This is a transcription of ‘Cookbooks with a Strong Sense of Place and Two New Books — 13 October 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a noir crime story with a supernatural spin.
David: A first-hand account of our troubled times.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
David: Today we’ve got a special guest coming in to do a distraction of the week.
Melissa: I would say a very special guest with a capital V and a capital S.
David: Anne Bogel is going to talk to us.
Melissa: The fabulous Anne Bogel from What Should I Read Next? podcast and Modern Mrs. Darcy.com and the modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club and all things wonderfully bookish.
David: She’s one of our favorite people. She’s also like the reason Apple has the books podcast subcategory, I think.
Melissa: She is very good at what she does.
David: She is very good. So Ann will be here in a few minutes to share her distraction of the week. And in the meantime, we’ve got two new books. Mel, what have you got?
Melissa: In the late 1990s, when we lived in San Francisco and worked at a website development agency, we had the great gift of working with a writer named Richard Kadrey. Even then, he was about a billion times cooler than we could ever be, and he’s only gotten more so. He’s a novelist and a talented photographer, and he has a band. He’s best known for his 12-book series Sandman Slim. It stars a demon hitman who’s escaped from Hell and is now getting into misadventures in Los Angeles.
David: Yeah, if you like the premise, definitely check them out. They’re really fun.
Melissa: It’s a decidedly supernatural world with a noir vibe. It’s wicked fun and then bam! suddenly you’re deep in your feelings. Richard Kadrey is very good at imbuing his undead characters with a ton of humanity.
Melissa: Which brings me to his new novella ‘The Pale House Devil.’ When the story opens we meet a pair of assassins named Ford and Neuland: Ford is alive, his partner Neuland is undead. It quickly becomes clear that these two are very loyal to each other. And despite the fact that they murder people to make a buck, they have a strong moral center. They’re also charming. I don’t know how Richard pulls that off, but he does. Anyway, their hit job in Manhattan goes sideways, and they’re forced to go on the run to California — where they’re hired for another shady job. Snappy dialogue and uncanny hijinks are afoot, including chapters written from a monster’s point of view.
David: Oh, that’s fun.
Melissa: They’re surprisingly poignant. Even monsters get sad!
Melissa: I read this book in a two-day frenzy. Richard is a master of comedy-horror. He’s got a real gift for making the occult unsettling and giddy fun. You can read an excerpt of this book at CrimeReads.com — I’ll put a link in show notes. But honestly, just go ahead and get yourself a copy, grab some Halloween candy, and go on a caper with Ford and Neuland. It’s ‘The Pale House Devil’ by Richard Kadrey.
Melissa: And because he has too much creativity for one brain, Richard Kadrey has another book that came out this month called ‘The Dead Take the A Train.’ It’s an urban fantasy novel set in a magical version of New York City. He wrote it with the Malaysian horror writer Cassandra Khaw. One review called it ‘an enchanting introduction to a magical bitch on wheels.’
Melissa: Yeah, I’m sold.
David: If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be caught in the storm of our recent history, Martin Baron could tell you. Martin Baron is an American journalist and editor.
David: If you saw the movie ‘Spotlight’ about the investigative news team at the Boston Globe — he was part of that story. In the film, he’s played by Liev Schreiber. He’s the somewhat cold editor who shows up and convinces the team to go after the Catholic Church. That movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2015. And as good as that movie was, that might not be Martin Baron’s best story.
David: Baron worked at the Boston Globe for about a decade after the events in that movie. Then he went to work as the executive editor of The Washington Post. Seven months after he started there, which I imagine is right about the time he’s settling into the new gig, the paper was sold. It went from the Graham family, who had owned it for 80 years into the hands of Jeff Bezos. That was in late 2013.
David: And it wasn’t long after that when Donald Trump announced he was running for President. That started his long, contentious relationship with the press and specifically with the Washington Post. Martin Baron retired in 2021. He wasted no time writing a book about what it was like to be in the middle of all that.
David: The book is called ‘Collision of Power: Trump, Bezos, and the Washington Post.’ There is also an audiobook. The narrator is the man who played Baron in ‘Spotlight:’ Liev Schreiber. If you’re curious about the thoughts of one of the great newspaper editors of our time, ‘Collision of Power’ is out now.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: We are sitting here with Anne Bogel. Hi, Ann.
Anne: Hello. Thank you for having me. It’s so great to talk to you all.
David: It’s great to see you and a pleasure to have you. I understand you have a distraction of the week for us.
