Equal calories; equal time. I spent some time talking about food films in this space last month. Now it's time to talk food in books – a subject so vast that the very thought brings on mental indigestion.
But this is summer and the weather is a lot hotter than my brain, so I'm going to concentrate on what some critics like to condescendingly refer to as "beach reads." It's easy to polish up these plates and it's fun.
If you love food, try a serving.
I'm putting Linda Fairstein's "Night Watch" (Dutton, 2012) first because it's the newest and since I was up late last night reading it, it inspired this column. It's already on best-seller lists all over the country. Great literature this is not. Fairstein's sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra Cooper (brilliant! beautiful! principled! and often a pain in the neck) tries to clear her French restaurateur lover of a murder accusation. He's planning to open an upscale version of the famed late Lutece restaurant in New York City all during the story.
But somehow this blends with another case, remarkably similar to the recent Dominique Strauss-Kahn/hotel housemaid scandal. Go figure.
Action takes place in famed eating places on the Cote d'Azur and Manhattan (e.g., Patroon, 21). Also included is some basic stuff about what it really takes to open an upscale restaurant – think big, big bucks. No surprises here; you probably know it all already. Still, interesting.
This next book goes well beyond a simple beach read. Knopf published the late Nora Ephron's "Heartburn" in 1982; it's a novel based on her divorce from Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. Ephron famously describes him as "a man who was capable of having sex with a Venetian blind." To sum it all up in a few words: He was cheating; Ephron was pregnant.
The divorce was painful, but her attitude was gallant. Somehow the bounder turns out to be a laughable jerk. I also love the recipes.
Recipes? Indeed. In addition to her many other talents, Ephron was a great cook and food lover. In fact, attendees at her funeral last month were given printed versions of some of her recipes. (There are worse ways to be remembered.)
"Heartburn" is full of them, too. I actually found one for Lima Beans and Pears, a weird but delicious combination I thought no one in the world even knew about besides my husband's grandmother. (Don't knock it until you try it.)
Another oldie and maybe another surprise: Chef Anthony Bourdain (yes, him) wrote a novel called "Bone in the Throat" published by Bloomsbury in 1995.
It centers around one Tommy Pagana, a chef in a Little Italy restaurant and his relations with the Mafia (Drugs! Alcohol! Blood!). Even back then Bourdain was trying to impress the world with his toughness so the book is very profane and very gory and not for the sensitive of stomach. But it's oddly touching, as well.
"Bone" is supposedly being made into a film that will move the action from New York to London so you can get in on the ground floor here. Don't say you weren't warned, however.