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Café Inspired by Food Writer M.F.K. Fisher Opens in Chicago

Café Inspired by Food Writer M.F.K. Fisher Opens in Chicago

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The café and bar features design elements that reflect coastal Spain

mfk. restaurant in Chicago is now open.

Earlier in July, husband and wife team Scott and Sari Zernich Worsham opened mfk., a new café and bar between Lakeview and Lincoln Park, named after the legendary American food writer M.F.K. Fisher, whose autobiographical works have deeply influenced the landscape of food literature.


According to Crain’s Chicago, the 700-square foot restaurant seats 28 people and is “designed to reflect coastal Spain, using whitewashed walls, metal barstools and chairs, and a sycamore wood bar top.”

The kitchen will be helmed by executive chef Nick Lacasse, formerly of The Drawing Room. Chef Lacasse’s menu will focus on seafood and seasonal vegetables. The wine menu will include 14 whites, seven rosés, and four reds, reports Crain's Chicago.

Fisher, the restaurant’s namesake, is the author of many seminal books on food writing, including Serve It Forth, An Alphabet for Gourmets, The Art of Eating, and many others. She is also known for her translation of Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste.



For the latest food and drink updates, visit our Food News page.

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.

'Poet of the Appetites': The Art of the Meal

POET OF THE APPETITES The Lives and Loves of M. F. K. Fisher. By Joan Reardon. Illustrated. 509 pp. North Point Press. $27.50.

FOR more than half a century, M. F. K. Fisher has ranked as one of the most distinctive literary stylists in America. Though her subject was food, it needn't have been: she could have been writing about clocks or Christmas trees, and they would have sent her prose wafting dizzily into the realms of love, death and desire, just as tangerines and oysters did.

Fisher was less a food writer than a fabulist, choosing as her medium the most porous of all prose genres, the memoir. Food lovers have cherished Fisher's work since her first book appeared in 1937, but it wasn't until the 1980's, when she was discovered by a suddenly cuisine-mad nation, that she became more widely known. From then until her death in 1992, she presided with some amazement over a genuine cult. Readers tumbled blissfully into the concoctions of sensuality and fantasy that swirled across her pages, and to many aspiring authors her style was irresistible. A heady narcissism, feverishly laced with romantic innuendo, became the new mode in evocative food writing.

But who was she? Who was that mysterious woman sitting alone in a restaurant, relishing a meal she had chosen so astutely that the other diners, even the waiters, were stunned? Who was that narrator so elusive we can only picture her veiled? Anyone who has ever asked this question, either in pleasure or in mounting irritation, will pounce on Joan Reardon's "Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M. F. K. Fisher." Reardon's approach to her complex subject is wonderfully clearheaded -- she's appreciative without being worshipful -- and her prose is so graceful, sensitive and dignified that it would have satisfied even a stylist like Fisher.

Reardon, whose previous book was "M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table," has been steeped in Fisher's voluminous writings for years, and somehow she's emerged with her wits about her. Fisher scribbled away constantly -- in journals, letters, scads of newspaper and magazine articles, dozens of books -- and most of what ended up in print was loosely autobiographical. Yet as Reardon emphasizes early on, fidelity to facts was never the point. The same dinner with friends could appear over and over in Fisher's published work, rejiggered each time to make a different point. She wrote as she cooked and for much the same reason: to create, Reardon says, "a certain kind of control over reality and power over the one who consumed."

Fisher's love life is a recurring theme, especially her brief marriage to a shadowy figure she called Chexbres -- in reality Dillwyn Parrish, an artist who developed Buerger's disease, a kind of chronic phlebitis, and suffered horribly until he took a revolver and shot himself. Fisher's heartbreak was immense, and so was the inspiration she drew from it. In the years following Parrish's death in the summer of 1941, she wrote often and memorably about the idylls, the despair and the meals of their time together. The image of the doom-stricken lover at table suited her imagination well, and these were the episodes that would bring devotees to her cottage in St. Helena, Calif., 40 years later. To my mind, though, her finest work was inspired by another great love affair -- the one with food. "How to Cook a Wolf," her engaging response to Depression-era cuisine, holds up far better today than the prose swathed in her tragic memories.

If Fisher constantly mined her past in her published work, she also left out quite a bit, as Reardon discovered. There was, for example, a significant romance that was never mentioned in print -- a secret liaison with Marietta Voorhees, a drama teacher in St. Helena, in the late 1950's. There were also agonizing struggles with her two daughters, whose upbringing was far from the idealized version Fisher offered her readers. Perhaps the most dismaying scene in Reardon's book takes place during Fisher's final illness, when her elder daughter -- whom Fisher passed off publicly as adopted, though she was in fact her natural child -- asked once more to learn her father's name. Fisher silently turned her back on her daughter, and took the secret with her.

This dark, quietly ferocious streak in Fisher revealed itself on other occasions as well, sometimes with a twist that would have been comic if it weren't so scary. She loved entertaining, for instance, but she also deeply resented the sacrifice of her solitude and work time. In the throes of this conflict one winter, she invited the whole family to Christmas dinner. "She knew better," Reardon writes, "but she stuffed the turkey with oyster dressing the evening before she roasted it . . . and virtually everyone ended the festive day with cramps and nausea."

Who was Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher? A lifelong series of contradictions. But her best work keeps alive the sensibility of the young woman, newly married, who arrived in Dijon in the fall of 1929 and was enthusiastically discovering the cheese, the charcuterie, the wine. Not yet a professional writer, Fisher had no craft and no literary self-consciousness. "It's an art and religion, this French food, and I'm already an ardent follower of the faith," she wrote to her sister. Converts tend to lose their heads as well as their hearts. Maybe no other explanation is needed for the passions and the prose that followed.

Correction: December 19, 2004, Sunday A book review last Sunday about "Poet of the Appetites," a biography of the writer M. F. K. Fisher, referred incorrectly to the California residence at which devotees visited her after 1971, in the last years of her life. It was in Glen Ellen St. Helena was her previous home.

Boxers and Baseball Players

In the years before World War I, athletes came to the Springs area to train in the fresh air, away from city temptations. Boxers were among the first to arrive, and their sessions in the Sonoma Valley were covered by San Francisco newspapers.

Baseball was hugely popular around Sonoma, and starting in 1913 the San Francisco Seals minor-league team started training in Boyes Hot Springs. They played against local teams and in their first year in the Valley, the Seals played the Chicago White Sox at the baseball park in Boyes. The stands were packed with locals and out-of-towners, including (according to legend) Jack London. The Seals trained in the Valley until 1950.


A--It`s easy to clarify broth. Simply beat two egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then stir them into cold stock in a soup kettle.

Set the kettle over medium heat and continue stirring. When your broth begins simmering at the edges, stop stirring and let it simmer 10 minutes. As it simmers, the egg white will start coagulating and all the little bits floating around in your stock will be gathered up by the egg white.

Remove the pot from the heat and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Then strain through several thicknesses of cheesecloth.

Incidentally, your husband is not alone in his love for beef broth. Food writer M.F.K. Fisher claims that ''When I am tired and cold and hungry, poor or rich, I would rather drink a bowl of hot broth than confront any meal ever devised.''

And King Louis XIV was supposed to be consomme crazy apocrypha has it that he ordered his cook to create a soup clear enough to mirror his own royal countenance.

Q--Whenever I make recipes calling for peeled apples, it says to put the apples in acidulated water. What is acidulated water?

A--Acidulated water is water that has a small amount of acid--vinegar or lemon juice--added to it. Adding 1 teaspoon of acid to 2 cups of water will make it acidulated. Its purpose is to keep cut fruit, such as pears or apples, from turning dark immediately. If the fruit is completely submerged, the acidulated water will keep fruit lighter longer.

