Comfort
My friend Carol over at FL at Home emailed to alert me that the Wall Street Journal had done a piece on a niche in the food blogging world—people who work through a single book and blog about it; good story if you haven’t already read.  The phenomenon began with the Julie/Julia blog, a brilliant idea ripe for the blogosphere (the book was less successful, I thought; for some reason the voice didn’t translate to the book form).  Carol brilliantly picked up this idea and ran with it and now there are numerous blog the book sites.  (She’s moved into video in the current post with her rendition of the French Laundry pig’s head.) No less than three people are doing the massive Gourmet Cookbook (and I thought Carol was whacky).  Is this a fad or will increasing numbers of books have their blog the book sight?  And what will Carol do when she’s finished with the FLC?  Regardless, I don’t think any of them will match the devotion of a teenager 30 years ago named Dan Hugelier who, determined to learn to cook, worked his way recipe by recipe through Escoffier: The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery.  Exactly 5012 recipes, each one numbered. Dan would become a certified master chef, a gifted teacher at Schoolcraft in Michigan, a skilled boyer and hunter.  The man can cook.

Speaking of learning to cook, my friend Russ Parsons, with whom I often disagree, occasionally with justification, has reviewed in the LATimes Bob Spitz’s midlife crisis/cooking/travel memoir, The Saucier’s Apprentice, not to be confused with Ray Sokolov’s classic cookbook, The Saucier’s Apprentice, and found it compelling even while he couldn’t stand the narrator.  It speaks to the difficulty of setting the right tone in personal writing of this sort, and suggests that we’re likely to see more learning-to-cook memoirs.  Parsons compares the author and the book to Buford and Heat, a terrific book, and the Spitz book suffers from comparison.  Again, it’s the voice issue.  Another book Parsons might have mentioned is a similar midlife crisis/cooking/travel memoir called The Sharper Your Knives, the Less You Cry, Kathleen Flinn’s journey from Seattle to and through the Cordon Bleu in Paris.  I, of course, like to think that my book sets the gold standard for such works, but I know the curmudgeon Parsons would take me to task on that as well.  I can report, however, that I’ve just finished an introduction to a new edition the publisher will bring out next year.  Pardus is lobbying hard for his mug on the cover.

Speaking of Pardus—if you’ve been wanting to meet the hero of Making of a Chef you can join him and others on a tour of India in August.  Sounds like a great trip for intrepid culinarians at a reasonable price.  He invites you at A Hunger Artist, and here’s the trip’s site.  Six (of 20) spots remain.

Last, the book on the top of this post, Comfort, just published, has nothing to do with food.  It’s just an incredible book about the loss of a child.  Ann Hood (I’ve mentioned her and her amazing Modern Love essay before and her novel The Knitting Circle, both on the same topic; on her site she discusses in a video how learning to knit saved her and paved the way for her being able to write again) is an extraordinary writer and Comfort is a raw raw raw account of losing her 5 year old daughter, Grace, in the blink of an eye.  One April morning she’s skipping off to school a perfect child in perfect health, and a few days later she’s gone, the victim of a virulent strep infection.  It’s a nightmare of unimaginable depth, one that no parent should have to endure, though many do.  In Walk On Water, a book in which parents lose children, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic named Marc told me that when he was a young boy, a friend of his died.  Thirty years later, he ran into the boy’s mother.  The mother began bawling right there.  It never goes away.  Ann Hood knows that as well as anyone else.  And the amazing thing that happens when you read her book, as with any true and truly told tragedy, is that there is something powerfully cathartic in experiencing such a story.  Evelyn Waugh noted that the power of tragedy is not in an artful account of horrible or catastrophic events in a malignant universe, true tragedy reconciles such events within a benevolent universe.  Somehow Ann has done this.  It’s a great book. (Here’s the uncommonly thoughtful review in the LATimes.)

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28 Wonderful responses to “Blogs and Books”

  • Russ Parsons

    Oh sure, bait me Ruhlman. You know I can’t resist. As I explained to you, this was a story about cooking and midlife crisis, something you are far too young and fair-haired to be concerned with. Well, at least you were back in your salad days when you wrote the book. Now I’m not so sure.

  • NoseToTailAtHome.com

    I’d like to think I’m very devoted, but Dan Hugelier is just on a whole other level. Maybe if I had figured out how much I love cooking at a younger age…

  • ruhlman

    russ, so now we get at the root of your discontent! You’re not going to write one of these books are you? Hope not. I’d rather hear your first hand account of Woodstock.

