5 Books That Will Make You Hungry

As a foodie, I have a sot spots for books that have to do with food. I’m not necessarily particular when it comes to genres for my culinary armchair travels. I’ve read memoirs, essays, historical fiction, cozy mysteries, women’s lit, I’ll read it.

Here are a few culinary themed books I’ve really enjoyed in random order:

1. Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford was one of the first cooking memoirs I read after moving to the DC area. This book stuck with me because I was in midst of my Food Network obsession. Back when they still had real cooking shows. Buford spent a lot of time around Mario Batali so it was exciting to live vicariously through him.

2. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Finn gives an insider’s look at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.  Before I read Finn’s memoir, I considered attending the Culinary Institute of America during my quarter-life crisis. (We didn’t call it that back then!) I definitely realized that I didn’t want to work in a restaurant kitchen after reading this. I’m happy with being a foodie and a cook.

3. Life from Scratch by Melissa Ford is a fun novel about recently divorced Rachel Goldman who decides she needs to learn how to cook. She also starts writing a blog to document her lessons. It’s a fun, easy to read novel. You might be inspired to pick up a cookbook after reading it!

4. Set in Germany during World War II and present day Texas,  The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy brings memories to life through the art of making bread and pastries. This novel was one our book club selections. Check out our book club members’ discussion of The Baker’s Daughter.

5. If you’ve never read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel or have only seen the movie, you’re missing out. This love story set in Mexico is sensual and contains recipe that you can use to recreate a little romance in your life.  Make sure you pick up some chocolate before you settle down with this novel.

What are your favorite books about food?

Book Club Day: Julia’s Child by Sarah Pinneo

Julia's Child by Sarah Pinneo

Julia started her business to help moms feed their children organic food. Ready to take her business to the next level, the mother of two becomes consumed with it. Julia’s Child: The Novel by Sarah Pinneo takes a tongue in cheek look at moms who embrace organic foods and whole living.

Today From Left to Write members discuss their views on Julia’s Child:

As we head into the unofficial start of summer this Memorial weekend, grab a copy of  Julia’s Child: The Novel by Sarah Pinneo for your beach reading. Come back next week for a Q&A with author Sarah Pinneo!

Stonyfield logo

For this book club selection, From Left to Write is proud to partner with Stonyfield a company that offers certified organic yogurt, smoothies, milk and much  more.  Stonyfield advocates that healthy food can only come from a healthy planet and is engaged in educating people on eating healthy.

May Book Club: Julia’s Child by

Julia's Child by Sarah Pinneo

Julia's Child by Sarah Pinneo

We’re talking food for our second May book club selection, Julia’s Child: The Novel by Sarah Pinneo. Like many parents, I first considered organic foods when my firstborn started eating solids. What happens when making organic foods for young children become your passion?  Julia, mother of two, starts a business selling her pre-cooked toddler meals with cute names like It’s Not Easy Being Green Beans and Gentle Lentils. The novel even contains recipes for kid-friendly foods.

More about the fun, light-hearted novel from the publisher:

A delectable comedy for every woman who’s ever wondered if buying that six-dollar box of organic crackers makes her a hero or a sucker.  Julia Bailey is a mompreneur with too many principles and too little time.  Her fledgling company, Julia’s Child, makes organic toddler meals with names like Gentle Lentil and Give Peas a Chance. But before she can realize her dream of seeing them on the shelves of Whole Foods, she will have to make peace between her professional aspirations and her toughest food critics: the two little boys waiting at home. Is it possible to save the world while turning a profit?
Julia’s Child is a warmhearted, laugh-out-loud story about motherhood’s choices: organic vs. local, paper vs. plastic, staying at home vs. risking it all.


For this book club selection, From Left to Write is proud to partner with Stonyfield a company that offers certified organic yogurt, smoothies, milk and much  more.  Stonyfield advocates that healthy food can only come from a healthy planet and is engaged in educating people on eating healthy.

