So plentiful are the opportunities for good eating in Santa Barbara that it’s only a matter of time before food becomes critically important to anyone transplanted here. Or perhaps I say that because, after five years in this town, learning about, locating, and acquiring tasty dishes-not to mention consuming them-has risen high, too high, on my own priority list. And that’s leaving aside the whole wine thing. As a foodie, I was predictably thrilled to find four new books on matters culinary waiting for coverage in this month’s Hot Off the Press, including nonfiction on sushi and a novel about soup. If you’re hungry for a new perspective on food, these should make for some satisfying summer reading.
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love
by Lara Vapnyar
One distinct advantage when writing about food is to come from a culture known for its enjoyment of the stuff. We may think Italians have won the game, but we shouldn’t neglect the Russians. True, borscht may not be as commercially well represented as, say, spaghetti, but that doesn’t mean it comes from a less gastronomically delightful setting. Steeped in the impressive food culture of her homeland, Russian-born novelist Lara Vapnyar shares it with us in Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love. The book marks her return to the short story, the form that, in her first release, There Are Jews in My House, brought her critical acclaim. Each of this compilation’s six pieces deals with a different facet of the Russian immigrant to New York’s relationship with food, be it meatballs, spinach, the aforementioned borscht (in hot and cold varieties), or the broccoli of the title. Fortunately for the reader looking to be immersed in narrative, recipes for each of these dishes are handily provided in a coda.
The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket
by Trevor Corson
Much easier to find than Russian food-and quickly becoming as ubiquitous as spaghetti-is the distinctive cuisine of one small East Asian island. I’m mostly an equal-opportunity enthusiast of Japanese food, relishing every chance I get to devour sukiyaki, yakitori, donburi, and the like, but when it comes down to it, I’m in sushi’s corner every time. In The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket, Trevor Corson matches my enthusiasm but couples it with a wandering journalist’s eye for detail and passion for first-hand experience. Not only does he relate the astounding level of rigor to which young aspirants are subjected in sushi school, he tells the story of the entrepreneurs daring enough to bring the dish to the United States. It’s thanks to both the master craftspeople and master businesspeople that, unlike Judd Nelson did to Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, Americans no longer grimace suspiciously at someone sitting down to a meal of raw fish and seaweed.
Going Hungry: Writers on Desire, Self-Denial, and Overcoming Anorexia
by Kate Taylor
Alas, not everybody shares the same healthy enjoyment of food that I-and, if you’ve made it this far into the column, you too-possess. In Going Hungry: Writers on Desire, Self-Denial, and Overcoming Anorexia, Kate Taylor brings together the testimonies of 19 people, all of whom give a different perspective on this poorly understood disorder. We all recognize that the experience of the anorexic is not a happy one, but what’s fascinatingly presented in this volume is how multifaceted anorexia really is. There’s a biological component to be sure, but there are also social, mental, and practical issues to be considered. This all comes across as a byproduct of the book’s simple goal, which is to provide the reader with a window on what anorexia is actually like for the anorexic herself-or in some cases, himself.
by Mary Kay Andrews
The bright cover of Mary Kay Andrews’s Deep Dish makes no bones about the fact that between the covers resides a light, bouncy summer read, but, then again, isn’t this the season for that kind of thing? If there’s a significant overlap between consumers of poolside reading and viewers of cooking shows, this novel’s going to move a lot of copies. Its protagonist, TV chef Gina Foxton, seems to have it made: she’s got her very own show and her producer doubles as her boyfriend. However, as happens to so many of the leads of these books, her life comes tumbling down around her. But every challenge is an opportunity, after all, so Gina seizes the chance to become the next big thing on the thinly veiled Food Network network. The job would be hers, if not for a steak-grilling man’s man who’s also gunning for the job. Will these rivals fall for one another? I wouldn’t dream of giving that away.