Three books about food

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Foodies have it pretty good these days. Farmers markets abound. Reality TV shows serve up every conceivable kitchen-related scenario. A bounty of new culinary books comes out each year, from gloriously illustrated cookbooks to engaging reads on where food really comes from, how it's processed and why you shouldn't be eating so much of it. Here are three that caught our eye.

1 "Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food From Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid," by Melanie Rehak (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25)

After reading Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" and Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Melanie Rehak, an avid cook, began to think differently about food and her relation to it. But those books' tenets could be confusing and often downright inconvenient, if not impossible to follow. Organic? Local? What do those labels actually mean? And then it hit her -- in an amusing Cheerios moment -- that her son was just reaching that stage when he would start eating solid foods, a hefty responsibility for any parent. For Rehak, armed with her new food savvy, it was intimidating. Her solution, and the book's delightful premise, was to don a chef's apron in the kitchen at Applewood, a Brooklyn restaurant dedicated to sustainable agriculture and locally grown produce. She lent a hand on local farms and a fishing trawler that supply the restaurant. And she came to her own conclusions about food and doing the right thing for both her son and the planet. Ironically, it turned out he didn't want to eat anything at all, whether organic or packed with artificial sweeteners, which gives the journey a charming twist. The recipes at each chapter's end are a bonus: Don't miss the Easy Flip Raisin French Toast.

2 "Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese," by Eric LeMay (Free Press, $22)

What's that smell? If you're referring to a particularly pungent cheese, chances are Eric LeMay will know exactly what it is. After all, he has crisscrossed the globe, accompanied by his female friend Chuck, in search of unique and exceptional cheeses, unraveling the classifications of curd, texture, rind and age, and meeting passionate cheesemakers who revel in their craft. LeMay aims to encourage readers to delve into the world of cheese without trepidation, even supplying a helpful gazetteer of cheese sources and a chart for pairing food and cheese fearlessly. Try that Limburger, chèvre, Rocamadour or Gouda, and remember LeMay's contention that all cheese really means to please. Just don't dwell on the fact that it's essentially rotting milk.

3 "The I Hate to Cook Book: 50th Anniversary Edition," by Peg Bracken (Grand Central, $22.99)

First published in those "Mad Men" days when women were often consigned to cleaning the house and arranging their husbands' business dinners, this book's strident title belies both its usefulness and its popularity. Peg Bracken faced the burden of being a full-time writer, a full-time mother and a full-time housewife. To buy herself a bit more time for other pursuits, she and her friends collected a host of easy, stress-free recipes. What's truly wonderful is Bracken's droll delivery and the more than 200 recipes that run the gamut from appetizers to desserts. With millions of copies sold, the book clearly found a ready and willing audience, and it's about to be tested all over again. This edition has a foreword from the author's daughter, Jo Bracken (her mother died in 2007), as well as whimsical illustrations by Hilary Knight. The opening of the book's original introduction is priceless: "Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them."

-- Christopher Schoppa

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