My new downstairs book: On Food and Cooking

May 31, 2007 | 6 comments

I mentioned in a previous post that I always have two books that I’m reading: a downstairs book and an upstairs book. The downstairs books are stuff that I can read while the kids play, book targeted at the general public that don’t take too much brainpower to get through (my last one was Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace). My upstairs books always relate to questions of God, my latest topic of interest being how to figure out what God’s will for you at any given moment, and then actually carry it out (my last two books were Journey to Easter and He Leadeth Me).

So anyway, my belated Mother’s Day gift just arrived from my grandfather, and I am just way to thrilled about it. People should not be this excited about books. I present to you: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.

Because I could never do it justice if I summarized it myself (I recently described it to a friend as “a book with all this cool stuff about food”), I’ll quote the Publisher’s Weekly review:

A stunning masterpiece that combines science, linguistics, history, poetry and, of course, gastronomy. [McGee] dances from the spicy flavor of Hawaiian seaweed to the scientific method of creating no-stir peanut butter, quoting Chinese poet Shu Xi and biblical proverbs along the way. McGee’s conversational style—rich with exclamation points and everyday examples—allows him to explain complex chemical reactions, like caramelization, without dumbing them down. His book will also be hailed as groundbreaking in its breakdown of taste and flavor.

I’m only half-way through the first chapter, about milk, and I’ve already learned so much! It’s fascinating to hear about what other cultures throughout history did with their milk — e.g. turning it into yogurt and covering it with oil to make it last longer, or even fermenting it to make alcohol in the case of nomadic cultures whose lifestyle didn’t lend itself to brewing beer or wine.

It’s about three inches thick, so given my downstairs reading rate it should only take me a decade or two to get through it. I can’t wait!


  1. lyrl

    It’s neat to see you go through books. Two I’ve come across, I have wondered what your take on them would be – Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing and Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, both by Sheila Kippley. (Sheila and her husband John Kippley founded the Couple to Couple League.) I’ve been really intrigued by other Kippley and CCL materials I’ve read, but haven’t yet talked my childless, non-Christian self into buying Catholic books on breastfeeding.

  2. RNW

    LOL! LOL! That book is always at the head of my bed. It’s a good one when you want to read something that isn’t going to keep you up all night blogging. (I so cannot read Chesterton if I want to sleep.)

  3. Jennifer F.

    Lyrl – Funny you ask, I was just talking about those books with a friend. Before I say anything else, big caveat: I’ve only read one of them, BF and Natural Child Spacing, and that was two years ago. So I may be mis-remembering it.

    But, that said, I don’t have a totally positive recollection of their books. I think that they provide great information, but their tone is pretty unforgiving. They have pretty strict ideas about what women should and shouldn’t do regarding breastfeeding, and don’t make many allowances for those for whom it might not work.

    But, again, I could be remembering it wrong.

    BTW, have you read Natural Birth Control Made Simple? I bought it right after baby #2 was born but haven’t read it yet. I’ve heard it’s really good though.

  4. Jennifer F.

    RNW –

    It’s so funny you mention that. I do the same thing. I don’t know if you do this as well, but I have lost countless hours of sleep over the past couple of years writing blog posts in my head while I’m trying to go to sleep. …And I never even remember to post 90% of them!

  5. lyrl

    I have not read Natural Birth Control Made Simple. I learned about charting through Taking Charge of Your Fertility and it is absolutely the best overall charting book I’ve come across. Toni Weschler’s compelling way of relating information, and how she chooses the most important concepts and makes them seem simple are amazing.

    …they provide great information, but their tone is pretty unforgiving. This has been my take on the Kippley’s book The Art of Natural Family Planning – but for me, how thoroughly they covered every last detail of charting provided so much information it was worth the moralizing and textbook-like writing style. I would not have wanted to learn charting from this book (something that reads like a textbook is not good introductory material), but it’s been a great reference.

    I also have the Billings’ publications (which are interesting for historical information on how the method was developed but IMO aren’t that helpful for charting) and Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer and disliked pretty much all of it except the breastfeeding section. The breastfeeding section (to me – I don’t know how strongly my opinion counts in this area) was the most helpful explanation I’ve read.

    The Couple to Couple League publication Family Foundations (which I got hooked on when they were still posting online copies for free) is much more accepting of women’s choices, with articles supporting a spectrum of breastfeeding styles. Several months ago there was one article by a woman who worked full-time while her husband stayed at home with the kids. I guess I had hoped that the attitude displayed in the CCL publications would reflect in Mrs. Kippley’s breastfeeding books.

    Well, that’s a long post. I hope some of that information was useful.

  6. RNW

    I absolutely forget those fabulous blog pots which is why I’ve learned to get out of bed and at least start them before all that thinking goes to waste!

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