Books For Reading, Not Coffee Tables
When La Cuisine was in full throttle (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and year-end inventory) I scarcely had time to find clean clothes and eat breakfast. But when the end of the year dust cleared, I loved the quiet after the rush, and even the gray weather outside. My husband and I would sit in the living room with a fire, holiday edible gifts on the table, and read our new books that we’d received from family members or friends.
We also benefited from the wonderful selection of books that were in front of the counter in the shop, which we built from customers’ suggestions and our own explorations. Some were funny, some more historical but we had a strict policy prohibiting anything heavy or depressing. And we always sold out of all the titles. We are convinced that it’s important to have well-written reads while it is dark outside. So here are two favorites, and although the preferences have been well-tested, we won’t be offended if you want to trade!
1000 Days In Venice
Looks can be deceiving. Yes, this is a romance about a middle-aged, mid-western American woman (who is a chef) and her rather surprising encounter in Venice. And yes, the prose is occasionally unabashedly florid, but this woman can write. This is not a Harlequin bodice-ripper romance, but rather a love story written with delightful freshness, with a celebration of food woven throughout the tale. Marlena De Blasi comes to understand and decipher the tribal differences between her culture and an Italian one. Her first meeting, her arrival in the apartment in Venice, the wedding dress, the descriptions of shopping for food, and the profound differences between her husband’s outlook and her own are at times hilarious and touching. De Blasi went on to write two sequels – A Thousand Days In Tuscany, which follows the pair’s departure from Venice, and The Lady In The Palazzo, set in Orvieto, which they made their home. There is another memoir, titled That Summer In Sicily, plus a novel, Amandine, but I find them less beguiling than her original story. Still, if you enjoy this one, you might put these on your rainy day reading list. Oh, and there are recipes too! I made her coffee cake and the tagliatelle with braised mushrooms – highly satisfactory.
In the end, De Blasi’s reflection that “Living as a couple never means that each gets half. You must take turns at giving more than getting.” is perhaps a good analysis for any long-standing relationship.
The Judgment Of Paris
Being the Quaffer-in-Chief whose spouse is the Resident Wine Maniac entails certain duties. I used to try to buy wine for him, but he takes such pleasure in the hunt and the research that I gave that up. Even when I bought wine glasses, they were never the right ones. But I aced a little gift under the tree with this book by George Taber, with the title as a riff on the paintings by Rubens.
George M. Taber was the only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976—a blind tasting where a panel of top-notch French judges chose upstart California wines over France’s best. He introduces three eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine. Unfortunately, this marvelous story was muddied up irrevocably in the film Bottle Shock. The only saving grace was Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, the British wine merchant in Paris who set up the tasting that truly removed fine wine-making as the exclusisve property of France. In the chapters after the tasting, Taber discusses the flowering of the wine industry in other countries, which is fascinating.
Taber’s introduction of all the characters, particularly the improbable vintners from California (a Yugoslavian immigrant, a college professor, and a real estate lawyer) is just spell-binding! One of the esteemed French judges, Raymond Oliver, chef and owner of Le Grand Véfour, sampled a white wine, Taber tells us. “And then he smelled it, then he tasted it and he held it up again, [and] he said, ‘Ah, back to France!’ Except it was a Napa Valley chardonnay. The judge didn’t know that. But I knew.” Once Taber realized what was happening, he thought,”Hey, maybe I’ve got a story here.” Touché.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.