Acidulated water is also a wonderful medium for cooking cauliflower since the cauliflower--even if it is a faint yellow color--will have turned white by the time it is cooked.

Q--I have a recipe that calls for a 2 1/2-quart oblong glass casserole for chocolate cake. I can only find a 2- or a 3-quart casserole. Can I use either one?

A--Use a 9- by 13-inch metal cake pan to make your 2 1/2-quart cake (the pan holds this amount of water exactly). Also, you should increase the cake`s baking temperature 25 degrees.

Help: John Sweeney of Los Angeles is looking for a homemade duplicate of the orange Julius drink. It is made with orange juice and powdered milk, among other ingredients.

Wolf Brings Pacific Northwest-Inflected Italian Cuisine to New York

Inside celebrated Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell's East Coast debut.

When Nordstrom announced they were opening a new flagship store in New York City during a time when most brands are collapsing their retail efforts it was a moment of interest both for fans of the brand, and for those interested in food from the Pacific Northwest. Located on the second floor of the department store is Wolf, the first East Coast venture from ESR, the restaurant group from esteemed Seattle chef and restaurateur Ethan Stowell.

Wolf takes both its name and many of the dishes on its menu from Stowell's Italian-inspired restaurant How to Cook a Wolf (a reference to celebrated food writer M.F.K. Fisher). Stowell's seasonal, simply wrought Italian-ish dishes have made him a local favorite in Seattle, and have garnered multiple accolades and a significant amount of local and national acclaim.

One of Nordstrom's claims to fame is its strong nationwide restaurant program, which Vincent Rossetti, Nordstrom's vice president of restaurant operations, says is powered by thousands of restaurant employees and is helmed by a roster of chefs who develop dishes on a regional and national level and help to maintain quality across Nordstrom locations.

Wolf is a bit different from those other restaurants, though, in that it's a Nordstrom property but is attached to an established outside chef. (Rossetti says that Stowell has equity in the project but is not the owner.)

Stowell and Rosetti say that Wolf is the product of a relationship that developed naturally over time and was born out of previous collaborations and an alignment of culinary philosophy. Stowell and Nordstrom had previously collaborated on charity dinners in Seattle (where Nordstrom is based) and, according to Rossetti, "There aren't many chefs more highly regarded than chef Ethan." They both also say that their food focus, on a micro and macro level, is centered on using local products and presenting them in a way that is both delicious and not overly wrought.

While Stowell has been intimately involved in the opening of Wolf, the 115-seat restaurant is headed by Scott Siff, a longtime employee of Stowell's restaurant group whom he describes as, "a great cook and a good leader." Siff—who is now employed by Nordstrom—moved to New York explicitly to helm Wolf and the restaurant's five section menu—which begins with small plates and progresses to composed salads, pastas, meat and fish entrées, and naturally ends with desserts—is made up primarily of dishes that already exist in Seattle.

While Wolf's menu presents a variety of options, there's a clear emphasis on small plates and pastas, with only a few larger meat-based entrées currently on the menu, such as an already popular bacon cheeseburger with balsamic red onions and Calabrian chile oil king salmon with artichoke, fennel, Taggiasca olives and gremolata and an American wagyu rib-eye cap with peperonata, fingerling potatoes and salsa verde.

One aspect of the menu that's noteworthy is its general affordability. Generously portioned pastas are all in the $20 range and Stowell says that this was carefully considered. "Right now the world is expensive and we want restaurants where people feel comfortable paying the price so that they can come once or twice a month. I try to price menus where customers want to pay," Stowell shares. This means diners can dig into dishes like ricotta-filled agnolotti in a hazelnut-studded brown butter sage sauce (pictured at the top of the article), and a salad made from chunks of king crab with baby beets, avocado mousse, radish and watercress without breaking the bank.

Wolf's beverage program is also an import from Seattle, and is helmed from afar by Sennen David, who pulls double duty as both ESR's vice president of marketing and culture and its beverage director. Diners will find a full range of cocktails and wines, as well as housemade non-alcoholic sodas with flavors like cucumber rosemary almond with orgeat, lime and mint and pomegranate limeade.

Wolf's cocktail program offers both standards and a range of custom recipes. This includes The Ballet Slipper, a drink made from Botanist gin, Campari, apricot and lemon juice. Its name is a nod to Nordstrom's history as a purveyor of shoes, and the fact that Stowell's parents were co-directors of the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

As for Wolf's wine program, David says, "We believe in supporting people that have great ideas and don't necessarily have the platform yet." This means that many of the wines served in Seattle are tricky to present on the East Coast, as their makers may not be part of a wider (and complicated) importation system. Despite this, Wolf's wine program will offer glasses and bottles from smaller producers like Mark Ryan Winery and larger producers like Château Ste. Michelle, both out of Washington. The wine program will also include select wines from California, Italy and France.

Hero image by Melissa Hom.

Jacob Dean is a freelance food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He holds a doctorate in psychology and enjoys small international airports, dumplings, and hosting dinner parties. He is also allergic to grasshoppers (the insects, not the mixed drink).

Where to eat on Valentine's Day in Tampa Bay

Still looking for the right way to convey your feelings to your sweetie this Valentine's Day? Someone smart once said food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate. True. Food writer M.F.K. Fisher had a zillion quotes about the direct connection between the heart and the belly, the intimacy of sharing a great meal. So, dinner out should do it. But bear in mind, it's the second busiest restaurant day of the year.

This will require some thinking outside of the box. Does it have to be Thursday? Can you push it to the weekend? And does it have to be dinner? Here are what some of Tampa Bay's better-known restaurants are doing to celebrate matters of the heart.

Tampa International Airport

Well, they're not all restaurants per se. From 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, the airport will celebrate the grand opening of 69 new shops and restaurants on the third floor of the airport's Main Terminal. (This is presecurity.) Admission is free and visitors can park free for under one hour in the Short Term Garage. Think about it: You can stroll and nibble from all the new shops (lots of local products on offer, from La Segunda pastries to Toffee to Go toffee and Kahwa coffee), then watch the planes taking off and landing from one of four outdoor patios. Romantic. Have a glass of bubbly and talk about where you'd like to jet off to. And if you're really romantic? Call each other's bluff and buy a ticket. The remake of the Main Terminal and all of the airport concessions were part of the first phase of a three-phase capital program designed to expand the airport's capacity to 34 million annual passengers. 4100 George J. Bean Parkway, Tampa.

Metro Diner

How about a little breakfast instead to get the day started off avec amour? Rise and shine to dishes like the strawberry cheesecake-stuffed waffle, or croissant French toast, cinnamon roll pancakes or "Yo Hala on the Square" (thick challah bread stuffed with a mixture of bananas, brown sugar, cream cheese and hazelnut syrup, prepared like French toast and topped with a blueberry strawberry compote). Oh, and mimosas are $2.99 through Sunday. 5250 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 324-6088 4011 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, (813) 364-0076.

The Pearl

This longtime romantic restaurant in Treasure Island is in its 14th year, offering a special Valentine's Day menu that includes lobster bisque ($10), a tuna martini ($12), escargots Provencale ($12) and Coquilles St. Jacques ($12), as well as entrees like huge Maine lobster tails ($52), bouillabaisse ($32) and duck a l'orange ($29). That's all the romantic foods right there. 163 107th Ave. (727) 360-9151.


