Library Blog

Taste This Book: Delectable Excerpts

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

In my household, food is an experience. Down to the last ingredient, the intermingling of flavors and techniques, and insatiable bellies - food is a love language in many different ways. I have many fond memories of being in the kitchen helping to prep food, or just watching my mother cook. The way she could slice, dice, cut, sautée, and use other methods dazzles me - like watching a sorceress enchant, especially when she creates pure deliciousness out of ginger, scallion, seasoning, and such. Then there are recollections of my father, who will talk about the perfect pasta dish or how he would craft a cup of coffee with a splash of milk. It amazes me how a few things just create something extraordinary.

Gatherings would not be complete without food. For the holidays, sorrel - a Jamaican hibiscus-based punch of sorts - Jamaican beef patties, roasted potatoes, an assortment of cookies, cherries, strawberries, spaghetti alle vongole, and many other items that make me count the days till the next holiday season.

Food is identity - I am a Jamaican Italian who longs to honor my cultures, but also others - rice, for example, is in so many cultures. From suaasat (Inuit Greenlandic) - a traditional soup made from seal, whale, caribou, or seabirds to kare-kare (Filipino) - a rich stew with a thick and savory peanut sauce made up of oxtail and vegetables such as eggplants, Chinese cabbage, green beans, okra, and onions - I want to embrace the world.

Food is life, not just because we need to survive through nutrients, but because it is expression. I could go on about my love of food, but it may take a lot more time. Due to this, when I read a book or watch a TV show and movie with food, I cannot help but wonder what exactly is the story behind the dish.

Presenting here books that make me hungry. Tell me yours in the comments below, on Twitter @nysoclib, or in our February 2022 one-question survey.

And today, for the first time, we are given a real recipe: making chocolate pudding from scratch. We stir cocoa and cornstarch and sugar together, then stir in milk. Chef guides us step by step and we all clean our stations as the pudding chills. As I'm putting away my ingredients, a little red bottle in the pantry calls my attention. I snatch it up and sprinkle some on my pudding. When Chef Ayden calls us up to test our dishes, I'm the first student to set my bowl in front of him. He grabs a clean plastic spoon and pulls my dish closer to him, leaning down to inspect it, turning the dish slowly in a circle. "Mmm. Nice chocolate color, smooth texture; you made sure the cream didn't break, which is great. And I'm curious what this is on top."

He takes a tiny spoonful and pops it into his mouth, and the moment his mouth closes around the spoon his eyelids close, too. I wonder if my cooking woo-woo will work on him. "What is that?" he asks, his eyes still closed. I assume he means the spice on top and not whatever memory may have been loosened by my pudding. His eyes open and I realize the question was in fact for me.

"I used a little smoked paprika," I say. Heat creeps up my neck. I hadn't even thought about what would happen if I used an ingredient that wasn't in the original recipe.

"You trying to show off, Emoni?" Chef Ayden asks me very, very seriously.

"No, Chef. I wasn't."

"The ancient Aztecs too would pair chocolate with chipotle and cayenne and other spices, although it is not so common now. Why'd you add it?"

"I don't know. I saw it in the pantry and felt the flavors would work well together."

He takes another spoonful. Chef told us from the beginning that since every student is evaluated, he would very rarely take more than one bite of any single dish. I'm surprised he does so now, but he closes his eyes again as if the darkness behind his lids will help him better taste the flavors. His eyes pop open.

"This isn't bad." He drops his spoon. "Emoni, I think creativity is good. And this, this..." He gives a half laugh like he's surprised he doesn't know what to say. He clears his throat and it seems almost like a memory has him choked up.”

- With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways. The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise the Ladies Aid ordered for their meetings once a month gave them the ability to keep secrets. The fried dandelion buds over marigold-petal rice, stuffed pumpkin blossoms, and rose-hip soup ensured that your company would notice only the beauty of your home and never the flaws. Anise hyssop honey butter on toast, angelica candy, and cupcakes with crystallized pansies made children thoughtful. Honeysuckle wine served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark. The nutty flavor of the dip made from hyacinth bulbs made you feel moody and think of the past, and the salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen, whether it was true or not.

- Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

“By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield?—I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.”

“If you mean Darcy,” cried her brother, “he may go to bed, if he chuses, before it begins—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.”

- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

What do they do here better than any other place on earth? Answer: Guinness. This delicious, some say magical, probably nutritious, unparalleled beverage. This divine brew is so tasty, creamy, so near chocolatey in its rich, satisfying, buzz-giving qualities, that the difference between the stuff here, and the indifferently poured swill you get where you come from, is like night and day. One is beer, the other, angels sing celestial trombones.

- World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain

"If we only had a bit of beef and a few potatoes, this soup would be good enough for a rich man's table."

The peasants thought that over. They remembered their potatoes and the sides of beef hanging in the cellars. They ran to fetch them.

A rich man's soup — and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic!

- Stone Soup: An Old Tale, told and pictured by Marcia Brown
(a fabulous rendering of a great classic folktale!)

On Saturday, he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon.

- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

She sang,
"Bubble, bubble, pasta pot.
Boil me up some pasta, nice and hot.
I'm hungry and it's time to sup.
Boil enough pasta to fill me up."

