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.
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?
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).
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.