We review two books for lazing-about summer reading. Imagine, for example, that you had discovered a place in France which was beautiful, underdeveloped, not overrun by tourists, and pleasantly bucolic. That might be Gascony, and in particular, the Department of Le Gers – just west of Toulouse close to the Pyrenees. In 1801, about 258.000 people lived there, in 2014, 190.000. It is an agricultural economy where nothing very modern happens. It’s a land of beautiful walks and jaunts. The principal gastronomic pleasures revolve around ducks, foie gras, and Armagnac. In other words, perfect bliss.
Imagine moving there with your family for one year and renting an old historic water mill. Instead of actually doing this, you can read “Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony–France’s Last Best Place” by David McAninch in the established comfort of your cottage this summer. An American couple made the journey and it’s fun to read the book reporting their experiences. But the word about hidden Le Gers may be spreading. Last summer, the entire family of one of our sons rented a house near Condom in Le Gers for two glorious weeks. Also, last year, one of our god daughters, who lives in England, bought a holiday house there. But most compellingly, a French friend living in Toronto has always said that he discovered Le Gers just out college and he continues to believe it is the most beautiful place in France – and he is picky! So buy the book – and dream a bit.
The other summer book we picked up is for the cook who follows recipes but secretly feels badly that he does not create his own food from scratch. This person knows that every good cook does not need to follow strict recipe instructions, but he also knows that he lacks the skills to experiment confidently.
So here is a book entitled “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat. In a foreword by Michael Pollan, who selected her to teach him the principles of cooking to prepare to write his book, Cooked. Pollan writes in the Foreword, “Even though it contains plenty of excellent recipes, this is a book concerned foremost with principles. Samin Nosrat has taken the sprawling, daunting, multicultural subject which we call cooking and boldly distilled it into four essential elements –or five if you count the core principle of tasting along the way. Master these principles, she promises, and you will be able to cook delicious food of any kind, in any tradition…”
All this seems like quite a difficult, time-consuming chore for us amateurs, however eager we are to learn, but in reading the introduction to this book we noticed that the author tells her readers that the way to treat this book is to read it all the way through from beginning to end. Then, if you are inclined, go back to the chapters where you want to begin.
Now there’s a proper summer project, possibly more achievable than other summer projects like reading Keynes’ sprawling and daunting masterpiece, The General Theory, which has defeated so many aspiring students of economics. Maybe after reading Salt, Heat etc., you will be convinced to follow everything through, or maybe you will learn just a few things. What do you have to lose?