This past weekend we took advantage of nice weather we were having and we went to Portobello Road Market on Saturday to enjoy the stalls and have a lovely meal. Though we’re still in lockdown with restrictions – we have to maintain social distancing as well as wear facemasks – we have been able to enjoy the city more now.
Part of my love of Portobello Road Market is visiting Books for Cooks, a fabulous bookshop in Notting Hill. It’s a shop I found years ago when I visited London for the first time, and have made a point of shopping there each time I make it to London. I then moved to London and was hoping to make it a regular haunt, but I’ve often found its hours difficult and I haven’t been able to go as often as I’d like. Then this past year and a half made it so that I couldn’t visit my favorite spots in London, including Books for Cooks.
I was finally able to go to Books for Cooks and I was thrilled – it’s a great place and I love going there to browse (and shop, of course). I also made my way to the Oxfam bookshop on Portobello Road and got some items, there…All in all, a great haul for the weekend. Here’s what I got over the weekend:
Books for Cooks:
Black and White and the Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano – Mashama Bailey is the executive chef at the Grey, a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. The site of the restaurant is a former segregated bus depot. I became familiar with Bailey because of the Netflix show, Chef’s Table, and found her story so moving. On the show, she talked about the history of soul food and its relationship with Black history, particularly in a city like Savannah that is so marked by the history of race in America. Bailey is a New Yorker who moved to the South after a career in social work and a stint studying cooking in France before forging an incredible career working at the Grey. Along with Bailey, John O. Morisano was also featured on the episode; I got this book because I thought Bailey was so magnetic and arresting. I’m very excited to read this book.
The Book Lover’s Guide to France by Patricia Wells – I like Patricia Wells writing a lot – I’ve read her work in anthologies of food essays, and I have a couple of her cookbooks. I picked up this used at Books for Cooks, the friendly owner highly recommending this book. It’s a guidebook about spots in France that have the best restaurants, bakeries, cheese mongers. This book was published in 1987, so I imagine that a lot of the entries won’t be relevant anymore, but it’s still a fantastic snapshot of what French cooking looked like in the mid 1980s. I’ve always been fascinated about European culture in the 1980s and 1990s, and have collected books, films, and music of Europe from that time. There are some great photos in there, and once I’m reading the book, I’ll be going through and seeing which places are still open and penciling them for my next visit.
I also got two old magazines from a rack near the shop’s test kitchen. One of the magazines, Slow Ark is a magazine from an organisation that promotes the slow food movement. The other magazine I got was 2000 summer issue of Gourmet magazine (a fabulous, but now-defunct, food magazine that featured some of the best food writing)
Along with these books, I got a lovely tote bag from the owner, as well. I really love Books for Cooks and was really pleased that I was able to make it.
There’s an Oxfam near my home in Chiswick that I go to a lot, but I like going to other Oxfams to see what they’ve got. At the door, there’s a sign that asks folks to leave a bag at the counter. When I walked into the shop, I left my bag with the kind lady at the till, and through our facemasks, I let her know that I was leaving my bag as the door asked.
I then browsed through the store’s great selection – it’s a really great charity shop – and when I got back to the counter to pay for my books, I spotted some books behind the woman and saw Black, White and the Grey and thought, “How funny, someone has donated a book that I just bought.” I then saw a Gourmet underneath it, and thought, “How weird, a Gourmet, too,” and it was then that I realized that it was my stuff. I asked the volunteer about the books and she was immediately apologetic and explained that she thought I was donating; through our muffled voices, we figured out that this was all a funny misunderstanding, and she packed up my stuff.
Move Love: Complete Reviews 1988-1991 by Pauline Kael – I love Kael’s film writing. She was quite prickly and very opinionated and I often disagreed with some of her views (she had a rather dim view of Marilyn Monroe was regularly trashed Candice Bergen), but she was a fantastic writer, one of the best. I have a number of her books, but never heard of Movie Love, so I was excited to pick it up.
They Went Thataway – Redefining Film Genres: A National Society of Film Critics Video Guide edited by Richard T. Jameson – I picked up the book because of its striking Dan Hubig cover. This book is a collection of film essays that engage with various film genres, focusing on films that were definitive of different film genres like comedy or gangster film. The book was published in 1994, so it’d be interesting to see if there were any follow up volumes published with new entries.
Himalaya by Michael Palin – Michael Palin is a great comedian and travel writer who was featured in a great series of travel shows on British television. He’s funny and engaging. I recently watched Around the World in 80 Days which was great. I never read much about the Himalayas – I did go through a brief spell when I read about Everest a lot – but Palin’s funny and thoughtful writing is a great way for me to learn more about this region. The Guardian‘s blurb read “The ultimate armchair travel book” – and that’s a perfect way of describing Palin’s work, a vicarious experience of vacationing around the world from the comfort of your living room. (the edition I have isn’t part of the publishing of Palin’s books that feature a photo of him on a band across the book cover but instead an older version with Palin sitting on a pile of luggage with the Himalayas looming behind him)
Full Circle by Michael Palin – Full Circle is the last in a trio of books Palin wrote about travel during the 1990s, with Around the World in 80 Days being the first. Like the other Palin books, it’s a diary with the guy musing about his travels and what he’s been seeing and confronting during his travels (like with the other Palin book I got, this edition was an older edition than the picture below – the version I got was a BBC-tie in with a trio of pics with Palin, one in a rice field, another with him smiling from the driver’s seat in a dessert, and a nice pic of him in front of a bonfire)
I ordered a couple books online, as well. Most of my book shopping now is through charity shops, Waterstones, or going to mom and pop bookshops, but I still order stuff online, as well – particularly if it’s do with my writing (I’m looking to go back to school)
Eat Something: A Wise Son’s Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews by Evan Bloom and Rachel Levin – I saw this book on a window display of Books for Cooks months ago. The shop was closed so I wasn’t able to get it, but I was so charmed by the cover which was shot by Maren Caruso (a great food photographer – go visit her website) that I clicked/saved the book in my mind and then got it this past week. I love Jewish cooking and contemporary Jewish history/culture, so this book was a must for me. The book not only has recipes but essays as well, so I’m looking forward to reading it.
Elaine’s: The Rise of One of New York’s Most Legendary Restaurants from Those Who Were There Amy Phillips Penn – I’m looking into contemporary New York culture as a possible part of my PhD work (if I go back to school), so I thought I’d get books about New York food culture, too…I wanted to find books on Zabars and Gristedes as well as Elaine’s as it’s a legendary institution of New York food lore. There are lots of pictures and the book is a bit slim – I’m still on the hunt for something a bit more academic – I’m also looking for something about the Carlyle – but it’s still a seeming affectionate tribute to an important bit of Manhattan culture.