Sunday, November 30, 2014

Born Round by Frank Bruni [book review] & Italian Creamed Onions

I just finished reading Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite by Frank Bruni, a memoir by the former New York Times restaurant critic. It was very engaging to read about his American-Italian childhood. I was enraptured by the stories of the feasts his grandmother, aunts, and mother created for family events. Having a huge bounty of food was a sign of love in his family. Special occasions always merited a massive spread of food for the whole extended family. His grandmother even had two kitchens in her house, one in the basement for creating the plethora of dishes, and one upstairs for guests to marvel at how she cooked it all without leaving the kitchen in a disastrous mess. One of the dishes I made after reading about it was creamed onions.

Bruni struggled with his weight and his battle with weight permeates the book. He tells of lots of attempts to lose weight, some of which are painful to read about. His self image was only partly affected by his career successes as a journalist; he always returned to his physical appearance as the defining feature of himself.

Bruni was offered the job of the New York Times restaurant critic when he was working for the newspaper as their Rome correspondent. During his stint in Italy he learned that eating food was not viewed exactly the same by local Italians as in his Italian-born family. In Italy he discovered that people relished the quality of their food and their interactions at the table. Meals were long and leisurely, but not necessarily gluttonous. He learned to enjoy the pleasure of the textures and tastes while not rushing through his food.

Bruni took on the restaurant reviewer role with trepidation. He knew that to be successful at his job he would have to eat a lot, but he didn't want to gain a lot of weight. In the final chapters of the book he describes how he managed this. With so much good food constantly available for him to eat, he realised that he could afford to pace himself. The urge he had felt as a youngster to eat too much was partly connected to anxiety that he would have to deprive himself later. But in his job as restaurant reviewer there was not the fear that he would have to deprive himself the next day or week. I found it very moving that he described the difference between most weight loss diets and his approach to eating. Instead of concentrating on what he could not have, he focused on all the things he could (and must) have and this helped him eat an appropriate amount.

The idea of eating and enjoying good quality food resonated with me. It spurred me to make this dish of creamed onions, which was one of the side dishes his grandmother served at family gatherings. Here I used shallots, but ordinary onions would work as well. I used this recipe, from The Cutting Edge of Ordinary.

I read this book as part of the Kitchen Reader book club. In December, members can review any cookbook. Would you like to join us?

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