FUDS: A Complete Encyclofoodia by Alfredo & Antonio Mizretti is neither for the weak of stomach nor the humorless. Let’s start with the fact it’s actually written by Kelly Hudson, Dan Klein and Arthur Meyer. This trio has taken the mystique and the occasional arrogance often associated with haute cuisine out of the kitchen and onto the equivalent of a culinary comedy stage.
The authors are irreverent, silly and occasionally gross in the manner of pre-adolescents. They’re also fun and creative. Although the book is “Dedicated to Food,” it could easily be earmarked for those who love food and don’t mind heavy-handed metaphorical flavoring.
The Mizretti personas assumed by the true authors are twin brothers who grew up in Denver eating Mama Mizretti’s homemade specialties, which, according to Alfredo and Antonio “was awful.” Eventually, they open a restaurant, FUDS, in Brooklyn with only three items on the menu.
The content is ridiculous, but for anyone interested in food, and not so full of him or herself that a good laugh can’t be appreciated, it’s entertaining.
The book is comprised of several chapters related to the Mizrettis’ background, food basics a la FUDS, satirical descriptions of kitchen tools and several chapters of recipes – the kind made up at summer camp or on a college campus. Some are, frankly, gross. All are absurd.
A little FUDS go a long way. Its 160 pages, of which many are illustrations, is just about the right length. Of course, it also lends itself to return reads.
FUDS: A Complete Encyclofoodia from Tickling Shrimp to Not Dying in a Restaurant
Four Bookmarks (0 plates)
If you remember 1984 and Animal Farm from high school or college reading requirements, The Circle by Dave Eggers will sound familiar. It’s just that Eggers, who has nothing on George Orwell, offers a contemporary setting in a Googlesque-complex in Northern California. The concepts of Big Brother and following the pack are nearly the same.
Mae, short for Maybelline, has just been hired by the prestigious organization thanks to Annie, beloved by her work colleagues and Mae’s former college roommate. Landing a position not only gets Mae out of a dead-end job, it provides an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of social change.
The Circle, the company’s name, thrives on numbers in the form of clicks, responses to surveys, extracurricular activities and tracking followers that makes Twitter and Facebook look like make-believe social media.
Mae’s initial job is in customer service. Her employers, from lower management to the triumvirate who founded the Circle, manipulate through passive-aggression and let the numbers speak for themselves: the higher the percentage or score, the better – no matter at what cost.
The trouble is that Mae is not all that likeable. Annie is far more interesting, but it turns out that her role is not much than that of a door opener. A former boyfriend, Mercer, provides a dissenting voice, but he’s one-dimensional with little chance of being heard.
Privacy, transparency, friendship and trust are all addressed here. While these are important themes, the characters are not strong enough to bear their weight.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
On one side of Bombo Foods is a display case with fresh fish on ice. On the other is a small seating area looking directly into the kitchen of this food stall in Grand Central Market. Half a dozen stools are separated from the cooking area by a small counter, glass and a row of steam kettles.
Each time I visit the market, there’s a huge line for Egg Slut, another food stall. I haven’t wanted to wait, so I don’t know what the allure is, but I loved having a seat at Bombo, with my back to the line and my eyes on chef Mark Peel and his crew preparing food. At one point, Peel leaned over the glass to ask how everything tasted. I had food in my mouth, so I nodded with an enthusiastic thumbs up.
I opted not to have fish, but instead ordered fried chicken with steak fries. Fresh herbs augmented the impressively moist chicken beneath its crispy exterior. The fries were fine, and I liked the tart beet and cucumber salad, which, because of its size, was merely the suggestion of a side dish.
The steam kettles are attention grabbers. One of the cooks explained that steam is shot into the kettles from an opening in the bottom with no liquid added. These are widely used on the East coast.
I already know what I want on my next visits – of which I hope there will be many: the mussels, the short ribs, the clams, the ….
Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and I’m not quite sure why. Words like thrilling and unpredictable are used to describe it. I thought it was just OK; I finished it, but its grip was weak. Perhaps if I had cared more about the characters I’d have been more invested in the outcome.
The story is told from the viewpoints of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Rachel’s is the primary version conveyed. This title character’s life is dismal. She’s recently divorced and is an alcoholic. It’s no surprise these elements lead to a series of bad choices. It’s from Rachel’s vantage point on the daily commuter train that she imagines an idyllic life for the couple she names Jess and Jason. Then she sees something, or thinks she does.
