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Unrequired Reading

Sunday, April 18, 2010
We foodies are sometimes criticized for spending an inordinate amount of time and effort thinking -- and talking, and writing -- about something that is believed to be too inconsequential to merit such attention. From the non-foodie point of view, we suppose that we do go on and on (and on) about matters that might be better left to one's stomach than one's brain. It may just be that such a puritan has -- as Jack Tripper once said on Three's Company -- "the palate of a rhinoceros" or maybe, like the grim eaters in "Babette's Feast," never had a meal worthy of contemplation.
Did you ever think you would encounter a single sentence that juxtaposed a tacky seventies sitcom and a short story by Isak Dinesen?
OK -- we admit that, as foodies, we do read an inordinate amount of cookbooks, ancient and modern, and all sorts of food science, food history and related cultural books -- as well as more ephemeral media (print magazines, ezines, blogs, etc.). However, we also read more casual books about our favorite subject. Today's screed focuses on a few of these less-exalted tomes, books that tickle our palates less than our funny-bones.

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.


Blogger Unknown said...

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October 26, 2015 at 5:43 AM  

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