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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Never Trust a Thin Cook...

Guest Blogger: Chris Manganaro

Every place in the World is known for something. This seems especially true when it comes to places like Italy, where the origins of foods are often aggressively debated between neighbors. What people would call the culinary capital of Italy would depend on their own experiences and preferences.
Modena is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. This is where author Eric Dregni decides to settle down in Italy as the place he considers having “the best food in the world.” To him, Modena is the culinary capital of Italy. This is why Dregni’s book is titled Never Trust a Thin Cook: and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital.
According to Dregni, Modena was the answer to his quest and so the book describes his time in this paradise. Of course, Dregni does not overly romanticize Modena, but rather gives the facts about his time there. While he does seem to genuinely love the city, he is sure to talk about all sorts of things that make it real, such as how politics work, bike thieves and the dangers of demanding little old Italian women. Using his view as an outsider, he gives us a relatable point of view with which to look at his stories without forcing the picture into a frame.
Dregni even includes a dictionary in the back of the book to help the reader. While this is rather unnecessary as most words are explained in the story, it is a nice enough addition to help absorb the reader more into Italian culture. Language is a big part of the book, especially when one considers Dregni and his girlfriend, Katy, both try their hands at teaching English to Italians. This makes the dictionary feel like a clever addition. Whether or not one learns any language from the book is up to them.
Despite the fact that Dregni’s quest is supposedly centered on food, the actual book is not all about it. There are plenty of delicious foods mentioned and more than enough questionable pig dishes to keep the culinary reader satiated, but it is not the sole focus of the book. Dregni approaches many topics throughout his narrative in order to give the reader a taste of Modena and Italian culture. Due to his widespread focus, we are given only a taste of each topic, as most stories only go on for a few pages at most. They are anecdotal in nature and so some are more humorous and interesting than others. There is even some history thrown in throughout the stories, yet none of them are ever really boring. In fact, since they are only a small bite, they make one crave for more.
This book is one that can easily be recommended to anyone. It is not too technical in its descriptions of food or history or anything in particular and, as such, it should not scare anyone away. It is a set of humorous tales told through the eyes of an American living in Italy. Because of the way Dregni writes, it is enjoyable and easy to pick up and read. If you feel like taking a trip to Italy, why not try going to Modena?

How Italian Food Conquered the World

 Guest Blogger: Chris Manganaro

There are many different names that are dropped in How Italian Food Conquered the World by John F. Mariani and most of them are celebrities in one way or another. Whether it is a name from the world of cooking or the world of Hollywood, it is most likely familiar to many.
One name that came off as both a surprise and a delight in Mariani’s book was Ernest Hemingway. While the fact that a place from one of Hemingway’s stories exists is not in itself all that hard to believe, it is interesting to find that the place itself is one which is important to the history of Italian food.
In the book, Mariani points out that Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway and was even used in his book, Across the River and Into the Trees. In Mariani’s book, this is just one of the many celebrities who are mentioned, yet it is something that sticks out because Hemingway then mentions it in his own book. This way of referencing back and forth through history is fascinating and shows just how interconnected all things are. It also stands out a bit more than others because Hemingway is one of the few authors mentioned.
Interestingly enough, one can find a recording of Ernest Hemingway called “In Harry’s Bar in Venice.” This recording is curious because Ernest Hemingway was not great at reading aloud and yet it is related to Harry’s Bar. There are not many recordings of Hemingway reading and what there are, are not in terribly good condition. They are like pieces of history. Literary history with an Italian twist.
The history of the world is all connected. It is a giant web that covers the entirety of time. Harry’s Bar was not only important to the history of Italian food, but also to the history of literature in a sense. This is something that is hard not to appreciate. Italian food conquered the world in more than just one sense. It even got to the literary world.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Paris, Hemingway and A Wife...

 Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Wieck

Painting a beautiful portrait of the City of Lights is not a difficult thing to do. Inspiration abounds in Paris, one of the world's most stunning and idealized cities. Staging a romance in Paris is also neither a difficult or complicating task. Romance is something that comes rather naturally to nearly everyone who visits or dreams of Paris. Countless books and movies of the genre have been staged there.
In Paula McLain's recent novel, The Paris Wife, nothing she conveys is of the ordinary sort. The book illuminates the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their escapades in Paris and other parts of Europe. The imagery is magnificent, with the perfect balance of romance and reality to create a beautiful yet heartbreaking story of love, literature, and betrayal.
The book begins in Chicago, where Hadley and Hemingway meet and a whirlwind of a courtship proceeds. The two find themselves married, and on in whim in hopes of advancing Hemingway's career, they move to Paris. Despite a few desolate situations and living quarters, the Hemingways quickly find themselves as the golden couple in one of the foremost literary groups, which includes writers such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As Hemingway's popularity in the literary world increases, heartbreak and deceit plague the couple, thinly veiled by the hazy splendor of heavy drinking and lavish seaside getaways.
Fans of Hemingway will immediately become engrossed in the book. The author lived a rather colorful life, and McLain does a wonderful job of combining his personal and literary life to create a strikingly plausible situation for the Hemingways during their time in Paris. She especially highlights the numerous trips they spent in Pamplona, Spain, where his novel The Sun Also Rises takes place.
Anyone who knows a fact or so about Hemingway knows that Hadley was not his first wife. He, in fact, married three times more after her. Thus, McLain's Paris romance is atypical in that it does not end in a glorious union with abounding fireworks. Despite the desires of the world to continually have a blissful and agreeable ending, The Paris Wife rationalizes the realities of life, giving weight the negative while still emphasizing the beautiful.
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Sunday, March 4, 2012

