Taste by Stanley Tucci: Book Review and Book Club Menu

Taste by Stanley Tucci: Book Review and Book Club Menu

Stanley Tucci is known for starring in food-centered films like Big Night and Julie and Julia. In Taste, he writes about how his love of food has shaped his relationships and career. His writing style is informal and personal, and I read the entire book with Tucci’s voice in my head. If you have watched Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy on CNN, you know that Tucci has a friendly warmth about him. This food-based memoir is full of that warmth. He is equal parts debonair movie star and perfectly normal American dad who puns frequently and is proud of every last pun.

A second-generation Italian-American, Tucci grew up eating traditional Italian foods. He talks of his mother’s recipes, family gatherings, and his grandfather’s homemade wine. While he acknowledges how lucky he was to grow up with strong culinary traditions, he also recounts how he and his sisters coveted American foods like peanut butter and Velveeta. As the daughter of immigrant parents, I understood this sentiment very well, and at times, Tucci’s family stories felt like my family stories. There was a humorous story of his grandmother forcing a large bag of her garden tomatoes on Tucci’s resistant mother that mirrors a recurring conversation my mom and I have every time I visit her in August when my parents’ tomato gardens are at their peak.

He talks about being a struggling actor in a pre-gentrification in NYC, and I am now mourning a New York City that I never got a chance to know, before Starbucks took over every city block. He writes of Carnegie Deli with great fondness and of now-defunct Cuban-Chinese restaurants. As someone who grew up with Ukrainian-Paraguayan cuisine (yes, you are reading that correctly), I was particularly intrigued by the notion of Cuban-Chinese cuisine. As he grows more successful, Tucci’s reports of food become more sophisticated. He relates a story of being taken out for lunch by Italian film legend, Marcello Mastroianni, and of another lunch where he and Meryl Streep experience some language barriers when reading the menu. Near the end of the memoir, Tucci returns to telling family stories, but this time he is talking about raising three young adults and two small children with his wife, Felicity, while battling cancer and later sheltering in place during COVID.

Pour yourself a glass of wine or fix a martini (recipe on page 201; Tucci will judge you if you make it incorrectly), and enjoy the story. I would recommend Taste to foodies, memoir fans, and film lovers. People offended by swearing should probably pass on this.

Book Club Menu:

I get to cheat on this month’s book club menu since Taste includes recipes. The mocktail recipe is the only one that is my own, as there should always be a beverage option for book club members who either can’t or don’t drink alcohol.

Cocktail: A Christmas Cocktail (p 120)
Mocktail: A Christmas Mocktail (recipe below)

Starter:
Tomato Salad (p. 46)

Main Course:
For vegetarian option: Pasta con Aglio e Olio (p 17) OR
For omnivore option: Ragù Tucci with Rigatoni or Penne (p 71)

If serving wine with your main course, Pasta con Aglio e Olio pairs with either Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc and the Ragu will pair with Sangiovese or Barbera.

Dessert:
Biscotti with coffee and tea

Christmas Mocktail:

Per mocktail:

  • 4 oz cranberry juice
  • 4 oz ginger kombucha
  • Garnish: rosemary sprig, pomegranate arils

Pour cranberry juice into an old fashioned glass filled with ice. Top with kombucha. Garnish with a rosemary sprig and pomegranate arils.

Summer Reading List, 2021

Summer Reading List, 2021

The Puma Years by Laura Coleman (memoir)



After quitting a series of jobs, twenty-something Laura Coleman decides to backpack in Bolivia. Growing lonely in her travels, she volunteers at a wildlife sanctuary in the Amazon that rehabilitates animals who were rescued from zoos and illegal pet trades. Initially her goal is to not quit before her three months are up, but the questionable living conditions and Hagrid the outhouse-dwelling giant spider test her resolution and her fellow volunteers predict the shy and bookish Laura won’t last. Then Laura is assigned to work with Wayra, a tempestuous puma who longs to be wild even as she has no idea how to be wild. In attempting to rescue Wayra, Laura rescues herself and finds a passion for animal rights and environmental justice.

Coleman is an excellent writer. She portrays both the beautiful and the grotesque so vividly that you feel that you are there in Bolivia with her. I picked this book almost whimsically (“Pretty cover! I want to read a book set in South America!”), but it was a joy to watch Laura move from being a shy recent university graduate disillusioned with adulthood to a strong woman passionate about environmental justice who trusts herself to make a difference. I definitely had “What am I even doing with my life?” thoughts while reading this. I strongly recommend this memoir. Some scenes are a bit gritty, as Coleman does not romanticise the Amazon, but much of it is beautiful. And you will definitely love Wayra as much as Coleman does.

