Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: Food and Drink

Coming to the Festival of Books: Mark Kurlansky

Markkurlansky_daughterMark Kurlansky, the author of "Salt," has also written several books about fish, the oceans and how we relate to the sea: "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," "The Big Oyster" and "The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America’s Oldest Port and Most Original Town." (He's also written about baseball, most recently in "Hank Greenberg: A Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One"; he's a busy guy.)

He'll be at the Festival of Books on Saturday speaking on the panel "Boiling Point: Climate, Population, & Environment."

Jacket Copy: You've written a number of books about fish and our relationship to them. What draws you back to the subject?

Mark Kurlansky: I don't know what drew me there in the first place. Why does a Jewish kid from Hartford raised in a most un-maritime family  feel compelled to go to sea on fishing boats as a teenager? I was always drawn to the sea and don’t like to be in landlocked places. Working on fishing boats gave me a great fondness for fisherman and fishing ports. I always seek them out. The sea, which is beautiful and mysterious, is the least-known and least-studied part of the planet -- seductive and intriguing and also, of course, dangerous, and in a lot of trouble.

JC: In "The World Without Fish: How Kids Can Help Save the Oceans," you take some themes you've touched on before -- fish, fishing, sustainability and our oceans -- and address them to children. How did you make the subject approachable?

MK: Because of all the books I have done related to this topic I have traveled all over the country talking to adults and children in schools about what is happening in the oceans and I have found two things. There are a lot of people who are really concerned, kids in particular, and there is complete confusion and misunderstanding. This is partly because it is a very complicated problem and partly because fishermen, regulators and biologists all talk in extremely inaccessible language, full of inside codes and assumptions. I set out to explain the whole thing in simple, clear language, step by step, starting with Charles Darwin, who explained the natural order we are trying to deal with. I use careful explained biology, politics, economics. I use text and pictures and a graphic novel that puts it in human terms. I tell what is happening, what will happen if we don’t fix it, how we are trying to fix it, what the problems are and what concerned individuals can do about it. 

JC: You're also the author of "Food of a Younger Land." Do you consider yourself a foodie?

MK: I once wrote an essay that began  by saying that you never know when you are well off. I always saw something negative in being called a gourmet, but now that they use the word foodie, that must be something even worse. I am fascinated by food history, food anthropology, food sociology. Food is a favorite device of mine for illuminating characters in my fiction writing. I love recipes as artifacts for the clues to society and history they hold. But I never actually use recipes when I am cooking.  Discussions of food that are truly about nothing but food strike me as profoundly boring. I am the worst person to ask for a restaurant tip because I don't think about it very much. And I find it bad manners to criticize food at the table. So you'll have to decide whether or not I am a foodie. 

JC: Are you looking forward to anything in particular at the Festival of Books this year?

MK: There is always someone I admire that I have never heard before, and lots of old friends, and the reassuring sight of thousands who seem passionate about books.

JC: Is there anything you plan to do in Los Angeles while you're here, apart from the Festival of Books?

MK: I wish I had time to see an old friend or two as I speedily pass through. 

Tickets for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books panels will be available through Eventbrite beginning Sunday, April 24, at 9 a.m. Look in Sunday's paper for a pullout print schedule of the event.


Coming to the Festival of Books: Laura Lippman

Coming to the Festival of Books: Jonathan Evison

The L.A. Times Festival of Books moves to USC

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Mark Kurlansky with his daughter and a fish. Credit: Workman Publishing

'Game of Thrones' food trucks heading to L.A. and N.Y.

Gentlemen, start your squab! George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels are not only coming to HBO, as the series "Game of Thrones." They're coming to a food truck near you. And with TV food mensch Tom Colicchio behind the menu, it sounds entirely delicious.

The "Game of Thrones" food truck menu includes squab (known commonly as pigeon) cooked in sweet wine and grape juice seved with corn fritters. "We didn't want to do the obvious, didn't want to do beef," Colicchio says. In addition to squab, the food trucks will be serving rabbit and a head cheese dish -- providing ample "A Song of Ice and Fire" authenticity. The menu also includes a terrifically creepy looking black fish stew, which includes shrimp, scallops and lobster. So: yum.

The dishes are geared for the different regions described in the novels. "These are things that are right out of the book," Colicchio says. "Every night we'll have lemon cakes out on the truck." (I haven't yet read them: Is lemon cake a big deal?)

Apparently, food trucks aren't the ideal vehicle for the cooking styles of the Middle Ages. "If I really could do it, I would have whole goats roasting on a spit," Colicchio says. But a roasted goat and spit -- in a truck, just too awkward.