Precisely how much do you love your sweetie? This steakhouse is doing something a little different this year. You can wine, dine and surprise your sweetheart with an extravagant dinner and special gift from a jeweler (for her or him). The deal runs through Sunday and, get this, is offered at three different price points, each with distinct Champagne options and gift choices. The first tier ($350) includes a three-course dinner for two, two glasses of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne and the surprise gift. The second tier ($500) is a three-course dinner for two with a whole bottle of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne, plus the gift. And then the pull-out-all-the-stops tier ($1,000) is a three-courser with a bottle of Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne and the surprise gift. There are fancy amuse-bouches (seared scallops, etc.), starters include a choice of mushroom bisque with truffle cream and thyme or beet salad with red onion, pistachios, Campari tomato, goat cheese and honey-lime vinaigrette entrees are a filet mignon plus a choice of North Atlantic lobster tail or colossal shrimp with herb-lemon butter sauce and for dessert it's white chocolate bread pudding served with dark chocolate and raspberry-infused whipped cream and topped with warm raspberry champagne sauce. 4322 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa. (813) 874-9463.

Bonefish Grill

This chain seafood spot is doing a filet and lobster thermidor combo, their version a wood-fired filet mignon and jumbo shrimp topped with sweet lobster chunks in a creamy thermidor sauce, served with choice of two sides, available through Sunday. There's also a new Art-Sea martini (tropical flavors of passion fruit, pineapple and fresh citrus shaken with Reyka vodka and Aperol liqueur garnished with some kind of edible art) and a chocolate lava cake topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. For the location nearest you, go to

Eddie V's

Suave tuxedoed waiters. Live music in the bar. Suitably low lighting. I think of this place as romantic. This year they are doing a Valentine's Eve special on Wednesday. Choose from the menu of seafood and steaks and get free Chambord truffles and a glass of Moet Brut Imperial or Moet Rose to share with your loved one at the end of your meal. Not bad. 4400 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa. (813) 877-7290.

HEW Parlor & Chophouse

This newcomer at the Fenway Hotel in Dunedin is offering a romantic four-course prix-fixe menu for Valentine's Day. There's a choice of appetizer (cold water oysters, sliced yellowtail, charred beef tataki, tasso-style pork, chicken liver mousse or caramelized cauliflower), choice of soup or salad, choice of entree (grilled airline chicken breast, grilled pork loin, duck breast, olive oil-poached cobia, filet, barbecued lamb loin, mixed shellfish risotto or a tomahawk — the entree determines the prix-fixe price, from $56 to $130) and choice of dessert (malted chocolate cake, pear panna cotta or cheese tasting), served from 5 to 10 p.m. 453 Edgewater Drive, Dunedin. (727) 683-5990.

It's another four-course menu, this one in a "sea to table" vein, with a signature surf and turf interpretation that pairs butter-roasted Maine lobster tail, filet mignon and fresh jumbo lump crab cake for $99, which includes choice of appetizer, soup or salad and dessert. The menu also features a number of sommelier selections and a big handful of fun cocktails. (I think their cocktails are some of the best around.) The special menu is offered through Sunday at the Tampa location. 4342 W Boy Scout Blvd. (813) 873-7697.

Distasteful: An Investigation of Food’s Subversive Function in René Magritte’s The Portrait and Meret Oppenheim’s Ma Gouvernante—My Nurse—Mein Kindermädchen

People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? . . . They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft. . . . [I]t happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it . . . and warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied . . . and it is all one. . . . There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. 1

Despite its daily importance—necessity, even—food has often been glossed over, taken for granted, not seen as appropriate fodder for those working in the arts, and certainly not for those studying the arts. Legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher’s above words, written in 1943, suggest this general attitude to be the case among writers between and during the world wars, contrasting the “honor” of writing with an implied humility, unworthiness, and even disparagement attributed to food. Kenneth Bendiner suggests that the same fate has befallen food in the visual arts: “We recognize the social role of meals. . . . But the utter commonness of food in every single person’s life every day of the year makes it unexceptional, mundane, not worth extensive consideration.” 2 There is a history of still life painting, to be sure, but further probing into food’s role in art seems relatively minimal and superficial in comparison to, say, that of religious iconography. In particular, it seems that food-related art in the first half of the twentieth century, and in surrealism in particular, has been largely uninvestigated Bendiner goes so far as to make the unqualified generalization that, for many artists of this era, “the joyous spirit of most food subjects destroys the psychological gravity needed for serious . . . investigations.” 3

In this essay, I hope to counter Bendiner’s claim that food is inherently joyous, and therefore eschewed by artists in this period, by investigating the presentation and implication of food in two nearly contemporaneous but very different works of art: René Magritte’s oil painting The Portrait (1935) (Figure 1) and Meret Oppenheim’s recontextualized “found” object Ma Gouvernante—My Nurse—Mein Kindermädchen (1936) (Figure 2). For these two artists, food is not something that is satisfying and comforting, but rather a familiar entity that can be exploited to challenge basic cultural assumptions, as part of a larger movement.

Indeed, these two works are both products of the surrealist movement of the 1920s and 30s, which ushered in a new kind of rebellion against society. 4 The surrealists were radical in both their artistic practices and their lifestyle choices, seeking to enact what Salvador Dalí deemed their “colossal nutritive and cultural responsibility” in the face of patriotism and conservatism that dominated France and other nearby countries at this time. 5 While surrealist sexual experimentation and gender boundary-blurring has been well-discussed in both the art and lives of the movement’s artists, their approach to the daily routines of food and eating, though lesser-known, was illuminatingly atypical in its own right. A picnic staged by Caresse Crosby in 1932 saw such figures as Max Ernst and Julian Levy creating an impromptu safari-themed film and partaking in perhaps the most infamous surrealist food: lobsters. 6 Leonora Carrington, at the home she shared with Ernst, her lover, was a notorious food prankster. According to Marina Warner: “she might cook an omelet with hair cut from the head of a guest while he slept and serve it to him, or dye sago black [with] squid’s ink and dish it up with cracked ice and lemon as caviare [sic.] for a collector.” 7

Like Carrington’s antics in particular, it is through just such clever manipulation of this familiar and usually uncontroversial daily entity that Magritte and Oppenheim’s works evoke very contentious and complex questions. However, unlike Carrington’s jokes on friends, food’s subversion in the painted medium shifts the act from the realm of the personal prank and brings it in direct confrontation with the artistic canon, preserving it in such a way that it becomes a decontextualized statement with which any unrelated viewer can interact. Most immediately and effectively, these two pieces play on the viewer’s visceral reaction to food. Anyone looking at these works will recognize the tropes of food prepared and presented for consumption, which would normally immediately arouse hunger however, the simultaneous undermining of edibility immediately compounds the appetitive with disgust. In this prioritization of the fundamental, instinctive bodily reaction over the cerebral contemplations that might follow, these works lend themselves to an examination not through the eyes of surrealism’s founder André Breton, but instead through the framework of Georges Bataille, the champion of “undercover” or “dissident” surrealism. Breton’s foundational tenets of surrealism are historically linked to the emotive and the cerebral, particularly to the poetic concept of “love” which he prioritized in poetry, art, and life. In contrast, Bataille found Breton’s rebellion to be insufficiently extreme, and venerated what he termed la bassesse—a base, vulgar materialism, akin to Freud’s instinctually aggressive individualism in its rejection of civility. 8 And indeed, despite all of food’s fancy trappings, there is perhaps no more base an instinct than the drive to eat. Moreover, in constructing a Bataillian frame of reference, we must also investigate his notion of “heterogeneity” that is, a mode of interaction with one’s world that does not seek to assimilate it, or be assimilated into it, but which rather strives to combine diverse components while retaining their individual identities to create dramatic, often startling, results. He extolled actions that “have the power to liberate heterogenous elements and to break the habitual homogeneity of the individual,” believing this less normative state of disruption to be a source of greater individual and societal freedom. 9

Viewed in the light of heterogeneity, then, food’s interest lies not in its routine application as an entity to be consumed and absorbed for survival, but rather as a source of otherness, a cause of disruption to the body’s equilibrium. Bataille himself addresses this quality of food in his discussion of the heterogenous byproducts of consumption:

Excretion presents itself as the result of a heterogeneity, and can move in the direction of an ever greater heterogeneity, liberating impulses whose ambivalence is more and more pronounced. 10

In the two examples I will look at, however, it is the inherent inedibility of the food portrayed that underpins this otherness. By employing recognizable culinary tropes of their day, these pieces allow viewers a route into the works that is ostensibly familiar, but then posit them in the realm of humans rather than of foodstuffs, and as artistic material rather than edible matter. As such, the works evoke yet undermine the “habitual” nature of food. In these uncanny renderings, which make the familiar foreign, but familiar in a different way, Oppenheim and Magritte present their own witty experiments in heterogeneity. 11 These works make the mundane extraordinary, the serious funny, the satisfying insatiable, and the overlooked inescapable, in ways that uphold rather than resolve a myriad of tensions in interwar European society, from bodily taboos related to sexuality and consumption to intellectual and emotional concerns such as gender roles and familial relationships. In short, they challenge the viewer to find a taste for the distasteful.


