The Big Oyster

by Mark Kurlansky

While the book is subtitled, History on the Half Shell, it is more appropriately narrowed down to History of the Half Shell and New York, as that’s where the book’s focus is.  Despite the fact that mankind has eaten oysters all over the world, likely for thousands of years, that part of history is only mentioned in passing.   I would have enjoyed the book more had it taken a broader view of oyster and mankind.

I am not sure why I picked up this book, as I have stopped eating oyster after learning the fact that the animal is still alive until my teeth chop it to pieces.  I guess I just couldn’t resist a foodie book. 

The book does provide some interesting knowledge.  Such as how inexpensive oysters were in those days.  For the price of 6 cents you could have all-you-can-eat oysters in the 19th century.  The price of one hot dog could buy you a whole platter of half shells.  The price of one strawberry a bucket.  And caviar was very lowly too.  They were used in bars, as free snacks for people to encourage them to drink more…

Another thing that definitely stays with me is how much man has polluted the environment.  It was amazing to read the accounts written by the first Europeans who arrived in New York.  The beautiful nature, the abundance of flora and fauna.  And in such a short time, the harbor was so polluted that when people try to plant some oysters back into the bay, they discovered, two weeks later, that not only the oysters died, their shells were eroded by the acid.  Urgh. 

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Published in: on January 25, 2008 at 4:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Creating a Charmed Life

by Victoria Moran 

In Creating a Charmed Life, Victoria Moran unveils practical, spiritual secrets for expanding your capacity to love, know, and experience a fuller, richer life. Her insight, humor, and unassailable wisdom shine through each page to illuminate the magic in all our lives.

Invite adventure *Create miracles * Nurture your dreams* Savor simplicity * Nourish your spirit

This book contains 75 small chapters of tips for living a charmed life, each chapter a easy three pages or so read that you can fit in a moment’s spare time. It’s best enjoyed like tidbits of chocolates, rather than in one seating.  Many of them are  simple suggestions that requires minimal effort – a small investment in time or money but improve your life in baby steps that can add up. 

My favorite is “Live Your Life in Chapters”. That mentality really helps me put a close to things and people that I should have said goodbye to long ago, from old clothes to gadgets for an old hobby.  I imagine it would help me get over an old boyfriend if I had the need to.  My other favorites include “Drink Good Coffee”, for someone who tends to deny herself simple indulgence, and “Make the Bed”.

Truth be told, if you have read a few spiritual self help or woman-feel-good book, you would definitely have heard many of the same things before, but it’s an endearing, charming little book nonetheless.

Published in: on January 21, 2008 at 3:34 am  Comments (1)  

Eat, Pray, Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert

 I am infatuated with this book the moment I laid eyes on its lovely cover.  When I read the introduction, I know I fell totally in love.  It’s one of the most beautiful introduction I’ve ever read. 

I love the book for its beautiful prose, and for the candid, unflinching presentation of one woman’s journey.  It takes a lot of courage: to travel the way she did, and to bear her soul to millions of readers. Her unpretentious voice makes her spiritual experience sounds personable, even when some may find it outlandish.  And as someone in my bookclub suggested, she has to be well off enough to spend the year the way she did, but the book never feels like a rich lady’s travelog.

My favorite part is about signing the petition.  It’s so moving. 

I am also curious about the fate of Yudhi.  It’s terrible how the paranoid of the government damages so many innocent lives.  I hope it will end well soon…

Published in: on January 20, 2008 at 2:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Heat

by Bill Buford

This review, copied from Amazon.com, was written by Anthony Bourdain, one of the foodie gods!

Heat is a remarkable work on a number of fronts–and for a number of reasons. First, watching the author, an untrained, inexperienced and middle-aged desk jockey slowly transform into not just a useful line cook–but an extraordinarily knowledgable one is pure pleasure. That he chooses to do so primarily in the notoriously difficult, cramped kitchens of New York’s three star Babbo provides further sado-masochistic fun. Buford not only accurately and hilariously describes the painfully acquired techniques of the professional cook (and his own humiations), but chronicles as well the mental changes–the “kitchen awareness” and peculiar world view necessary to the kitchen dweller. By end of book, he’s even talking like a line cook.

Secondly, the book is a long overdue portrait of the real Mario Batali and of the real Marco Pierre White–two complicated and brilliant chefs whose coverage in the press–while appropriately fawning–has never described them in their fully debauched, delightful glory. Buford has–for the first time–managed to explain White’s peculiar–almost freakish brilliance–while humanizing a man known for terrorizing cooks, customers (and Batali). As for Mario–he is finally revealed for the Falstaffian, larger than life, mercurial, frighteningly intelligent chef/enterpreneur he really is. No small accomplishment. Other cooks, chefs, butchers, artisans and restaurant lifers are described with similar insight.

Thirdly, Heat reveals a dead-on understanding–rare among non-chef writers–of the pleasures of “making” food; the real human cost, the real requirements and the real adrenelin-rush-inducing pleasures of cranking out hundreds of high quality meals. One is left with a truly unique appreciation of not only what is truly good about food–but as importantly, who cooks–and why. I can’t think of another book which takes such an unsparing, uncompromising and ultimately thrilling look at the quest for culinary excellence. Heat brims with fascinating observations on cooking, incredible characters, useful discourse and argument-ending arcania. I read my copy and immediately started reading it again. It’s going right in between Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Zola’s The Belly of Paris on my bookshelf. –Anthony Bourdain

I don’t suppose I can add more to what Anthony Bourdain said. It’s an interesting book, with lots of insights into the operation of a restaurant and a butcher shop, all very intriguing to a foodie like me.  I admire the author for his courage to really go and do something he likes, not minding the dirt, sweat, and at times humiliation in a kitchen, to start from the lowlinest, all to satisfy his curiosity, not for money, not for a future dream of opening his own restaurant.  I am curious though about his wife, whom he mentioned very little and seems unhumanly tolerate of his unusual pursuit. (living for months in Tuscany so he can apprentice at a butcher shop, hailing home a whole pig in plastic bag…)

I happened to be reading Ruth Reihl’s Garlic and Sapphire, so it was really interesting to read the two sides of how a critic tests out a restaurant.

My favorite paragraph is towards the end, when Mario asked if the author wants to open a restaurant.  The author reflects that no, he doesn’t. <i>”For millennia, people have known how to make their food… People don’t have this kind of knowledge today, even though it seems as fundamental as the earth… I didn’t want this knowledge in order to be a professional, just to be more human.”</i>

Published in: on January 11, 2008 at 1:28 am  Leave a Comment