HBO's series begins April 17; the food trucks are hitting the streets in advance. They will be found in New York from March 28 to April 1, and in Los Angeles from April 4 to April 8. Each night, they will have just 300 servings of the "Game of Thrones" food. To find them, follow Game of Thrones on Twitter.


Lit geeks and 'Game of Thrones'

Pol: Read it or watch it? HBO's Game of Thrones

-- Carolyn Kellogg

The crazy proliferation of March Madness book contests


First there was the NCAA's March Madness, a monthlong series of battles among college basketball teams. They were put in brackets, with winners facing off against winners, right up until a final championship game.

Picking up on the enthusiasm for the basketball tournament and applying it entirely inappropriately to literature, the website the Morning News launched the Tournament of Books in 2005. Each year, the contest has an array of literary judges, color commentary from Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, and one book that makes an interesting, teetering path to victory.

In 2007, Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day" was eliminated from the Tournament of Books by New Yorker staffer Sasha Frere-Jones, who decided it was just too big. "I am never going to read a novel that is more than 1,000 pages long. A thousand? Sure -- I've got lifetimes to throw away," he wrote. "But 1,001 is a dealbreaker." (In the end, Frere-Jones managed to read the first 300 pages of "Against the Day" before voting it down.) They key here is the transparency -- in contrast to traditional book award contests, in which deliberations are conducted behind closed doors, the Tournament of Books asks each writer to explain their read on the books and decision about the winner.

The whole project is, clearly, meant to be taken in fun. But was it meant to be simply taken? Because it has been.

Continue reading »

Who is the true Urban Homesteader (TM)?

For more than a decade, the Dervaes family of Pasadena has labored to turn their one-fifth-acre lot into a self-sufficient, sustainable farm. When the Los Angeles Times checked in with them in 2007, they were producing much of their own power, although they hadn't gone entirely off the grid yet. There were still some foodstuffs they'd buy, but they'd regularly sell produce and duck eggs to local restaurants.

"People thought, and I did too, that we couldn't make it on such a small piece of land," patriarch Jules Dervaes told The Times. But he decided "we're going to grow as much as we can on this property for a living. I was going to live off this come hell or high water."

In the years that Dervaes has been doing his urban gardening thing, the ideas and practices have become widely popular. Our own Susan Carpenter tried a two-year experiment in eco-living, discovering what worked (gray water reuse) and some hard lessons (backyard chickens make easy prey, even in the city). Not surprisingly, bookstores now stock a plethora of memoirs, guides and how-to books that address the project of city folk living sustainably.

This is complicated by the fact that in October 2010, Dervaes trademarked the phrases Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading. According to the O.C. Weekly, he recently has been sending out cease-and-desist letters to those using the phrase, including KCRW's radio show "Good Food" (which had used it in a blog post) and the Santa Monica Public Library, which held a free event on the topic.

One book has gotten caught up in Dervaes' campaign: "The Urban Homestead" by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. The authors, who also live here in L.A., published the book in 2008 and maintain a blog with tips and chronicles of their sustainable-living efforts. Apparently the recipients of one of Dervaes' letters, they have, according to BoingBoing, found legal representation with the Electronic Freedom Foundation. (They did not respond to request for comment. It's OK: They're probably in the yard, mulching).

When the book came out, Knutzen spoke to the L.A. Times. Back then, we asked him about the now-trademarked term Urban Homestead. Knutzen explained:

It's a phrase that's been floating around since the '70s.  That's the earliest I've seen a reference to an "Urban Homestead." The magazine Mother Earth News, a classic resource for back-to-the-land hippies, and still a wonderful resource, had a bunch of stories in the 1970s that used the expression "Urban Homestead."

There's also a classic example in Berkeley from the early 1970s that was an experiment in self-reliant living in the city called the Integral Urban House. It was a very ambitious project based in Berkeley aimed at setting up a self-reliant urban household. For instance, they had fish ponds with bee hives over the fish ponds. The dead bees would fall into the ponds, providing food for the fish. The goal was to apply principles of the back-to-the-land movement to living in the city.

Interestingly, Knutzen expressed some dissatisfaction with his book's title, saying, "the word homestead suggests a sort of Little House on the Prairie, completely self-sufficient life.  Our focus isn't on that kind of extreme living but on small things that anyone can do."

Which probably did not include getting involved in legal tusslings over sustainable-living phraseology.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: At top left, Jules Dervaes in 2007. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

When coffee meets Pynchon

TrysterocoffeeThis morning, I had my coffee with Thomas Pynchon -- well, sort of. I was drinking my first cup of Trystero Coffee, named for the conspiracy threaded through Pynchon's book "The Crying of Lot 49."

