Sunday, November 24, 2013

Michael Pollan's Latest

Before I get to today's post, I should apologize for there being no post yesterday. I briefly contemplated back-dating a post so it would appear that we hadn't missed a day, but that seemed like cheating. Suffice to say there was a sick child involved and a post just wasn't in the cards.

So, moving on.

I recently (as in, this morning) finished reading Michael Pollan's latest, Cooked. I'm not entirely sure why, but I had been avoiding it for a while. Part of it was that I was worried that his conceit of breaking his books into very distinct larger-than-chapter chunks might get old. Not every single subject can be broken down like that. 

I still believe that, but I think it worked out ok for this one. I see where his thinking was, even if I don't completely agree.

But let me back up.

Cooked is about the human ability to transform raw, whole foods into something new and greater than the sum of its parts. Pollan tackles this one cooking technique at a time, focusing each segment of the book on Fire, Water, Air, or Earth. Fire comes first and is about the art of the grill, specifically, the art of barbecue. Water is about slow-braised foods, such as stews, hearty sauces, and just about anything else that can be cooked slowly in liquids. Bread and the magic of yeast is at the heart of Air. And Earth is about the foods created by the same microbes found in the soil: fermentation. 

(And the Earth section is where this four-part harmony breaks down a little. The subject is so complex that it doesn't fit the "one recipe for each element" theme of the book; it's broken down into three smaller sections, one for fermented veggies, one for cheese, and one for beer.)

In the end, I enjoyed the whole book and loved parts of it. The microbiology of cheese? Loved it. The entire section about cooking whole pigs? Not for me, so much. If you like reading and thinking about cooking and the chemistry and biology behind some of our most-favorite food categories, this is a great book to add to your wish-list.

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