The Week in Books 2009, No. 39

Having lived for two years in Korea, and then having had the good fortune of a Korean-American roommate for several years in college, I often find myself longing mightily for Korean food. Recently our newspaper had an article about a restaurant that is now doing some Korean food and a blurb for a cookbook, The Korean Table: From Barbecue to Bibimbap 100 Easy-To-Prepare Recipes. Naturally I checked it out of the library.

Apart from the obligatory bulgogi and bibimbap recipes, there were not many other things I felt like making in the book, mainly because by “easy-to-prepare” evidently the authors of this cookbook meant “easy-to-prepare if you make a bunch of labor-intensive sauces and things in advance using ingredients you most definitely do not currently have in your pantry like a very specific kind of red pepper and a very specific type of toasted sesame seeds.”

I was hoping to find a recipe for this really delicious dish that involves rice sticks and an orange colored sauce, and for all the little dishes of yummy things that come alongside Korean food. Sadly, I think the recipe for those items is “if you are craving Korean food, go to a restaurant and ORDER KOREAN FOOD YOU CRAZY FOOL!” Sigh.

After reading a particularly thought-provoking article in World Magazine this summer about deaf culture, I decided to learn more by reading Deaf in America, a book the article recommended. I have to admit that I had very little knowledge of deafness prior to reading the article and book, and I think it was valuable to take the time to understand more about the Deaf. The book draws a distinction between the physical condition of being deaf and the social condition of being Deaf (as in part of the culture and speaking the language). I learned a lot about the linguistics of sign language and was particularly interested in the ways in which ASL is it’s own language, not just signs that directly correspond to spoken English, and how there is a discernible difference between native signers and those who learn later in life, much like accented speech marks a person as a non-native speaker of the language. Deaf in America is a very interesting book, and I would recommend it to you if you’re unfamiliar with the Deaf or have a passing curiosity about how other people live and think.

The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmakingis an excellent and comprehensive guide to learning or perfecting your skills at baking whole grain breads. From detailed instructions for a beginner loaf of whole wheat bread to recipes for Indian breads, sprouted grain loaves and gluten-free baking, this book is hands down the best book on bread I’ve ever come across. The book features page after page of troubleshooting ideas, explanations of what is going on in each step, and a conversational style that puts the reader at ease and inspires confidence. I only wish I had found this book during the year and a half that I tried (and usually failed) to make good bread out of a temperamental sourdough starter. I learned a lot from reading through the book, and I think I’ll get even more from it as I start to try out the recipes.

If you have an interest in baking your own bread, or if you bake bread but aren’t yet an expert at it or are just interested in getting even better, this book would be a great resource for you. The author does not require or recommend very many additives (which I find daunting and off-putting in many bread treatises) but does give detailed explanations for why she recommends certain types of flours, differences between store-bought and fresh-ground flours, and the like. I heartily recommend this book and wish you happy baking!

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