Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory

I do not read that many graphic novels but I picked up the Chew books due primarily to their heavy food content. The main character Tony Chu is a F.D.A. Agent who is also a Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. The graphic novels are set in the future, where chicken is outlawed due to the deaths that resulted from the avian flu. The first volume entitled “Taster's Choice” is basic and sets out back story of Tony Chu and his move to the F.D.A. The second volume “International Flavor” sets up the stories of the villains in more detail.
The villains in the Chew graphic novels are fun because they are food based. The first villain presents as a vampire but is actually a Cibopath, as he can learn as much from blood as he can from flesh. I enjoy the speciality talents that revolve around food in the Chew books. One man is an cibolocutor which means that, as a mute, he communicates solely through his cooking. Amelia Mintz (later to become Chu's girlfriend) is a Saboscrivner, which means that she can write about food so accurately and with such precision that people reading her words get the actual sensation of taste when reading about the meals she writes about. 

The later volumes of Chew are more fun than the first volume because they include more surprisingly violent scenes. In the later volumes almost all of the villains and allies have food related skills. This makes the graphic novels more interesting to me. In general I find these graphic novels refreshing and interesting. They would make an interesting addition to any food lover's bookshelf!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: The Hungry Years Confessions of a Food Addict by William Leith

A lot of books written by fat people either blames the individual or society as a whole for the weight and body issue problems experienced by a large proportion of society. This book does not blame the person or the society. Many books that deal with weight and body issues assume that all individuals have such problems. This book does not do that either.

This book does look at one man's weigh problems in a funny and insightful way. It's half autobiographical and half expose on current trends in the weight loss (and gain) industry. The personal revelation discovered in the text is that the author eats because he does not want to deal with his emotions. A discovery, I feel, that has almost universal insight.

This is a light, fast read that leaves the reader in a happy place which is unusual for writing that deals with issues of weight and self-esteem. 


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Chocolat by Joanna Harris

I must admit, I felt a little silly reading this novel as generally books that are made into motion pictures staring Johnny Depp are not considered 'literature' however, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth in this novel. The plot is very similar to the movie plot but the novel offers more opportunity for nuance. There are only a few plot points that differ from the movie so I will no offer any spoilers except to say that if you enjoyed the movie the book is an intriguing read. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby

As a farm girl transplanted to a city, I have apt memories of the pleasures and absurdities of farm life as well as an understanding of how a city dweller would view such situations. The author has the ability to describe, with extreme accuracy and humour, farm situations and the city dweller's reaction. The main character inherits a small farm that is unproductive and heavily in debt from her uncle. She tries, through extreme positivity, several insane schemes to make money but settles on a bluegrass festival. 
The detailed descriptions in this novel are so perfect. For example, “ [a]fter a minute or two, a chicken emerged. It walked with an odd back-and-forth motion that reminded me of a heartbeat. I gasped when it cleared the cage because it was no regular chicken. It had a glossy black body and a head topped with an elaborate arrangement of white feathers, like the sort of hat a British aristocrat might wear to a wedding.” (page 117)
And “the sheep at the fair were spotlessly white and soft and fluffy – like summer clouds. And so docile! They allowed their owners to lead them around without any argument at all. No kicking, no bleating, no trying to pull on the rope and run away. They were half an step away from being pillows.” (246)
While the content and the writing style of this novel is light and inconsequential it made me laugh out loud several times and left me smiling. Not every author can accomplish that. I highly recommend this novel.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Roaming the Big Land Flavours of Canada by T.A. Keenleyside


This book chronicles one writer's travels across Canada. He travels to every province and territory for various reasons and over the span of a lifetime. He makes passing reference to the food eaten, the traditional foods of the area, and how the food affects his experience of the area. I have travelled somewhat extensively throughout Canada so I enjoyed reading about the places that I have travelled over the years. He quotes a reference to Canadians as “understated, a little dorky” (17) which is a perfect way to describe us! After each essay is a recipe written by Keenleyside's wife, Dot. The essays vary in quality and interest but overall this book is a fun read.
I really enjoyed the short essay by Dot entitled “Taking Stock”. Here is an excerpt.
“Have you ever noticed how many people check out your fridge? I don't mean just kids. For them its a survival instinct. I mean adults who should know better. You'll be standing around the kitchen, maybe having a drink with a few friends, thinking about getting dinner ready, and someone opes the fridge. Just opens it, in an offhand manner, like opening a can of club soda. As if it's the most natural thing in the world. As if no one in their right mind could possibly be offended. Then they kind of lean against the door, still chatting amiably, and snoop. Out loud. Saying things like, “Wow, lobster! Is that for tonight?” or “What's this stuff?” The kind of intrusive snooping that focuses everyone's attention on the contents of your fridge.” (141)
This paragraph is so illustrative of the way dinner parties work. Everyone is in the kitchen and someone pokes his head in your fridge. Forget cleaning under the couches, clean the fridge before a party!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Response: Love in a Dish and Other Culinary Delights by MFK Fisher

The following is a response to the essay “Love in a Dish” within this collection of essays written by MFK Fisher. This essay exposits the secret of a happy marriage as the ability of the couple to dine together. 

My biggest fear regarding my relationship is that we will become, as the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind calls it, 'the dining dead'. MFK Fisher refers to this situation as 'dead-faced people'. This phenomenon is witnessed in bars, coffee shops, and restaurants universally. A couple sits across one another in silence interrupted only by stock phrases used daily in conversation over the meal. “How's your chicken?” “We should build the shelf tonight.” “Do you want more wine?” The dining dead, or dead-faced people are “increasingly unhappy at the table – and, therefore, everywhere.” (60)

Fisher references Brillat-Savarin who believes that the pleasures of the table has an enormous influence on the state of a marriage. The kitchen table gives a couple, who may have drifted apart in leisure or intimacy, common ground. The meal gives the couple a topic of conversation.