[The eye is] the object of such anxiety that we will never bite into it. 12

Eye: cannibal delicacy. . . . [A] young man who by chance holding in his hand a coffee spoon, suddenly wanted to take an eye in that spoon. 13

Both of the above quotes are from Bataille’s “Dictionnaire Critique” entry on “Eye,” published in the surrealist journal Documents in 1930. Though seemingly contradictory, the tension between these two ideas is in keeping with the typical Bataillian veneration of all things uncomfortable, and the consumption of eyes is a recurrent allusion in his 1928 novella Story of the Eye. 14 Here, however, I wish to examine how this interplay between the repulsion and attraction to ocular consumption is manifested in René Magritte’s 1935 painting The Portrait, and how this piece embodies Magritte’s own belief in surrealism as “the indomitable foe of all the bourgeois ideological values that are keeping the world in its present appalling condition.” 15

At first glance, The Portrait certainly evokes more traditional food-related artworks, particularly the still life. This is partially due to the piece’s austerity and anonymity of style, deriving from the simplicity of the pared-down presentation. 16 The sparseness of the composition makes it a far cry from the cautionary tales of excess sometimes seen in artworks, such as in Hieronymous Bosch’s 1490 Allegory of Gluttony and Lust (Figure 3). Far from being abstracted entities, the relative verisimilitude of the glass, the ham, the cutlery, and the wine make them seem as though, in a different context, they could be found in a conventional painting of a dining table, or indeed on a dining room table in an average family’s home in 1930s France or Belgium. Yet in keeping with Magritte’s own rebellion against typicality—and consequently upholding a Bataillian veneration of heterogeneity—The Portrait is, very immediately, anything but a typical meal. The setting is completely removed from any context these objects are not situated within a larger room, but are instead presented on a surface against a plain blue background. 17 Consequently, the scene exists in a quasi-dreamlike, potentially fictitious environment that is simultaneous nowhere and anywhere. Moreover, there is virtually no sense of recession into space, and the objects almost appear to be stacked vertically on top of one another rather than being placed on a horizontal surface, removing it from the tradition of the locatable still life setting. 18

And then—or more accurately, first of all—there is the staring eye, agape in the center of the slice of ham. Eyes are commonly depicted throughout Magritte’s oeuvre, perhaps most famously in his 1929 painting The False Mirror, which depicts an enlarged eye with a cloudy blue sky replacing the monochromatic iris. Some have argued that Magritte’s painted eyes, removed from their facial setting and divorced from their partners, act as omnipotent entities, which recalls the Judeo-Christian tradition of the eye that wards off evil, or the all-seeing eye of Christ. 19 I am here more interested in The Portrait’s transformation of the eye into an object for potential but thwarted consumption, in a complex rendering of suggested cannibalism in an inherently impenetrable and irreconcilable medium of paint on canvas.

The sheer absurdity of the eye in an otherwise recognizable and very familiar scene makes it quite humorous on first viewing. 20 However, I would argue that it is at the same time, and more pervasively, deeply disquieting. To again invoke Bataille, ocular mutilation was considered by the surrealist thinker to be “the most horrifying form of sacrifice”—quite a superlative declaration for such an extremist, and a statement which says a great deal about the disturbing potency of this action. 21 In spite of, or more likely because of, its squeamish potency, the theme was frequently revisited by the surrealists, perhaps most infamously in the scene of a woman’s eyeball being sliced in Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s 1929 film Un Chien andalou (Figures. 4, 5). 22 The Portrait, like its cinematic predecessor, is particularly disturbing in its portrayal of a human eye, here not only being presented for mutilation but for consumption. Indeed, the eye in this painting, despite its porcine surroundings, certainly appears human in its recognizable shape and light-colored iris. Magritte himself proclaimed that “a painter is mediocre if he doesn’t give special consideration to the importance of his spectator’s eyes,” and he wryly rises to his own challenge here. 23

It is this confrontation between the painted eye and the viewer’s eye that poses a particularly troubling blurring of boundaries. In addressing the eye’s unwavering stare with his own eye, the viewer simultaneously draws a connection with the painted image as his own eye—a quality only underscored by the painting’s titling as a portrait, but one without a specific nominal identification. If, as Norman Bryson claims, “still life negates the whole process of constructing and asserting human beings as the primary focus of depiction,” 24 Magritte has successfully turned this academic tradition on its head, bringing about a disturbing revival of the medieval term “fleshmeat.” 25 At the same time, the inverse of this supposition must be considered. If the painted eye can be equated with the viewer on some level, then the viewer can equally identify himself with the painted eye, substituting his own face for the piece of ham on the plate. In this way, Magritte further complicates academic conventions, here undermining any idealization associated with portraiture. Instead, we have not merely flesh, but specifically a face made meat, turned bestial, perishable, and even potentially edible. This troublesome mutual identification adds not only cannibalism but self-mutilation to Bataille’s complex tension surrounding ocular consumption.

If Magritte is posing an ethical question of “to eat or not to eat?”, it is ultimately rendered purely hypothetical, for The Portrait is, fundamentally, paint on a canvas surface available for visual consumption but nothing further. 26 Magritte frequently explored this distance between representation and object in his work. From early in his career, his famous painting The Treachery of Images (1929) (Figure 6) presents a realistic painting of a pipe, but then declares that “This is not a pipe,” leaving viewers to determine how to classify what they see before them. In a more culinary context, his 1936 piece This is a Piece of Cheese (Figure 7) makes an inverse declaration. It consists of a painting of gruyere placed under a glass cheese dome, which thus takes on qualities of cheese, yet no one would mistake it for an edible product. In these examples, Magritte highlights the disjunction between, rather than the merging of, signified and signifier while the audience is free to partake visually, there is an inherent inability for them to literally consume or subsume these painted and sculptural objects. In The Portrait, the artifice and impossibility of consummating any suggested act is even further underscored by the idiosyncrasy of the few other objects: the upside-down fork sits on the wrong side of the plate the butter knife is not the expected implement for cutting meat the wine bottle, with no wine glass, sits next to an empty water glass.

While The Portrait conjures up all of the Bataillian anxiety of eating eyes, compounded by the viewer’s self-identification with the eye made edible on the plate, the piece’s integrity simultaneously implicates and incapacitates viewers who must reckon with its tensions. For though the picture deals with issues of consumption, Magritte has incapacitated the spectator’s mouth through his painted medium. Instead, we are forced to ingest the piece at a purely visual level, dealing with the staring eye’s challenge to consider what it is we are viewing and the uneasiness this evokes. We must address this eye but however we interpret it—as threatening, as trapped, as parodic, as omnipotent, or any combination thereof—we are unable to dominate or alter this static, unwavering scene, reliant on little more than the work’s hints of humor to temper its uneasiness. As I hope to now show, it is a similar upholding of the irreconcilable and indomitable—once again through the viewer’s intimate encounter with highly recognizable food imagery—that makes Meret Oppenheim’s My Nurse such an enigmatic piece of surrealist sculpture, and another potent example of Bataillian heterogeneity.