And the pasta pot bubbled and boiled and was suddenly filled with steaming hot pasta.

- Strega Nona: An Original Tale written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola

Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.

- The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

She felt so lost and lonely. One last chile in walnut sauce left on the platter after a fancy dinner couldn't feel any worse than she did. How many times had she eaten one of those treats, standing by herself in the kitchen, rather than let it be thrown away. When nobody eats the last chile on the plate, it's usually because none of them wants to look like a glutton, so even though they'd really like to devour it, they don't have the nerve to take it. It was as if they were rejecting that stuffed pepper, which contains every imaginable flavor; sweet as candied citron, juicy as pomegranate, with the bit of pepper and the subtlety of walnuts, that marvelous chile in the walnut sauce. Within it lies the secret of love, but it will never be penetrated, and all because it wouldn't feel proper.

- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

“A maid brought water soon in a graceful golden pitcher
and over a silver basin tipped it out
so they might rinse their hands,
then pulled a gleaming table to their side.
A staid housekeeper brought on bread to serve them,
appetizers aplenty too, lavish with her bounty.
A carver lifted platters of meat toward them,
meats of every sort, and set beside them golden cups
and time and again a page came round and poured them wine.”

- The Odyssey (Book 1, lines 160–168)  by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles

"Peel, slice, chop, and dice,
colors fill the pot.
Stir in herbs and water
and then wait till it gets hot. "

- Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell

The dough it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tried. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust—thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I have to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise...

- Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

It was a joyous meal for honest creatures. Dishes were passed to be shared, both sweet and savory. October ale and strawberry cordial, tarts, pies, flans, and puddings, served out and replaced by fresh delights from Redwall’s kitchens. Turnovers, trifles, breads, fondants, salads, pasties, and cheeses alternated with beakers of greensap milk, mint tea, rosehip cup and elderberry wine.

- The Bellmaker (Redwall, book 7) by Brian Jacques

And when they had finished the fish, Mrs Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle onto the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out.

- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Fry bread is color. Golden brown, tan, or yellow
Deep like coffee, sienna, or earth
Light like snow and cream
Warm like the rays of the sun.

- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Lola Flor pointed to the suman, saying, "Sweet sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and steamed in banana leaves. The banana leaves give the rice its distinctive flavor. They're garnished with latik. Caramelized coconut curds," she added at Derek's confused look. "In the bowl is ginataang bilo-bilo. Chewy rice balls, tapioca pearls, jackfruit, purple yam, and saba banana cooked in sweet coconut milk. The best thing to eat on a cold day like this.

- Arsenic and Adobo (Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery #1) by Mia P. Manansala

Cersei set a tasty table, that could not be denied. They started with a creamy chestnut soup, crusty hot bread, and greens dressed with apples and pine nuts. Then came lamprey pie, honeyed ham, buttered carrots, white beans and bacon, and roast swan stuffed with mushrooms and oysters. Tyrion was exceedingly courteous; he offered his sister the choice portions of every dish, and made certain he ate only what she did. Not that he truly thought she’d poison him, but it never hurt to be careful.

- A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin

...Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ he was so excited that he said, ‘Both,’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘But don’t bother about the bread, please.’”

- Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

A gingerbread addict once told Harriet that eating her gingerbread is like eating revenge. "It's like noshing on the actual and anatomical heart of somebody who scarred your beloved and thought they'd got away with it," the gingerbread addict said. "That heart, ground to ash and shot through with darts of heat, salt, spice, and sulfurous syrup, as if honey was measured out, set ablaze, and trickled through the dough along with the liquefied spoon. You are phenomenal. You've ruined my life forever. Thank you.

- Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

“I recoiled at the taste, because I was expecting apple juice. It wasn’t that at all. It was chocolate-chip cookies. Liquid cookies. And not just any cookies – my mom’s homemade blue chocolate-chip cookies, buttery and hot, with the chips still melting.”

- Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) by Rick Riordan

Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.

- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling

While in the kitchen, Mary Pereira took the time to prepare, for the benefit of their visitors, some of the finest and most delicate mango pickles, lime chutneys and cucumber kasaundies in the world. And now, restored to the status of daughter in her own home, Amina began to feel the emotions of other people’s food seeping into her—because Reverend Mother doled out the curries and meatballs of intransigence, dishes imbued with the personality of their creator; Amina ate the fish salans of stubbornness and the birianis of determination….and although Mary’s pickles had a partially counteractive effect , since she had stirred into them the guilt of her heart and the fear of her discovery so that, good as they tasted, they had the power of making those who ate them subjective to nameless uncertainties.

- Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

If you want to take pictures of Chinese food, you have to taste real Chinese food. The flavors soak into your tongue, go into your stomach. The stomach is where your true feelings are. And if you take photos, these true feelings from your stomach can come out, so that everyone can taste the food just by looking at your pictures.

- The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”

- The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

We got cocktails to start and decided on a bottle of Bordeaux to share with dinner. We ordered voraciously. The pumpkin soup, the beef in banana leaf, fried spring rolls, crispy squid, a bowl of bún bò hué, and a seafood mango salad recommended by the waitress. Ordering food so as to maximize the quantity of shared dishes and an exuberance for alcohol are the two things my father and I have always counted on for common ground.

- Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

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