Book Review: Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology Behind the World’s Most Pungent Food — With Over 100 Recipes by Robin Cherry
A history of the world and medicine as seen through the eyes of garlic, plus a lesson on the many varieties of garlic, how to grow it, and where to find other garlic lovers. Topped off with a collection of over 100 recipes from all over the world featuring garlic, both historic and new.
When I saw this book on NetGalley, I knew I needed a review copy. I’m a passionate home chef with a love of garlic and a never-ending interest on the history of food. This book’s title indicated it would hit all three of those interests, and its content did not let me down.
The book is divided into two parts. Part One focuses on everything but the recipes. Part Two is the recipes. Part One’s chapters cover the history of using garlic for health and for food, garlic in legends and lore, and how to grow your own. This is the section that most entertained my friends and fiancé, as they found themselves the recipients of random facts about garlic. One friend received an email of all of the types of garlic that originated in the country of Georgia; another a tip that growing some near her fruit tree might be beneficial for the tree. Here are a few of my favorite facts that I learned in Part One:
- The world’s first-known medical text also mentions medical uses of garlic (loc 129)
- Garlic is designated as a drug in Japan (loc 222)
- Spanish immigrants were the most likely to survive during the colonization of the Western hemisphere, thanks to their consumption of garlic. Carrying the cloves protected them from disease-carrying mosquitoes. (loc 309-313)
- Garlic vodka is used as an antiflu remedy in Russia (Bonus: the book has the recipe for making this for yourself). (loc 392)
- “In addition to preventing colds, garlic is effective in killing viral meningitis, viral pneumonia, influenza, and herpes.” (loc 423)
- “Garlic also kills bacteria directly, by invading its cells and causing them to explode, thus bacteria has not opportunity to develop a resistance to it.” (loc 427)
- “Green-colored garlic is stronger than white garlic because it contains more of the aromatic sulfuric compounds.” (loc 922)
- The earliest bridal bouquets incorporated garlic to ward off the evil spirits. (loc 1067)
- There are over 200 varieties of garlic. (loc 1203)
Part One ends with tips on how to cultivate garlic and a selection of the various types of garlic, including notes on where they grow best, how they look, and how they taste. Garlic may be broadly divided into hardnecks and softnecks, but there are subvarieties within these two main ones. (Softnecks are the ones that you can braid). My one criticism of Part One is that I wish it had gone more in-depth into the history of garlic all over the world. It left me wanting more. Perhaps there isn’t more, but I certainly wish there was. I would additionally note that, although I personally enjoyed reading about the many varieties of garlic and took copious notes, some readers might find the listing of the types a bit tedious to read and may not be expecting it in a book of this nature.
Part Two is the recipes. It starts with notes on how to handle and prepare garlic. The recipes are then divided into: dips, sauces, and condiments; bread, pizza, and pasta; soups; salads and salad dressings; appetizers; poultry; lamb; beef; seafood; vegetarian; side dishes; dessert; and historical recipes. I marked off a total of 19 recipes that I definitely want to try, which is quite a lot for me. Often I’ll read a cookbook and only be interested in one or two of the recipes. The recipes cover a nice variety of cuisines, and the historic recipes are fascinating, although most readers will probably not try them as they require things such as fresh blood. Besides the historic recipes, the dessert ones are probably the most surprising. I actually did mark one off as one I’d like to try–Roasted Garlic Creme Brulee.
I have managed to make one of the recipes so far: Garlic Scape Pesto (loc 1649). For those who don’t know, garlic scapes are the green stalks that grow out of the bulbs. They must be trimmed (on most varieties). They taste a bit like a cross between garlic and leeks. Our local produce box happened to give us a bunch of them right around when I read the book, and I’m a big pesto fan, so I decided to try the recipe.
The recipe is supposed to make 2 cups. I halved it, and somehow still wound up with 2 cups of pesto. The recipe suggests storing the leftovers under a layer of olive oil. I found that unnecessary. My extra kept in the fridge in a tupperware container for a week without adding a layer of protective oil. The pesto was truly delicious though. I partially chose it since I have made garlic scape pesto before, and I must say I found this one much more delicious than the other recipe that I tried. I am looking forward to trying the others I am interested in, although I will probably continue to halve the recipes, as I am only cooking for two.
Overall, foodies with a love of garlic will find this book both fascinating and a source of new recipes to try. Some readers may wish for more information, while others may find themselves a bit more informed on the varieties of garlic than they were really looking for. All will find themselves chock full of new information and eager to try new ways to use garlic…and perhaps even to start growing some heirloom varieties for themselves.
4 out of 5 stars
Emma Goldman was a Russian immigrant to the United States who embraced Anarchism and became an impassioned orator and pioneer in the movement for birth control. She was deported in 1919 for her antiwar activities and spent the remainder of her life moving among multiple countries. This book is a collection of a variety of her essays and includes a contemporaneous biographical sketch and preface. You may read more about Emma Goldman and her life here.
I picked up this essay collection due to my interest in both US and women’s history. It then languished on my TBR pile for years until I heard about how the Emma Goldman Archive at UC Berkeley was going to lose its funding (source). The archive is currently still running thanks to charitable donations, (source) but I still wanted to invest some time in learning more about this important female historical figure, and what better way than by reading her own papers.