No communication is more profound two creatures are lost in a convulsion that binds them together. But they communicate only through losing a portion of themselves. . . . [T]heir integrity disperse[s] in the heat of excitement. 27

Bataille’s description of physical love is strikingly applicable to Meret Oppenheim’s 1936 object Ma Gouvernante—My Nurse—Mein Kindermädchen. Two white high-heeled shoes are trussed together, topped with paper ruffles, and “served” to viewers on a silver platter, taking on, in their united state, the form of a kind of unappetizing poultry dish. In addition to the culinary milieu, however, My Nurse takes its place in a complex social and art historical tradition surrounding the objectification and availability of women’s bodies. Although it can be read as a turkey, the piece’s title, like Magritte’s own, and its composition from decidedly feminine footwear also make it possible to view the work as a prostrate, headless woman, her legs suggestively akimbo. 28 These simultaneities result in a witty visual double-entendre that raises and challenges a variety of issues about visual, edible, and bodily modes of consumption, in ways both similar to and different from Magritte’s painting of the previous year.

Taking as the starting point Oppenheim’s position as a self-consciously active and empowered female member of the surrealist movement, we can first address My Nurse in relation to the most basic link between women and consumption—the act of breast-feeding. 29 As the most literal manifestation of woman’s role as mother and nurturer, this connection has long historical precedents in the medieval world, “woman was food because breast milk was the human being’s first nourishment—the one food essential for survival.” 30 The primacy and expectation that children would be breastfed was certainly still the sanctioned attitude in 1930s France, as “in the interwar years the Church [in collaboration with the state] was particularly active in encouraging women to stay home and raise families.” 31

Yet to the young Oppenheim, one feels, this option was far from desirable, and Jennifer Mundy observes that many surrealists found the contemporary “ideological fetters on sexual behavior . . . sufficient to provoke in the surrealists hostility towards motherhood and the raising of children.” 32 Indeed, this is an issue prominent in the psychoanalytic theories of the time as well, which inspired and were in turn inspired by surrealism. Though his is a contentious view, Freud very much associated breast-feeding with sexuality, claiming that for the infant, “the satisfaction of the erotogenic zone is associated, in the first instance, with the satisfaction of the need for nourishment.” 33 Melanie Klein, who furthers this connection, claims that “[The infant daughter’s] desire to suck or devour the penis is directly derived from her desire to do the same to her mother’s breast so that the frustration she suffers from the breast prepares the way for the feelings which her renewed frustration in regard to the penis arouses.” 34

Through her art, Oppenheim herself links nutritive and sexual satisfaction, implying that if the former is denied, the latter will be as well—quite a contrast to the staunch separation between sexuality and mothering so prevalent at the time. In an early watercolor, Votive Picture (Strangling Angel) (1931) (Figure 8), the “angel” seems to be forcibly moving the child away from her breast she is both strangling the baby and being strangled by it. 35 Equally anti-maternal is her 1933 drawing A Boy with Wings Sucks on the Udder-Shaped Breast of a Woman (Figure 9). Here, both child and mother figures are demonized, the relationship between them seeming more parasitic than symbiotic. Following in this vein, My Nurse can be seen as a denial of breast-feeding, and, as such, female consumability. Alyce Mahon has commented that much of Oppenheim’s work “merges the domestic and the erotic, and their compatibility in women,” and this work brings those two together along with the edible. 36 The very title emphasizes the absence of the breast the object is not a mother, but a nurse, or, more accurately according to the triplicate title, a governess—that is, a maternal figure who does not and did not perform the fundamental task of breast-feeding. 37 In further undermining any edibility of the piece, Oppenheim uses an object made of leather—itself a product of a cow, situated within the realm of western consumption—but rendered utterly unpalatable. The cow is reduced merely to its tough, processed skin, its inedibility highlighted by equally unappetizing frivolous paper toppers typically used to decorate turkeys.

Additionally, further investigation calls the issue of the submissiveness of My Nurse into question. True, this womanly object is presented splayed on her back, but this position of helplessness is one that Oppenheim complicates in much of her work. In her 1938 painting He Rocks His Wife (Figure 10), a female armadillo lays on her back, at the mercy of the male armadillo. She appears incapacitated and infantilized, but the viewer might also wonder whether she is enjoying being serviced by her husband. The question of whether this is an act of force, a gesture of kindness, or even an instance of servitude on the part of the husband remains unresolved.

Moreover, the upended pose brings to the surface the shoes’ soles. Contrary to the virginal white of the shoe leather, the soles are hardly pristine. Scuffed and worn, they reveal a tarnished, dirty underbelly that is generally hidden, but whose visibility here is highly significant. In addition to the fact that food and dirt are inherently incompatible entities, underscoring the object’s inedibility even further, the presence of dirt becomes a further challenge to conventional social order. As anthropologist Mary Douglas contends, “As we know it, dirt is essentially disorder.” 38 She further classifies the “dirty” as falling into “a residual category, rejected from our normal scheme of classifications” in its otherness, she claims, dirt becomes transgressive—and “the danger which is risked by boundary transgression is power.” 39 Though Douglas was writing several decades after My Nurse’s creation, her ideas resonate both with Oppenheim’s work and with other surrealists. Douglas echoes the earlier writings of Freud, well known within surrealist circles, who claimed in Civilization and its Discontents: “dirtiness of any kind seems to us incompatible with civilization.” 40 Additionally, in his 1930 essay “Danger de pollution,” Max Ernst used the image of dirt to condemn the Church’s sexual codes. 41 According to Jennifer Mundy, “If ‘pollution’ was a common euphemism for masturbation, Ernst turned the tables . . . [to suggest] that if anything had perverted and ‘polluting’ attitudes towards sex, it was the Church.” 42 This inversion is absolutely critical. If, as Denis Hollier proposes, the symbolism of the “stain” in religious terminology “designates the results of the fall, which for mankind is an indelible stain,” Ernst, Bataille, and indeed Oppenheim have turned this concept on its head by citing enforced chastity and the rejection of natural corporeal lust and love as the true danger to humanity. 43 Dirt thus becomes a powerful declaration, an embrace of sexuality and a defiance of its classification as taboo. 44 If cleanliness is next to godliness, the surrealists preferred to worship in the church of mud puddles.

But importantly, despite the “rebellious” dirt, the shoes are tightly bound together, which raises further tensions between freedom and restraint—a recurrent theme throughout Oppenheim’s oeuvre. Depictions of binding and restraint are particularly prominent in her fashion designs: two clasped hands become a belt buckle, and two disembodied girl’s legs drape around the wearer’s neck to form an eerie necklace (1936) (Figures 11, 12). These objects evoke being strangled or squeezed but simultaneously, the delicate hands and feet are, in their decorative capacity and ease of removability, rendered somewhat less threatening. 45

In the case of My Nurse, it is the binding of the shoes which, in a brilliantly ironic twist that cannot help but invoke admiration at Oppenheim’s cleverness, upholds their irreconcilable, heterogeneous potency. Through Oppenheim’s presentation, two single shoes each lose a part of themselves—to use Bataillian terminology—and become one subversive object, a suggestive symbol of “deviant” sexuality. Indeed, My Nurse, in its dirty inversion, invites viewers to join in its tight embrace in Oppenheim’s own words, “The thing . . . invokes . . . the association of thighs squeezed together in pleasure. In fact, almost a ‘proposition,’” thus compounding the suggestions of the dirty soles with the overall composition of the object. 46 However, like the inherent indomitability of Magritte’s painting, to literally partake in My Nurse would be to eliminate its identity, to undo the compelling spell of re-contextualization, to turn the enigmatic form back into two old dirty shoes. My Nurse, protected by the security measures at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and by its status as a priceless art object more generally, evokes in viewers a complicated sexual and culinary appetite than can never be consummated, much as Magritte’s Portrait will forever remain staring at us in a defiant challenge. By viewing My Nurse in this context, we are left longing to answer this figure’s disturbing, silent siren song, which arouses so many of our base instincts, from hunger to humor to repulsion to desire. But ultimately we must walk away from the object still reckoning with these urges, “wholly other” from the entity before us, with more questions and quandaries aroused than answers.