Stonyfield logo

Join us on May  24 as our From Left to Write members and Stonyfield’s YoGetters discuss Julia’s Child. Learn more about Stonyfield on their Facebook page.

We’ll also have a Q&A with author Sarah Pinneo, so if you have any questions for her, just leave them in the comments.

Book Review: Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum

Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum

Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum

As a cook and foodie, I’m always interested in books about food. Whether they are cozy mysteries, memoirs, cookbooks or otherwise, I can’t help myself.  I was excited to read Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Waya memoir by Molly Birnbaum.

As an aspiring chef, all Molly needs to do before she begins her first year at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is real life experience in a restaurant kitchen. While going for a run, Birnbaum is hit by a speeding car. In addition to many broken and shattered bones, she also suffered head trauma. It wasn’t until weeks into recovery, that she realize she couldn’t smell. In turn, that meant she couldn’t taste her food either. The rest of the memoir recounts Birnbaum’s journey as she attempts to learn about her condition and how to smell again. Could she ever become a chef?

The first chapter gave a lot of insight on Birnbaum’s love of food and cooking. When she spoke of making pies with her mom, I remembered how I made banh bao with my mother. Her awe of the foods in a restuarant’s walk-in fridge made me worry that she’d become locked in, it felt like she was in there so long. Her passion for food and learning everything she could was palpable.

The rest of the book didn’t have the same excitement or urgency for me. Birnbuam deferred her acceptance to the CIA as she tried to figure out her next steps as an anosmiac (person who has loss their sense of smell). Each chapter in the book was interspersed with scientific research about olfactory neurons, how humans smell and other similar studies.

While it made sense to share some of this research with her readers, I felt it really bogged down the pace of the book. I enjoy learning and reading about science, but I found many of her recounts of various studies dry and unnecessarily long. I really wished that these recounts of research was written in a more personal manner. It felt like a science report instead of her personal research to find out if she was curable. I wanted to skip all of these parts and find out what happened to Molly. Not some study about men’s sweat or
women’s cycles.

It’s not until Chapter 7 “key lime and lavendar,” that her research and her personal journey melds together. She visits a flavor factor in New Jersey to learn about how flavors are created. Artificially flavors draws on our sense of smell through our noses, taste on our tongue and taste on the back of our throat. Here flavor isn’t just chemicals, but memories of clean cut grass and mouthwatering juicy berries. This connection is what I was waiting for throughout Birnbaum’s memoir. I’m sorry that it took 200 pages in to truly find her voice.

If I were not reading this book for another book club, I might have abandoned the book well before Chapter 7.  Though the last 100 pages of the book were much more enjoyable, I’m not sure it redeemed the book for me. The pace was too slow for me. (Did you see my last post on breaking up with your book?)

However as a cook and foodie, Season to Taste opened my eyes about our sense of smell. I think many of us take it for granted. I know I do. I don’t follow recipes when I cook. I add ingredients that I know, intuitively, work together. I taste as I cook and add ingredients accordingly. I never thought about how my sense of smell played into my cooking process.

I’ve always had a sensitive nose. In fact, as I was reading my library copy of Season to TasteI kept sniffing a hint of plastic scent. I couldn’t figure out where it came from. (I’m usually like this when I smell something I don’t recognize.) I sniffed the pages of the book, but only got a musty library paper scent. I sniffed the binding, nope not the glue. I sniffed the plastic book jacket, maybe that was it. I finally gave up.

I guess I’ll notice my sense of smell much more often from now on. Not just when I change my toddler’s dirty diapers.

What about you? Could you live without your sense of smell?

My copy of Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum was borrowed from my library.

What’s the Big Deal About Organic? Q&A with Stonyfield Expert

Stonyfield cow

When From Left to Write book club members read Barbara Kingsolver’s  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life last month, many of us contemplated changing how we eat.  While Kingsolver changed her lifestyle dramatic, most of us don’t have the luxury to pick up and move cross country to farm our food. Eating organic and local is hard the wallet, so why is it some important?

