A Food Memoir and Some Music

My regular readers may have noticed my lack of baking blogs lately. That’s because I had my cholesterol tested last June and it was borderline. Borderline is worse than bad, as borderline means you should watch it, whereas bad means you absolutely must, but either way you feel guilty when you don’t.

But there’s nothing to say that you can’t read about food. I absolutely devoured this month’s Literary Salon selection – Stanley Tucci’s bestseller, Taste: My Life Through Food. (goodreads link) This is a book for both foodies and non-foodies alike.

I must admit, I didn’t even know who Stanley Tucci was, other than that guy who ate his way through Italy last spring on those CNN TV specials – Searching For Italy, where he would visit a different city each week and explore their food culture, of which I only caught the episodes on Florence and Milan. (It’s been renewed for season two next year) He was sort of a replacement for the late Anthony Bourdain, but they must have known he had the book coming out. (His wife is a literary agent in London.) So when I saw the reviews were unanimously positive, I put it on reserve. As well as being an author, he has starred in 70 movies, although the only ones I can recall are Julie and Julia (where he played Paul Child) and The Devil Wears Prada, and also The Hunger Games. He’s the kind of nondescript actor you can easily overlook, but his book is one of those interesting reads you can’t put down.

Growing up Italian, food was always important to him, especially pasta. There are a few recipes scattered throughout the chapters, but maybe you have to be a pasta-lover to fully appreciate them. It may be blasphemous, but to me all pasta tastes the same. Yes, I know, the different textures help pick up the various sauces and fillings, but to me it’s all just pasta. But I do have a mild allergy to garlic, so I might not be the best judge.

I had many Italian friends growing up as I attended a Catholic high school. Their food was different than the meat-potato-veg fare we ate at home. Their desserts were different too – I remember in particular a cake so liquor-soaked you could get drunk on it. While Stanley Tucci came from Italian roots, he grew up in the suburbs of New York. I had to laugh when he wrote about his class-mates wanting to trade their peanut butter or baloney sandwiches for whatever tasty leftovers his mother had put in his lunchbox, scoring some extra Twinkies in the process. (My favorite was always those chocolate Hostess cupcakes with the cream filling in the centre, which we did not get very often.)

As Stanley Tucci has just turned sixty, the first few chapters are about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. When he was thirteen his father took the family to Florence for a sabbatical year, (in the TV episode he took his parents, now in their eighties back to revisit the city), so the first time he ever ate in a restaurant was in Rome. They did not eat out very often in Florence, as a high school art teacher’s salary did not extend to dining in restaurants, but his mother cooked wonderful meals at home.

It’s hard to imagine not eating out in restaurants, but if you grew up in that era, most people didn’t, other than MacDonalds or a diner or burger joint. I was 19 before I ate Chinese food, let alone experience any other culture. My mother’s nod to pasta was spaghetti with Campbell’s tomato soup as the sauce. Ragu was a big improvement. By high school my Italian had stretched to pizza.

There’s a chapter about the food and catering on movie sets (I haven’t quite forgiven him for eating puffin in Iceland, even if there are 8 million of them), and a chapter on cooking during the pandemic while at home with his wife and children – he has two young kids and four over 18. He lost his first wife to breast cancer in 2009. He met his second wife at her sister’s (Emily Blunt) wedding (they bonded over their shared love of food) at “a venue that could be George Clooney’s villa” – there’s some name dropping, but in a fun jesting way. “A man who resembles Colin Firth” was very helpful in taking him to ER when he was nauseated after his chemo treatments. And Ryan Reynolds, what a kind soul to lend him his New York apartment while he was undergoing radiation treatment.

On the tv episodes I often wondered how he stayed so slim? He says he has always had a fast metabolism, but the last chapter of the book deals with his 2017 bout with tongue cancer. For a person so devoted to food, to have such a diagnosis must have been devastating, especially having been through cancer with his first wife, and now having a young family with a two year old and a baby on the way. After surgery, chemo and radiation, he endured 6 months of tube feeding, and then two years of not being able to taste food, and a heightened sensitivity to hot and cold. But he came through it, being all the more appreciative of surviving, and being able to taste once more.

