Writing, Reading and Eating

Recently, I had to explain to a woman of an older generation what a blog is. “Oh, you mean it’s like what that girl does in the movie Julie & Julia!” she said, excited to have made the connection. “Yes, exactly,” I answered. “Oh, so that means you’re going to write a book,” she went on. From her lips to God’s ear.

I have the feeling the grandmother who stars in the Feed Me Bubbe videos is familiar with blogging. Well, she certainly must know what YouTube is:

Early on in this cooking show episode, Bubbe says that making blintzes brings back happy memories for her. Indeed, this kind of food and eating-related memory is the engine that propels a certain genre of writing that I enjoy reading. This food for thought that I eat up pretty regularly is the culinary memoir.

Tender at the Bone

Ruth Reichl's first book, and the first food memoir I read.

I admit that I am sort of perplexed as to why I am drawn to these stories. Sure, I like food. There aren’t many Jews who don’t, right? But I don’t love food. Definitely not a foodie or gourmand, I am one of those people who eat to live rather than live to eat. The few cookbooks I own rarely, if ever, get opened; I prefer to keep things simple and make it up as I go along (with the exception of baking – I’ve learned the hard way that it is a bad idea to improvise too much with those kind of recipes).

I suppose my lack of interest in developing my cooking skills can be attributed to my busy life and the need to get a nutritiously balanced meal on the table for my family with next to no prep time. Leisurely, candle-lit gourmet meals are not the order of the day at this stage of the game.

It probably has to do with my concern about my weight, as well. Although not seriously overweight, I could stand (and almost always could have stood) to lose a few pounds. I am fortunately pretty tall, so things stay pretty much in proportion. But a lithe, athletic build I do not have, and my zaftig-ness increases with each passing year.

Which brings me to absolutely marvel (and secretly stick my tongue out) at Ruth Reichl and other famous food critics who manage to maintain stick-thin figures. Did you see the picture of Reichl accompanying the interview of her in the recent issue of The New York Times magazine?

The Bialy Eaters

Mimi Sheraton went in search of the origins of the bagel's cousin.

I have determined that what I enjoy so much about books like Reichl’s trilogy of Tender At The Bone, Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic and Sapphires is that through them I, with my sensitive stomach and cautious, conservative palate, can vicariously enjoy the high society and globetrotting adventures of people who are fortunate to be both good eaters and good writers. And most of them are, unsurprisingly, good cooks, too.

I have read Reichl’s books, and also The Bialy Eaters and Eating My Words by Mimi Sheraton and Stuffed by Patricia Volk probably more for the personal reflections and family and social histories they offer than for the gustatory flourishes, as fascinating as they may be (I find astounding the things that Reichl and Sheraton have eaten in their quests for new taste experiences. Keeping kosher definitely disqualifies you for their job).

Stuffed

A memoir by a non-restaurant critic, yet I think it belongs in the big leagues of food memoirs.

Volk’s Stuffed is a riotous and touching memoir of growing up in a prominent family of restauranteurs and other larger than life Jewish New York figures. In this book, as in the other memoirs, food seems to concurrently drive the narrative while serving as a backdrop for the real story of relationships and self-examination. These writers’ connection to food is more complex, more essential than mine. They live, either figuratively or literally for food. And I suspect that they would believe that they would have no life, or at least no life story worth sharing, without food playing such a central role in it.

Another cook and food writer who had an enormous and robust taste for life was Julia Child, the more famous half in the eponymous film title mentioned at the opening of this piece. I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed her posthumously published memoir, My Life in France, which together with Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, served as inspiration for the movie’s writer and director Nora Ephron.

Child’s exuberantly offered signature salutation, “Bon Appétit!” was obviously about more than just eating. Although I don’t see becoming a great chef in my future, I know I will continue to have an appetite for food memoirs and will read them b’tayavon, with relish, digesting the wisdom of their authors to nourish myself.

© 2009 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “Writing, Reading and Eating”

  1. pawsinsd Says:

    We both showed up on WordPress food writers site and I’m intrigued by your post. You insist you’re not interested in cooking but then detail your readings and movies that clearly show an interest. Possibly not the time to cook or other reasons.

    I will ask you to get your mother’s and grandmothers’ recipes now. My mother died last year with the secrets to a few family recipes we would have liked to have cooked in her honor in years to come.

    If that doesn’t get you far enough, try the book (out of print) I get people as wedding or shower presents: James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking. If you know how to braise, you can make a brisket.

    I was raised Catholic but am very familiar with hot pastrami on rye with a dab of Gulden’s, latkes and even made my own matzoh balls once then lost the NYTimes recipe. It’s all on the blog. http://www.cookingwithdee.net

    Happy Hanukkah! Oh, for a real bagel in Utah…

  2. Renee Ghert-Zand Says:

    Thanks for commenting, Dee. What can I say? I am just not much of a foodie. I like to read about food and cooking, but mainly for the memoir or story surrounding it. As a full time working mother of 3, I have not really had much time to develop my cooking skills. My family has not complained and are generally happy with my healthy, make-it-up as you go recipes. Unfortunately, there aren’t really any family recipes to hand down to me. My mother’s side of the family was not know for its cooking, and my Dad’s mom cooked a lot of stuff that either I don’t want to cook (too unhealthy), or I could just look up a recipe for in a book or online (there are a zillion good recipes for matzah balls, stuffed cabbage, chopped liver, etc. out there). My dad’s mom was a very good baker and I know my aunt has some of her recipes, so I guess I could get them from her.
    My mother just gave me the new book called, “Save The Deli,” which I am soon to digest and report on on my blog -so look for that post in the future!

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