Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti
My rating: 4/5 cats
the ratio of text-to-recipes in this book skews strongly towards the recipe side of things – about 2-3 pages of writing per recipe – which is a shame because like Jenny Lawson and Samantha Ellis and Sarah Hepola, i love this woman’s voice and enthusiasm, and she is someone i would love to hang out with, please!
she loves books and she loves food, and her trajectory from smalltown new england booknerd to NYU and big city/big apple dweller is like a younger and much more successful version of me.
this book is the author’s love letter to books through cooking. in How To Be a Heroine, ellis revisited all her childhood favorites, reassessing the heroines contained therein to see what she could learn from them as an adult. in this book, the author, a lifelong foodie who is now in the biz herself, goes back to her childhood favorites with a focus on all the food the characters ate and replicates them in her own kitchen, for better or worse.
it is a delightful journey through fifty different texts. FIFTY!! and many of them are books not even necessarily known for their food-bits. i mean, who remembers the food in Gone Girl?? or In the Woods?? or The Secret History?? cara nicoletti, that’s who! she remembers the brown butter crepes, the chocolate-covered digestive biscuits, the wine-braised leg of lamb with wild mushrooms.
unlike heroine, i’ve actually read most of the books she covers – a whopping 31/50! (i promise i will read Anna Karenina someday, i promise. but not because of the oysters and cucumber mignonette)
i absolutely do remember the chowder scene from Moby-Dick; or, The Whale – it’s probably the best part of that overrated book. and with books like Down and Out in Paris and London and The Silence of the Lambs, food is integral to the story itself. and although she sometimes changes certain components of the dish (for example, she wusses out and uses chicken livers instead of human ones in her The Silence of the Lambs-inspired crostini with fava beans and chicken liver mousses), they remain true to the spirit of the food in the book.
the book is divided into the segments of “childhood”, “adolescence and college years”, and “adulthood,” as she chronicles her reading past with personal anecdotes about the book’s importance to her life at the time, and the nostalgia the creation of these recipes instilled in her.
she makes some great points and realizations along the way. she relates a comical misunderstanding anecdote about being on a first date with a boy she fancied, and running right out afterwards to buy the book he claimed was “full of adventure and friendship and humor” and “changed [his] entire view of what it means to be a man.” the book?? The Road. and the book horrified her by page fifty and she had to abandon it, only to visit his apartment a few days later to see a STACK of MULTIPLE EDITIONS of On the Road, complete with the handwritten notes and underlines of an enamored reader.
And while I can chalk up forgetting the name of your favorite novel to first-date jitters, allowing Jack Kerouac to define for you what it means to be a man is, for me, an issue. That dinner was our last.
BOOM! drop that mic!
this made me want to pick up Where the Red Fern Grows again (for maybe my tenth reading), only this time – to read it while munching on skillet cornbread with honey butter.
and, while it’s far too much work for a lazy like myself, i long for her to be my friend so she can make me a nancy drew-inspired double chocolate walnut sundae. ‘cuz i’m not making ice cream AND candied walnuts AND chocolate fudge sauce for such a fleeting pleasure. and nota bene – if i make these brown butter chocolate chip cookies, i am NOT going to share it with a mouse. chris’ review taught me what happens when you give a cookie to one of those freeloaders.
if you wince at her selection of pea and bacon soup for Charlotte’s Web, know that she winced, too. but as an animal-loving butcher from a family of butchers, she comes to terms with the seeming contradiction, with help from the writings of fellow farmer and animal-lover E.B. White himself.
it’s a wonderful book for food- and book-lovers alike, and my only wish is that there had been more of her stories alongside the (delicious-sounding) recipes.