This is an entertaining read, as well as a revealing personal memoir. The descriptions are witty and funny and it’s just lovely writing. One small complaint, which spoiled it for me a bit, was the number of swear words. It seems to be a fad these days, but to me it’s just not literary, and if that is the only adjective you can come up with to describe a dish or restaurant, then you must be channeling Anthony Bourdain. So for that I subtract one star….and maybe another half-star for the lack of any reference to gelato.

And now for the music part – I saw Billy Joel sing this in concert when I was a poor student in the 70’s – back when Italian food was a plate of homemade lasagna and a bottle of Mateus.

“A bottle of white, a bottle of red
Perhaps a bottle of rose instead
We’ll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I -face to face

A bottle of red, a bottle of white
It all depends upon your appetite
I’ll meet you any time you want
In our Italian Restaurant”

24 thoughts on “A Food Memoir and Some Music

  1. Anne says:

    I agree with you about swear words – English is a language filled with words that cannot be contained between covers; new ones are coined all the time to describe events, concepts and inventions. You have provided an enticing review of this book which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • annieasksyou says:

      If you get a chance to see the movies “Big Night” and/or “Spotlight, “ those are two very good Stanley Tucci films

      I listened to a Katie Couric podcast interview with Stanley Tucci when his book first came out. He sounds like a lovely person.

      Good luck with your cholesterol!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        He talks quite a bit about his movie Big Night in the book, so I will check it out. I did see Spotlight several years ago, but that’s the thing, I don’t remember him being in it – same with Julie and Julia (Child). Maybe now that I know a bit more about him, (and he does seem like a nice person), he won’t be so forgettable! Last night, his Searching for Italy series, all six episodes, was on CNN, (I guess there’s no breaking news on Thanksgiving), so I was able to catch the episodes I had missed. A bit of scenery and a whole lot of pasta. The cholesterol thing is a work in progress, but I guess since I have retired I have been baking more, and eating differently, so I need to behave!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. brilliantviewpoint says:

    I was in a bookstore recently and saw his book, so interesting that you should give a review. I agree, swear words turn me off. They just aren’t necessary and in interviews I’ve seen with him, it doesn’t seem to be his personality to use them, too bad for that. Sounds like his book is a nice read. My mother is Italian, but we didn’t grow up eating pasta all the time. Instead, she seemed to want to eat anything, but pasta, always trying recipes from different countries. I think pasta to Italians is like rice to Asians, tortillas to Mexicans, baguettes to the French, potatoes to Germans, etc. Every nationality has their “go to food,” right. It’s what we grow up with, so we either want it all the time or not. My ex/husband’s German mother made potatoes EVERY day. While we were married he did not want any potatoes unless they were french fries, he hated boiled potatoes (his Mom’s go to). LOL — thanks for a great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks! I wondered what you would think of my pasta comments as I remembered you were of Italian background. Having grown up in an Irish/Dutch family potatoes reigned supreme – but made different ways, baked, mashed, boiled, fried etc. I suppose it’s the same with pasta, but when I was watching his TV show and he would eat a certain type of pasta, and it would be a simple bowl with a minimum of additional ingredients, that’s where I have the problem, as noodles all just taste the same to me. I was surprised by the repeated use of the F word too, it seemed so unnecessary, as he didn’t/couldn’t say that on tv, so why in print? I abandoned that Anthony Bourdain World Travels book for the same reason, but he was a much rougher character.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kate Crimmins says:

