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The Vietnamese Market Cookbook

Van Tran and Anh Vu. Running Press, $30 (248p) ISBN 978-0-7624-5384-9

Tran and Vu have no formal culinary training, but they did have the good luck to be at the right place at the right time—specifically, London in 2009. When their Vietnamese food market, Bánhmì11, opened that year, it met a city hungry for bánh mì baguettes. The pair has since expanded to three locations in the U.K., and this edition of their 2013 U.K. cookbook brings their approach to U.S. shores for the first time. Each chapter explores one of the five fundamental Vietnamese flavors: sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and salty. Each chapter is subdivided into three sections: everyday cooking, festive cooking, and social cooking. And each section has a preface, with memories and insights from Tran, reflecting on the experiences and culinary life lessons that she and her partner have accumulated. While several bánh mì sandwiches are offered up, notably one made with pork that is massaged in a lemongrass and chile marinade, there are more than 70 other recipes that reach deep into the Southeast Asian pantry. A menu for a five-course meal, using one entry from the everyday cooking section of each chapter, would, for example, include egg-glazed eggplant fritters, shrimp tamarind, clay-pot chicken with ginger, zucchini and seared sirloin, and char-grilled sea bass.(Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef

Massimo Bottura. Phaidon, $59.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-7148-6714-4

Despite its whimsical title, this eclectic and ambitious collection is all about serious cooking. Bottura, chef/owner of Osteria Francescana, challenges the culinary traditions of Emilia-Romagna, where the Michelin-starred restaurant is located. Trained by such culinary giants as Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià, Bottura is willing to update, revise, or even redo a dish completely to bring the best of the past into the future. Comprising glorious full-color photos of everything from ingredients and finished plates to people and everyday Italian life, the book emphasizes beauty, both in the simple and in the elaborate. Recipes are relegated to a mere 23 pages at the back, and while they’re certainly within a skilled home cook’s capabilities, most are complex concoctions that many will happily leave to the professionals. Quirky dishes such as a deconstructed mortadella sandwich made with mortadella foam; bread, butter, and anchovies; and a compression of pasta and beans make this a fun collection to peruse, but one unlikely to inspire home cooks. Professionals, however, will relish the opportunity for guided experimentation with Italian classics. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Twelve Recipes

Cal Peternell, photos by Ed Anderson. HarperCollins, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-227030-6

Chef Peternell, chef at Chez Panisse, offers an informal crash course in the “big 12” recipes “at the heart of home cooking.” His inspiration comes from his family kitchen and the realization that his son, attempting to cook while away at college, hadn’t absorbed cooking know-how through osmosis. While Peternell assembles this collection of recipes, tips, and loving reflections as a gift to his son, he creates more than a handbook for beginning cooks. In this survey of cooking basics, Peternell inspires home cooks to “break some rules” and let intuition be their guide. Chapters present ingredient-focused discussions along with several foundation recipes and variations. The eggs chapter instructs how to properly fry, hard-boil, devil, poach, and scramble, and follows with recipes for omelets and frittatas. A chapter on beans discusses legume varieties, storage, and preparation, including recipes for bean soups. Other chapters focus on pasta, rice, polenta, potatoes, chicken, sauces, and cake. Many suggested recipes are woven into the book’s narration while others are presented in a traditional format. There’s advice on tasting, timing, and using leftovers. Illustrations are by family members, and there’s plenty of anecdotes drawn from Peternell’s own home table. Essays have an inviting personal tone, and Peternell encourages cooks to use good sense, relax, and enjoy the unexpected pleasures that come with cooking for yourself and for others. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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It Ain’t Sauce, It’s Gravy: Macaroni, Homestyle Cheesesteaks, the Best Meatballs in the World, and How Food Saved My Life

Steve Martorano. Knopf, $27.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-385-34989-5

