One-Minute Book Reviews

April 28, 2011

Edith Wharton on American and European ‘Royalty’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:22 pm
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Americans may have no monarchy, but they know how to treat people royally. In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton describes how New Yorkers reacted to the arrival of Ellen Olenska, who had returned to the city after years in Europe:

“The Lovell Mingotts had sent out cards for what was known as ‘a formal dinner’ (that is, three extra footmen, two dishes for each course, and a Roman punch in the middle), and had headed their invitations with the words ‘To Meet the Countess Olenska,’ in accordance with the hospitable American fashion, which treats strangers as if they were royalties, or at least their ambassadors.” 

January 6, 2010

Caribou Lasagna and Science Lessons at the Dinner — Sarah Palin Talks About Her Father in ‘Going Rogue’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:19 pm
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Sarah Palin writes in Going Rogue that her father, an Alaska science teacher, often taught his children lessons at the dinner table:

“Dad’s curriculum was cleverly all-Alaskan. His spelling tests included words like ‘ptarmigan’ (Alaska’s state bird) and ‘akuutaq’ (Eskimo ice cream). We learned the difference between glacial crevices and crevasses, and a cave’s stalagmites and stalactites. His lessons spilled over to the dinner table. We ate together every night, and I just assumed every kid learned clever acronyms for planet alignments and the elements of the periodic table between forkfuls of caribou lasagna. Didn’t every family talk about what differentiated a grizzly from a brown bear?”

A review of Going Rogue appeared last week. You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

October 14, 2009

Why Newspapers Go Bankrupt – From Restaurant Critic Frank Bruni’s ‘Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater’

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:30 am
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How tough is it to write about food for a major newspaper? Let the former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni tell you in a passage from his new memoir, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater (Penguin, 354 pp., $25.95), which also deals with his youthful bulimia and weight problems and with his gay love affairs. Bruni writes that before his predecessor William “Biff” Grimes assumed his post, the newspaper gave him time in which to travel for just for research and to eat in places whose cuisines he wanted to know better:

“Over many weeks he drove slowly through Italy and France.

“Now the same extreme hardship was being visited upon me, and I needed a strategy and itinerary of my own. Italy I knew: whenever I had gone anywhere in the country for work or fun, I’d sampled the local restaurants. But I hadn’t spent much time in France. So I planned a week in Paris, during which I’d hit a Michelin one-star restaurant, a Michelin two-star restaurant, a Michelin three-star restaurant (the highest rating). I also planned a week in Hong Kong, which served as a crossroads for many Asian cuisines, sometimes fused: Cantonese, Sichuan, Indian, Thai, Japanese.

“But what I needed first and foremost was to reacquaint myself with New York. I hadn’t eaten in some of the most important restaurants that had opened over the last five years, not to mention a few important restaurants that had opened earlier than that. So I scheduled three weeks there, during which I’d eat out for dinner every day and for lunch, too, on many days. New York would be the first stop on my gastronomic tour.

“I wanted to hit all five of the restaurants that had ratings of four stars – which signaled an ‘extraordinary’ experience and was the highest number of stars on the Times scale – either from Biff or Ruth Reichl, so I made reservations at Daniel, Jean Georges, Bouley, Alain Ducasse and Le Bernardin.”

Over the next eight pages of Born Round, Bruni describes the highlights his gastronomic tour, which included a meal of twenty or so courses at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, “America’s most celebrated temple of haute cuisine.”

December 9, 2008

Gifts for Cooks – ‘Best of the Best: The Best Recipes From the 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year’ From the Editors of Food & Wine

Filed under: Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:37 am
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What can you give somebody who loves to cook but has a lot of cookbooks you don’t want to duplicate? Maybe Best of the Best: The Best Recipes From the 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year: Vol. 11 (Food & Wine Books, 287 pp., $29.95) www.foodandwine.com/books, edited by Dana Cowin and Kate Heddings.

