Last year, in what is largely known as my greatest feat of adulting to-date, I made my first Thanksgiving dinner. All. By. Myself. Sure, there was that small incident of potato au gratin spillover causing a small fire in the bottom of my oven (true story) and as it turned out a 14-pound turkey was, in fact, a bit excessive for my small table of two, but all in all I found it to be an impressive culinary achievement — one that was inspired by some of my favorite stories about food, of course.
I’m a bit of an old-school girl when it comes to the kitchen. I like whisks and rolling pins, kneading things by hand, straining things through cheesecloth, and throwing around handfuls of this and pinches of that with complete disregard for measuring spoons and recipe cards. That’s probably part of the reason for why I love books about food so much — especially when chefs let their creativity run rogue, food features as the star of a story, or when a really great meal manages to feed both the belly and the spirit.
Need a little culinary inspiration of your own before hitting the kitchen this Thanksgiving? Here are nine books that'll inspire your own inner chef this Thanksgiving. Happy whisking, from my kitchen to yours.
1. Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
If you think this title is a little intense, just wait until you crack open the cover. Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter is a journey through the kitchens of Hamilton's life — from her mother's kitchen of Hamilton's childhood to the unfamiliar kitchens she's been welcomed in all over to the world. Blood, Bones, and Butter is a story of self-realization, finding home, and learning about one's true calling in life, that food-lovers everywhere will adore.
2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
The love I have for this book is almost too great for words — but I'll try. When author Barbara Kingsolver and her family decide to remove themselves from the industrial-food pipeline and live off of what they can acquire from neighbors on foot or on their own land, they get a little more than they bargained for. Hilarious, beautiful, and inspiring, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will have you harvesting this year's Thanksgiving dinner from your local farmers' market in no time.
3. Edible Stories by Mark Kurlansky
If you're hoping to cook yourself up a good ol' vegan Thanksgiving this year (you rock), be sure to check out Mark Kurlansky's bean curd Thanksgiving turkey first — just one of the delightful dishes featured in his exploration of food, friends, and family Edible Stories. The linked stories in this collection will take readers to kitchens of all shapes and sizes, where meals from hot dogs to Alaskan fish soup reign supreme.
4. My Life in France by Julia Child
One of the most iconic images of my childhood is that of my mother's well-loved copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What she actually cooked from it I'll never know — based on how complex the recipes are, and how many times I ate Froot Loops for dinner as a child — but she must have referenced it frequently, based on the number of pages that were falling out. A companionable shelf-mate to Mastering the Art is Child's My Life in France, a memoir of not only how she came to write one of the most recognized cookbooks of all time, but how she fell in love with the art of cooking to begin with.
5. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
When Hassan Haji's family leaves their beloved homeland of India, they decide to bury their sorrows with food from around the world. Traveling from country to country and filling their bellies, before finally settling in the French Alps, Hassan's family realizes the only cuisine that will truly fill their hearts is that from India. So they open a restaurant... across the street from a much-celebrated locale for traditional French fare. The Hundred-Foot Journey will definitely make you hungry for flavors of the world.
6. Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories by Anna Badkhen
Anna Badkhen has traveled to war zones and spaces of conflict all over the world — and what she's learned from the experience is, no matter what the headlines say, people from disparate countries and cultures are still willing to share a meal with one another. Her memoir, Peace Meals, is a collection of stories about Badkhen's food journey abroad. From simple dishes shared with love to elaborate many-coursed meals, Badkhen's memoir looks at a world in conflict through the lens of foods that ultimately bring people together.
7. Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell
I have an approximately 20-pound edition of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking on my kitchen counter at all times, and this little memoir is entirely to blame. When Julie Powell decides she needs to spice up her life a little (literally and figuratively) she decides to cook all 524 recipes contained in Child's France-inspired masterpiece. You'll be surprised how many of them you'll want to attempt on your own after reading her memoir of the project: Julie and Julia — although maybe skip the recipe for what we in America fondly refer to as the turducken.
8. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Laura Esquivel takes novel writing (and cooking) to a whole new level with her bestselling hybrid novel Like Water for Chocolate. Part-novel, part-cookbook, Like Water for Chocolate takes readers on a journey of passion, both inside and outside the kitchen, as Esquivel blends this story of romance and heartbreak with recipes inspired by the novel's setting, Mexico. You'll want to read this one with spoon in hand.
9. A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
One of the best (and let's face it, most fun) ways to explore your family history and culture is through learning about the culinary traditions of where you come from — bonus points if you end up cooking some of them on your own. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan does just that in her memoir of food and family A Tiger in the Kitchen. After leaving her hometown of Singapore at 18, to move to the United States, Lu-Lien Tan found herself being called back home — at least by the traditional cuisine.
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