Stonyfield logo

Stonyfield partnered with us to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and we’re happy to have Stonyfield expert Britt Lundgren, Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Stonyfield Farm to answer some questions about organic foods.

With organic milk nearing the $7 a gallon mark, is it really worth the cost and why?  

We know that our prices may seem high when compared to other products. It costs more to produce things organically because we’re not relying on the kinds of chemical shortcuts that conventional farmers and food processors use. This can mean more labor and more time for farmers, and they do it with less governmental support than conventional farms.

The cost of organic foods is just one of the reasons we’re working on transitioning more farmers to organic and trying to get more of our organic products in stores. We hope efforts like these will eventually bring the price down. We’re committed to producing organic products because organic farming provides better nutrition and safety for you, better conditions for the animals, and is better for family farmers and for the planet.

Winona, an actual Stonyfield Cow


What are the long term benefits of buying organic milk and why the high cost?

Every purchase of Stonyfield yogurt helps to make a difference – all together, Stonyfield’s milk and ingredient purchases keep over 200,000 acres of cropland in organic production.  This means 200,000 acres where toxic pesticides and other synthetic chemicals aren’t used.  This results in 10 million fewer pounds of chemical fertilizer, and 200,000 fewer pounds of herbicides and insecticides that aren’t used.  Plus, since the cows aren’t treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, it adds up to nearly 500,000 fewer drug treatments used each year.  It goes to show you that all of those little cups of yogurt add up to a big difference for the environment! To learn more about the benefits of organic, visit the Why Organic section of our website.

What does a Stonyfield cow eat?

All of the organic milk used to make our products comes from Organic Valley/CROPP, a Wisconsin-based cooperative of over 1,300 dairy farmers throughout the U.S. Because Organic Valley’s farms are certified organic, they’re required to follow pasture-based production standards, and Organic Valley goes even further with strict pasture policies that meet or exceed those of the USDA Organic Standards.

Cows must have access to pasture to graze on a mixture of grasses, legumes such as alfalfa and clover, and other nutritious plants.  The amount of time a cow spends on pasture depends on the time of year, the weather, the feeding program of the individual farmer, and the regional location of the farm, however, the minimum pasture requirement for lactating cows is 120 days per growing season. About half of the cow’s diet needs to come from grazing to meet the standard that requires that pasture make up 30% of the dry weight of everything a cow eats. The cows are fed hay and a variety of organic grains for added energy.

Overall, what cows eat can vary from farm to farm. Most farmers produce their own organic feed from various sources on their farms including pasture, dry bailed hay, pellet grain, and haylage. Animal nutrition is as much an art as it is a science. The cows individual nutritional needs, climate, season, farm size, and management style all impact what a farmer feeds his animals. If you’d like to learn more about what takes place on an organic dairy farm, have a look at our Farm Cam videos.

Where do the fruits come from for the yogurt?

In addition to our milk, the majority of organic ingredients we purchase are grown right here in the U.S. We source over 325 million lbs of organic ingredients annually, like our fruit, sweeteners, milk, grains, and spices.  When you add up our imports of organic ingredients that could otherwise be grown in the US, they make up less than 2% of our ingredient purchases overall. While we always look for sources in the U.S. first, some ingredients like organic cocoa, banana, and vanilla don’t grow in the U.S. so we import them. And, only a small amount of organic sugar is grown in the U.S., so virtually all organic food companies import sugar. Some ingredient sources may be geographically closer to us than most US suppliers, like our Quebec-grown organic blueberries, which account for one-third of our imported ingredients.

What is the relationship between Stonyfield and Dannon? They seem to share a lot of product lines (Oikos and Activia), which implicates a relationship.