The essays in this collection are: Anarchism: What It Really Stands For, Minorities Versus Majorities, The Psychology of Political Violence, Prisons: A Social Crime and Failure, Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty, Francisco Ferrer and the Modern School, The Hypocrisy of Puritanism, The Traffic in Women, Woman Suffrage, The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation, Marriage and Love, and The Modern Drama: A Powerful Dissenter of Radical Thought.
The thing to understand about Anarchism (the historic early 20th century kind anyway, I won’t venture to talk about modern Anarchism as I have not studied it at all) is that the basis of Anarchist belief is that there should be no government and no religion.
Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination. (page 38)
Emma took this to the conclusion that fighting for rights within the governmental power structure was pointless since the government shouldn’t be involved anyway. Modern readers may thus be surprised at how against women getting the right to vote she was. The reasoning behind it, though was that she thought it was a pointless fight. Like putting frosting on a shit cake. It won’t make the cake any less shitty. It’s interesting reading these papers how much faith Emma had in human nature to do good. It’s the power structures she considered evil.
My lack of faith in the majority is dictated by my faith in the potentialities of the individual. (page 34)
What I found most interesting in reading these essays, beyond getting a firmer understanding of Anarchism, is how most of them are still highly relatable today. They have not been particularly dated. Only “Francisco Ferrer and the Modern School” and “The Modern Drama: A Powerful Dissenter of Radical Thought” came across as dated and a bit difficult to read to me. The rest could have been pulled straight from a social justice Tumblr account, with just a few names and places changed. The three essays on women were the most interesting to me, particularly for the rather prophetic predictions that Emma made about the direction women’s rights were heading. In particular, one section discusses that women winning the right to work will just make everything more difficult because women are still seen as the primary caregivers and homemakers. They will just end up working just as much at home and out and about. Emma also pointed out that society would come to expect two incomes, making it impossible for women to not work even if they want to. This has certainly come to pass. Emma’s solution to this is more individual freedom, and her passage of advice to women still rings true today:
Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.; by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. (page 132)
Sections that would probably stir up the strongest feelings among modern readers include frequent rants against the Catholic church, hatred of all patriotism or nationalism, very strong anti-military positions, and a strong negative view of marriage. However, if the modern reader keeps in mind that Emma was for 100% individual freedom and individuality, it’s easier to see that it’s not an individual institution she had something against, but rather institutions in general. Think of her as an extreme libertarian, and it’s easier to understand. In the case of marriage, for instance, it’s not that Emma was against love or being part of a couple, but rather against the state being involved in that love.
One aspect I think was missing from these essays was more from Emma on what she thought the ideal world would really look like. How would things work once total individual freedom was won? This is not touched upon very much, beyond Emma’s belief that crime would disappear without crooked institutions and there would be no more war. I found her belief in innate human goodness to be overly optimistic, verging on naive. But I also found it to be endearing that she had so much faith in humanity.
Overall, the modern reader will still find most of these essays highly readable and may be surprised by how modern many of them feel. Readers will realize how little some things change through time and also will come away with a better understanding of the stance of the often feared and misunderstood Anarchists.
4 out of 5 stars
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge
Humanity, desperate to save themselves from oncoming meteors that will destroy Earth, builds two spaceships and binds them together into one unit. They fill it with the best and brightest of humanity then send it off into space, with nanobots working to keep them all perpetually the same age they were when entering the ship, hoping that they will find another habitable planet. But over the thousands of years of searching, the two ships have slowly evolved into one of beauty, order, and plenty of food. The other has become a prison ship, full of starvation and degradation. Both ruled by an artificial intelligence known as Ark. When a man awakes on the prison ship, he must discover who he is and why he has been awakened.
The basic idea of a ship full of thousands of people wandering outer space for thousands of years and how that impacts their culture is a good one. But it is unfortunately supported by weak characterization, quite a bit of telling instead of showing (often in the form a conversational infodump), questionable science, and aggravating plot twists.
I am not a scifi reader who expects everything to be Asimov or heavy on the science. I enjoy the broad range that scifi has to offer. But I do expect a scifi that takes itself seriously, as this one does, to have: a plot that makes sense, at least two characters who are well-rounded and richly presented, and any science within it to be accurate or at least plausible. This scifi definitely takes itself seriously, but it fails on these marks.
The book opens with a first person narration of the nameless hero (later named Harbinger) believing he is being dissected by an alien race. It takes quite a bit of time to find out that he was cryogenically frozen on this ship, and the rebels of the prison ship have woken him up. If this wasn’t a review copy, I probably would have given up before Harbinger figures this out, because the reader has zero reason to care about this character who is being dissected, apparently. It’s quite jarring to open up the book that way, and it’s hard to read with no investment in any of the characters at all. It’s a rough beginning.