Disclosure: I received a free Kindle copy through Amazon First Reads.


The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (novel)

1983: Kendra Rae Phillips should have been on top of the world. A rising star at Wagner Books, Kendra is the editor of the book of the year, Burning Heart. Written by a Black woman and edited by another Black woman, Burning Heart is all that the literary world can speak about. But Kendra becomes involved in a scandal and flees her life in New York City, disappearing from public life altogether.

2018: Editorial assistant Nella Rogers pursued and acquired a job at Wagner Books to follow in the footsteps of Kendra Rae Phillips, her role model. Once there, she is disappointed by the lack of diversity. She is the only Black employee and people seem to get nervous when Kendra Rae’s name comes up. Nella gets involved with diversity initiatives, only to learn that no one wants to participate. When Hazel is hired to be newest editorial assistant, Nella is grateful to no longer be the only Black employee. While Hazel seems friendly, Nella begins to suspect her work is being sabotaged as Hazel quickly becomes the most sought after employee at Wagner.

This debut novel is fabulous. I kept anxiously trying to work out the twist to this novel because I knew there had to be a big one. Well, there was a big twist, and the hints to the twist are present very early on, but I went down the wrong path entirely because I read too many Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley books, and this is definitely not one of those books. Initially, it’s a bit Mean Girls in an office setting and addresses everything from the politics of natural hair to code switching to half-hearted workplace diversity initiatives. And the ending cannot be called anything but horror. Its clever and page-turning and it’s unlike anything else I have read.

Disclosure: Purchased my own copy.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (novel)

Every August, the four Riva siblings, estranged children of musician Mick Riva, hold a large party. In 1983, the Riva siblings await the party with a combination of dread and hope. Nina, a surfer/supermodel and the eldest of the Riva family, has been in all of the tabloids after being left by her tennis pro husband and is in no mood to have half of Malibu in her home. Jay is putting all of his attention into making sure his love interest attends, if only to distract himself from news he’d rather not think about. Hud is dreading telling Jay a secret that could destroy their close relationship. And Kit is determined to solve the problem of her non-existent love life for good. If sibling drama is not enough, an abundance of drugs ensures the 1983 guests are the rowdiest bunch yet, and by morning, the entire mansion is in flames.

Taylor Jenkins Reid books are pretty much the definition of a beach read. Glamorous characters, glamorous situations, yet well written enough to deserve your time. And I believe Malibu Rising may be her best yet. It’s about how fame and money changed both a family and Malibu. The story spans from the fifties when Mick Riva met June, the mother of the siblings, in Malibu when it was just a simple fishing village that considered itself far from the glamour and money of Hollywood to the eighties when the Hollywood elite had long since descended upon Malibu.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Riva siblings less obnoxiously privileged than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, they are privileged and I initially took a strong dislike to everyone but the feisty Kit. But while the Rivas are quite rich and accomplished in 1983, they were abandoned by their famous father and had to make their own way. They did inherit a struggling restaurant after the death of their mother, which ensured their survival, even though they were too young to effectively run it. In reading about their upbringing, I loved all of the siblings, especially Nina who was the default mother of the family.

Disclosure: Purchased my own copy.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley (novel)

At age forty-three, Patrick is a retired sitcom actor who lives alone in Palm Springs. He has a Golden Globe and an Oscar Wilde quote for every occasion. What Patrick does not have is experience with children, and he is a stranger to his niece and nephew who simply know him as GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick). When Patrick’s sister-in-law and best friend, Sara, passes away, and his brother goes into rehab for a pill addiction that went unnoticed during Sara’s battle with cancer, Patrick finds himself temporary primary caregiver for nine-year-old Maisie and six-year-old Grant. Given that the kids don’t drink martinis, he’s not quite sure how to bond with them, and he definitely doesn’t know how to help them with their grief given that he has never recovered from losing his own partner years before. There are missteps and careless words aplenty, but Patrick finds he was made to be a guncle.

The Guncle is one of those books that seems like a fluffy beach read on first glance. And it is very much a beach read, but it isn’t overly fluffy. At risk of sounding odd, what this reminded me of was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Plot wise, they are very different books, but in tone, they are more similar than dissimilar. Both books are laugh out loud funny, and both contain isolated main characters who have very little filter in what they say. However, both books deal seriously with loss and trauma and are set apart by their excellent characterization and writing.

Disclosure: I purchased my own copy.