Every year the editors of Food & Wine produce a coffee-table book of more than 100 recipes from the 25 cookbooks they regard as the year’s best. The 11th volume honors a couple of books by internationally known superstars: Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges. But Best of the Best also has recipes from Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey, a Sardinian cookbook by the Texas restaurateur Efisio Farris, and Crescent City Cooking, the first cookbook by the New Orleans chef Susan Spicer. Then there’s Pure Dessert, by the California baker Alice Medrich, who favors “pure” desserts (without glazes, fillings or frostings) and whose treats sound like a license to indulge: “Her Dried Fruit & Nut Cake, for instance, loaded with dried pears and plums, dates and walnuts, is as delicious with a wedge of Camembert as a cup of tea.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 20, 2008

How Gross Is Your Tap Water? ‘Bottlemania’ Has an Answer

Filed under: News,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:07 pm
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Kaitlin Bell says that Elizabeth Royte’s new Bottlemania (Bloomsbury, 242 pp., $24.99), an indictment of the bottled-water industry, does more than fault some of the major players in the field, including Coke, Pepsi and Nestlé: “It also provides some devastating revelations about the quality of America’s public water supply. In stomach-churning detail, Ms. Royte describes how arsenic, rocket fuel, antidepressants, birth-defect–inducing herbicides and even potentially carcinogenic byproducts of the disinfection process all make it into municipal water supplies.” Read her full review in the May 18 New York Observer here:
www.observer.com/2008/raise-glass-eau-de-bloomberg.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 26, 2008

A Restaurant Calls It a Day in ‘Last Night at the Lobster’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:27 am
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Wastin’ away in Lobsteritaville, looking for his lost shaker of salt

Last Night at the Lobster. By Stewart O’Nan. Viking, 146 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

This novel is the American On Chesil Beach without the bad sex to provide occasional comic relief.

Like Ian McEwan’s bestseller, Last Night at the Lobster is a slender, earnest account of the transforming effects of a single evening on a small number of characters. Both novels come from well-respected authors who have set all or most of the action in a commercial establishment in a town near the ocean – a resort hotel in Britain in McEwan’s case and a Red Lobster in New Britain in O’Nan’s. And both have plots that involve meals, missed romantic cues and diligent research substituting for real character development.

Did you know that restaurant managers close up their restaurants from back to front? “For security reasons, managers can’t leave out the back, or alone,” O’Nan writes.

These similarities between the books can only be coincidental, given that Last Night at the Lobster came out just two months after On Chesil Beach. And yet, both are so lightweight that you have to wonder if their authors are getting tired, or if they think we are.

In O’Nan’s novel, an underperforming Red Lobster is being shut down by Darden Restaurants five days before Christmas. Manny DeLeon, the decent and hard-working 35-year-old manager, doesn’t quite understand why this is happening, though he knows his numbers haven’t met expectations: “He’s done everything they asked, yet there must have been something more, something he missed.”

Still, on his last night at the Lobster, Manny is as diligent as ever, though distracted by the presence of an ex-girlfriend with whom he will no longer be working and by the pregnancy of the woman he now sees. He hopes to put up strong final numbers – as much for himself as for Darden – but a winter storm dooms that hope. And one by one, he sees his goals for the day evaporate.

There is a certain poignancy to his plight – the unspoken suggestion that he’ll turn into Willy Loman in a decade or two – but it’s mostly unexploited. O’Nan shows Manny’s Hispanic heritage by having him refer frequently his recently deceased abuelita, with whom he lived. But nothing else about him is clearly Latino, so these comments are more distracting than edifying.

Big Night, one of the great films of the 1990s, made much more of a similar premise in its tragicomic depiction of the last night of a restaurant run by two Italian-immigrant brothers. That movie bursts with the love and joy that the men poured into their failing venture, which invests it with a depth of feeling Last Night at the Lobster never achieves. Like Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman, O’Nan seems to be trying to tell us that “attention must be paid” to men like his hero. He’s right. But it’s hard to feel much sorrow for Manny’s plight when his tragedy – as the novel depicts it – is that Darden Restaurants is transferring him to a nearby Olive Garden.

Best line: “Roz swings in shouldering a tray of lipstick-smudged wine glasses and peeled beer bottles and gives him a sympathetic frown commonly reserved for toddlers, pouting with her bottom lip out. ‘Uh-oh. Looks like there’s trouble in paradise.’

This is paradise?’ Manny asks.

‘Could be if you play your cards right.’”

Worst line: “Like any longtime acquaintances, there’s a comfortable slackness to their conversations.”