Based in Los Angeles, Trystero Coffee is a microroaster so small that it says it roasts in "nano batches."

The connection between coffee and Pynchon's book isn't obvious at first. There is some coffee drinking in "The Crying of Lot 49," but it's not the high-end, sensual experience today's coffee drinkers expect. In the book, protagonist Oedipa Maas drinks "thick lukewarm coffee from a clay pot" with revolutionary Jesus Arrabal. Later, when the psychiatrist Dr. Hilarius is threatening people with a gun, his assistant Helga Blamm burns her mouth on instant. Instant?

What Trystero Coffee does have in common with Pynchon's book is a muted post-horn logo, and its just-under-the-radar presence. There is no Trystero Coffee storefont or advertising campaign. To discover its website, you have to go looking -- or it's possible you'll stumble across its Facebook page, where Trystero's owners post information about beans and batches (upcoming: new beans from Papau New Guinea and Ethiopia).

The roaster accepts orders via e-mail, with buyers being able to pick their beans and roasting level. Trystero delivers -- for free -- to downtown Los Angeles and select parts of the city. It also ships via e-mail.

Is it good? I'd tell you, but I might just have to run around the block first.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Trystero Coffee. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

Jamie Oliver, holiday bestseller

Jamieoliver_wv Jamie Oliver, the energetic British chef who won over Americans -- and picked up an Emmy -- with his television show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" had the bestselling book in Britain in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

From Dec. 15  to Dec. 22, "Jamie's 30 Minute Meals" sold just shy of 150,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan.

The BBC reports that the cookbook is Oliver's third to top the holiday bestseller list, after "Jamie's Italy" in 2005 and "Happy Days with the Naked Chef" in 2001.

But "Jamie's 30 Minute Meals" has moved past those earlier books in popularity. Earlier this month, it became Britain's fastest-selling nonfiction book ever.

"It's obviously a very zeitgeist book, as people like quick and easy cooking," Philip Stone of industry magazine The Bookseller told the Daily Mail. "Sales have been absolutely huge considering the TV series has now finished, and it's certainly not cheap in these uncertain economic times."

"Jamie's 30 Minute Meals" costs about $40 and has now sold more than 1 million copies. It's been on sale in Britain since September, but is not yet available in the U.S.

When it does reach our shores, will it sell as well?

Oliver has at least one leg up. He may not be on television in Britain, but his American reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," which broadcast in spring 2010 and showed him trying to change eating habits in Huntington, W.Va., won the Emmy for outstanding reality program. In September, ABC announced that it will broadcast a second six-episode season -- although he won't be taking on the lunch ladies of the LAUSD., it may be set here in Los Angeles.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jamie Oliver in West Virginia during the filming of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." Credit: ABC

In our pages: 13 cookbooks for the gifting

Heartoftheartichoke Today's food section features cookbooks that are great for the gifting. That's not just because the food writers are thinking about cookbooks -- some say that as many as 75% of cookbooks published each year come out in the months before the winter holidays.

The cuisines are all over the map, literally, from Norway to India to Mexico. And they're not just regional: One book is devoted to meat, another to pie. The list of 13 great cookbooks to give as gifts is:

"Heart of the Artichoke," by David Tanis
"One Big Table," by Molly O'Neill
"My Calabria," by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher
"Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine" by René Redzepi, photographs by Ditte Isager
"Southern Pies" by Nancie McDermott
"The Lost Art of Real Cooking" by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger
"Primal Cuts" by Marissa Guggiana
Tartine Bread," by Chad Robertson
"Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan
"Bake!" by Nick Malgieri
"At Home With Madhur Jaffrey" by Madhur Jaffrey
"My Sweet Mexico" by Fany Gerson
"Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen" by Ethan Stowell and Leslie Miller

Read more about each of the cookbooks here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


Sterling's new book and gelatin salads from 'Mad Men' [Updated]


Roger Sterling's book "Sterling's Gold: Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Man," is coming to a real bookstore, it was announced Tuesday. The book was a part of the recently concluded fourth season of the show "Mad Men."

The fact that Sterling is a fictional character portrayed by the Emmy-nominated John Slattery was not an obstacle to publisher Grove/Atlantic (although the rights were a bit tricky). Slattery, Grove/Atlantic chief Morgan Entrekin says, "gets all the good lines."

Those lines include such classics as "Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face" and "When God closes a door, he opens a dress."