Stonyfield and Dannon are independent companies and will remain so, however both companies have Groupe Danone as our parent company. We have a unique partnership with France-based Danone. Between 2001 and 2003, Danone bought about 85% of our company shares. Typically, when a big conglomerate buys a smaller organic or natural-food company, the smaller company undergoes management changes. But that’s not the case with us. We continue to manage our company autonomously, and we’ve remained true to our mission. Gary Hirshberg, who co-founded our company in 1983, is still our chairman. We’re still using the finest ingredients to make pure, delicious organic food. And our use of organic ingredients helps support hundreds of family farms and keeps more than 200,000 farm acres free of toxic, persistent pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.  We’re also helping to show other Danone companies that sustainable practices can be profitable practices and are inspiring them to make positive changes in the way they do business, too.

 If Monsato has made it impossible for Canada to make organic canola oil, and GMO modified farms are so wide spread in the states, is there anything the organic farmers can do to KEEP their farms organic? How is a organic farmer able to control pesticides and GMO seeds migrating from other farms? 

At Stonyfield, we’re committed to producing foods without GMOs as part of our commitment to choosing the best organic ingredients so we can offer you the healthiest food possible.  Our farmer-partners continue to be vigilant on the farm to minimize the possibility of GMO contamination and we will continue to demand an honest process at USDA, but the way forward for contamination prevention is still a work in progress.

Organic farmers take many steps to avoid contamination from neighboring conventional farms.  One of the primary steps that all organic farms are required to use is the placement of a “buffer” area between their organic production and any conventional crops. This buffer is an area wide enough to ensure that any chemicals applied to the conventional land aren’t drifting over onto the organic production.  In the rare case that pesticides do drift far enough to contaminate an organic farm, the crops contaminated by drift can’t be sold as organic.

We are as passionate about organic food free of toxic persistent pesticides and GMOs as you and we hope you’ll join us in raising your voice to demand the labeling of products produced with GMOs. Visit http://justlabelit.org/ and tell the FDA that you believe you have the right to know what’s in your food.

I buy organic because I think it’s the right thing to do: to keep all those chemicals out of the soil, the water, and the farmers, rather than for any personal health benefit. When I try to explain this to people they either glaze over or bristle because they feel I’m being high-and-mighty. How does Stonyfield suggest we frame the importance of organic when speaking about it to other people? 

There’s no magic saying that works to convince people that organic is the way to go – different people are motivated by so many different things. And don’t forget – there are health benefits to all of us in keeping all those chemicals out of our soil, air, and water – especially when you’re talking about air we breathe and water we drink! You can find some great tools that are fun and informative about spreading the word on the importance of organic by joining in the conversations at www.iWillKnowMyFood.com and the Stonyfield Moo Crew.

Thanks to Britt for taking the time to answer our questions!

Britt Lundgren is the Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Stonyfield Farm.  She holds a Master of Science in Agriculture, Food, and Environment from Tufts University.  Prior to joining Stonyfield, Lundgren spent several years as an agricultural policy specialist for Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.  She has worked on organic farms in Maine, Massachusetts, and Colorado.

Photos courtesy of Stonyfield.

Book Club Day: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver calls February “Hungry Month” in her memoir  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In the midst of winter, most of us would be dining on squash, root vegetables, and canned foods. Thanks (or no thanks) to globalization, we can buy bananas, peaches, and asparagus in February. Kingsolver felt that consuming foods produced and shipped from all over the world was not sustainable nor responsible.
From Left to Write book club members followed Kingsolver and her family as they tried their first year of living eating from their Virginia farm and locally sourced food. Visit our members to join in our lively discussion about the food we eat:
Now that you’ve read From Left to Write members and Stonyfield’s YoGetters posts about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, how are you making changes in how you eat? Join us next week as a Stonyfield expert answers questions about eating local and organic foods.

Stonyfield logo

For this book club selection, From Left to Write is proud to partner with Stonyfield a company that offers certified organic yogurt, smoothies, milk and much  more.  Stonyfield advocates that healthy food can only come from a healthy planet and is engaged in educating people on eating healthy. Learn more about Stonyfield on their Facebook page.

Pssst. Today is the last day to enter our giveaway for the audiobook of The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.