Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Books That Make Us Hungry: The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

Rachel here: Ok, so I have to start with a confession: I haven't actually read The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in its entirety. I desperately want to, though, and am crossing my fingers that I can squeeze it in once school is out (there are simply too many pages to read when you are a rhetoric major). What I have read, though, delights me to no end. Here is an example from the first few pages of the chapter entitled "Murder in the Kitchen."

The first victim was a lively carp brought to the kitchen in a covered basket from which nothing could escape. The fish man who sold me the carp said he had no time to kill, scale or clean it, nor would he tell me with which of these horrible necessities one began. It wasn't difficult to know which was the most repellent. So quickly to the murder and have it over with. On the docks of the Puget Sound I had seen fishermen grasp the tail of a huge salmon and lifting it high bring it down on the dock with enough force to kill it. Obviously I was not a fisherman nor was the kitchen table a dock. Should I not dispatch my first victim with a blow on the head from a heavy mallet? After an appraising glance at the lively fish it was evident he would escape attempts aimed at his head. A heavy sharp knife came to my mind as the classic, the perfect choice, so grasping, with my left hand well covered with a dishcloth, for the teeth might be sharp, the lower jaw of the carp, and the knife in my right, I carefully, deliberately found the base of its vertebral column and plunged the knife in. I let go my grasp and looked to see what had happened. Horror of horrors. The carp was dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second and third degree. Limp, I fell into a chair, with my hands still unwashed reached for a cigarette, lighted it, and waited for the police to come and take me into custody.

From here, Toklas effortlessly segues into a recipe for carp stuffed with chestnuts. Are you kidding me? This woman was amazing. It almost seems like she could single-handedly be credited with laying the foundation for Amy Sedaris and Martha Stewart's culinary and hostessing careers. Toklas is in turns funny, insightful, focused and irreverent and, thankfully, unlike her partner Gertrude Stein, she believes in the use of punctuation. I don't know which I'm looking forward to most when I finally dig into this book, the commentary or the recipes. Both, to my taste, seem scrumptious.

Have any of you read this book?

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