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If you unabashedly love food, like cook-to-relax love food and go-on-dates-mostly-so-you-have-an-excuse-to-go-to-new-restaurants love food, Thanksgiving is your holiday (barring any familial hang-ups). It’s the one day of the year you can banish any talk of portion size or calorie counts from the table without pissing off your aunt who’s on a juice cleanse and won’t eat cheese. No one is interested in Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute version of Thanksgiving — time and effort are a sunk cost, and that’s expected. There’s something incredibly freeing and borderline magical about being able to devote an entire day to cooking and eating in a society that devalues the former and demonizes the latter.
But Thanksgiving is over, and I’ll probably spend today inattentively eating a fine-but-mostly-serviceable salad at my desk while I schedule some tweets, indulgent food magic totally tapped out. Luckily for me (and you), there’s lots of beautiful food writing out there (um, hi, have you read this piece from Extra Crispy about how strippers do breakfast?), to hold you over until next Thanksgiving, when it’s totally acceptable to argue about the relative merits of lard in your pie crust. Below are a few of my favorite super-indulgent or just really, really smart food-focused books.
Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler: I'm realizing that there's a bit of a dearth of food-focused fiction on this list, but, frankly, Sweetbitter is probably more than enough. The novel follows Tess through her first year in New York City working in a thinly-fictionalized Union Square Cafe. I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchens and cruddy late-night industry bars that Danler describes, and despite ruining my body and my mental health by hanging out with chefs who would order based on what they didn't want on a menu ("We'll skip the oysters and the monkfish, but bring everything else out,") I still closed Sweetbitter and briefly considered moving back into the food world, if only for the chance to have someone drag me into a walk-in and feed me something delicious.
The Gastronomical Me, MFK Fisher: Fisher is the "before" to a lot of culinary stories. Before Julia Child moved to France with her husband and had her eyes opened to the potential of food, Fisher and her husband did it. Before we had people like Bourdain writing long, sensuous travelogues based around food, Fisher was doing it. The Gastronomical Me is autobiographical, and follows Fisher as she encounters the "Cuisine Bouguignonne," full of "rich dark-brown gaudy sauces [...] ancient meats mummified with spices [...] dead birds, rotting from their bones and hiding under a crust five men have spent their lives learning how to put together so my guts will fall apart!", travels alone through Mexico, and recounts numerous sea voyages. It's enough to make your sad desk salad taste like troute au bleu.
Real Food/Fake Food, Larry Olmstead: This book left me with a weird combination of anger and wanderlust. Real Food/Fake Food takes you through some of the most commonly counterfeited and adulterated foods–which just so happen to be the most delicious and sought-after. Olmstead is by turns educational and evocative, making you paranoid that the "parmesan" cheese you're eating is probably not even kissing cousins with the Parmigiano Reggiano its name is cashing in on, while also virtually guaranteeing you'll end up looking up flights and tour itineraries to go taste the real thing in Parma.
Cod, Mark Kurlansky: I know, I know, a history of cod is not a very sexy sounding book, at least not in the way the previous three were, or, say Salmon might be. BUT. But. Stay with me. Dried cod was basically the gas that went into the engine of sea travel and exploration for about a thousand years. Cod is equally concerned with food, history, and ecology, as years of overfishing have depleted cod reserves and threaten economies.
Blood, Bones & Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton: To eat at Prune in NYC is to know and love Gabrielle Hamilton. The braised rabbit legs there are one of the favorite things I've eaten... ever. They've also got a Monte Cristo that might actually kill me. It's the kind of primally satisfying, thoughtful cooking that "one craves when one is actually hungry." Hamilton brings the same energy to her writing, and the fact that she can cook as well as she does and write as well as she does makes me think she probably has nine other secret talents as well. I first read this book, a memoir about how and why Hamilton got into cooking, about two years ago, and I can still recall with cinematic clarity the spring lamb roast party her family throws, described in the first chapter, in "not really a house at all, but a wild castle built into the burnt-out ruins of a nineteenth century silk mill."
Are you hungry now? Me too.