensibility that just doesn't fit with what we have. Ordinarily North Carolina would fall in this category, but Andrea Reusing's sensitivity to what's in season and deep understanding of how they're grown surpasses geography. Her recipe for Old-Fashioned Baked Beans with Smoked Bacon has become a household standard (high praise from a New Englander), and I may have to go camping just to try her Campfire Bacon and Eggs in a Bag. The directions for Whole Roasted Onions borders on haiku in their brevity, but with luscious results. WIth the fall harvest in, Honey Frozen Custard with Honeycomb Candy awaits its turn in the kitchen.
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Canal House Cooking

Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer's series of cookbooks made a big splash with their debut last year, and justifiably so. This is stylish food done with ease, each issue arriving to coincide with the change in season. I turn to these when guests are about to arrive and I'm in need of quick inspiration, or when all I require is a quiet meal with little fuss. Their online accompaniment, Canal House Cooks Lunch, new for this year, is like having the ultimate in virtual take-out delivered daily, a reminder that every day can be a banquet.
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Tart and Sweet by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler

Chances are, if you're eating locally, you're doing a certain amount of preserving. With my shelves already full of the usual home-canned goods — tomatoes, dill pickles, and peaches — condiments were the next frontier. Amassing the ingredients to make Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde, Carrot Habanero Hot Sauce, and Tomato Ketchup took a little forethought, but well worth the effort knowing we'd have these on hand to spice up a mid-winter meal. 
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Modernist Cuisine

It may be a specific demographic I'm hanging out with but, a quick glance at any of my friends' locavore kitchens reveals some amount of specialized equipment — Vitamixes, grain mills, hand blenders, pressure cookers, and meat grinders abound. So it's not such a great leap to include Modernist Cuisine here. It may not be a title most often associated with cooking locally, but there's plenty here to glean. The recipe format takes some getting used to — not unlike learning to drive on the other side of the road — but give your pressure cooker a spin and try out Caramelized Carrot Soup or Garlic Confit as a start. I admit acquiring MC is a commitment; their website helpfully includes a search engine for finding the nearest library with a copy of the five-volume tome.

Let me just say it, buy this book: "Tomatoland"

image from politicsoftheplate.com

Over the past few years, a slew of food books have appeared on everything from oysters to oranges, Twinkies to beans. Heck, I'm even writing one about grains and bread, which explains my relative absence here recently. But in Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, Barry Estabrook takes what might appear to be a narrow subject -- tomatoes, grown in Florida -- and spins it into a much bigger and disturbing tale (or more accurately, indictment).

You might not know, for example, that these tomatoes are grown in nearly sterile sand devoid of anything resembling soil, thus requiring copious amounts of fertilizers and toxic pesticides; or that these pesticides have been doused on workers, causing pregnant farmworkers to give birth to babies without arms or legs and leading to multimillion-dollar lawsuits. Or that Immokalee, Florida, the heart of the industry, has become ground zero for contemporary cases of slavery. 

It might be easy to go overboard and bludgeon this story to death with a heavy handed "J'accuse!" but thankfully Estabrook is too good a writer to fall prey to such tendencies. Instead, he lets the details speak for themselves and they prove devastating. I will not forget the quote he gets out of the US Attorney prosecuting these cases of enslaved tomato pickers, asserting that anyone who has eaten a winter tomato from Florida has eaten fruit picked by a slave. "That's not an assumption," the prosecutor says, "that's a fact."

Estabrook told a version of this tale in the now-shuttered Gourmet magazine, but here he has the room to dig deeper. Some magazine stories when expanded in books look like fabric that has been stretched way too thin, but that's not the case here. There was obviously more digging to do, and amazingly, the stories didn't seem hard to find. They just kept coming because the abuse was so widespread. Estabrook has chosen well, citing, for example, court depositions in which well-meaning tomato company executives, when pressed to explain the pesticide poisoning incidents, tie themselves up in semantic knots.

Thankfully, though, Estabrook doesn't leave us to swear off tomatoes forever and tells how the industry has, with much cajoling, lawsuits, industry pressure, boycotts and highly publicized stories of abuse, finally begun to get its act together. He also spends time with these growers who appear like the eager entrepreneurs they are -- perhaps too eager to be all that concerned about the messy details of their business. 

He also presents alternatives, not only in new tastier tomato breeds the industry has sworn off, but in different methods of tomato farming such as organic. Then there are the social improvements in areas like farmworker housing. Of course, the growers will always claim that anything which raises costs will simply push production overseas, or in this case, to Mexico, where it will take another Estabrook to uncover other abuses. But I would imagine that consumers might actually want a U.S. tomato, even from Florida, especially if it wasn't the product of slavery. It might take a Madison Avenue whiz to craft that into a marketing message, however.

If I have a quibble with the book, it's this: the slavery abuses were largely carried out by contractors, who were also immigrants. The behavior was obviously condoned by the tomato companies -- it was too flagrant not to be -- but it wasn't entirely clear what drove these contractors to act this way. Was it simply their twisted version of the American Dream in a community where laws were ignored? Just getting ahead any way they could? Or were they part of a larger criminal enterprise (it appears they were, loosely). It was just a question that lingered.

Now, you might think this isn't the best book to read on your summer vacation, sitting on the beach or in the country thinking about what you're going to eat in the evening. But I would beg to differ. The book is a great yarn. I devoured it in all of two days. More importantly, it will make you think about all the choices we make in how we produce the food we eat. And you'll never think of a tomato as "just a tomato" again.

- Samuel Fromartz