Discover more from Long Ago & Far Away
Confessions and Cookbooks
Exploring Other Cultures through Cuisine
Like most of us, the only discretionary reading time I have is when I crawl in bed at the end of the day. My To Be Read pile is to the moon. And yet, and yet… too many nights I start the aimless scrolling. It begins with, “I’ll just check on…”, and an hour later I’m still scrolling, still trying to disengage from all the clamor, and it’s time for lights out. Another wasted evening.
But recently, my mindless nighttime reading has taken on a different flavor.
You see, last year around Black Friday, I signed up for a deal on Masterclass in order to watch all the great writers’ courses. I began diligently, setting my laptop in front of my little treadmill so I could maximize the time. I started with Salman Rushdie, then enjoyed Walter Mosley, Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman—
There are more, but, I got distracted. I noticed the cooking classes. One of them is about Indian cooking.
Uh-oh. Off I went on a tangent to watch Madhur Jaffrey make all this yum look so easy. With my subscription nearly up, I recently doubled back to watch her twelve lessons a second time rather than squeeze in more of the writing courses.
Then I ordered four of her cookbooks.
And sat up late at night reading them.
Instead of my ginormous TBR pile.
Then, I saw this Yotam Ottolenghi fellow teaching Middle Eastern Cooking. Zoiks! What a maximalist! I mean, it’s pour on the olive oil everywhere. The guy’s a visual genius—never mind what any of it tastes like.
The good news is, I have an incentive to get on the treadmill so I can watch more! The bad news is, I now have a pile of cookbooks to READ—because we all know I’ll never make a dent in actually cooking this stuff. It’s purely aspirational.
So, although I should be reading fiction, I’m traveling the world via cooking videos while on my treadmill or learning the history of food in all the regions of India while sitting up in bed.
Fittingly, when not scrolling, I am enjoying The Covenant of Water, historical fiction by Abraham Verghese set in early 20th Century India.
We read (and write) historical fiction to experience different cultures, whether those that flow directly into our own or those from further afield. One thing we discover is that even from great distances these cultures have had more influence on ours than we realize.
We all know that rice came from the east and tomatoes from the west. Did you know that India had no chilies until the Portuguese brought them to their shores in the late 16th century? Yes, there was a time when India had no chilies.
Outside of cookbooks, another way to experience a culture’s food is through memoirs. It happens that, Kate Hill is serializing her memoir/cookbook Finding France on Substack via her newsletter The Camont Journals with Kate Hill. From her 18th-century farmhouse, she treats her readers to eye candy and favorite recipes, many of the dishes still warm in the photos.
And then there is historical fiction that features cuisine. Crystal King’s novels The Chef's Secret and Feast of Sorrows showcase famous chefs from Rome’s past. As a bonus, her Substack newsletter, Tasting Life Twice, features Italian food history and authentic recipes.
So many recipes. So little time.
Have you read anything delicious lately?
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