And that's pretty much what you'll find in the book -- Sterling's choice lines from the show in a slim 176 pages. The book isn't a memoir, Sterling's silver-plated past won't be explored. The introduction, penned in fact by show creator Matt Weiner, explains: "I'm not a writer. On some level, that's a point of pride because it steered me away from the cliche of autobiography. I had no desire to waste your and my time trying to turn a list of events into a campaign of triumph."

Madmen_illustrated It's interesting that a show as textured and detailed as "Mad Men" goes for such a light treatment. Couldn't we have been as excited about a Roger Sterling memoir as a collection of Roger Sterling bon mots? Does it mean that we collectively can't believe that TV watchers aren't readers, or that readers aren't TV watchers? Or is it simply that it takes a lot of time to write a book -- more time than the TV writers and publishers could find?

Not that there's anything wrong with a lighthearted TV tie-in, especially one as charming as "Mad Men: The Illustrated World," which arrived in my office not quite in time to catch the end of the television season and is in stores now. Created by illustrator Dyna Moe (get it?) it's an official "Mad Men" book, with illustrated, half-silly riffs on midcentury office life, hairstyles, interior design and fashion. Can you say Joan Harris paper doll? I knew you could.

"Mad Men: The Illustrated World" crosses the line from fiction into reality too, but in a more recognizable way. It includes stories from actor Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) on how he learned to tie a bow tie and Bryan Batt (Salvatore Romano) on getting the perfect '60s-era couch.

It also has some helpful hints: how to take the commuter train home from New York City, how to pick up a stewardess, and how to throw an election-night party. There are several recipes -- including lots and lots and lots of cocktail recipes -- and sometimes the strangeness of the food calls for plenty of liquor.

For example, if you're hoping to throw a party Tuesday to watch the 2010 election returns, you could celebrate 1964 style with this:

Vienna Sausages with Dipping Sauce

1 cup red currant jelly
1 cup yellow mustard
1 5-ounce can Vienna sausages

In a saucepan on low heat, stir together jelly and mustard until the mix is a smooth consistency. It's your choice to heat the sausages or serve cold, but always serve dipping sauce warm.

[For the record at 4:20 p.m., Oct 28: An earlier version of this post said Tuesday's election returns will be for 2008. ]

 Astonishingly, I have eaten this dish, recently (with sausages that were shrink-wrapped, not canned) and -- yes -- served it to guests. Some of whom even knew what the ingredients were. Everyone  agreed: It's kind of good. Honestly. It's enough to make me want to try the Steak Diane or Peas with Bacon -- if not Betty Draper's Garden Jewels Loaf gelatin salad.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Slattery as Roger Sterling in "Mad Men." Credit: AMC / Associated Press

10/10/10: The 10 best 'Best of' books of 2010

At the end of the calendar year, bookstores are swamped with anthologies proclaiming the "best of" writing of the year. There is, apparently, a lot of really good writing: above is just a sample of the galleys and paperbacks that came to the office. We sorted through the stacks to come up with the definitive list: the 10 Best "Best of" books of 2010.

The Best American Short Stories 2010 (Mariner Books), edited by Richard Russo. Russo writes of the pleasure and pain of his task: “Narrowing the roughly 250 stories I read to the final 20 felt like some sort of literary waterboarding.” The big names -- The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, the Atlantic, Tin House -- supply the writers who make the cut: Charles Baxter, Jennifer Egan, Ron Rash, Kevin Moffett, Steve Almond, Joshua Ferris, Lauren Groff, Wells Tower, Tea Obreht and Jim Shepherd and more.

Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive), edited by Aleksander Hemon. Now in its second year, this anthology is a bigger challenge than the others: the pieces, excerpts and complete stories are selected because they’ve never before appeared in America; most have to be translated. “Europe” is defined broadly, to include England -- and Booker-prize winning Hilary Mantel -- and reaches as far as Turkey. There are stories from Poland, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Ireland, Begium (both French and Flemish) Latvia, Serbo-Croatia, Albania, Austria, Belarus and more.

Best Food Writing 2010 (Da Capo Press), edited by Holly Hughes. Includes paeans to sardines, high-end  restaurants in Los Angeles, New York’s Russ & Daughters deli, homemade bread, ramen, pit-barbecued pig, locavorism. There is a short piece from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book about his choice to eat vegetarian after the birth of his son. L.A. foodies should be especially pleased; our city is a bit overrepresented. And, yes, Jonathan Gold, writing about Antojitos Carmen, the delicious East L.A. eatery that inverted the trend and went from foodcart to storefront.

