Summer Books for Food Lovers

Summer may no longer mean what it used to—the idea of summer break evaporated the day we graduated from high school—but something about the season still speaks to a more leisurely pace, a time to take advantage of the extra daylight hours and catch up on beach time and books. Here are the food books I'm reading (and cooking from) this summer: 


The Third Plate

by Dan Barber

The influential and celebrated farm-to-table chef criticizes the farm-to-table movement: It "has failed to transform the way most of our food is grown in the country," Dan Barber writes. "The larger problem, as I came to see it, is that farm-to-table allows, even celebrates, a kind of cherry-picking of ingredients that are often ecologically demanding and expensive to grow."

He makes a case for moving beyond this short-sightedness, by organizing what we eat around a whole system of agriculture. He gives examples of what that might look like by exploring utopian alternatives from New York to Spain. In truth, it all sounds a little too utopian, too out of grasp for our current world, but at least it forces us to think past the current farm-to-table rhetoric. If the book only makes us realize that farms such as Shinsato don't just grow pork belly and chops, but feed entire animals, maybe we can go further than putting farm names on menus.


by Ruth Reichl

If The Third Plate makes me feel like I've eaten a plate of pessimism, then I'm planning Delicious! as dessert—an antidote to remind me of food's fun. This is Ruth Reichl's first novel—a fairy tale set in New York, with a protagonist who works for a food magazine. That's all I know about it, but I'll read anything by the former Gourmet editor-in-chief.



Vegetable Literacy

By Deborah Madison

I happened upon a vegetarian-cookbooks-for-carnivores article in The New Yorker and bought Vegetable Literacy immediately after reading it. I'm usually a pretty simple (read: boring) cook, relying mostly on salt and pepper for seasoning and maybe one of a million hot sauces lurking in my fridge. Vegetable Literacy is helping me break out of that rut with hundreds of ideas on how to spice up my veggies, like a cauliflower pasta with saffron, pepper flakes and parsley; wilted red cabbage with mint and feta; and purslane and watercress sauce to put on absolutely everything (actually, it's a sorrel and watercress sauce, but Madison makes it easy to think about how to substitute with what's on hand).

Fictitious Dishes

by Dinah Fried

This photo book features meals from 50 novels ranging from On the Road to Beezus and Ramona to Metamorphosis meticulously recreated. I love the attention to detail in the photographs, from the choice of silverware to table surface. These aren't food magazine photos, but whimsical and delightful tableaus. I.e. One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is depicted by a pretty pile of dirt, and Anne of Green Gables, repped by raspberry cordial. They make me want to reread the books all over again.

Dumplings All Day Wong

by Lee Anne Wong

Like my mother, I love all things doughy. Growing up, my grandmother would always stock our freezer with her dumplings, ready for whenever I was hungry or grumpy (usually both). Recently, I was staying with a friend in New York and caught a fever. She pulled some handmade dumplings from the freezer to feed me; it felt like the kindest, tenderest gesture that took me from a tiny Manhattan apartment back home to my grandma's kitchen.

So yes, I get teary at dumplings. That's why I'm excited about Lee Anne Wong's (chef of Koko Head Cafe) upcoming dumpling book. It goes way beyond the chive dumplings I know—white chocolate wasabi pretzel dumplings, what?!—and in that way, it's very much a dumpling book of Hawaii, covering ingredients and flavors from turkey to Thai.

Looking for more books to read? Check out our guide to new and notable books from local authors and publishers.