The Week in Books 2010, No. 3

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry is a culinary school memoir with an exceptionally clever title. Seriously, how can you not want to read this book with a title like that? The book itself covers the author’s gamble in taking time out from her career to move to Paris with her new boyfriend to pursue her dream of attending Le Cordon Bleu. I really enjoyed the parts about the culinary school experience, in part because even if I took it into my head to go to Le Cordon Bleu I would fail out on the first day because I am the world’s slowest food chopper. The students in the book were given two hours to turn out things like Meat Stuffed With More Meat Stuffed With Foie Gras Wrapped in Puff Pastry Drizzled with Difficult Creamy Buttery Duck Fat Sauce. I would have spent the entire two hours chopping the onion. My knives aren’t sharp either, but the silver lining to dull knives is that I still possess all my fingers in their entirety.

But back to the book: the culinary school part was fascinating, the descriptions of expat life in Paris were interesting, and the the parts about the bizzarre houseguests the author hosted were funny, but I felt like the love life aspects were kind of treacly and heavy handed. The author was trying to draw parallels between the risk of leaving a career for a dream and the risk of starting a new relationship, but often I felt like she was beating the reader over the head with the parallels. I also thought that she tried too hard to create tension in her chapters by tossing in episodes such as the couple going out and OH NO there are other pretty girls there and WILL HE STILL LIKE HER BEST??????? I fully believe that those type of things did actually happen, but they didn’t add much to the book. I mean, I’ve been there in that he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not-AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! phase of a relationship, but reading about it makes it seem even more ridiculous than it actually is in real life. The romance part is not a huge part of the book, but it annoyed me throughout. Thankfully the culinary school descriptions were compelling so I still enjoyed reading the book, silly parts notwithstanding.

I should also note that each chapter ends with a recipe, in case you want to try your hand at Le Cordon Bleu style cookery.

Overall I think the book is worth reading if you enjoy cooking, or like to read about cooking, or like to read about people taking interesting leaps with their lives around their 30th year or so.
If you have 30 minutes to spare and a passing interest in nutrition you might enjoy Michael Pollan’s latest book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. This is probably the shortest book you’ve read since you were a first grader, but it does have interesting ways to remeber how to eat in a healthy way. If you need or want the research Pollan did to arrive at these rules, you would be better off reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Although there is quite a bit of overlap between Food Rules and Pollan’s previous two books, there is some new food for thought (heh heh). Some of my favorite rules are:

  • Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
  • It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
  • Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it (this would be impossible for me with restless toddlers, as I am a slow cook, but it’s a good thought!)
  • Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.

I also thought Pollan did a good job pointing out that an organic diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. Organic corn syrup is still corn syrup, organic sugary cereal is still sugary cereal, and organic processed convenience food is still processed convenience food. In many ways this book made me feel better about the way we eat. Although we don’t eat much of the Western diet for budgetary reasons primarily, it’s nice to know that our usual fare of beans and legumes with meat only rarely or as a condiment, eating lots of seasonal produce, eating mostly whole natural foods and making nearly everything from scratch is also a healthy way to eat.

One thought on “The Week in Books 2010, No. 3

  1. The first one has me hooked, food and Paris? Oh yeah.

    The second – thanks for the rec on reading In Defense instead. Just requested that from the lib.

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