Anne: Oh, my goodness. Yes, I do. My distraction of the week is reading cookbooks like they are novels, preferably with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, preferably on the couch. It doesn’t have to be past your bedtime, but that’s an especially fun time to do it. This is my favorite thing to do. And I got to tell you, I was just going to say, I really love to get them from the library because then they’re now they’re free. They used to be cheap back when my library assessed fines because then I’d only owe several dollars, but my library abolished fines, so now I don’t owe anything. I have a stack of three Alison Roman cookbooks out from the library right now. I cannot even. Oh, my gosh. You know why? You don’t know why? Can I tell you.
Anne: It’s because we got back from our trip to, in part, France and Spain, in part with you. And I — someone sent me an Alison Roman Substack newsletter where she said, Look, I can’t have the great Euro trip that everyone else seems to be having this summer, but I can recreate that on my back porch by having a morrow hour. So let’s make spritzes and put out snack trays. She was emphatic that this is not ‘girl dinner.’ This is something different. And I thought, well, I did have my big Euro trip and I got to see Mel and Dave on my Euro trip. And I’m interested in carrying those vibes over. So I just ate up that newsletter, bought my bottle of Aperol at the wine store for the first time, made my European snacks, and then went to get her cookbooks.
Melissa: I love everything about that. That is genius. And that’s one of my one of the things that I love to do with Strong Sense of Placee is share recipes. Because I think between the food and a great book and an appropriate drink, you are transported there as much as you can be without physically going there.
Anne: Yes, and that’s something I love about reading these cookbooks. And I do say reading because I mean, I love ‘The Joy of Cooking.’ I learned in part in large part how to cook from the joy of cooking. But the essay recipe ratio is not where I want it to be. I want the cookbooks that have like lengthy stories about how the recipe came to be and how you drank it off the coast of something, or how you dug your fire pit to make it somewhere exotic that I’ve never been to, but would like to imagine going to. I want to hear the stories. And also, I love how with a cookbook you can choose where you want to escape to. I don’t know. I think people think about cookbooks as being practical, but for me, sometimes they’re like, uh, science fiction. Somebody could make that. It’s not going to be me. Maybe that could happen. Never in my kitchen. In fact, I did this a little bit when we were preparing for our trip. I got cookbooks from London, not so much, but from France and Spain. So I could just, like, immerse myself in the culture, but on my couch with full color photos.
Melissa: Yes, the photos. There’s this category of cookbooks that are like travelogues, right? Like, they go there and they take the amazing photos of the street markets and the people in addition to the recipe photos. And I feel like those are they’re nice armchair travel.
Anne: Strong sense of place. Also, sometimes I am inspired to get up off my couch and make some of the recipes in the cookbooks. So then I get to engage my senses even more by actually getting to taste, see, feel, touch.
Melissa: So I have a question for you. When you do that, are you picking what I call a ‘project recipe’ where you have to buy a lot of special ingredients and maybe it’s a little more complicated than the kind of thing you would usually do? Or are you picking a simple recipe that will give you a taste of what it’s like without being a lot of extra work in the kitchen?
Anne: This depends so much on my season of life. I’m not talking years. I’m talking about like my micro season. Lately I know nobody will relate to this in your entire listening audience — lately I’ve been a little tired, worn out and over —
David: That’s weird.
Anne: It’s this weird thing where you have more to do than the amount of time you have to do it in.
Melissa: I’ve never experienced that. Don’t know what you’re talking. [laughter]
David: That just sounds like poor planning. Yeah.
Anne: So there is definitely a mindset that I can go to, and sometimes it is when I’m overburdened. Who speaks Enneagram? I’m a nine. Sometimes you just got to put your head in the sand and like make the, oh gosh, you had a couple recipes in Well Fed that I thought of for my cooking skills at the time as project recipes. And there was this one. It was, was it Korean short ribs?
Melissa: I think you might be talking about the Five-Spice Pork Ribs.
Anne: Whatever it was, it was delicious. We still cook from that cookbook all the time, Mel. I ust got to say the cumin carrot —
Melissa: We do, too. [laughter]
Anne: Oh my gosh. So amazing. But sometimes I feel like this is what I need to go on with my life. You all make podcasts, you write books like those are ephemeral. Sometimes you need to to like, make something you can taste and see and touch. I mean, I can tell you what I made from my latest cookbook, deep dive over the weekend. I hollowed out grapefruit and oranges to make little bowls that could hold sorbet that I purchased at the grocery store.
Anne: And then I put little mint sprigs on top. There’s zero cooking involved. Just a lot of audiobook listening. Oh, my gosh. They were the cutest. They were adorable. And all my kids who were home for the weekend and all their friends were like, This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. And I was just like I Know. And then I made little brown butter chocolate chip shortbread to go with it.
Melissa: Oh, that sounds really good.