  • Bill Burge

    I too reviewed Saucier’s Apprentice for Sauce Magazine in St. Louis, and I’m happy to see that although my word count is small, and my wordsmithing not as strong (as Parsons), his conclusion was the same as mine: whiny midlife crisis.

    Just wait for Heirloom. That one truly is a good book.

  • Bob delGrosso

    I loved the way this post moved so breezily through so many subjects. Wow, if my best writing was one-tenth as concise and natural sounding as this, I’d retire.

    But WTF:

    “true tragedy reconciles such events within a benevolent universe”

    The only benevolence in the universe that I know anything about resides in bacon, scotch bottles and that stuff that keeps your opioid receptors busy while you are trying to decide whether or not to jump off the roof into the street. Or to put it another way, “distraction and forgetfulness.”

    Benevolent universe: You’ve got to be kidding.

    :-)

  • Feed me

    I have that Escoffier book. I can’t imagine doing every single recipe. If I had time and loads of money for groceries – why not? An awesome project – like the FLC project.

  • Helen

    I’ve never commented here before, although I’ve rss-ed you all to hell. I’m currently enjoying Charcuterie, thank you (and Brian) kindly.

    You ask: Is this a fad or will increasing numbers of books have their blog the book sight?

    I don’t think it’s a fad, I think it’s an easy place for people to start. If you say you’re going to start a food blog, where do you go with it? When do you stop blogging, if ever? Where do you come up with stuff when you have nothing to say? Blogging a book is a finite thing, and can be as structured or as unstructured as you like. It’s a nice safe place to start, and honestly, I’m glad for the sites. There’s a lot of interesting people to read these days.

  • Steven Morehead

    Gifted does not begin to describe Chef Hugelier!!! I have met many Chefs who are, but their ability to interact with students (especially at a community college) are no where near as refined. The ten weeks that I spent with him were some of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. When I think of what a gentleman should be I think of Chef Hugelier.

  • dan s.

    Thank you for the information about Comfort. As a parent of a child that has a life-threatening condition, I found Walk on Water a terrific resource to provide family members to better their knowledge. I look forward to reading Comfort and referring friends that, unfortunately, have had to deal with the loss of a child. Ann Hood sounds like an amazing woman, and to be able to write about her loss is something I am in awe of.

  • Bob

    I have an old “Snoopy” cookbook… about 25 colorful pages of baloney & cheese… pb&j, etc… I think that would be great to blog.

    I think for Escoffier a nice one would be to just do the sauces section… a “sauce a day” blog… I’ve always wanted to know what a proper Sauce Robert tastes like…

  • mike

    I’m with Helen on this one. I started the cooking part first and foremost because I think it’s incredibly educational and instructional. The blogging part followed because not only does it share the information and adventures, but it entangles me in a world of people like me, and I learn a lot more that way than by cooking alone.

    http://cookingbouchon.blogspot.com

    Who wrote that book anyway?

  • Kate in the NW

    Oof. I am still traumatized by The Lovely Bones, and that was fiction. I don’t think I could stand Comfort. But I just read the Modern Love essay; it was amazing. I wish there were some recipe for healing – or preventing – pain like that.

    Now I can’t cook the bison I bought for the grill tonight, and I can’t eat anything, even though I’m starving. I have to just go hold my little girl, who half an hour ago I was mad at for some stupid thing (what was it, anyway?).

    What weird journeys we all take, whether it’s through 5012 recipes, India, or hell. Thanks for posting here on being not just a cook, but a writer and a decent human being.

  • Casey

    Michael, congratulations on the recommendation re: “Elements” in tomorrow’s NYT Magazine. May it send your sales numbers soaring.
    The mini-interview you did for my blog months ago still reels in lots of hits.

  • Ken

    Michael,

    Thanks for the info on Comfort. As a father who has lost a son, I can completely understand the story about the mother bursting into tears 30 years later. When something like this happens, it feels (at least to me) as if a guillotine has instantly sliced away the life that you were about to have and diverted you onto another path. It may be a good path, and many good things may happen, but you still have that phantom limb sensation. Whenever I see the picture of my son taken just a day before we lost him, I get a glimpse of that world and it takes all the air out of me for a moment and I see that other life that we didn’t get to have.

    That said, I think we’re all in the same boat at one level, always having paths open and close for us, without our knowing. When things aren’t going well, I’m always grateful for the reminder that my life has been different before and can be different again.

