Only in the last few years have I had the (super awesome and exciting!) privilege of getting to read some books on the day they are released to print-reading folks. Notice I say “some” and not “all.” I still dream of a day when everyone will have equal access to print media at the same time, with no corners cut and for no extra cost.
The prime reason that I can now enjoy some books on Release Day is Bookshare. When I joined in 2003, they had a much smaller catalogue and books had to be scanned entirely by hand. Now, thanks to ebook culture, I think they’re able to produce Braille digital copies much faster. You can now read most NY Times bestsellers at the same time they ARE actually bestsellers, whereas just a few years ago you’d be waiting for someone, (most likely a volunteer), to scan printed text.
All this to say, that I am a happy, happy reader, because Bookshare had a copy of Heidi Swanson’s new book, Near and Far, for download on the day of its release. I had been crossing my fingers, but wasn’t hopeful. Heidi’s cooking, though popular in the “foodie” world, might be a little eccentric for justifying its Bookshare release on the same day as its print release. (The more mainstream the book, the better the odds are.) I love Heidi and have loved her for years because of her blog and because I’m just a big giant cookbook nerd. I think food tells stories, and the food that writers choose to include in their cookbooks is important because it shows us an individual life and aesthetic. And food is important not just for eating but for culture and seasons and learning and comfort. I’m fascinated by what other people like to eat. I’m one of those people who, if it were socially acceptable, would look in all the fridges of my friends’ houses, just to see what kind of pickles were there. (If I’ve fed your pets or watered your plants while you were out of town, I may or may not have done this.)
It helps, too, that Heidi has a lovely way with words. She’s a photographer, too, so her blog holds many photos, which she also describes in words. I love and appreciate that. Her aesthetic is very Northern California, very full of avocados and oranges and microgreens. I learned how to cook Brussels sprouts in a way that people actually like from her. I learned about spelt flour and cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto and how San Francisco feels on the shortest day of the year. (There’s Fog and rain, and all you want to do is put on a sweater and stand over the steam drifting from a pot of pozole.)
Near and Far has a travel theme. Heidi begins in Northern California and then cooks her way through Japan, Morocco, France, Italy, and India. Plus, some recipes for “en route.”
Heidi is one of those people who seems like everything is perfect, like she’s always so put together and has it all. Part of me kinda hates her. Food writer, indie shop curator, owner of a beautiful house in San Francisco with a chandelier in the dining room, has the means to travel and eat in places we view as “exotic.” Lucky! What brings me back to her is the humility I feel in her prose, her off-beat recipes, and the fact that I’m sure life sucks for her sometimes too.
Even though the book’s been out since Tuesday, and I got it on the FIRST DAY, it’s been a crazy reading week for me for school, so I’ve barely started tucking into it. Here’s the very first words of her intro, talking about the produce of CALIFORNIA: “JANUARY 25: Long, thin whips of deep green puntarelle, a swarm of tiny yellow key limes, dried persimmons with downy skins, red-skinned hand-cracked walnuts, chickpea flour, sprouted mung beans, a friendly giant pomelo with twin glossy leaves attached, stubby bouquets of nameko mushrooms, little yellow pom-poms from snipped branches of acacia tree.” I’ve already felt transported, and started thinking about the food I’ve been lucky to eat in places I’m lucky to have been: hot chestnuts in Spain, warm-spiced couscous in Morocco, tiny corn-speckled arepas in Ecuador, pierogis with cranberry sauce and kasha in Poland. Here’s to many more delicious traveler meals, and some serious snuggly reading time over the weekend.