One way of viewing both The Portrait and My Nurse is through their ultimate presentations of a deliberate, pronounced indistinctness of identification. On one level, this both invests the viewer’s eye with a Bataillian role of consumption, while simultaneously, in upholding indistinctness, renders the eye’s role inherently incomplete. Moreover, the irresolution of the conflicting arguments and emotions that they raise, merging familiar, disquieting, alluring and repellent, relates them to Bataille’s notion of heterogeneity, as discussed throughout this paper. However, if we take this concession to Bataillian theory one step further, we can understand how these two works relate to the surrealists’ concept of the “sacred.” Both pieces engage with the “foreign and shocking,” which are implicit in Bataille’s definition of the sacred—but there is another important dimension of his consideration, one that is rooted in Freud. 47 In his analysis of the concepts of the “sacred” and the “high,” Freud emphasizes their etymology, explaining: “In Latin, altus means both high and deep sacer, holy and damned.” 48 This conflation of perceived opposites directly informs Bataille’s use of the term, in which the more basically instinctual an idea or action is, the more highly revered it becomes, with no apparent pinnacle of either concept. Denis Hollier’s explanation of this belief system is critical in understanding its ramifications: if, as he proposes, the high/sacred and low/bassesse are each an “absolute comparison, a comparative with no referent, a comparative that in and of itself dissolves common measure,” then “joining these two transgressions . . . results in dissolving the gap that would guarantee the distinction between high and low.” 49

Ultimately, it is precisely this dissolution of absolutes and, crucially, the maintenance thereof, that is of primary importance to these pieces’ functioning. The instinctual reactions we have to these two works are indeed oppositional, but seem to lose their relative qualities of “positive” and “negative” as we find ourselves, through the manipulations of food, in this new realm of perverted familiarity. I have tried to make it clear throughout this paper that the larger surrealist goal of undermining rigid societal systems of classification very much informed and inspired the artists in question both Magritte and Oppenheim, I believe, would support Bataille’s statement that “it is high time that human nature cease being subjected to the autocrat’s vile repression and to the morality that authorizes exploitation.” 50 But I hope it equally has been demonstrated that it is neither my aim in this paper nor the artists’ in their works to propose a unified, cohesive, or decisive solution to Bataille’s autocratic enemy, but rather to provide a sampling of the various possible alternatives suggested by food’s implementation as a tool in this larger surrealist endeavor. In addition to this macrocosmic project, however, these artists have called for a reassessment of one of the most daily and personal activities by complicating the base act of eating.

Indeed, if we draw upon the Bataillian project of the sacred, we can understand a fundamental point about these artists’ rebellion: in disrupting existing boundaries of morality and immorality, vice and virtue, they sought not to redraw such classifications on their own terms, but to uphold the liminal state of destruction and underscore the artificiality of such categories in the first place. According to Lenore Malen, “In a Sadean universe of abolished differences, all things are returned to chaos—to excrement.” 51 Or, returning to Bataille himself, “The identical nature . . . of God and excrement, should not shock the intellect of anyone.” 52

In this light, the counter for what Dalí saw as the “spiritual and symbolic nourishment that Catholicism has offered throughout the centuries for the appeasement of . . . moral and irrational hunger” is not a replacement of the force-fed doctrines of religion by a unified dogma of surrealism, but instead an exaltation of individual choices based on instinctual satisfaction and uninhibited (and often unanswerable) questioning—a combination that seeks to shatter our self-repressive superegos that have formed in response to civilization’s mandates. 53 And it is, it seems, through such daily corporeal pleasures—very much including the act of eating—that the surrealists believed true change could be enacted.

What these works all demand, therefore, is a Bataillian “participation”—not just by artists, but equally by viewers, who must grapple with these contradictions without pre-approved schemas of affirmation and condemnation dictated by religion and society. 54 The Bataillian eye can therefore be equated with the viewer’s eye, not just observing but also actively engaging with and challenging that which it consumes. As such, the broader roles of the artist and subject require reevaluation. Freud remarked that the appreciation of art was the epitome of vicarious satisfaction, calling it “an enjoyment which, by the agency of the artist, is made accessible even to those who are not themselves creative.” 55 Yet by returning the ultimate decisions back to the viewer, the surrealist artist becomes not a definitive source of pleasure, but the fodder and nourishment with which to seek it, fueling viewers’ determination to pose their own challenges to society in spite, or perhaps because of, their inability to reconcile their own anxieties about spectatorship, ingestion, and consumption. In this reframing, the artist engages with his or her audience in what Carter Ratcliff deems “ceremonies of mutual ingestion.” 56 As Dalí saw it, the surrealists were there for the cannibalistic taking:

One might try and eat the Surrealists too for we Surrealists are the kind of good-quality, decadent, stimulating, extravagant, and ambivalent food, which . . . proves suitable for the gamey, paradoxical, and succulently truculent state that is proper to, and characteristic of, the climate of ideological and moral confusion in which we have the honor and pleasure to live at this time. 57

Thus, in consuming these surrealists, we participate in a new kind of communion—one that does not demand the swallowing or assimilation of a regimented set of beliefs, nor does it promise salvation or comfort rather, in the reverence of a new kind of sacred, it implicates us to chew, digest, swallow, or spit out this otherness according to no one’s tastes but our own.


Figure 1: René Magritte, The Portrait, 1935. Oil on canvas. 73.3 x 50.2 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA.

Figure 2: Meret Oppenheim, Ma Gouvernante—My Nurse—Mein Kindermädchen, 1936. Metal, shoes, string, and paper. 14 x 21 x 33 cm. Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Figure 3: Hieronymous Bosch, Allegory of Gluttony and Lust, 1490. Oil on panel. 36 x 32 cm. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, USA.

Figures 4-5: Salvador Dali and Luis Buñue, stills from Un chien andalou, 1929. Film.

Figure 6: René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1929. Oil on canvas. 62.2 x 81 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, USA.

Figure 7: René Magritte, This is a piece of cheese, 1936. Oil on canvas board. 10 x 16 cm, in gilded wooden frame glass dome and pedestal, height 31 cm, diameter 25 cm. Menil Collection, Houston, TX, USA.

Figure 8. Meret Oppenheim, Votive Picture (Strangling Angel), 1931. India ink and watercolor. 34 x 17.5 cm. Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zürich, Switzerland.

Figure 9: Meret Oppenheim, A Boy with Wings Sucks on the Udder-shaped Breast of a Woman, 1933. India ink. 21 x 27 cm. Kunstmuseum, Berne, Switzerland.

Figure 10: Meret Oppenheim, He Rocks his Wife, 1938. Oil on cardboard. 7 x 14.5 cm. Private collection, Paris, France.

Figure 11: Meret Oppenheim, sketch for a belt, n.d. Ink and goache on paper. 8.4 x 14.9 cm. Location unknown.

Figure 12: Meret Oppenheim, design for necklace, 1936. Pencil, ink, and watercolor. 16 x 13 cm. Birgit and Burkhard Wenger, Basel, Switzerland.

Top 10 Romantic and Sexy Cookbooks

Light your "fire" in other rooms of the house aside from the kitchen with this list of the Top 10 Romantic and Sexy Cookbooks. From stories about love and food to aphrodisiac cookbooks, we've provided you with all the ingredients to help heat up more than just your stove. So grab an apron and get ready to "cook yourself sexy" with collections of romantic dinner recipes, sexy foods and even love poems.

Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook

Promising to stimulate more than just your taste buds, the cleverly titled Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook delivers proven potions for pleasure seekers. Using sultry, provocative language, this small volume by aphrodisiac queen Amy Reiley offers easy-to-follow recipes highlighting ingredients known for their arousal-inducing potential such as ginger root and saffron.

Table for Two: French Recipes for Romantic Dining

French writer Marianne Paquin's Table for Two is devoted entirely to gastronomic pleasure for couples. The recipes -- such as Tagliatelli in Cream with Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Pistachios, Olives and Parma Ham, and Strawberry Soup with Mascarpone and Pink Sugar -- are inspired and exciting but also sensibly grounded and definitely delicious. Whatever the season or occasion, think about using this book next time you set the table for two.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

Lunch in Paris is a playful, feel-good book, one you can devour in just a few nights, while living vicariously through the young protagonist's adventures with love, lust and food -- lots of food! Who doesn't feel like just flying up and away to the city of love, and then falling in love with a handsome stranger and the country's incredible edible bounty?

Booty Food: A Date By Date, Nibble by Nibble, Course by Course Guide to Cultivating Love and Passion Through Food

Combining food and romance, Food Network personality and Angeleno Jacqui Malouf (along with writer Liz Gumbinner) penned Booty Food, "a date-by-date, course-by-course, nibble-by-nibble guide to cultivating love and passion through food." In more than 250 weighty and colorful pages, we journey through the life of a relationship, from First Date Eating, to The Marathon of Lust, to Everything Old is New Again. It's part dating manual, part therapist, part relationship advice and part bootylicious cookbook.

The New Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook

The New Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook takes you on an aphrodisiac journey of more than 135 sexy dishes ranging from traditional stimulants, such as oysters, chiles or artichokes, to lesser-known mood boosters such as black beans, basil and pine nuts. It's a delicious book for the kitchen, the coffee table and, of course, the bedroom.

The Seduction Cookbook: Culinary Creations for Lovers

This little volume will get you in a playful mood in no time, with the help of seductive dishes such as "Pornish" game hen dressed up in orange, ginger and soy sauce or erotic ahi and mussels ménage a trois. We love the little bits of history and erotic lore and playful ideas for "fork-play."

Romancing the Stove: The Unabridged Guide to Aphrodisiac Foods

Unlike your typical unabridged guide, Romancing the Stove is short, sweet and sassy. From its libido-stoking recipes to its Dictionary of Desire, this playful tome will teach you and seduce you. The aphrodisiac ingredients of each recipe are highlighted alongside sexy serving suggestions. Although the collection contains some indulgent fare like creamy lemon custard cakes, the emphasis overall is on healthy eating.

Sweet Serendipity: Delicious Desserts and Devilish Dish

What's more romantic than serendipity (the idea of a "pleasant surprise" or "happy accident")? Although, to New Yorkers, Serendipity means the famous and whimsical general store, restaurant and dessertery named Serendipity 3, with Sweet Serendipity, you can have the best of both. Give your significant other their own pleasant surprise with one of the book's 75 fun desserts (e.g. Lemon Ice Box Pie or Cherry Pan Dowdy and Chocolate Chip Pizza) and a viewing of 2001's "Serendipity," a romantic comedy featuring the restaurant.

love, eric: Delicious Vegan Macrobiotic Desserts

Chef Eric Lechasseur started dabbling with microbiotics when his wife Sanae was diagnosed with cancer in 1993. Today, Sanae is well, and Lechasseur has cured himself of debilitating allergies. The former head pastry chef at Los Angeles macrobiotic mecca M Café de Chaya has published love, eric, a vegan, macrobiotic desserts cookbook that is a true love letter to this life-affirming approach.

Sustenance & Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology Of Sensuality & Humor

Eat Pigeon: An Introduction to M.F.K. Fisher, History's Best Food Writer

It used to be, when it came to food, people had a sort of devil-may-care just-put-the-food-in-your-damn-mouth attitude. This is no longer the case. Today there is more culinary-related material to sift through than ever before: Books! Magazines! Zines! Websites! Cookbooks! GOOP! If you live in one of the country’s many rapidly gentrifying cities, there is probably a new restaurant on your block every 15 minutes. On TV every day there is a new cooking show followed by a cooking competition show followed by a four-hour block of Rachael Ray talking to a backyard ghost about empanadas (log on to to see Rachael and the ghost compete to make nachos).

Everyone in the year 2015 with a disposable income and epicurean pretensions has something to say about food: how we should be eating it and how we should be thinking about eating it, and how we should be thinking about thinking about eating it. Before you feel like you have to publish an eggshell-colored periodical to hand out at Anthropologie until you get kicked out, why not take some solace in reading a writer who will not only impress your foodie friends, but who will bring you lessons on life, love, misery, and more? I’m talking about M.F.K. Fisher, the greatest food writer in the English language.

Fisher was born in 1908 in Albion, Mich., and grew up in Whittier, California, where her journalist father was a co-owner of Whittier News. She spent time at Whittier College, UCLA and Occidental College, but left without a degree in 1929 to accompany her new husband Al Fisher to Dijon, France. It was in Provence—the region and cuisine that Fisher would return to again and again in her writing—that she discovered her love of food, an experience well-documented in one of her exuberant memoir, Long Ago In France. Returning to California, where her husband accepted a teaching job at Occidental, she embarked on a collection of essays that would be published in 1937 as her first book, Serve It Forth.

It would be the beginning of a multi-decade career, during which she’d write fiercely and elegantly about everything from her childhood in California to frugal cooking to her own painful emotional struggles. (Contained within her body of work are over two dozen recipes for oysters, ranging from the satisfyingly facile to the dangerously complex.) Her oeuvre is a working guide to a well-lived life, blemishes included she is a model for any writer with aspirations or any reader with tastebuds. She is, without question, the person I’ve been most inspired by in my own writing. If you’ve never read her, do yourself a favor and start this week. Allow M.F.K. Fisher to take you back to the basics, before kale and pour-over coffee were staples of every person’s diet this side of the Atlantic. Here is my guide to most everything she’s written.

How To Cook A Wolf

How To Cook A Wolf is M.F.K. Fisher’s wartime tribute to eating frugally (but fully) at times where money and resources are sparse. Though they were written during World War II, the book’s lessons on combatting an empty stomach or entertaining guests with a handful of simple and easy-to-get ingredients remain relevant—down to the best way to feed your dog or cat when you have precious few dollars.

“I have eaten a great many pigeons here and there, and I know that the best was one I cooked in a cheap Dutch oven on a one-burner gas-plate in a miserable lodging. The wolf was at the door, and no mistake until I filled the room with the smell of hot butter and red wine, his pungent breath seeped through the keyhole in an almost visible cloud.”

Who to Buy It For: A friend with a small kitchen and a tiny budget, or anyone you know who has the ingenuity to make a “Baked Ham Slice” or a one-dish meal such as Southern Spoon Bread anyone who has ever experienced hunger but not cheerfulness simultaneously a WWII historian.

How to Cook a Wolf

Consider The Oyster

Be honest with yourself: Do you have any idea how oysters have sex? I learned about oysters’ sex lives within the first minute of picking up the first ever M.F.K. Fisher book I read, Consider The Oyster. This is the shortest of all of Fisher’s works and is an immaculate example of the author’s delicate and informative prose. The book’s first line is proof enough:

“An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life.”