Although I fear the dining dead (more, perhaps than I fear the impending zombie apocalypse), it seems unlikely to occur. My husband does not respond to my cooking experiments with, as Fisher outlines, exasperation and dissatisfaction. This reaction would crush the desire for communication and intimacy and expedite our fall into becoming dead-faced people. My husband never complains about my cooking. In fact, he consumes my ruined cooking experiments while I make noodles. My husband does as Fisher states and “try[s] to understand what it is about making a curry or a bouillabaisse that lightens his wife's face and heart.” (64) He accompanies me on trips across Toronto in search of a special ingredient. He notes interesting restaurants that I may want to visit. He knows what my sourdough starter is and would never accidentally throw it out!

A second reason our bi-culinary relationship works is that I follow Fisher's advice that “the woman must try to understand why a husband needs to bolster his preconceptions of virility now and then with a bit of reactionary conservatism.” (64) Of course, my husband eats meat because he likes it and not because it makes him virile!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Edible Stories by Mark Kurlansky

Review: Edible Stories by Mark Kurlansky

This novel is difficult to review. Upon first viewing it appears to be a series of 16 disjointed stories that all, in some way or another, relate to food. However, they characters in each story are not separate from each other but are rather integral parts of each others narrative. The time frame of the stories can be either quick (a few days) or slow (whole marriages are made and dissolved). The unique framework of this novel make it an interesting read but ease in which the reader is able to relate to each character makes it an amazing read. There is an incredible amount of subtext in this novel, which I will leave you to discover for yourselves! 


Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly

Review: Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly

The plot of this work of fiction was pedantic. Within weeks of her husband's death a neighborhood bachelor arrives unexpectedly and unannounced on Angelina's doorstep with the proposition that she cook breakfast and dinner for him. Within days, her client̬le reaches six Рtwo of which are age appropriate matches for the newly widowed cook. After the city threatens to shut down her unlicensed dining establishment Angelina opens an immediate and widely successful restaurant. In an entirely expected plot twist which, of course, results in a happy ending for all, Angelina begins dating one of the available bachelors.

However contrived the main plot points are this novel is not without merit. There are a few vivid descriptions of food that make the novel worth reading. The most memorable of which begins the novel. The explanation of the main character's motivation behind cooking (also in the first chapter) offered insight into her character and made her easy to relate to. Unfortunately, the rest of the character's were not highly developed. It was difficult to keep the ever expanding list of male character's distinct. Recipes are included throughout the text of the novel, this interrupts and disjoints the action of the novel itself. 
Overall, this is a nice, light beach read but offers little of substance to the reader.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: Hungry a (re)collection of memorable meals & disordered eating

I picked up this zine, “hungry a (re)collection of memorable meals & disordered eating” at Canzine this fall. This zine was completed in two weeks at the zine residency at Roberts Street Social Centre in Halifax in September 2010. It was written by clara bee lavery.
The short essays are full of adverbs but this manages to give the writing a sort of lazy, poignant charm. My favourite essay is “vi: smoothies standing up” because the author describes, with exacting detail, the fear that is entombed in any relationship. The fear of both acceptance and rejection. She made smoothies standing up with Paul. Consuming food standing up is counter to the doctrine of healthy eating but it helped her heal as she felt cared for in that moment.
I really enjoyed this little zine. The major problem I had with it is that in her introduction that everyone suffers from some type of anxiety regarding food. This is simply not true as I have no food related anxiety. I usually eat very healthy food but I have no qualms about eating like a six year old on occasion. Yesterday I had a bag of popcorn and cheerios for supper but usually I eat healthy, homemade, vegan food. Assuming everyone has food related anxiety actually furthers the notion that all women should have food related anxiety. Disordered eating is a major problem in our society, especially for women, but I think it can be reduced if we acknowledge that some people have issues with food, and some do not. I wouldn't want my notional children to acquire food issues because they think it's normal for every teenage/woman/person to have such issues.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: There's Trouble Brewing by Nicholas Blake

Review: There's Trouble Brewing by Nicholas Blake

I do not read a lot of crime and detective stories but There's Trouble Brewing is a fun, light read made all that much more fun with it's brewing references. The body of a dog, Truffles, is found in a copper boiling pot after which amateur detective Nigel Strangeways takes the case. Luckily enough, for Truffle's murder is only the first for the small town. Originally published in 1937 the author's insights into human character resonate with a modern audience surprisingly well. The few strictly food scenes in the novel are equally well done (and well placed). As it happens, a missing cake and a few crumbs are the missing key to finding out whodunnit!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Febuary Love: Giveaway

This month is full of food related fiction reviews! There will be a short review every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on a food book that I read. 

Short and Sweet!

Just like the Petite Treats (gawd, this shit just writes itself!!!) up for grabs in this month's giveaway. To enter, simply comment on any blog post in the month of February! (Open to Canada and US residents only.)

Petite Treats is an amazingly cute, petite book full of glossy photos and interesting flavor combinations, such as Green-Tea Pomegranate Cupcakes and Chocolate Chipotle Cream Pie. While most of the recipes are suitable for vegetarians there are a few vegan recipes (Donuts, anyone?) 

The small print: Two copies of this cookbook was received free of cost. I did not promise a review or receive any financial compensation.