Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days by James and Kay Salter
Knopf 2006, $27.95 ISBN 0-307-26496-3
Often memorable moments in life are marked by a meal. Graduation dinners at fancy restaurants. Family recipes used only during the holidays. In my family, vacations are centered around where and what to eat. At breakfast we discuss what is for lunch. At lunch what is for dinner. At dinner who will cook the next day. Entertaining is equally important. Meals are planned in advance, leaving only a small margin for error, but the guest list is always critical. My parents at one point jokingly had the “A” list and the “B” list of people they wanted to have over. Sometimes someone on the “B” list would do something to warrant a transfer to the “A” list. Once an “A-lister” fell asleep after dinner during coffee. The joke was he wound up on the “Z” list.
James and Kay Salter have written a book that is part story-telling, part guide book to the world of home entertaining. Each day of the year has a short notation. January 6th is dedicated to salt. August 25th tells a brief story about a restaurant in southwest France that served plump figs in whiskey (recipe included). May 5th is a few paragraphs about James Beard, Portland’s homeboy. Some days tell of disastrous dinners gone awry, others instruct on how to seat couples at a party and what to do with an unexpected guest. The style is simple. James Salter is an accomplished writer and doesn’t fail us here. Sometimes the stories of parties the Salter’s have hosted are a bit too romanticized, even if they are true. A planned dinner party was almost foiled in New York during a blackout. Fortunately, dessert and the first course were completed pre-blackout. The main course was to be polpettonne alla toscana – a sort of meatloaf. The Salters simply whipped out their outdoor grill, sliced up the meatloaf and made very tasty hamburgers. Inspiring. There are also many little foodie factoids. I knew that a Balthazar was sixteen bottles of wine, and a Nebuchadnezzar twenty. But I did not know that Balthazar was one of the Magi, and Nebuchadnezzar a great king of Babylon who conquered Judea and destroyed Jerusalem five hundred years before Christ. Go figure.
A great gift book (Mom’s and Pop’s days are right around the corner) this book is prime bed-time reading. I find that I pick it up every few days and read a few entries. They are like a good meal, fulfilling without being overly rich or sweet.