Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee [book review]

Our August Kitchen Reader book was Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J Craughwell. It's a history book that covers Jefferson's time in France before he was president of the USA. He was appointed minister to France for almost five years. This book shows that Jefferson was not only a diplomat, politician, founding father of the US and intellectual, he was also a gourmand.

When Jefferson went to France he took his slave, James Hemings. He made an arrangement with Hemings that if he learned French cookery and then returned to the USA with Jefferson to teach someone else, Jefferson would grant his freedom. The book promises to elaborate on the five years Hemings spent in Paris becoming a French chef in order to bring French cuisine back to America.

Sadly, the book is not really focused on Heming's cooking at all. Instead, it is an interesting book about Jefferson's public life in France and what he learned there. I suppose there is not much evidence remaining about Heming's life in Paris. The book is obviously well researched, but there is virtually nothing about the courses Hemings took, what he thought of Paris, and what he learned to cook. Overall, I was disappointed by this book, though if it had been presented as a book about Jefferson's love of food and his time in France it would have lived up to expectations.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Balsamic Chicken

My favourite camera lens is broken right now. I discovered this just after I plated this balsamic chicken and was ready to take pictures. My friend, Jess, was coming over to eat with Anthony and I; I had finished cooking about ten minutes early in order to snap some pictures. But after one shot, the camera showed an error message: "Communication between the camera and lens is faulty". Oh no!

I switched the camera off and on again (the universal fix for technology?). I was able to take one more picture (which is above) before the error message popped up again. However, the light meter and auto focus both didn't work, hence the courgettes are in focus and the chicken is not. In the end I decided that I really like this picture.... It's hugely overexposed but we'll just call that a "feature" and leave it at that!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender [book review]

Each July in our food book club, The Kitchen Reader, we read a novel with a food-themed plot. This year we chose The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. It's about Rose, a girl who one day discovers that she can taste her mother's sadness in the food that she prepares for the family. Then she realises that in any food she can taste the emotions of whoever made it. It's a bit of a shock to her to discover things about her mother and others that were previously hidden. As Rose matures she learns a lot about herself and others.

As it turns out, this is a novel less about food than the title suggests. It is mostly a book that explores family relationships and growing up. Rose's ability to taste emotions makes explicit how confusing young people find it to see adult things for the first time. It is hard work growing up and navigating friendships, romantic feelings, a complicated family. And there are some food-related gems as well.


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