Unrequired ReadingSunday, April 18, 2010
Did you ever think you would encounter a single sentence that juxtaposed a tacky seventies sitcom and a short story by Isak Dinesen?
In the interest of fairness (and to provide fair warning to those purists who desire only uninterrupted frivolity), it must be noted that some of these books have occasional lapses into what might be construed as actual literary merit. Needless to say, we have no intention of identifying those particular works.
Kafka's Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes, by Mark Crick, despite what you might have assumed from the above, really is a kind of cookbook. There are, in fact, fourteen recipes -- but the instructive portions of each, their "methods," are written in the style of fourteen different authors. These are provided in no particular order -- chronological or otherwise -- and feature the very recognizable voices of Raymond Chandler, the Marquis de Sade, Jane Austen, Geoffrey Chaucer, and yes, Franz Kafka, who inscrutably -- for a Czech author -- offers a recipe for a quick miso soup.
Manifold Destiny, by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller, is, oddly enough, another cookbook. While the dishes are cooked, none of the recipes require a stove or grill. All cooking is done using the otherwise wasted heat from one's car engine. Their goal is to have a hot meal waiting, under the hood, when you arrive at your destination.
Who says there's no such thing as American cuisine?
Penn and Teller's How to Play with Your Food, by Penn Jillette, is not a cookbook, but does provide detailed ingredients and methods for a number of practical jokes involving food. Most are deliciously cruel and so satisfyingly disgusting that they have garnered high praise from our adolescent nieces and nephews.
Need we say more?
Reckless Appetites, by Jacqueline Deval, is an epistolary novel, each letter of which is written by a different character. We don't want to spoil any surprises, but the story's moral could be described as, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially if that woman is a cook."
The Debt to Pleasure, by John Lanchester, is another delightfully dark culinary adventure -- this one a travelogue that celebrates the gastronomical joy to be found along the way to the pathological.
The Devil's Food Dictionary, by Barry Foy, sets out to create "a pioneering culinary reference work consisting entirely of lies," and succeeds admirably. An example:
"Garnish (var. of garish) An essential element of Presentation, a garnish is an often inedible decoration meant to prevent the eater from noticing that the Food underneath is covered with the Chef's fingerprints."The Gallery of Regrettable Food, by James Lileks, presents "highlights from classic American recipe books," all of which were published during the period when printing and food-styling techniques were intended, apparently, to reduce Americans' interest in eating to something between utter indifference and unrestrained disgust.
Note that these books have been listed alphabetically, so that no additional slight or particular praise (real or imagined) should be attributed -- on the basis of its position on the list -- to any one book. It's all about fairness here at Just Served.