Harbinger has amnesia, so he can’t help the rebels figure out why exactly he was on the ship. But they do discover that he has superhuman powers, just as the rebels were hoping, so they want him to help them fight for access back to Echelon–the ship that is not a prison (There are names for both ships, but I honestly can’t remember what the name of the prison ship was.) The rebel character who works closest with Harbinger is a woman named Leema. Harbinger gets slightly more characterization than Leema, because we are inside his head. But both come across as flat. Their actions appear to exist entirely as plot devices and not out of real, rich motivation. For instance, Leema seems mostly to exist to give Harbinger information, to have sex with, then to spur him to make certain decision. She doesn’t come across as a person so much as a plot device. The same can be said for the leader of the rebels, Argus, an older man who calls people “son.” He simply does not feel real. He feels like a plot device who pops in whenever it’s necessary to make something happen to Harbinger.
The writing often relies on conversational infodump, which is a shame, because when there are action sequences, they are interesting and exciting. The periodic action sequences are what kept me reading. They are well-written, particularly the fight scenes. But when the characters talk, the conversation doesn’t feel real. It feels like the author is speaking directly to the reader through the characters, often to provide background information. This is known as an infodump, and it’s frustrating to read. It would be better to work this information into the plot, rather than have characters sit in a room and say it at each other for chapters at a time.
The science is a bit shaky. For instance, the spaceship is decorated with marble. Real marble. Real marble is incredibly heavy, and there’s a weight limit that spaceships can handle. It’s hard to imagine a people desperate to save humanity from meteors wasting precious weight space on marble decorations. Similarly, Harbinger is never fully explained. He appears to be human and bleeds but can’t feel pain, has superhuman strength, can only be killed by cutting off his head. Is he a robot? Or a genetically modified humanoid? Maybe a clone? Leema explains “his kind” being created but she seems to know very little about it, which makes it odd that she and the rebels knew enough to know how to break him free from Ark by cutting into him and adjusting things inside his body. The core of the idea is good but it’s just not explained enough. That is really what makes some of the science in the book weak. It’s not gone into in enough depth to make enough sense.
Finally, the plot makes quite a few quick zany twists, most of which I was willing to give a pass. The final twist, however, made me want to throw my kindle against the wall. (I didn’t, because I like my kindle). I’m sure the final plot twist was intended to make the reader want to continue on to the next book in the series, but it actually just left me feeling deeply unsatisfied and frustrated. If I had to put my finger on what made it so frustrating, I’d say that it felt forced, not organic.
Overall, this book consists of a good basic idea that suffers from infodumping, weak characters, and being forced to stick to a plot that doesn’t feel organic. Rich characters who drove an organic plot free of infodumps could have made this into an interesting world and cultural exploration. Instead, it’s a frustrating read.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
One of Toby’s oldest friends is in dire trouble. Lily of the Tea Gardens is slowly fading away, and no one knows what’s causing it. On top of that, one of Toby’s worst nemeses whose name is feared throughout Fae, Oleander, is back. Are the two related or is something else going on? And can Toby save the day without losing herself?
I picked this book up expecting it to be another mystery of the week entry in the series, but what I found was a surprising development in the overarching plot that kept my heart in my throat but also left me dubious about the possible directions the next book could take.
The plot starts out similarly to the previous entry in the series. Someone close to Toby is in danger. In this case, it’s Lily, and she’s sick, slowly fading out of existence. Over the course of the book, others close to Toby end up sick as well, as it soon becomes clear (this is really not a spoiler, it’s revealed early on) that someone is poisoning them. When Oleander showed up, I nearly groaned at how obvious it felt that she is the one to blame for all of this. But it’s not quite that straight-forward, and there’s also a sub-plot of Toby possibly going crazy….which changelings are known to do in this world. The book then isn’t just about Toby trying to solve the mystery, it’s also about her trying to determine if her blood has doomed her to sink into insanity. This gives the plot enough depth to keep it interesting.
Long-standing characters receive more depth of character development and new ones are added. Toby cotinues to have the wit that keeps the book upbeat even when things are grim. One quote in particular I think would work pretty well as a fitspo positive argument:
I promised myself that if I lived, I’d start working out. Better cranky and alive than cheerful and dead. (loc 1815)
As for the plot twist, I can’t talk about it much without spoilers. The spoiler free review would be that I am concerned the big overarching plot twist moves things a bit too far into one hero to save us land, which isn’t a fantasy plot I personally usually enjoy. For the spoiler version of this, see the next paragraph.
It is revealed that Toby is not the type of Fae she thought, she is rather a very rare type of Fae. This type of Fae is capable of changing the make-up of their own blood. She can thus morph into more Fae, changeling, or human as she desires. It also turns out her mother is from the first born, which makes her kind of Fae royalty. My issue with this is one of the things I like so much about the series is that Toby lacks the magical powers to the extent the Fae have. She also doesn’t fit into the human world. But she fights for her right to be in the world she chooses to live in, and her value in the Fae world is due to how hard she tries and her brains, not her blood. This plot development feels like it’s making it all about her blood. Her power is due to whose daughter she is, not who she herself is. That’s just not a message I’m as fond of.
Overall, this is an action-packed entry in the series that visits another mystery with enough different sub-plots and twists to keep it interesting. Fans of the series will be surprised by the big overarching plot development toward the end of the book and will be eager to pick up the next one to see where this plot development goes.
4 out of 5 stars