    I grew up in a German meat and potatoes household. Always a salad and a veggie too. My first pizza was in high school at the cafeteria (how good could that have been?). No Chinese food until I was working. No chili or spaghetti until I was in high school and made it myself. Now I love a variety and rarely eat the dinners of my youth except for mashed potatoes which I still love. I heard the book is very good for more than just recipes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I still often eat the dinners of my youth, as I like simple foods with not too much spice, but I eat more fish and chicken than red meat. I think we had Canada’s Food Guide drilled into us back in grade school, fruits and veg and dairy and all that, but when they revised it recently I hardly recognized it – lots of nuts and seeds and beans etc. I remember salad in the 60’s being iceberg lettuce with dressing made from mayonnaise or that orange Kraft’s French dressing. There aren’t that many recipes in the book, maybe ten, mostly pasta, so it’s not like a traditional cookbook, more about his life, the ups and downs, so I was surprised by his wry humor. I can’t imagine having cancer of the tongue and not being able to eat, but then I love to eat! Although I prefer it when someone else cooks….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Linda Schaub says:

    Very informative read Joni – I thought, for some reason, that Tucci was a TV star from a drama I used to watch on TV back in the day. I agree with you about the profanity – it is unnecessary and is out of control. I don’t have cable (or TV for that matter) and never saw Anthony Bourdain so I had no idea about his profanity-laced show. I never heard of him until when he committed suicide. My culprit is salt and trying to downsize the sodium in my diet is difficult to do sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Anthony Bourdain didn’t ever swear on his TV show – the producers probably didn’t allow it, so I’m not sure why the editors would in print, but Tucci’s wife is his literary agent, so maybe she thought it was okay? It was in Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel book, which was published after his death, and which was basically a bunch of restaurant reviews. He looked like a rough character. I love salt myself, but everything good is bad….I say as I go and heat up some apple pie (only one crust though). I hope you made yourself something special for your Holiday dinner. Signing off now….Reader will have to wait until tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I never saw Anthony Bourdain as I don’t have cable. I actually never heard of him until his death. That does make sense that Tucci has no restrictions since his wife is his literary agent. We used to eat more salt, but my mom heard a story on the radio by a doctor about high sodium intake and strokes and she said “I don’t need any more health issues – I’m cutting us down on salt immediately.” So that was about twenty years ago. Do you have cheese on your apple pie? My friend Carol made a comment the other day that her mom (born/raised in Wisconsin) put cheese on her pie. I said that’s how I always ate it – Black Diamond cheddar slice on top. It’s a la mode here only. I’m behind in Reader from last Thursday … where did the long weekend go? I had plans, none which happened. Did not intend to spend all the time going through photos, but would have had to next week anyway. This burst of Winter is already a drag – on the bright side, it will be 50 on Thursday.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        No, but my dad used to have cheese with his pie, so it’s an old thing. I have a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or vanilla frozen yogurt, just enough to cut the sweetness. Salt is bad for high blood pressure, but mine tends to run on the low side. I only have it on certain things, but it’s in a lot of stuff like canned soups, etc that you don’t realize.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I never had ice cream or frozen yogurt on pie before moving here. My mom loved Breyer’s vanilla bean frozen yogurt – she said it soothed her heartburn. She finally went on Prilosec about a year before she passed away – she had lived on Pepcid before. I know canned soups are bad – I try to use low-sodium soup, but not always. I always had very low blood pressure before living alone and having more canned soups. I only use salf-free canned vegetables except mushrooms as they don’t come in low sodium. Bread and milk have a lot of sodium too.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Denise. It’s amazing how you can cut corners with the cholesterol stuff – for example I make a one crust apple pie and no one misses the bottom crust. I indulge in the things I love and skip the rest.

      Like

  5. Ally Bean says:

    I have this book on my TBR list. I like the idea of someone with Hollywood connections writing about food a subject that is universal. I don’t know why that charms me, but it does. Shows we’re all human, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      It was very good Ally – I should have written that it was not a traditional cookbook as there are only a few recipes in it, but more of a memoir and he seems like a nice, very likeable person. He had written a couple of other cookbooks with his first wife around 2005 but I think he didn’t realize how important food had always been to him until he couldn’t eat for 6 months!

      Like

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