I don’t usually dedicate entire posts to books I’ve read, but in this case the book is about the very things this site is, food and writing, so that warrants an exception, I say.
Best Food Writing 2009 is exactly what the title suggests: a compilation of last year’s best food-centric stories, as published in magazines like Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, The New Yorker and Saveur; as well as Web sites like Chow.com and eGullet.org. I finished my review copy last weekend, in the air somewhere between Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina, and I have to tell you: I was sad it had to end.
See, what’s so great about collections like this one, which was edited by Holly Hughes and features work by big-name authors like Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni alongside essays from new-to-me-but-no-less-gifted writers like Jason Sheehan (newly of Seattle Weekly and formerly of Denver’s Westword), Francine Prose (a celebrated novelist) and Todd Kliman (a James Beard award-winning restaurant critic and Dining Editor of The Washingtonian), is it gives you tastes of so many different writing styles (journalistic, personal, probing, funny) that all have one chief thing in common: a skilled command of language and information that makes you think, whether about the ethics of meat or the community of sitting around the table.
Here are clips from a few of my favorite pieces:
- “Spam: It’s Not Just for Inboxes anymore,” Rachel Hutton, CityPages
“The other day, I did something I hadn’t done in years. I pulled a square blue can out of the back of the cupboard, lifted the ring, and punctured its vacuum seal. The can released a primal scent—salty, sweaty, animal—a smell you’d know anywhere, even if you hadn’t encountered it since the last time your father cooked you breakfast nearly two decades ago…”
- “Summer’s End,” Tasmasin Day-Lewis, Saveur
- “Morality Bites,” Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune Magazine
“We turn to red meats and dark-berried cakes at summer’s end, wanting something for substantial as heat ebbs and our appetites grow. Today, I boil and puree floury King Edward potatoes and then whip them along with hot cream and melted unsalted butter to velvety smoothness.”
“My own foodie concerns about the provenance of my meat drove my curiousity further. But the biggest factor was my conviction that it’s wrong to ask someone to do something for you that you morally could not do for yourself.”
- “What Is Real Cooking?,” Monica Bhide, Modern Spice
“I watched her, casually at first and then intently. Meticulous and fast, she was cooking her food in traditional plain stainless-steel utensils that she had brought with her from India. No nonstick pans, no Cuisinart, no high-end chef’s knives in this tiny kitchen … Her gestures were precise. She has done this before many times, I thought.”
- “Picky-Picky,” Matthew Amster-Burton, Hungry Monkey
“The adult palate isn’t simply made up of childhood preferences that have hardened into prejudices. I didn’t grow up eating sushi … Another way to think of it is this: if you think you’re not going to like a new food, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
- “The Last Meal,” Todd Kliman, Washingtonian.com
“Every other week, we went to the Irish Pub for lunch for the magnificent cheeseburgers, thick and oozing juice. You don’t realize the imprint these things make on you, don’t realize you are merely picking up a long thread that has been left for you, until you gain some distance on your past.”
The stories, articles and essays in Best Food Writing 2009 are all fairly short, just a few pages or so in length, so they’re great for sneaking in to read here and there—in fact, I stretched the read into about two months of minutes here and there, as proof.
Bonuses: recipes, including one in the piece from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life.
To buy or learn more about Best Food Writing 2009 check it out at Amazon here.