But when food writer Monica Bhide asked if I would like to see a review copy of her latest book, A Life of Spice: Stories of Food, Culture and Life, I jumped at the chance.
I have been an admirer of Monica for several years now and have been delighted to get to know her a little through an online writing group. I highly recommend her books on Indian cooking. Her anthology, In Conversation with Exception Women, is one that I refer to time and time again whenever I feel in need of a little inspiration.
Now, in A Life of Spice, Monica shares a collection of essays tying together personal recollections and treasured memories of food described in beautifully rich language, accompanied by the stunning photography of Simi Jois.
|Just one of the many vibrant photos by Simi Jois|
A Life of Spice opens with an excerpt from Monica's upcoming food memoir, what she describes as "the beginning of our story. A story about finding yourself and your destiny when you have lost the very thing that defines you most: your homeland." The tale sets the stage for the remainder of the book, where it becomes clear that when you have lost your homeland, food remains as a means of knowing yourself, your culture, and your past.
One thing I have always loved about Monica's writing is her honesty. She is not afraid to hide her flaws. Her failings as a cook are openly acknowledged, celebrated even, as a step along the path to success. Who among us has not failed miserably in an attempt to make a dish? Yet all too often, we are faced with food writers who present only the successes, who seem to run from revealing that a dish has flopped, as if it somehow makes them less than perfect. Not so with Monica. Her essay Why We Are Afraid to Cook charmingly recalls her attempt to make pad thai. By her own admission, the results tasted abysmal. When she shared this tale, some readers responded with horror that she, a cookbook author, should publicly admit her shame. I, for one, relish such honesty about failing. It is what allows me to laugh at my own failures in the kitchen.
|The wonderfully vivacious Monica Bhide. Photo by Lucy Schaffer.|
But back to the book.
A Life of Spice is filled with personal tales, memories, family, and food. If you are a cook, you may find yourself picking up nuggets of inspiration, or perhaps taking an extra moment to sniff that cardamom before you put it in tonight's curry. But even if you are not a cook, you are an eater. And your mouth will water as you read, as you conjure up the aromas and tastes that Monica brings to life with words.
I have not yet finished A Life of Spice, but it will be on my e-reader as I travel to New York this week. And when I return, hopefully my hardcopy will have been delivered. Because - and trust me on this - as nice as the e-copy is, you will also want to appreciate the images that accompany the book.