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Friday, January 1, 2010

Food and Books -- A Year in Review

Mostly, it was a year to hunker down.

Wiped out 401K, endless worry about layoffs, a year of nervousness. Not surprisingly, Spicy Food Guy's 2009 food and brain diet reflected his circumstances. Lots of soups, lots of stews, foods that are warm and comforting.

On the reading side, lots of science fiction and fantasy, places to escape. And plenty of American history, especially the trying times, seeking to understand, attempting to find perspective.

Like Tim Egan's "The Worst Hard Time", a fascinating account of the dust bowl at the time of the great depression. Also Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage", an in-depth look at the tragic character of Meriwhether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as "D-Day" and "Citizen Soldiers", two fascinating non-fictional accounts of World War II.

Gumbo and jambalaya were often on the menu at SFG's house, all full of roasted chicken, garlic and jalapeno sausage, and shrimp. Served with bismati rice. Filling.

On the fantasy side, a couple of very good trilogies. Joe Abercrombie writes sort of like a dark Tolkien with "The Blade Itself", "Before They are Hanged", and "The Last Argument of Kings".

Brent Weeks may have penned the year's best three book fantasy series with "The Way of Shadows", "Shadow's Edge", and "Beyond the Shadows". SFG's favorite written line of the year comes from the last book:

"Perhaps it's just the way the greatest magic works: justice and mercy entwined. It's a mystery, Kylar. A mystery on a par with the question of why is there life at all? If you wish to answer the mystery by positing a God, you can, or you can say that it just is -- and either way, be glad for it, for it is a gift. Or a most fortunate accident."

Diners were a favorite of the SFG family this year, whether at home or on the road. The kids loved the Dor-Stop here at home, and the Richmond River City Diner got rave reviews as well.

Spicy Food Guy discovered a favorite new Science Fiction author when he found Robert Charles Wilson. In quick succession, SFG knocked off "Spin", "Axis" (the two go together), "Blind Lake", and "The Chronoliths". Similar to Wilson is Joe Haldeman, with interesting reads "The Coming", "The Accidental Time Machine", and "Camouflage".

After burning out a bit on Science Fiction, SFG sobered up to some American History with Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels", a breathtaking semi-fictional account of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. After getting hooked on Angels, SFG followed up with a rash of Jeff Shaara (son of Michael) works, including "Rise to Rebellion" and "A Glorious Cause", a fabulous two part fictional account of the revolutionary war. SFG also took in Shaara's "Gods and Generals", which brings Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson to life in a way no history textbook ever has.

For a quick trip back to fantasy, SFG slogged his way through the four part, 3,000+ pages of Tad Williams "The Otherworld" series. It's only for the patient and brave of heart, but SFG really enjoyed it.

Pizza was big for SFG and his family in 2009. We discovered Harry's, a fantastic pizza joint in the south hills of Pittsburgh, and of course SFG enjoyed the spicy pizza at Mt Lebanon's Il Pizzaiolo.

Being a bit burnt out on Science Fiction and American History, SFG enjoyed a delightful read with Pat Conroy's "South of Broad". He followed up with a collection of essays by Malcolm Gladwell in "What the Dog Saw". A birthday gift brought Laurence Bergreen's "Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu", and followed up with Bergreen's "Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe". The latter was particularly vivid, especially the contrast of the Pacific part of the journey against the Atlantic leg. Plus, SFG had forgotten that Magellan died on the voyage, so that part was kind of like a non-fictional historical surprise.

Ice Cream was another source of comfort to SFG and his loved ones this past year, and the find of the year had to be the Sarris's Ice Cream Shop in Cannonsburg PA. The Family of Spicy Food Guy made that road trip at least a half a dozen times in 2009.

Back to Amercan History, SFG got a great peek of some great old characters with John Meacham's "American Lion," an entertaining account of Andy Jackson. Another good humorous biography was Walter Isaacson's "Benjamin Franklin", and one of the best reads of the year was the richly detailed story of Lincoln's cabinet, "A Team of Rivals".

Finally, big old meat entree's played well in 2009, with steak at Arthur's, ribs at Jasper's and Two Brothers, roasted pork sandwiches at Dinics, and bone-in bison at Mills Tavern.

But fortunately for you, dear reader, Spicy Food Guy was able to resolve once and for all whether red or green chile sauce is best for huevos rancheros.

Have a great 2010. May your table be full and your reading list fascinating. Peace out.


  1. Hope to make a dent in this list....and hope that ShaquanaDancy up there, doesn't make a dent in you

  2. I've been looking for some new authors in the scifi fantasy world of fiction. Thanks!

  3. Hey, Spicy Food Guy,

    I did receive your email (Munch is really bad at getting to Munch mail) and saw both the disclosure and the posting on the 9 oz. bone. Munch totally giggled, too.

    Munch, however, does not have the expense account that Spicy Food Guy does, what with jetting to Seattle and Providence (Munch notes the high unemployment in both locales and surmises that you are like that George Clooney character, firing people where ever you go). Golly SFG, are you home enough to put clean underware in your rolling suitcase?

    And, while Munch totally appreciates the disclaimer, Munch was not mad at all. Out and out thieving someone's style is truly the most sincere form of flattery.

    Maybe when you read this week's column on the gyro place in Oakland, you will be inspired to jet off to the Mediterranean next.

    Meanwhile Munch will be here, eating the foods of the 'burgh rather than the exotic foods of Providence, which is really not known for exotic anything. The Mafia there likes to keep it quiet.


  4. Absolutely incredible job!!! I'm impressed!!

    Is there any information like this for 2010?? I need it for my term paper. I order it on term papers buy


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