Melanie Rehak

  • Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo

    "One of the secrets of life during wartime,” writes Annia Ciezadlo in Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War (Free Press, $26), her chronicle of eating in Baghdad in the months after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and in Beirut during the 2006 war with Israel, “is that your senses become unnaturally sharp, more attuned to pleasure in all its forms. Colors are brighter, more saturated. Smells are stronger. Sounds make you jump. Music makes you cry for no reason. And food? You will never forget how it tastes.” In the days after a nasty outbreak of sectarian violence, she asks a Lebanese

  • The Golden Bowl

    'Tis the season, and I suspect there is no one on earth capable of embracing it more festively than David Wondrich. His first book about cocktails, Imbibe! (2007), is a rousing call to the bar in the form of the life and times of pioneering nineteenth-century bartender—and author of The Bartender’s Guide—Jerry Thomas, recipes included. To it he now adds the wildly entertaining and fantastically instructive Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl (Perigee, $24). Who knew that a book about the history of a drink that is, after all, just “a simple combination of distilled spirits,

  • Chatter on the Side

    It all began with Billi Bi. The creamy, mussel-studded concoction “may well be the most elegant and delicious soup ever created,” according to 1950s food guru Craig Claiborne, and one taste of it in a friend’s kitchen is what sent me to a bookstore some fifteen years ago in search of a copy of The New York Times Cookbook. By then, Claiborne’s venerable tome was more than thirty years old—when I was growing up, its simple navy-blue cover with the gilded spine, long stripped of the dust jacket, was a regular sight in my mother’s kitchen. Never mind that unlike the works of Julia Child, that other

  • Growing Pains

    In the 1980s, we had urban cowboys. Now, we have urban farmers. Where John Travolta in a cowboy hat and big belt buckle was once the emblem of a newly citified country boy, today trends lean in the other direction, with urbanites going back—partway, at least—to the land. Dressed in everything from Carhartt overalls to newly stylish Walmart Wellingtons, they’re a generation that finds itself longing for a connection through blackberries of the earthy kind.

    Some, like Manny Howard, whose My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm (Scribner, $25) chronicles the six

  • Gumbo Jumbo

    My first visit to New Orleans didn’t happen until 2002, in my early thirties, shamefully late in life for someone who likes to eat as much as I do. What I found when I arrived, at least culinarily speaking, did not disappoint: the roast-beef and gravy po’boys on Magazine Street, the oysters as big as my palm at the Acme Oyster Bar, the crabmeat-covered everything at Galatoire’s. I also discovered something else—New Orleans is in many ways a small town, albeit one that acts like a metropolis during Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. After a few days there, I began seeing the same faces over and over

  • Food Issues

    Gourmet, as anyone with even the vaguest interest in food knows, is gone. That this is cause for sober reflection practically goes without saying. It was a cornerstone of the food-writing world, one that nurtured adventurous cooks long before most people in America knew what an artichoke was. Fortunately, the magazine met its demise at a time when there are more alternatives than its first readers in 1941 could ever have imagined. Among them is Gastronomica, launched in 2001, conceived expressly to be “edgy, hoping to make its readers think about what lies behind the meal.”

    For those of us

  • Guiltless Gourmet

    We live in an era of food separatism. Among our factions are the locavores, the vegans, the raw foodists, and the sustainable agriculturists. We have grass-fed beef, grass-finished beef, organic produce, minimally treated produce, and people who swear by or disparage some or all of the four. We have theory after theory—scientific, political, personal—about what to eat and why. We have Top Chef and Iron Chef, and never the twain shall meet.

    What we don’t have is a modern-day Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who, in addition to being a lawyer, a politician, a professional violinist, and, by his

  • Red Wine and Blue

    Alcohol can cause delusions—among Americans, anyway, who think it’s reasonable to let a person vote and go to war before giving them the right to sip a fuzzy navel. And these are just the latest symptoms of this affliction, which dates back to colonial days. According to wine-industry lawyer and vintner Richard Mendelson, author of the very engaging From Demon to Darling: A Legal History of Wine in America (University of California Press, $30), “early temperance advocates believed that beer and wine played a critical role in encouraging a life of temperance. So accepted was this wisdom that

  • Sweet Truth

    Once upon a time, in a land I’d like to visit for dessert—before Skinny Cow and Tasti D-Lite and before America came along and voted plain old vanilla its favorite flavor year after year after year—ice cream was serious stuff. It was so serious, in fact, that people believed it could be deadly. Though sharbat, a fruity drink served over snow or ice, existed in the Middle East in medieval times, the Western world was slow to catch on. Hundreds of years later, Europe was still in thrall to the lingering Hippocratic idea that “suddenly throwing the body into a different state” by ingesting something

  • Looking for Anne of Green Gables: The Story of L. M. Montgomery and Her Literary

    When asked why she had decided to give red hair to her famous heroine, Anne Shirley (better known as Anne of Green Gables to legions of little girls the world over), author Maud Montgomery replied, “I didn’t. It was red.” The question of whether Anne, the passionate orphan with a temper and a penchant for puffy sleeves, really sprang fully formed from her creator’s head—Athena to Montgomery’s Zeus—is the driving force behind Irene Gammel’s new book, Looking for Anne of Green Gables, published in time for the first novel’s centenary. Gammel dismantles that legend both exhaustively and lovingly

  • Sweet and Sour

    Confession: When I got a galley of Jennifer 8. Lee’s new book about the history of Chinese food in America, I imme­diately flipped to the back, hoping to find my name in the index. And by “my name,” I mean, of course, the name of “my” Chinese restaurant in upper Manhattan, the one where my parents often took my sister and me on Sunday nights for dinner when we were young. Like Lee, I grew up in New York, and without really meaning to, I’d devised a test of her authority the instant The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (Twelve, $25) hit my doorstep: If she didn’t know about Hunan Balcony (on Broadway


    Tucked in among the many gems—culinary, historical, literary, religious, and otherwise—stashed throughout Gillian Riley’s new Oxford Companion to Italian Food is “The Pope’s Kitchen,” a luscious, whimsical sonnet by the nineteenth-century Roman poet Gioachino Giuseppe Belli, which I cannot bear to include here in anything but its entirety:

    The cook wanted to show me,

    this morning, all the stuff he bought

    for the most holy kitchen. Kitchen?

    Some kitchen! You’d think it was a sea-port.

    Piles of things, pots and pans

  • Donne Upright

    Most startling in the wealth of John Stubbs's new life of John Donne is that the subject of the biographer's attentions spent a very long time trying to escape his poetic fate. Even late in his life, according to Stubbs, Donne was fending off his literary inclinations like so many pesky acquaintances. He complained about having "this itch of writing" and told a friend that he wanted to follow "a graver course than of a Poet, into which (that I may also keep my dignity) I would not seem to relapse." When he did give in to his urges, his poems (which were often bawdy) were for friends only, and