Friday, February 14, 2014

What I've Been Reading: Endless Feasts and Secret Ingredients

Lately, I've been very interested in compilations of food writing from magazines. Food writing collections always seem like a fantastic around-the-world journey comprising of everything from travel to restaurants to home cooking, and I love being able to open up the book and get a snippet of a new experience. In that vein, I've read two food writing compilations recently that are both well worth exploring for yourself.

Endless Feasts is a collection of food writing from Gourmet magazine, edited by the inimitable Ruth Reichl. While I never had the pleasure of actually reading the print version of Gourmet, I can't seem to get enough of its writing, even in book form. Everyone from M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard to E. Annie Proulx and Ray Bradbury has contributed to the magazine, and therefore the book, in some way or another, and every story is a delight--even the early travel stories that shine a rather embarrassing light on America's cultural ignorance and insensitivity. Though I love all the stories, there is one I keep coming back to: "Down East Breakfast", by Robert P. Coffin, is a funny portrait of the hearty breakfast required to keep Maine lobstermen and outdoorsmen going all day. I read it again and again. Also keep an eye out for Jane and Michael Stern's piece on road food, "Two for the Road: Havana, North Dakota", which portrays small-town America as only these two travelers can.

I grew up reading The New Yorker, and so did Noah (probably more so, considering he actually grew up in New York; my dad is a native New Yorker, but our family never lived there). One of my favorite things to do was always to flip to the back of the magazine, where the restaurant reviews were located, and imagine the wealth of different foods available in the city. The restaurant blurbs were like personal ads for restaurants, which was apt because at that time I was also strangely fascinated by newspaper personal ads. I also enjoyed reading the full-length food articles, so when I started dating Noah I gave him Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink as a birthday present. In the same vein as Endless Feasts, this book is a compilation of articles from The New Yorker's history and includes plenty of big names, including A.J. Liebling, Bill Buford, Calvin Trillin, and (you guessed it) M.F.K. Fisher. It also contains Anthony Bourdain's infamous story, "Don't Eat Before Reading This", which inspired his book Kitchen Confidential (also known as the book that launched a thousand thoroughly grossed-out diners). Secret Ingredients also includes a very impressive fiction lineup with pieces from the likes of Roald Dahl, Italo Calvino, and Alice McDermott. If you're interested in some great writing about home cooks, M.F.K. Fisher's "The Secret Ingredient" profiles Fisher's vain attempts to decode the secret ingredient in a friend's cooking. One of my favorite pieces for humor value was Woody Allen's "Notes from the Overfed", a funny Dostoyevsky-esque parody on a "Weight Watchers" magazine he read on a plane.

Have you read either of these collections? What was your favorite story?

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