For The Love of Ravioli

 Guest Post by Chris Manganaro

Ravioli has been around since at least the 14th century, most likely even longer. Different foods have been made similarly, making ravioli seem like a variation. In this way, Italian ravioli meets Polish pierogi meets Chinese dumpling and so on and so forth. All interconnected in a shell of dough.
    In the case of ravioli, it takes quite a bit of time and effort to prepare it fresh. In Laura Schenone’s book The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken we are shown in intricate detail just how hard it can be to prepare fresh ravioli. The word authentic could be used but it seems as if authenticity is hard to determine. This is another thing the book teaches us along with the interconnectivity of it all.
    Within the book is, of course, a recipe for ravioli. Several actually. There are step-by-step instructions with pictures in order to help readers along. Throughout the book, the reader hears about making ravioli and how several different people approach it. It makes one want to get their hands dirty and try it out. The beauty of the book is the fact that, as Schenone learns throughout the book, there are many different ways to prepare delicious ravioli.
    There are also tools described in the memoir that are brought up in the back of the book. Some are very specific and may not be found in every household which makes fresh ravioli seem even farther out of reach for some.
    Despite what might be holding back some people from trying to make fresh ravioli, Schenone’s book is a good tool for getting started on the right track. Not all the tools that are mentioned in the recipe section are necessary. There isn’t only one way of doing it. As she mentions, one can use a rolling pin or pasta maker. It all just comes down to practicing and perfecting. This is all a part of cooking. The book does a good job of making this all sound worth it. If someone is truly interested in making or trying fresh ravioli then there is no reason not to at least try using Schenone’s book to start. You never know how something will go until you try after all. That’s how this book was made when it comes down to it, trying something new.
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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons & Sicily

Guest Blogger: Chris Manganaro

In Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons: Travels in Sicily on a Vespa by Matthew Fort, the author is able to show just how unique and different Sicily is through his view of its food and culture. Due to Fort’s passion for Sicily, we are able to grow to love it ourselves.

Fort’s journey by Vespa is described in detail, allowing us to see where and how he is traveling. The addition of a map at the beginning of the book is a fun and useful visual as it helps to place the reader in the area that is being written about. While the author does sometimes complain about his journey’s discomforts, it is never for long periods of time and helps to add a personality to the person we are journeying with. This is necessary in making the story engaging, though; some may not find the eccentric foodie to be completely likable. He is human and has his charms.

One way in which the author is charming is in his descriptions of food which are just luscious. As a food critic, it seems necessary to be able to describe taste, texture and all sorts of qualities that food has in order to get it across to others. His descriptions vary quite a bit and he uses words that are so vibrant that you can almost taste the food he is describing. His love of food certainly shines through.

What makes his description of food all the more interesting is the fact that he often includes the history behind the dish or ingredients. These stories are rich and add quite a bit to the quality of his experiences. It is not only describing the food, but the history and culture of Sicily. Readers will really learn quite a lot about Sicily and its background through Fort’s adventures in filling his stomach.

It’s actually quite amazing the girth of topics that Fort is able to approach without seemingly going off topic. He addresses things such as obesity, poverty, and even the history of the mafia as well as other social issues. He does not try to paint a picture of Sicily as a total fantasy or paradise, but rather a place filled with contradictions. While it is sweet like honey, it also has the bitterness of lemons. It is partially the fact that he sees Sicily as such a mystery that drives his travels.

In the end, the mystery does end up being unsolved. The recipes that have come at the end of chapters throughout do not end the book as the author uses those pages to reflect upon his journey. This feels like the best way to end the book as it is more a travelogue, a story of one man’s culinary journey than a cookbook. While the recipes are recreated and easy enough to follow (though conversion from metrics is necessary) they do not necessarily shine as much as the story being told. They are definitely worth trying and sound delicious, but the richness of the book is more in the journey itself.

One cannot easily describe every facet of this book as it touches upon many different topics and paints such a lively picture that it can only be experienced by oneself, much like Sicily. Anyone with an interest in Sicily will be caught in its embrace.

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