Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Club & Foodie Pick: 52 Loaves

52 Loaves
by William Alexander
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
339 pages with recipes and bibliography

Laugh out loud funny, seriously entertaining, almost overly informative--I did not know anything about threshing wheat until William Alexander explained it pain-stakingly for me--this food-for-thought journey of one introspective, insanely driven, nearly crazy man to bake the "perfect" loaf of bread sustains the reader. I was sorry when his journey ended and I turned the last page.

When Alexander tastes the perfect bread in a restaurant, he sets out to find how to bake the perfect loaf from scratch--I do mean scratch--he wants to plant his own seeds, harvest his own wheat, make his own flour, build his own bread oven--he wants to "return to the earth"--this is a serious labor.

He decides to tweak the "perfect" recipe and does a mountain of research, buying the best books about bread and seeking out bakers who live on the east coast. He even enters a bread contest in New York. Still not satisfied, he travels to Paris and enrolls in the hoity-toity French school Ecole Ritz Escoffier. He ventures to Morroco where he almost dies and ends up in a monastery in Normandy where he instructs monks to use their centuries old oven to begin baking the monastery's bread.

Each chapter tells that week's successes and mostly--failures. To sum up, Alexander tells the reader what he's learned in his year-long experiment:

"--Bread in a healthy diet doesn't make you fat.
--Too much bread, washed down with wine, does.
...Do not untake any project that promises it can be completed in a week-end.
--Do not drink the water in Morroco. Or the tea, or the coffee. In fact, you might think about skipping Morroco altogether. I hear Barbados is nice this time of year.
--Trust strangers. Well, some. Only those you can trust.
--Choose one thing you care about and resolve to do it well.
--Whether you succeed or not, you will be the better for the effort.
--Bread is life." (from the novel)

I could almost smell the aroma of baking bread as Alexander described each week's offering. Well-written prose almost sings off the pages. Alexander has the knack of mixing his memoirs with hysterical, often biting, humor that targets mostly himself. This is a great Christmas gift for book lovers who also happen to love food or for that "closet" wanna-be baker.

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up and serious food junkies. This is a great book club pick for all kinds of book clubs.

Only one mature situation--Alexander gives up sex with his wife because he's worried about timing the yeast rising in his latest batch of dough.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

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