Published: November 2007 www.stewart-onan.com

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She wrote The Accidental Bride (St. Martins, 1999), a comedy of Midwestern manners, and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004), a comedy of New York manners.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 29, 2007

If You’ve Made a New Year’s Resolution to Lose Weight, You May Want to Make Another Resolution to Read ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ Before You Start Your Diet

Good Calories, Bad CaloriesHave you made yet another New Year’s resolution to lose weight?  You may want to check out Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease (Knopf,  601 pp., $29.95), which I wrote about in October  www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/09/. This isn’t a diet book but one that investigates many of the claims that underlie other diet books.

Based on an exhaustive review of the scientific research, Taubes argues that obesity “experts” have demonized fat on the basis little or no evidence. Refined carbohydrates, he says, are a greater threat to health. And those fat-free brownies may hurt you more than foods that have more fat but fewer carbs. “Dietary fat, whether saturated or not,” he concludes, “is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.”

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 16, 2007

How to Eat Well Before You Get Electrocuted — Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway’s ‘Picnics’

Filed under: Coffee Table Books,How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:21 pm
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You could get fried along with the trout at these outdoor feasts

Picnics. By Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway. Photographs by Audrey Hall. Gibbs Smith, 144 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

Taking my advice on cooking would be a little like taking advice on winning pennant races from a middle reliever for the Chicago Cubs. So I generally avoid reviewing cookbooks and stick to books on subjects I know perhaps too well, such as all the unintended comedy provided by the finalists for the recent Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

But I thought Picnics was my kind of book when I saw that it had a recipe for gorp (trail mix), which basically involves throwing together a few things like nuts, M&Ms and dried fruit. This coffee-table-topper isn’t a cookbook so much as a celebration of meals in the outdoors or other spots that call for portable food – sushi at your desk, dinner in bed, a sandwich on a plane (apparently a private jet, because you’d never get the glass bottle of San Pellegrino on page 24 past airport security). It has tips on defeating bugs, recipes for dishes like chili and grilled trout, and photos worthy of Martha Stewart Living.

The trouble arises when Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway move beyond outdoor, sunny-day picnics. Quoting the novelist Alice Walker, they say that the English see a tea as “a picnic indoors.” That’s true only of a low tea (which includes foods such as cucumber sandwiches and sweet buns). A high tea is eaten at a dining room table – typically, instead of dinner — and involves more substantial fare, such as ham, roast beef and Cornish pasties. Picnics perpetuates American misconceptions about these two types of tea by showing pictures of (and giving recipes for) what the authors call a “high tea” but that the English would consider a “low tea.”

Then there is the bizarre section on what to do when it rains on your picnic. The Heminways suggest that you seek shelter in a convertible or under a gabled roof, then seem to contradict themselves by saying that you could also have your picnic under an umbrella or “in the drench where you are.” The metal parts of umbrellas aren’t usually dangerous because people use them near taller trees or buildings. But they could increase your chance of frying to death on a flat field. And the suggestion that you take cover in a convertible seems similarly irresponsible. So let’s give the last word to a group that specializes in preventing the kind of disasters this book could cause. The American Red Cross says that if no building is nearby, a hard-top vehicle will offer some protection: “Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles” www.redcross.org/services/disaster/0,1082,0_590_,00.html.

Best line: The old rhyme about how to avoid poison ivy: “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Worst line: “Weather never fails. It may disappoint, but it never fails.” Picnics has many lines like those: They sound pretty, but what do they mean?” The first line of the book exemplifies the flowery writing throughout: “Doomed, a painted skimmer cuts (cuts a hundred bias lines per minute) air rich with midges: curves past blue dashers (out for midges, too); breaks through pickerel weeds; stops short on a nodding monocot: a rush for rest.”

Recommendation? The pictures in this book are easy on the eyes, so you might consider it as a gift for someone who wouldn’t mind the lapses in the text.

Published: March 2007 www.gibbs-smith.com

Furthermore: Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway also wrote Guest Rooms (Gibbs Smith, 2005).

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 8, 2007

Under the Neapolitan Sun — A Repressed British Soldier Has a Sensual Awakening in Anthony Capella’s World War II Novel, ‘The Wedding Officer’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:55 pm
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When love seasons the pasta sauce

The Wedding Officer. By Anthony Capella. Bantam, 423 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

The Wedding Officer gives unexpected life to a theme that English novelists have developed so often it borders on a cliche — that of the repressed Brit who has a sensual awakening in Italy. This love story isn’t on par with E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View and Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April. But it is popular fiction of a high order, or easy but intelligent reading that is far above novels such as Newt Gingrich’s Pearl Harbor.

