Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mark Bittman Slogs....With John Thorne

Apparently, Mark Bittman is about to launch a "Slog" of his own. It's hard to imagine how a mega-successful author/columnist could ever be perceived to have "slogged" (my use of the term is explained here), but, hey, anything that gets John Thorne more widely read is great by me.

Thorne will be contributing, so this would be a good time to reprint my tribute to him which once was a part of Chowhound. He's published some books since, all of which should be bought immediately:

John Thorne thinks deeply about food. In his personal, utterly unaffected voice (which is actually a hybrid of himself and wife Matt), he ponders the minutia of meatballs, the inner meaning of rice and beaning. Aptly illuminating quotations are cited, seemingly unrelated concepts elegantly connected; Thorne's rhythms are so honest, his erudition so copious and his iconoclastic conclusions so clever that the reader never suspects the daunting legwork that goes into it all. Thorne, the hardest working man in the food writing biz, erases all traces of these labors, so his prose goes down as easily--and as deliciously--as the most soulful polenta.

When the ruminations conclude--and you've discovered historical, cultural, scientific, and spiritual depths to, say, pancakes that you'd never suspected existed--Thorne presents recipes. Not dozens of variations on a cooking theme, but a few concentrated treasures, the distillation of the preceding essay's meditations. The recipes may or may not be to your taste, but such care went into their developement that they're manifestly more than tested, more than polished...they're downright perfected.

Each of the following three books is composed of articles from Thorne's
Simple Cooking newsletter, cleverly selected and arranged to (loosely) fit various themes.

Simple Cooking
This first volume contains two of Thorne's best essays: one contrasting fat and thin cooks, the other about the "outright disgust and hypnotic fascination" inspired by truly awful recipes (those which promise to "conjur instant elegance from dross" like, say, Velveeta or Lipton instant onion soup mix). Other articles (arranged under headings Personal Passions, Perfect Pleasures, Table Talk, and a seasonal Kitchen Diary) include: Ultimate Cheesecake, Pasta in a Paper Bag, A Bowl of Porridge, Aged Sardines, and Carpaccio. Plus, a chapter of insightful reviews of Cook's Books.

Outlaw Cook
Outlaw Cook is arranged into sections on Learning to Cook, Made to Taste, The Baker's Apprentice, and The Culinary Scene. These headings serve as catch-alls for reprints of articles such as: Forty Cloves of Garlic, Russians and Mushrooms, My Paula Wolfert Problem, Soup Without Stock (With A Note on Pea Soup), Natural Leavens: Sorting Out Sourdough, Breakfast Clafoutis, Mangiamaccheroni (a person who eats pasta with his fingers), Some Thoughts on Omelets, and The Discovery of Slowness.

Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots
Serious Pig covers Thorne's native New England (Knowing Beans, Building a Chowder, Clamdiggers and Downeast Country Stores, etc), Louisiana (Gombo Zhébes, A Note on Oysters Rockefeller, Rice& Beans: The Itinerary of a Dish, etc), and Texas (Benchmark Chili, The Seared& the Stewed, and Cooking With Wood: An Update, etc).


Janice said...

You are correct that Bittman is no slogger. But he seems to have absconded with your term, albeit in bastardized form.

Jim Leff said...

Thanks for the support, but I actually kind of doubt it.

I mean, back in the days when I found and reviewed Difara Pizza, Sripraphai, Kabab Cafe, Charles Southern Kitchen, Jackson Diner (in the old, good days) and a few dozen others, and then watched phalanxes of better-read food critics pounce in and claim them as their own discoveries....that was one thing. But I can't imagine anyone bumping into my site here, crying "'Slog'!!! That's IT!" and running away with it. It's just really not that clever or valuable.

If you're launching a blog, but worry that doing so feels incredibly stale, cliched, and over-baked at this late point, writerly types tend fish around for rhymes and puns. That's all that happened, I think. GMTA.

And John Thorne being read by a wider audience is, again, worth everything in the world.

Also, I like Bittman's new iPhone app! :)


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