Reviews and Such Books Reading Round Ups

June Reading Roundup

My June reading roundup is a little shorter than the last three months. In part, that’s because I didn’t do any mystery novel writing this month. Although, I did watch several episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey, along with the first two series of The Brokenwood Mysteries. Both are highly enjoyable. In part, I included Adam Federman’s, Fasting and Feasting, a bit of June reading, in yesterday’s blog post.

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This month’s readings all concentrate on food. So without any further discussion let’s start in.

The Saucier’s Apprentice: One Long, Strange Trip through the Great Cooking School of Europe, by Bob Spitz

This is a book I picked up several months ago at the Millennium Library’s used book sale. I picked up 14 books at the time, and some got read quickly and some have languished on my bookshelves. The Saucier’s Apprentice is somewhere in between. That’s why it’s being reviewed in June.
The book is essentially the chronicling of a mid-life crisis. At the bottom of the cover it mentions that Spitz is also the author on book entitled: The Beatles. What the cover doesn’t tell you is that while writing the book his marriage fell apart and upon completion he felt himself adrift with no purpose.

June reading round up saucier
The cover shot from Bob Spitz’s the Saucier’s Apprentice.

Spitz’s trip through the cooking school’s of Europe is the attempt to resolve this crisis. Over the course of the book he visits several schools. Reading through I think the term “Great” may be a slight exaggeration in the case of some of the schools. However, the quirks and foibles of the chefs doing the teaching add to this books appeal.
Spitz writes with an easy style, and a great deal of charm. There are times in the book when that charm stands him in good stead. However, he’s not always a charming individual. He is quite sure of himself and his mission to learn how to cook.
One source of conflict that runs through the book is Spitz’s relationships with the other students and occasionally with other students. Spitz is in Europe to learn, while many of the people that he’s cooking with are there to pick up the odd tip and be able to go back home and do some name dropping with their friends. Part of Spitz’s growth through the book is in how he deals with this.
While Spitz deals with many well known chefs throughout the book, my favourite bit is the story of his encounter with an old Italian woman, who cooks for him in a hole in the wall market with a couple of tables. After the meal Spitz works his charm to get an invitation into the kitchen to learn how she prepares her food.
The Saucier’s Apprentice makes for good beach reading. It’s also the kind of the book that you can easily pick up and read any chapter independent of the whole narrative.

Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell 

This book and the movie that followed produced a cultural moment. One that I missed. As I read this book I was wondering if I would feel differently about it, if I had read it when it first came out. On the whole I enjoyed the book, but

June Reading roundup Julie
The Cover of Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia.

It’s said that Julia Child herself was not a fan of the project, thinking that it lacked seriousness. I can see her point. After all, Mastering the Art of French Cooking took three women, several years of testing recipes before it was published. Here Powell stumbles here way through the entire book in a far shorter time. She doesn’t seem to teach the recipes with the respect they deserve. I found that when Julie wants to throw the whole project away, I’m almost ready to do the same thing with the book.
Still, it’s an interesting window onto the early days of the internet. How the ability of anyone to start communicating with the world at large was changed. How the nature of the transmission of information was transformed. How the nature of fame was changed.
Add into it, Powell’s job working on the 9/11 memorial, and you also capture something of a moment in U.S. history, particularly life in New York. On the whole, not a bad read, but it wouldn’t be at the top end of my recommendation list.

Becoming Vegetarian, Vesanto Melina & Brenda Davis

The first thing I want to say about this book is that it’s not a book for sitting down in your armchair and enjoying the read. However, it is a very good guide to adopting vegetarian practices into your life and diet.
If you read this blog regular, you know that I am a meat eater. However, I also know that as people we all, myself included, need to look carefully at the way in which consume meat. Becoming Vegetarian does a very good job in laying out the ways in which we can go about doing this.
The strength of the book is that it does so in scientific fashion, laying out our nutritional needs and how these needs can be achieved through a vegetarian diet. Their scientific approach is their approach to vegetarian myth-busting. They bust both negative and positive myths. The book also, by and large, stays away from hyperbole when describing the health benefits of vegetarian eating. Although, there are only so many times you can use the term delicious tofu before it sounds like you trying to convince yourself as much as your readers.

June Roundup vegetarian
Becoming Vegetarian offers tips and rules for vegetarian living.

There does seem to be a great deal of emphasis on education and planning. This is probably the one area a good number of people who wish to improve their eating habits will have difficulty. On the whole however, I would suggest if you would like to change your eating habits so that you are consuming more plant based food, Becoming Vegetarian is a really good resource to add to your bookshelf.

Starting From Scratch: Memoirs of a Wandering Cook, by Patty Kirk

Starting From Scratch is a bit of an oddity on this list, in that it’s a book I reread during June. I had previously read it a couple of years ago, and one evening decided to pick it up off the bookshelf and read it again.
This book is my favourite of the one’s I read over the last month. The main reason is the connection Kirk makes between cooking and memories. The opening of the book tells the story of Kirk’s mother leaving a nursing home to be cared for by her family in her dying months. The story end with her mother saying, “good food, finally.”
From there, Starting from Scratch, chronicles Kirk’s life and her search for good food, and for family. This family includes her blood relations but also includes the people she meets as she travels the world, cooking in different kitchens. It is the people she meets along the way who teach her what it means to be family and who also teach her about good food, and how the two are connected.

reading roundup, Patti Kirk.
Patti Kirk’s Starting from Scratch is the most engaging of the books I’ve read in June.

Kirk’s story is also a faith journey. This story is woven in with the other two. Among the important aspects of this story is the role that thanksgiving plays in that journey.
The book contains a lot of recipes, which I admit I haven’t tried. These recipes are all connected to the various people she met and the places she traveled, and help to round out her story.
That’s it for the month of June.

By Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food.