Martorano was born into a family with mob ties in South Philadelphia, and the glamor of crime and easy money exerted a strong pull on him until he started his own sandwich business, which developed into a chain of successful restaurants. Martorano shares that dramatic story arc, along with the recipes that have made his restaurants so successful, in this engaging and mouthwatering collection of Italian classics. From the Italian hoagie that got him started to upscale fare like the elegant prosciutto-wrapped pappardelle with cream and truffle oil now served in his restaurants—not to mention the meatballs that Gourmet magazine called the best in the world—Martorano eagerly and generously shares his tips and secrets. Readers with a soft spot for Italian comfort food will find a lot to like: a grilled hot and sweet sausage summer salad; duck Bolognese; veal piccata; and chicken on the bone, a rustic dish featuring roasted chicken, sausages, mushrooms, and tomatoes, all beg for a turn. A thoughtful compilation of the familiar and the imaginative, paired with a compelling narrative, makes for an engaging and informative addition to the Italian cookbook canon. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Anne Frank: Silent Witnesses, Reminders of a Jewish Girl’s Life

Ronald Wilfred Jansen. RWJ-Publishing, $18 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-94-90482-08-4

Jansen, motivated to write about Anne Frank because “time is running out for people who knew Anne to tell the story,” delivers a well-researched and at times jarring record of the places where she lived before her untimely death in 1944 at age 15. Statistics, such as that 102,000 of the 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands did not survive the war, are interspersed with descriptions of mundane events from Frank’s life, to sobering effect. Jansen employs long passages from Frank’s diary to connect the reader to his own accounts of the places Frank describes, including the house in Amsterdam where her family hid during the early years of the war and the streets where she saw the Nazis rounding up Jews. This work is best suited as a scholarly companion to Anne’s own diary. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Fisherman: Witness to the Endangered Oceans

Jeffrey L. Rotman, with Yair Harel. Abbeville, $49.95 (276p) ISBN 978-0-7892-1191-0

In this oversized, illustrious book, photographer Rotman—whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Life, Time, among others—presents his mesmerizing photos of marine life and shares stories from his career of more than 40 years as an underwater photographer. From the flounder with a migrating eye in Gloucester, Mass., to the ghoulish stargazer from Lembeh, Indonesia; from the inch-long sea butterfly in the gulf of Maine to the giant octopus in the Red Sea, the subjects of Rotman’s photographs come from around the world, illustrating the creatures of the sea in all their peculiar glory. The stunning close-ups of fish fins showcase the varied colors and textures that are hidden in the depths of the ocean. Whether discussing the difficulties of photographing wildlife as a diver or the shocking slaughter of sharks only for their fins, Rotman (assisted by coauthor Harel) writes in a conversational tone, transforming information about the catastrophic changes in the ocean into a poignant personal narrative. Rotman closes with a look at worldwide commercial fishing and the interaction between technique, ocean life, and way of life for fishing societies, including New England, India, and Mozambique. This book is not only a treasure to be cherished by nature enthusiasts but also an intriguing resource that ought to make its way into science classrooms. Full-color photos. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

Rick Bragg. Harper, $27.99 (512p) ISBN 978-0-06-207822-3

Bragg, writing closely with Lewis, offers this rollicking, incendiary tale of the man who kick-started rock and roll and blazed a fiery trail strewn with heartache, happiness, regret, and memorable music. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bragg (All Over but the Shouting) sat down with Lewis over a period of two years and simply let Lewis tell his own story. From his childhood in Ferriday, La., and Natchez, Miss., Lewis chased music, discovering at age five his reason for being born when he sees the piano in his aunt’s house. He couldn’t sit still—”I come out jumpin’, an’ I been jumpin’ ever since”—and he conducts us on a journey through his short-lived career at a Bible college, his discovery by Cowboy Jack Clement, his years at Sun Studio—including that now-famous, brief session with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis—his seven marriages, his children’s deaths, his descent into drugs and alcohol, and his burning desire to play music above all else. “For Jerry Lee,” writes Bragg, “fame was a thing that sometimes flogged him and sometimes let him be; he was capable, in the dark times, of losing all sight of the good in his music, of believing it was evil, until suddenly things would be just clear and he’d see it all so much better. The thing about rock and roll, he said, was that it made people crazy bad, but it more often made them happy, made them forget life for a while.” As his song “Thirty-Nine and Holding”illustrates, Lewis hypnotizes with his tale, and Bragg stands back and lets him fly. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man