  • Ken

    Michael,

    Thanks for the info on Comfort. As a father who has lost a son, I can completely understand the story about the mother bursting into tears 30 years later. When something like this happens, it feels (at least to me) as if a guillotine has instantly sliced away the life that you were about to have and diverted you onto another path. It may be a good path, and many good things may happen, but you still have that phantom limb sensation. Whenever I see the picture of my son taken just a day before we lost him, I get a glimpse of that world and it takes all the air out of me for a moment and I see that other life that we didn’t get to have.

    That said, I think we’re all in the same boat at one level, always having paths open and close for us, without our knowing. When things aren’t going well, I’m always grateful for the reminder that my life has been different before and can be different again.

  • russ parsons

    i’ll curmudgeon you, you flaxen-haired young whippersnapper.

  • ruhlman

    bob, the very existence of bacon is incontrovertible proof that the universe is benevolent.

    casey, thanks, i hadn’t seen the article when you wrote! just posted on it.

    ken, thanks for your comment. your being out there will surely help others.

  • JoP in Omaha

    It will be a sad day when FLAH is completed. What a gem it is.

    I wasn’t aware of the Bouchon blog. Thanks for bringing that to our attention, Mike.

  • Charlotte

    No — it never goes away. My youngest brother, who died of leukemia in 1972 would have been 38 this weekend — and every once in a while the sight of a small red-headed boy can make me, if not burst into tears, turn away for a moment.I read Hood’s “Do Not Go Gentle” in part because you’d mentioned her, and knowing Grace’s fate made reading that book nearly unbearable. On the other hand, it’s a lovely lovely book — and you turned me on to her fiction, which I hadn’t known before ….

  • Linda

    I, too, learned to cook from cookbooks. I began as a teen with Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and just kept going. I love to read cookbooks and every new recipe is like a new adventure. Upon returning to the US after a year in Germany, I had to learn how to make all those lovely Kuchens and Torten, so I just bought some more cookbooks and now my friends still talk about my desserts. Living in a rural area makes seasonal cooking so enjoyable, from herbs and asparagus and morels in the spring to all those good things I canned for eating in the winter. Knowing that I won’t be dining in New York or Las Vegas any time soon, I just “rob” recipes from some of my favorite chef’s cooksbooks and feed family and friends right here in north Idaho, as if the chef him or herself had stopped by to cook a meal. Finally, after so many years of reading cookbooks and following recipes, my brain just associates tastes and flavors and seasonings and now I frequently create my own recipes depending on the available food. And now, in the wellspring of the second half of my life, I have even been given the opportunity of being a “real” chef. How good can it get….

  • Cheryl

    This is the first time I’ve visited this blog, and my head hurts (happily) from all the thought-provoking content.

    I was a big fan of Julie/Julia (the blog and the book) but now other blog-book sites seem imitative. I know the cookbooks are all different and therefore the blogs are different, too, but the central conceit just no longer strikes me as original.

    And Ann Hood is someone whom I’ve read about, but never actually read. I’ll be sure to check her out, Kleenex close at hand.

    Finally, if you and Russ continue to have it out in public like this, that’s reason enough for me to bookmark your blog and watch the blows fly. Very entertaining (esp. as I imagine you two are actually buddies offline).

  • David

    Ruhlman,
    Another nice blog, but I’ll skip Comfort. It’s only been 10 years since my daughter passed and I’m still not ready for that kind of book.

    However, I do think I may start my own blog on Mario’s book, Molto Italiano, since I already live out of it for some things…and tell Bourdain to quit his schlepping and write another guest blog, dammit!

  • Kitt

    Thanks for the “Comfort” recommendation. It sounds like a heart-breaking read, but maybe worth it. (I feel that way about Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.”)

    I guess now’s a good time to say that I really enjoyed “Walk on Water.” I learned a lot from it.

  • CrispyGirl

    My 8 year old son recently lost a friend, and I’ve had to deal with my own reaction as well as help my son. Thank you for the recommendation of Comfort.

  • luis

    Blue Ginger and Master Recipes is in tha house…Ming Tsai Rocks! Achatzs plays with his food…Nadal took the French as he damm well shouldhave…and life can NOT be better than this!….still waiting and folks we reserve the rights…blah blah blah…..

  • kanani

    Reading Ann’s essay on Modern Love came at an especially difficult time for me. There is no getting over “it.” There are many loose ends, that over the years you find yourself picking up and holding –sometimes as if a talisman that could bring the loved one back.

  • cybercita

    i had the same exact reaction to the saucier’s apprentice; i kept wishing that this high strung, high maintenance, judgmental, over privileged guy would just get over himself already.

  • B

    Hm. I gratefully recieved The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Cooking for Christmas last year. Maybe I should blog my way through that… and then through the bypass surgery.