Book of the Month: Goat Song by Brad Kessler

Over the last few years I have found myself enjoying books written about food, but my favorites talk about the animals that produce food or who become the food we eat. Today I finished a book, Goat Song, my fabulous neighbor Alison lent me. It is a self acclaimed "short history of herding and the art of making cheese." And true to its book flap, I learned how a New York couple uprooted their lives to raise goats in Vermont and become cheese makers.

What I LOVED about this book was how it was written. Kessler entwined Jewish ancestry, Buddhism, Christianity, ancient history and his deep love of entomology into his treatise on goat rearing and cheese making. For example, he frequently pointed out similarities between cheese making and other things, such as the relation of the word for book (a tome) to a tomme, or wheel of cheese. He also chronicled a step by step comparison of the Passion of Christ with cheese making.

I think what made this book so powerful were all the parallels drawn between working the earth, the art of cheese making and the stories of historical animal tending through the ages. I was drawn in to the history and richness described.

In one chapter, Kessler is concerned about coyotes nearby and the impact they could have on his herd. I learned that female coyotes can decide how many cubs to bear when they mate and all can literally follow in each others tracks leaving only set of prints. Brilliant animals and they way he scared them away...inspired. He and his dog Lola would find fresh scat and both "mark" it. The coyotes took the hint and beat it.

Not only will you learn about coyotes but quite a bit about goats. In fact, much more than you probably ever wanted to know...some of which will be burned into my brain forever. Suffice it to say that male goats are just absolutely disgusting.

The book was full of sage sayings interwoven through, my favorite by Basho: "what is important is to keep mind high in the world of mere understanding, then, returning to daily experience, seek there in the true and beautiful". Kessler's thoughts on this which resonate with me still "we live in exile, not from Paradise but from the present. How often do we dwell here?"

Meditative and full of introspection, it is Discovery Channel meets Eat, Pray, Love written in a Michael Pollen tone but with no judgment, simply a love of the land and the milk and cheese produced there. Unlike many sensationalistic or shocking books on food, Kesslar simply shares why he has chosen the life of a cheese maker and what it has taught him. I highly, highly recommend it.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

Over the summer, my neighbor Marsha lent me a fun foodie read called "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry" by Kathleen Flinn.This book chronicles the journey Kathleen makes from a classy desk job in England to her enrollment as a student at Le Cordon Bleu in France.

For anyone who wants to quit their job and go to cooking school (and there are many of us who have or would LOVE to), this is a great read for you

The title is attributed to a chef who monologues that a dull knife crushes more of the onion, releasing fumes that make you cry. Thus you should always use a sharp knife so you have fewer tears. Before reading this excerpt, I thought the title referred to fewer casualties in the kitchen. Easier to cut yourself with a dull knife and so on. Either way, the book is full of great cooking tips and enough juicy food descriptions to keep you perpetually hungry throughout the entire read.

Each student takes home the dish they prepared in school that day and one of my favorite stories is about a homeless man who plants himself on a corner outside Le Cordon Bleu in the hopes of getting hand-outs. Well-fed, enterprising man.

The book is more than just a dry summary of what it was like to attend Paris' famed school, Kathleen does a great job pulling you in so you actually care about the chefs, students, grades and her life there. As someone who attended a Le Cordon Bleu here in Minnesota, I enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between our programs. The book is also full of recipes from the school and fellow students. I have yet to try any, but if you do, let me know what you think!

I should also give a shout out to the movie Julie & Julia which I felt completely captured the heart and soul of the book. I particularly loved Merell Streep's portrayal of Julia Child. Definitely a food classic. Have you seen it, what did you think?

My Bookshelf

Over the years I have talked to many foodies and chefs and one thing many of us have in common is a love of cookbooks. I think my collection is somewhat smaller than most avid foodies, but you may be a better judge. I keep most of my cookbooks in my kitchen, and I undoubtedly have a dozen or so floating around the house or lent out.

On the right hand bar I have a link to my Amazon bookshelf where I have created a list of all the cookbooks I own as well as a wish list of books I would like to buy some day. I will try to keep this updated as I grow my collection (and my wish list).

Any I am missing from my collection...what are your favorite cookbooks?

Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide

While this blog has been silent over the last few months, I have been very active. My culinary adventures range from teaching classes to catering, and dining at new restaurants to eating up new cookbooks. I have even resolved to cook my way through one of the Mayo Clinic Cookbooks in the next year and to finish reading Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking by the end of the summer. With obviously lots to say, I am going to dig right in and try to get caught up.

Last week I enjoyed my 31st birthday and with it some lovely culinary gifts. This years' tributes were Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide from my husband and a really cool Microplane Cut Resistant Glove from my mother-in-law. Both are items I have been wanting to play around with for a while now. I have used the glove three times already over the past week: shucking oysters, slicing with a mandolin and zesting. As far as the cookbook, I have been fascinated with sous vide cooking (which I will explain more in detail below) since I first heard about it over a year ago.

So, what is sous vide, and what should you really know about it? Sous vide involves vacu-sealing food (sometimes with other ingredients such as a marinade) and then slowly cooking the items for long periods of time. A sous vide machine is used to help regulate the temperature of the water. One recipe locks a marinade and pork tenderloin together before slowly cooking them for 12 hours. Yes, 12 hours. As you can imagine cooking at a low temperature for an extended period of time results in very flavorful, perfectly cooked delicacies.

My first very rough attempt at sous vide (a year and a half ago) took the shape of marinating salmon in a ziploc bag that I then pulled the air out of (a straw works nicely for this). I placed the bag in a simmering pot of water for over an hour and monitored the temperature closely. The salmon was incredibly tender and has become one of my favorite dishes. Keller's book takes this style of cooking to a whole new level. And in the style of his previous books, will be a better addition to my coffee table collection than a practical addition to my kitchen's bookshelf.

As I dig into this new culinary tome, I am excited to share with you any recipes I do try or new techniques I learn. And, should you find yourself in my neighborhood, I am happy to peruse the pages with you over a cup of Joe.

While I am on the topic of fabulous foodie gifts, do you have any to share? What is the best foodie gift you have received or one on your list?