Marcus Baram. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-01278-4

Best known for his ingenious, cutting, and satiric 1970 song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Scott-Heron (1949–2011) never received full recognition for his brilliant writing across many genres, including poetry and fiction, and his canny weaving of black history into his volatile moment. In this straightforward, honest book, journalist Baram draws a poignant portrait, if somewhat fawning, of the artist as a black man struggling to make sense of his culture from the 1960s to his death. Baram draws on Scott-Heron’s autobiographies—and on his own friendship with Scott-Heron—to chronicle the poet and musician’s journey from his childhood in segregated Jackson, Tenn., and his youth in New York City to his college days at Lincoln University, where he grew increasingly more active in matters related to social justice. Baram then discusses Scott-Heron’s first album, his pivotal and mostly warm relationship with Columbia Records’ president, Clive Davis, and his eventual descent into a world of drug addiction that killed him. A gifted artist, Scott-Heron always deflected attention from himself as he pointed to the long river of people and ideas on whose backs he swam: Baram writes, “There could be no Gil Scott-Heron if there’d been no LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka]... no Langston Hughes, no Paul Dunbar, no Phillis Wheatley.” Baram’s appreciative biography offers a glimpse into the complex feelings and thoughts of this Renaissance man we lost much too soon. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation

Trimiko Melancon. Temple Univ., $26.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4399-1146-4

Melancon, a professor of English, African-American studies, and women’s studies at Loyola, brings all three disciplines to bear in this critical analysis of five “post-1960s black women’s texts.” Specifically, she looks at how the novels—Toni Morrison’s Sula, Ann Allen Shockley’s Loving Her, Alice Walker’s Meridian, Gayl Jones’s Eva’s Man, and Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place—challenge “myopic representations of black women” in American literature. Her concluding chapter assesses Michelle Obama, more as she exists in America’s collective imagination than as a real person, as a figure who fulfills the same purpose. Perhaps most provocatively, Melancon concentrates on the transgressive sexuality present in all of these books (“adultery, promiscuity, interracial sexual intimacy, circumvention of marital sex, sexual violence, same-gender loving, and/or other politics of the intimate”) and asserts its importance to the authors’ larger project. Casual readers will undoubtedly be deterred by the academic jargon rife in Melancon’s writing (“the sexual longing, desire, and intimacy enacted in these texts function metonymically for another aspirational desire”). However, serious readers of African-American literature will value the innovative observations offered on the intersection of “race, gender, and sexuality” in American life and letters. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Talent for Friendship: Rediscovery of a Remarkable Trait

John Edward Terrell. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-938645-1

Is friendship a transaction designed to smooth over our naturally brutish human nature? Or is it intrinsic to our being? Terrell, a leading anthropologist of Oceania and author of the seminal Prehistory in the Pacific Islands, offers a more complex answer in this wide-ranging, if at times meandering book. Terrell mounts a case that draws from his work on trade and interaction among Oceanic tribal peoples, as well as from classic works of evolutionary anthropology. He denies that people are naturally prone to conflict, or that humans have evolved into uniquely social creatures. Instead, we are, like other mammals, social but cursed with the cognitive ability to create norms that others might not agree to. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get back to this pithily stated premise, and the book’s circuitous, talky route through Darwin, highlights from social psychology, and Terrell’s own work is disorienting and rarely friendly to the lay reader. Even more baffling is the guide, included as an appendix, to hosting a marae encounter—a traditional, regimented meeting process among New Zealand’s Maori people. As a theory of friendship, Terrell’s work is elegant, but readers’ patience for it may wear thin. 14 b&w halftones and 8 b&w line illus. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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