I realize that is has been ages since I did a book review, but it has also been ages since I found a book worthy of writing about and recommending to my lovely readers!
Finally, today, I have the book!
Well, not today, but over the past few weeks. I found The United States of Arugula while visiting my family for Spring Break this past March, and following all of the hullabaloo around graduation I finally had the opportunity to sit down and devour this must-read for any fellow foodies of my generation.
Or any generation really.
The subtitle to this book, “The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution” hooked me immediately; the re-creation of “The Last Supper” on the front showcasing such celebrity chefs and personalities like Julia child, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and James Beard, had me in love at first sight.
Then, of course, the writing itself kept me enthralled for a whopping 360 pages of mind-blowing realizations about how far “American Cuisine” has come in the past 50 or so years.
Do you know we had no idea what balsamic vinegar was until almost 1980? Or sun-dried tomatoes?
“The sudden popularity of balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes in America caused a wrinkle in the space-time continuum, surprising and taking back the Italians, to who these products were small-batch regional delicacies not widely known even within Italy….”
I knew that as a child, sushi sort of freaked me out, but up until the late 80’s/90’s it freaked out most of the American population. Oh and apparently arugula is a “new-fangled” addition to salads, even though I now see it thrown into pretty much any meal possible in all of the food magazines I read.
This was the sort of history I craved in social studies class. Sure, wars and ancient civilizations are intriguing, but what did everyone eat during those important moments in history? What did they eat just as a part of everyday life? How did the American “foodie scene” come to be? That is always what I hungered for, and this book does a fabulous job of breaking down every bit of our food revolution.
Even from the introduction, I knew that David Kamp (author) had a writing style I would appreciate, and a stance on our food culture I could admire.
“While I don’t think we have realized Villa’s vision of a unified, codified national cuisine like France’s, nor do I think we ever will – America is just too big, unwieldy, multiregional, and multicultural for that- we have come much closer to being a nation where, as in France (and Italy and Japan), food is a fundamental facet of our cultural life, a part of the conversation, something contemplates as well as eaten.”
I mentioned that as part of reviving the book review series on the blog, I would include a recipe or set of recipes inspired from what I read. For me, the best way to exemplify my feelings toward The United States of Arugula would be to showcase what this “food evolution” has done for me as a home cook.
I fell in love with Indian cuisine, and the use of coconut milk in savory dishes with this Bombay Shrimp Curry and Coconut Rice.
With the best food bloggers (a completely new genre of digital media that definitely came out of this food evolution) at my disposal, I learned how to tackle impossible dishes like this Roasted Sweet Potato Risotto.
I fell in love with the notorious combo of Nutella (once a novelty that has now swept America by storm) and Sea-Salt in these truffles.
Trying to focus on local, sustainable farming leads to wonderful dishes like this Pasta Primavera.
Finally, what I think is the most crucial lesson that I take away from our growing food culture, do not be afraid to take a few chances. This could have been a disaster, but instead I ended up with these decadent and out-of-sight Blueberry Cheesecake Muffins.
If I were to have a star-based rating system for books I read, this would hands-down be 5 out of 5. The United States of Arugula is an inspiring read, full of humor, rich history, and above all, tons of food. It’s the perfect summer read for all my food-obsessed friends in my humble opinion.
I hope you all enjoy your weekend, and that it’s full of amazing food, friends, and fun.