Interspersed with Rachel’s account, thrown into question because of her drinking and poor emotional state, is Megan’s. She’s a tougher personality and cheats on her husband, Scott. When she goes missing, he’s the prime suspect.
Anna is married to Tom, who just happens to be Rachel’s ex. Although Anna is now living the life Rachel once had, she’s disdainful of Rachel. Anna and Tom live a few doors down from Megan and Scott.
The voices of the three women are distinct only by the experiences they share. Megan is definitely the most mysterious. Rachel’s self-pity and lack of self-control, while vividly described, make her unreliable and pathetic. In this regard, Hawkins’s writing is successful.
The Girl on the Train
Riverhead Books, 2015
Although the reason for gathering was sad, the lunch hosted by my cousins at El Cholo was, in fact, a celebration of my aunt’s life. I can’t help but think she was smiling, humming under her breath and enjoying her signature drink: a cold bottle of Coors while many of us enjoyed margaritas.
The menu features traditional Mexican fare ranging from tacos to carnitas and several creative variations. I was intrigued by the Green Corn Tamales. This is considered the restaurant’s signature dish. Until recently, it was only available from May to October. The tamales are now available year round. Fresh green corn is cut off the cob, which is mixed with the corn masa. The result is a slightly sweet corn meal that coats the corn husks and contrasts with the sharp cheddar cheese and green chile that’s wrapped inside, tied together and steamed. The standard rice and beans round out the plate.
An interesting thing about the El Cholo menu is that many dishes are identified by the year they were added to the restaurant’s repertoire. Those tamales appeared when the first El Cholo opened in 1923. The Sonora Style Enchilada is also a 1923 vintage recipe. This features layered chicken enchiladas topped with a puffy fried egg drizzled with sour cream. It’s not the most attractive plating, but given its longevity on the menu, it must have more personality than looks.
And though it was late in the meal, we all raised our glasses to my aunt.
8200 E. Santa Ana Canyon Rd.
Anaheim Hills, Calif.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Peter Heller’s The Painter. That was shortly after Station Eleven. While I enjoyed both books, I thought I’d wait before starting another work by Heller, and I certainly had no intention of being drawn into another novel about a post-apocalyptic world. Then I heard Heller talk. He shared his experiences as a freelance writer and told how he came to write fiction. He read some from The Painter and The Dog Stars. I really had no good excuse not to read the latter.
It takes a little time adjusting to Heller’s stream of consciousness style with no quotation marks and single word sentences. It’s a terse yet fitting approach for Hig, a pilot who’s survived a flu pandemic, to tell his story. He lives with his dog, Jasper, and Bangley, a weapons-hoarder-ask-questions-later neighbor on an abandoned airfield northeast of Denver.
They must constantly be on alert from human predators. Hig is the least vigilant of the trio. What’s left of the world is not a friendly place. Yet, despite his best efforts, given the losses he’s faced, Hig is an optimist. A chance static-riddled radio transmission three years earlier from western Colorado has made him restless. Against Bangley’s better judgment, Hig needs to know what and, more importantly, who may still be out there.
His discovery is beautiful and gut-wrenching. Like Hig, the reader comes to appreciate Bangley. Although it hardly seems possible, as the story progresses Hig’s sensitivity and humanity gain greater significance.
The Dog Stars
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
Florence Gordon is a crotchety old woman. Actually, she’s not that old (75), and bitchy is a better description. Yet, this title character of Brian Morton’s novel is certainly likeable – not lovable, but fascinating. Hers is a forceful, no-nonsense personality. Although she’s a writer and considered an icon among feminists, she’s a poor communicator.
Sure, she’s written numerous essays, has plans to write her memoir and speaks her mind. The trouble is she doesn’t share what’s in her heart. Neither does anyone else in her family: her son, Daniel; his wife, Janine who adores Florence; nor their daughter, college-age daughter, Emily. This is a family of secrets. They hold tight to the things that should be shared with kin. Sadly, they spend a lot of time interpreting, often erroneously, one another’s actions.
Florence is put off by Janine’s adoration and seemingly disappointed by Daniel’s career choice: a cop. Still, Florence and Emily slowly start to build a relationship beyond something perfunctory. Emily helps her grandmother with some research. The latter is surprised to discover that her granddaughter is intelligent and perceptive.
The writing is terse, yet the characters and New York City setting are well-portrayed. Morton does a fine job, especially with the females, of inviting the reader to see what’s inside the characters’ heads. An absent character, Janine and Daniel’s son, is alluded to as a talker. Perhaps he could have gotten Florence to open up. That would have made for a completely different, but not necessarily better, story.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014