Bookworm: ‘Gastro Obscura’ – See what else is on the menu

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide”

  • By Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras
  • c. 2021, Workman Publishing
  • $40, $50 Canada; 440 pages

You had a sandwich for lunch again today. If you had to estimate, you’ve eaten thousands of those things over the last five years. Chicken sandwiches. Sandwiches with lunch meat. Sandwiches with a burger. Vegetarian sandwiches. Grilled cheese sandwiches, yeah, you could be in a rut.

"Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide" by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras.

So tomorrow, why not try something different? Read “Gastro Obscura” by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras and see what else is on the menu.

Let’s face it: part of the fun of travel is eating, and lots of it. Whether it’s authentic Thai food or locally-sourced fish, mom’s secret gravy recipe or grandma’s pies, half the appeal of travel is on a table somewhere, and why not?

Worst case scenario: you don’t like it, but you tried. Best case scenario: the best meal ever.

So why not start with something easy: on your next journey, try Bovril, a “beloved” beef product that’s sold as a paste in England. Go to Italy and stand in line for the chance to sample “what may be the rarest pasta in the world.” Have a bowl of “Sumo Wrestler Stew,” knowing that no wrestlers were harmed in its creation. These foods would taste great when accompanied by bread baked in sand or lava in Libya or the Solomon Islands, and perhaps some mustard pickles from Canada.

If you’re thirsty, how about a Irn-Bru from Scotland, a kind of soda with “.002% ammonium ferric citrate.” A Mlíko, or “fluffy beer” from the Czech Republic might taste good, and “Naked Boy Tea” doesn’t seem so bad when you know that it’s not from a real boy.

And then there’s dessert, maybe ice cream presented as spaghetti, a dish Germans love; or blood candy from Russia, made of cow’s blood. Never mind; how about a stick of gum that proudly tastes like soap?

But wait – you’re traveling, remember? Yes, and while you’re out, you might take in a “Cow’s Head Barbecue” in Texas, a food tour of the Jim Crow South, lunch in Mumbai, chile school, or a Hollywood studio. Bon Appétit!

Crack open “Gastro Obscura” and you’ll notice a most curious thing: much of what you’ll read about will make your mouth water.

Yes, there’s plenty to make you say “Eeeeeuuuww” and curl your lip here but give authors Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras a paragraph to change your mind. What they’ve dished up in this book are the kinds of foodstuffs that hosts in other countries would prepare for fancy company. Some of the dishes are ancient, passed down from generations of cooks; others are new versions of old meals similar to some you might already enjoy. You’ll find treats for kids here, once-in-a-lifetime bucket-listers for discerning palates, and easy-to-learn comfort foods for young adults – and if you don’t believe that, there are some recipes you can try.

Reading this book is like taking your stomach on a vacation, and no foodie should be without it.

If you’re looking for an unusual something for the gourmand, “Gastro Obscura” is what’s for lunch.

More:Bookworm: Author Kathy Benjamin puts the fun in ‘Funeral’

“I’ll Take Your Questions Now”

  • By Stephanie Grisham
  • c. 2021, Harper
  • $28.99, $35.99 Canada; 333 pages

You’re not using semaphore flags. Nope, what you’re saying is clear and concise, spoken in plain language, enunciated, not rushed. You’re not mumbling, you’re communicating as precisely as possible but as in the new book “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” by Stephanie Grisham, it’s possible, even still, that the message is received all wrong.

“I’ll Take Your Questions Now” by Stephanie Grisham

It is probable today that most Americans have formed an opinion about what it might have been like to work at the Trump White House. In this slice of memoir, Grisham recounts her six years with the family, and we read her opinions – the first being that she believed serving in the White House was an honor, and the culmination of a dream.

She’d started out on a low rung and moved her way up: press secretary, communications director for Mrs. Trump, communications director for the West Wing, Mrs. Trump’s Chief of Staff, and a Trump transition team member. In particular, she best-enjoyed her time on the first lady’s team, and she says she believed she was as close to Melania Trump as any other staffer might’ve been. Seemingly irreverently, she often refers to Mrs. Trump as “my girl.”

This, curiously enough, doesn’t feel disrespectful. It has a tone of lightheartedness and just a bit of fun-poking, as does much of the rest of Grisham’s story – and yet, readers may get the sense that Grisham wants to kid, at least at first, to soften what becomes growing frustration, absolute fear of the President’s “horrible” temper, and plain old exhaustion at a White House that didn’t run by the conventional rules she hoped to find.

To be sure, readers will find a bit of contradiction here and there, and occasional dissonance when Grisham praises something in one place and condemns in another. The tale can pivot, whip-quick. She bluntly says that this “is not a book ... where you need to like me” but chances are you will, since there’s an unexpected and appealing sense of balance here; watching her love for the job wane from relishing to rancor and back is also likable for its candidness. Accounts of admiration gone flat, irritations with “chaos” (a word that appears frequently), infighting and a “cat fight,” sarcasm, and wit also complete this book.

The big surprise about “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” is that there are surprises left to tell about the Trump administration. Author Stephanie Grisham shares them in a chatty, informal, just-friends manner, as though you’re standing in a tavern somewhere together, office-gossiping. Beware, though: this is great fun, but given the spin-nature of Grisham’s former job, and the genuine and faux-flippancy in much of the rest of the story, jaded readers might notice that the familiarity is engineered.

At one point in this book, Grisham states that this “book is not meant to be political” but that’s disingenuous. By virtue of its subject, it inherently is, and if you’ve enjoyed one or two or ten books almost like it, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” is the one to flag.

More:Bookworm: ‘Egg’ for kids who loves animals, science, peril

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.