Reviewing two contrasting “foodoirs” or food memoir cookbooks for Suite101 (see, Foodoir, the New Genre of Cookbooks) made me appreciate each of the two books, anew. They’re not long published but have languished in my pile while I attended deadlines and Big Projects.
The books are:
- Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart, Pauline Nguyen, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008
- Falling Cloudberries: a World of Family Recipes, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2009 - Gourmet Magazine’s Cookbook Club selection.
With the approach of Father’s Day each year difficult memories get stirred up and also some sweet ones. A little voice asked if one of the reasons I’d let the Secrets of the Red Lantern review go so long unattended wasn’t perhaps because of the difficult relationship the author had with her father?
Reading the book when it arrived, I was overwhelmed by the intimate nature of the stories shared. It was oppressive and somber. I waited and hoped for the happy ending, which thankfully does come, but quite late in the book. Too late for me, but it’s not my story.
Only through the objective exercise of reviewing the book for my column did I realize that Pauline Nguyen may have deliberately designed this book for the effect of drawing you into her world. Fearful, sad and angry, ashamed, we experience the pains of her childhood and young adulthood.
The book is large format, and nearly 340 pages long. It’s past page 300 before some therapy begins to bring hope into the story. Nguyen begins by telling us food is how the family communicates. The reader feels momentary relief from the oppressive family when the recipes appear amidst the tears and anger. Like oases or (later) epiphanies, the recipes materialize amidst the sad stories.
It’s a beautiful book, has gorgeous recipes, and helpful endnotes about sourcing and substitutes; but this may not be for everyone. Ultimately, there is joy, but it is a long time coming. How long that feels to you will probably have as much to do with your own childhood, as with the book.
Here’s how I would recommend read this book: pick a recipe some ways in say Bún Bò Xào (Wok-tossed beef and lemongrass, p. 121), shop for the ingredients and read till you get there. Then take a break, cook, eat, relax. Have a glass of wine. Repeat with the next section.
Read here to learn more about the new “foodoir” genre and to learn about another beautiful book, Falling Cloudberries, that shares some similarities with Red Lantern.
Berry Coincidental Incident
During Kim O’Donnel’s excellent food chat, Table Talk at Culinate.com (you have joined in, haven’t you?) - last week the subject turned to berries. Salmonberries and Cloudberries both were discussed (you can see the transcript, including recipes and links!). That chat was another catalyst for pulling this together. I mentioned the salmonberries I’d been introduced to in Alaska last year and pulled the Falling Cloudberries book from the top of my pile.
Salmonberries, Cordova, AK (J.Church)
A helpful reader/chatter sent me info on the berries, and I began to flip through Tessa Kiros’ beautiful book. Her family is on the other end of the spectrum, happy vignettes dot the recipes. Both are worth a read and you can learn more about the “foodoir” genre over at my Suite101 column.
- Click here to read my own Father’s Day food story from last year. It’s pretty evergreen. Call it “foodoir lite”.
- Get my “MTM Strawberry Buttermilk Cake” recipe in the “Ode to a Handmixer” story. It’s also a bit foodoir-ish come to think of it, and of course, uses the beautiful strawberries in season for many of us right now.
Did you know? Strawberries:
- are an excellent source of Vitamin C and contain antioxidant phenols such as anthocyanins. They’re also anti-inflammatory.
- are a “false fruit” the fleshy part is covered with exterior seeds (technically the seed is the fruit, the berry is the stamen).
- are a good source of Folate and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C and Manganese.
- 1 C of strawberry halves is only 49 calories but contains 149% of your Vitamin C for the day.
- Contain ellagic acid which is being studied for its ability to inhibit the DNA binding of certain carcinogens.
And here for your berry season pleasure is a recipe from Falling Cloudberries, reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Sipi’s Strawberry Cake A recipe from Falling Cloudberries:
The Finns, we learn, are crazy for strawberries. This is the author’s mother’s cake “so lovely, really pure and pretty, just like the Finns.”
- 1 3/4 C all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting pan)
- 3/4 C sugar
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 sticks butter
- 3/4 C warm milk
- 4 eggs separated
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 lbs (5 C) whole strawberries
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 4 TBSP confectioner’s sugar
- 3 C heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 350, grease and flour an 8 1/2” Springform pan or a Bundt pan.
Put the flour and sugar in a bowl with 1 tsp of the baking powder. mix in the butter and then stir in the milk. add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat well. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, incorporating the rest of the baking powder when the eggs have started fluffing up. Fold the egg whites into the cake mixture.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean the top is golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool in pan before turning onto rack. When cool, slice the cake in half horizontally and put the bottom half on a large serving plate.
Clean the strawberries and hull them (leave a few unhulled if you prefer for the top of the cake.) Dice about half the strawberries and sprinkle with a little lemon juice and 1 TBSP of the confectioner’s sugar. Whip the cream into stiff peaks with the remaining confectioner’s sugar. Mix the diced strawberries with about a third of the whipped cream and spoon over the bottom of the cake. Put the other half of the cake on top and thickly spoon the remaining cream over the top and side, then decorate with the rest of the strawberries. This is best eaten immediately, will keep a day refrigerated.
And the Contest:
All comments to this post and to the Foodoir post on Suite101 will be thrown in a hat and two winners will be drawn. Winners will receive a copy of one of the two books. Both are gorgeous, to keep it simple I’m going to make it random and the book will be sent directly from the publisher.
Comments can share a link to a favorite berry recipe or share a title of your favorite “foodoir”. Anyone signing up for the newsletter gets two entries (let me know.)
- Big Thanks to Tammie Barker at Andrews McMeel for sharing these lovely books and for your support with the contest!
Don't forget: Books I recommend are on my Powell's Bookshelf, here.