Captain James Gould arrives in Naples in 1944 with the thankless assignment of discouraging marriages between British soldiers and their distracting Italian girlfriends. His emotions collide with his duties when Livia Pertini becomes the cook for the Allied officers and prepares sumptuous pasta dishes followed by deserts such as baked pears with honey and rosemary. As James’s passions awaken, Mount Vesuvius emits ominous plumes of smoke, the bloodbath at Anzio approaches, and Naples resembles an open-air brothel overrun by prostitutes who sleep with soldiers to pay for their syphilis treatments.

As he tells this briskly paced story, Anthony Capella deftly balances history, gastronomy and the dilemma of a young intelligence officer at odds with more than the Axis powers and the local gangsters. And that mix helps to make The Wedding Officer the rare popular love story that may appeal equally to men and women. Anybody who doubts it needs only to read the first line of this novel and see if she — or he — can resist reading more: “The day Livia Pertini fell in love for the first time was the day the beauty contest was won by her favorite cow, Pupetta.”

Best and worst lines: This post will be updated, possibly by the end of the day, with these lines and more information on Capella’s work. I’m still in computer purgatory.

Published: May 2007 www.theweddingofficer.com and www.bantamdell.com

Furthermore: For information on the movie versions of The Enchanted April and A Room With a View, go to the Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com and search for their titles. Von Arnim was born in Australia and moved to England at a young age.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 9, 2007

Gary Taubes’s ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

 

The latest in a series of occasional posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t finish themGood Calories, Bad Calories

Title: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease. By Gary Taubes. Knopf, 601 pp., $29.95.

What it is: An investigative report on the diet advice fed to us by government and other nutrition authorities. A major theme is that obesity “experts” have demonized fat on the basis little or no scientific evidence. Refined carbohydrates, Taubes argues, pose a greater threat to health. And those fat-free brownies may hurt you more than foods that have more fat but fewer carbs. Taubes sums up his conclusions in a 10-point list on page 454. Point No. 1 is: “Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.”

How much I read: The prologue and first chapter, the epilogue, and a couple of chapters in between, nearly 100 pages.

Why I stopped reading: I liked this book and, because of it, had a salad for dinner instead of the steamed pork dumplings from the Chinese place. But it develops ideas I’d read in other books and in an article Taubes wrote for The New York Times Magazine (“What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?,” July 7, 2002). So its arguments, though strong, weren’t strikingly new to me. And Good Calories, Bad Calories is getting so much attention, it didn’t seem to need me as much as, say, books by obscure poets who live on canned ravioli because those ultra-refined carbs are all they can afford.

Best line in what I read: “Between 1987 and 1994, independent research groups from Harvard Medical School, the University of California, San Francisco, and McGill University in Montreal addressed the question of how much longer we might expect to live if no more than 30 per cent of our calories came from fat, and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat, as recommended by the various government agencies…

“The Harvard study, led by William Taylor, concluded that men with a high risk of heart disease, such as smokers with high blood pressure, might gain one extra year of life by shunning saturated fat. Healthy nonsmokers, however, might expect to gain only three days to three months …

“The UCSF study, led by Warren Browner, was initiated and funded by the Surgeon General’s Office. This study concluded that cutting fat consumption in America would delay 42,000 deaths each year, but the average life expectancy would increase by only three to four months. To be precise, a man who might otherwise die at 65 could expect to live an extra month if he avoided saturated fat for his entire adult life. If he lived to be 90, he could expect an extra four months. The McGill study, published in 1994, concluded that reducing saturated fat in the diet would result in an average life expectancy of four days to two months.”

Worst line in what I read: None by Taubes. So let’s go with a clinker written by the New York Times’s Jane Brody, who kept promoting high-fiber diets long after large-scale studies showed that they had few or no long-term benefits: “But dietary fiber … has myriads of benefits,” Brody wrote. Taubes quotes this line in a chapter on fiber that debunks much of the media hype about it.

Recommendation? This is not a diet book, but a book in the spirit of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Greg Critser’s Fat Land. Don’t miss Taubes’s brief and low-keyed – but nonetheless damning — analyses of Brody’s Personal Health column in the Times.

Published: September 2007 www.aaknopf.com

Furthermore: Taubes is a correspondent for Science magazine who, according to his dust jacket, is “the only print journalist who has won three Science in Society Journalism awards, given by the National Association of Science Writers.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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