Oysters tend to be heralded for their simplicity, but Fisher provides over 20 ways to cook them— in particular Pain d’Huitres, or oyster loaf, which Fisher’s mother used to secret away with her chums at boarding school. Read:

“It was made in a bread loaf from the best baker in the village, and the loaf was hollowed out and filled with rich cooked oysters, and then, according to my mother’s vague and yet vivid account, the top of the loaf was fastened on again, and the whole was baked crisp and brown in the oven. Then it was wrapped tightly in a fine white napkin, and hidden under a chambermaid’s cape while she ran from the baker’s to the seminary and up the back stairs to the appointed bedroom.”

Who to Buy It For: A reader with a short attention span a friend who insists on doing oyster happy hour every Thursday a fisherman a lover winkwink any David Foster Wallace fans who don’t quite know his influences.

Consider the Oyster

Serve It Forth

Over the years, Fisher proved to be not just a vivid memoirist and passionate cook, but also a winning scholar of culinary history. She famously translated Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s famous gastronomical text The Physiology of Taste to much acclaim, but for the fan of historical food trivia, nothing beats her first book, Serve It Forth.

On what the ancient Egyptians ate:

“Ox meat was roasted or boiled, but many kinds of little birds, and even quails and ducks, were salted and eaten raw. And melons in increasing variety made fine the poorest fare, with grapes and figs and dates, and barley beer, and sweet wine in great pottery vases glazed with blue.”

A suggestion on what to do after eating ancient Grecian chicken chronicled in Apicius:

“To cool your enraged palate after this strange dish you would most probably be served a goblet of red wine mixed with spices and sea water.”

Perhaps the most beautiful paragraph in the history of humanity:

“In Dijon little gingerbread orange slices are stuffed with marmalade and glazed, or great square loaves are sliced several times and spread with apricot jam before they are put together again. Or currants and candied fruits are baked in the loaves. Or they are left plain, the be sliced very thin and be spread with sweet butter for tea.”

Who to Buy It For: a cook interested in culinary history but only tolerant enough to learn through conversational communication a traveler your boyfriend if you’d like to test if he’s actually taking your book recommendations (this book is particularly good for pop quizzes)

Serve It Forth (Art of Eating)

The Gastronomical Me

This is Fisher’s most beautiful memoir, and the book through which most people know her. It contains some of the best, most succinct, and most inimitable lines about food, and it’s embedded itself so deeply into my memory that I can’t eat a lot of the foods Fisher describes in her memoir without thinking of them exactly as she has described them.

The memoir’s first line, on strawberry jam:

The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam.

On the food at boarding school:

“I don’t remember, because all that we thought about then, or could recall now if we ever dared to think at all of those days, were the hot crisp fried halves of young chickens, stiff and tempting. We could have all we wanted, even three or four, and we could eat with our fingers, and yell, and gobble. It was wonderful.”

On preparing cauliflowers:

“There in Dijon, the cauliflowers were small and very succulent, grown in that ancient soil. I separated the flowerlets and dropped them in boiling water for just a few minutes. Then I drained them and put them in a wide shallow casserole, and covered them with heavy cream and a thick sprinkling of freshly grated Gruyère, the nice rubbery kind that didn’t come from Switzerland at all, but from the Jura. It was called râpé in the market, and was grated while you watched, in a soft cloudy pile, onto your piece of paper.”

Who to Buy It For: Everyone.

The Gastronomical Me

An Alphabet For Gourmets

A is for dining Alone, P is for Peas, Y is for Yak. In a format that plays nicely with readers who haven’t grown out of children’s books and for the pragmatist who would prefer to have colorful musings categorized, An Alphabet For Gourmets is Fisher’s most fun book. Not to mention, she touches on all the essentials: cooking for kids, eating kosher, eating in excess, and, of course, zakuski, the Russian term for hot and cold appetizers.

“There are few people alive with whom I care to pray, sleep, dance, sing or share my bread and wine. Of course there are times when this latter cannot be avoided if we are to exist socially, but it is endurable only because it need not be the only fashion of self-nourishment.”

This recipe for Raspberries Romanoff, archived under V is for Venality:

“Raspberries Romanoff

1 pint carefully sorted raspberries
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup kirsch

Chill berries. Beat cream stiff, gradually adding sugar and kirsch. Mix lightly with berries, chill thoroughly, and serve in tall thin glasses, with thin unsugared wafers if desired.”

Who to Buy It For: A pre-school teacher with culinary inclinations a new cook a friend who color-codes or alphabetizes the books on their bookshelves.

An Alphabet for Gourmets

As They Were

One of the things I love most about Fisher is her skill at cutting people down to size with her insightful descriptions and blunt declarations. As They Were, one of her more direct memoirs, covers her family and friends and husbands and children in obsessive detail as she chronicles her life from California to France and onward. This memoir also features excellent first-hand details of a meal aboard a ship.

“My sister Anne and I never liked her much, one way or t’other, but I cannot remember why, for she read to us and was not sly or a tattletaler.”

On a chef’s accomplishment aboard a small ship:

“It was a replica, about as long as a man’s coffin, of the cathedral at Milano. It was made in white and pink sugar. There was a light inside, of course, and it glowed there on the deck of the little ship, trembling in every flying buttress with the Mexican ground swell, pure and ridiculous and something about it shamed me.”

Who to Buy It For: Your friend the essayist or your friend the problem child.

As They Were

Long Ago In France

Fisher spent a good portion of her life living in and coming back to France, and her stories about the years she spent in Dijon with her husband, Al, are both her sweetest, and the most painful to read. Her tiny apartment, which she details lovingly, is drawn with such mastery, it can feel frustratingly small to the reader and her spats with Al are as concerning as any between a friend and her husband. Long Ago In France is delicate like an eggshell. I would suggest reading Fisher’s memoir over Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast any day.

On the pleasures of France:

“And in two minutes my mouth was full of fresh bread, and melting chocolate, and as we sat gingerly, the three of us, on the frozen hill, looking down into the valley where Vercingetorix had fought so splendidly, we peered shyly and silently at each other and smiled and chewed at one of the most satisfying things I have ever eaten. I thought vaguely of the metamorphosis of wine and bread.”

Who to Buy It For: The Francophile, the divorced-or-soon-to-be-divorced, the independent woman, your friend who longs to be Zooey Deschanel.

Long Ago In France: The Years In Dijon (Destinations)

M.F.K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans by Joan Reardon

Bonus round! There are a great number of books, essays, and collections published that memorialize and praise MFK Fisher, as well as cite her as an influence. While Anne Zimmerman’s An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher is a delightful dive into Fisher’s life and letters, for the uninitiated, Joan Reardon’s compact look at MFK Fisher’s kitchens is a grand place to start.

The book is illustrated by Avram Dumitrescu, showing in exquisite detail all the kitchens and houses that Fisher cooked and lived in. The portraits (as well as photographs) are intimate accompaniments to stories such as this one:

“Because the students were allowed to purchase one chocolate bar every day, Mary Frances was able to accumulate six or seven during the week. Then, on Saturday, she would leisurely and deliberately eat all of the bars in the solitude of her room, sometimes alternating a bite of chocolate with a bite of a salty cracker and at other times unwrapping them one by one and slowly eating the pieces while reclining on a heap of pillows, sultan-style.”

In Amanda Hesser’s foreword, her assessment of Fisher’s well-traveled life is astute: “I’ve often had the impression that she reveled in the hardships of a place. Only a few times in her life did she have a kitchen with four walls.” An added thrill of Reardon’s book is that she painstakingly updated several of Fisher’s own recipes for the modern cook.

Who to Buy It For: An illustration obsessive a fan of gift books and small kitchens a reader of biographies with finite patience.

4. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

Lunch in Paris is a playful, feel-good book, one you can devour in just a few nights, while living vicariously through the young protagonist's adventures with love, lust and food — lots of food! Who doesn't feel like just flying up and away to the city of love, and then falling in love with a handsome stranger and the country's incredible edible bounty?