The Best American Comics 2010 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), edited by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman lays bare the difficulties in choosing the best, his troubles with the way the year is defined and his frustration at things that have been left out of previous editions -- and then delivers a tremendous selection of graphic novel excerpts and comics. This anthology includes work by Chris Ware, Theo Ellsworth, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Peter Bagge, R. Crumb, Lilli Carre, David Mazzucchelli and Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel, and comes in a substantial, oversized hardcover.

The Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press), edited by Julian Dibble. Includes Evan Ratliff’s “Vanish,” his chronicle of trying to go off the grid and travel stay unfindable for Wired; Clay Shirkey on the future (or not) of newspapers;  a New Yorker piece on making cheap, functional, clean-burning stoves for the developing world; Kevin Kelly on technophilia and a tweet from an astronaut orbiting in the space station.

The Best American Poetry 2010 (Scribner Poetry), edited by Amy Gerstler. Gerstler, who has contributed to The Times, writes in her introduction, “I badly want this anthology to be read not only by poetry fans, but also by famished souls who never dreamed they’d admire any text that called itself a poem.” There are poems from U.S. poet laureate W. S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, John Ashberry, Louise Gluck, John Updike, Dennis Cooper, Charles Simic, Derek Walcott, Adrienne Rich, J.E. Wei, Lynn Emanuel, Billy Collins and Terrance Hayes.

The Best Music Writing 2010
(Da Capo Press), edited by The Times’ Ann Powers. Includes John Kun on Mexican regional bands and the cellphone economy; Lola Ogunnaike on MC Dizzy Drake for Vibe; Timothy Quirk, from the defunct band Too Much Joy, writing on his website “My Hilarious Warner Bros. Royalty Statement”; Alex Ross on Marian Anderson; Greg Tate on Michael Jackson; and, ironically, Christopher Weingarten’s brilliant, profane presentation on the death of music criticism.

The Best of the Web 2010 (Dzanc Books), edited by Kathy Fish. “A man with such loneliness repels even the moon’s face in water,” from a story by Terese Svoboda, is a sentence Fish cites to show that beautiful and arresting writing can appear anywhere. This anthology celebrates the fiction and nonfiction which appears online, in smaller, adventurous publications like failbetter, >killauthor, Juked, storySouth, the Rumpus and Everyday Genius, with a healthy helping from the online outlets of literary journals.

The Best American Travel Writing 2010 (Mariner Books), edited by Bill Buford. This is travel writing imbued with a sense of the personal: Henry Alford’s failed pickup in Istanbul; Ted Genoways’ bat-seeking expedition in Surinam with his naturalist father. From National Geographic, the New Yorker, Outside, plus the unexpected (the Believer, Lapham’s Quarterly). Notable contributors include Susan Orlean, David Sedaris, Christopher Hitchens, Tom Bissell, George Packer and Ian Frazier.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 (Mariner Press), edited by Dave Eggers with a student committee from the 826 centers. The anthology includes stories from major, often funny writers -- Sherman Alexie, Etgar Keret, George Saunders -- and also lists, which are non-narrative but tell a kind of story. Best American Gun Magazine Headlines, Best American Sentences on Page 50 of Books Published in 2009, Best New Patents, Best Farm Names -- they point to the silliness of best-of list-making while showing how much fun the process can be.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

MORE 10/10/10

10commandments Photos: Ten films with '10' in the title

Culture Monster: Ten masterpieces for the decaphilic

Hero Complex: The Top 10 sidekicks of all-time

Photos: Ten stars by the age of 10

24 Frames: The 10 best movies of 2010 (so far) that you might have missed

Show Tracker: TV's top 10 moments of the first 10 months of 2010

Pop & Hiss: Ten great songs about drinking (and five others about sobering up)

Ministry of Gossip: Celebrity scandals from a spicy year so far


Photo credit: Carolyn Kellogg

Ruth Reichl gets a book deal

Ruth Reichl, who was editor of Gourmet Magazine when it closed last October, has secured a new book deal with Random House, our sibling blog Daily Dish reports.

Apparently, Reichl, already a bestselling author, has contracted for three books, two of which will be nonfiction, including “The Tao of Ruth,” which she says was suggested in an Anthony Bourdain story.... The other will be the latest installment in her memoirs, covering the years at Gourmet. Food gossip fans are already salivating. In addition, there are plans for her first novel, “Delicious.”

Reichl's fourth book, "Not Becoming My Mother," part meditation, part memoir, was published in 2009. Our reviewer Jonathan Kirsch found it "open-hearted, gracious and endearing."

-- Carolyn Kellogg



Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Explore Bestsellers Lists





Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.