Anne: So there was actual baking involved. But no, that’s not a project by non burnt out standards, but it’s all relative.
Melissa: When I’m looking through one of those beautiful cookbooks, I always look at the salads and the condiments because I figure you can just take a boring piece of chicken but put some other nationality’s condiments on it and make it taste really good because then you can get the flavors of the place and like 20 minutes.
Anne: And something I like about this approach is it’s so versatile and also so souvenir applicable. If you are willing to lug a $40 cookbook home on an airplane or in the back of your car, then you can have that memento that you remember the exact place and time you got it. You can cook from it. You can spatter all over it. But I’m supposed to be selling this. I’m not supposed to be — I’m not supposed to be making you remember why, How easy it is to mess up a nice cookbook. So there are classics of this genre like Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. There contemporary ones. I really enjoy that. Explore cultures that I feel more of a foreigner to like. I love the writing of Michael Twitty. Kosher Soul is his new one, where he talks about being a black Jewish cook and he cooks from his African roots and his Jewish heritage and writes about all of it, which I love.
Melissa: Yum. That sounds so good.
Anne: Oh, it’s so good. It’s so much fun. I don’t think I’ve made a single recipe, but I so enjoy, like reading the stories and seeing what I could make and seeing what he makes. But also, we went to London this summer and in the course of our trip planning, I talked to and read about all these people who were in love with the Ottolenghi restaurants, and there are so many options in that direction. And I especially like Jerusalem.
Melissa: Yes, I love that book.
Anne: I would love to go. I’ve read a lot of books set there and set in that general area. And I just love going through the family favorite recipes, the classics and the like. They show pictures of the street food and the markets and just like it just looks so vibrant like the Jerusalem streets pictured in this book. It makes me very happy.
Melissa: His hummus recipe is very good, and the number one tip I took away from that is that when you’re making hummus, you should let the food processor go for like 2 to 3 times as long as you think you want to listen to it going, because that’s what makes the hummus really light and fluffy and smooth. So sometimes I just turn on the food processor and leave the kitchen.
Anne: I can’t do that because we lost a little piece. Our food processor only works if I put in a stainless steel pointy stick thing and like hold it in place.
Melissa: That sounds dangerous, but okay.
Anne: I think. I think it looks safer than it sounds. I hope. I think you’d approve if you were standing in my kitchen, but.
Melissa: I don’t think I would.
Anne: I’ll send you my address so you know where to send my new Cuisinart. But do you all have a favorite cookbook along these lines?
Melissa: I do. One of the books I talked about on our Thailand episode is Thai Street Food by David Thompson.
Anne: Yes, please.
Melissa: And it is enormous. Like, you could use it as a weapon and really do some damage to somebody. If you clunk them over the head with it. It’s huge. The photography, it’s almost like a photography book with recipes in it, although the recipes are very, very good and there are lots of essays that give context to everything. Because it’s so focused on street food, he talks about how the street markets change throughout the different day parts and kind of what foods are eaten at different times of the day and what kind of people are there and what the energy is. So like in the morning, it’s much different than it is, say, at the after work time when people are picking up food to maybe take home. It’s really fascinating because it gave you a picture of what some part of Thai culture is like. And that was really fun addition to the kind of like personal essays and history that you usually get in these kind of cookbooks.
Anne: That sounds amazing.
Melissa: And it made me really want to go there. Although I think as an introvert, a Thai street market would be really overwhelming, and I would have to have somebody hold my hand and take me through and then I would need like a massive nap afterwards.
Anne: Now, that doesn’t sound like a bad day.
Melissa: No, it sounds like a pretty great day, actually, now that I’ve said it out loud.
Melissa: Do you have one, Dave?
David: The one that came to my mind when we started talking about this was a book that you talked about in our New Orleans episode called Turkey and The Wolf, which is a cookbook from a restaurant of the same name in New Orleans. The founder of that restaurant, Mason Herford, is what he’s done. He’s he’s taken street food and sort of junk food from that area and elevated it. So he has like a famous meatloaf sandwich and like an Italian-American sandwich.
Melissa: And the fried bologna —
David: The fried bologna.
Melissa: It has salt and vinegar chips on the sandwich.
Melissa: With the fried baloney.
David: And all of that makes me feel like somebody could wake me up in the middle of the night and be like, Hey, we’re going to Turkey and the Wolf. And I’m like, Let me put on my shoes, you know? But yeah, so.
Anne: This conversation makes me want to go all the places, which feels very appropriate.
Melissa: It does. And now I feel like really hungry, too. Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on cookbooks with a strong sense of place plus all the other books we discussed today.
David: Thanks for joining us in the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of micheile henderson/Unsplash.
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