Taste the World: Food & Culture

On a recent visit with family, I had a conversation with one of my nephews.  He is currently in culinary school and also working at a restaurant.  The obvious joy on his face when he talked about cooking and life made this auntie feel very proud that he found, and is further pursuing, his passion.  He talked about his plans, when he’s finished with school, to travel to other countries to learn about their cultures and food.  And being who I am, I immediately thought of a book I could recommend to him.

A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment by Stephane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell (NY: The New Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1-62097-251-9) is a book I’ve recommended to people before.  It provides a look at French history, from the 1st Century B.C. through the present, as it relates to the food for which the French are famous.  The authors do a great job of making history interesting and even humorous.

Another book I read more recently is Craving London: Confessions of an Incurable Romantic with an Insatiable Appetite by Jessica Stone (Ripe Press, 2020. ISBN 978-1735110202).  This book is as much a romantic memoir as it is about culture and cooking, and I found it to be absolutely charming.  Stone discusses her Cuban heritage and what it was like to retrain her heart, mind and palate from an American to and English perspective.  This book takes you on a great adventure in love and in food.

Food Fights & Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste is by Tom Nealon (NY: Overlook Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4683-1441-0) takes a look at how food affects society, and vice versa.  Nealon covers such topics as whether lemonade helped to spare Parisiennes from the plague in the 1600s; cannibalism; and the evolution of the dinner party.  My favorite chapter is Chapter 7: Cacao & Conflict.  I love the illustrations in this book, most of which are images the author collected from The British Library.

Cacao and six other ingredients are featured in the book The Seven Culinary Wonders of the World: A History of Honey, Salt, Chile, Pork, Rice, Cacao, ad Tomato by Jenny Linford (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5883-4642-1).  The book combines various cultural histories and legends with recipes from around the world.

Mina Holland is the author of The World on a Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 recipes, and the Stories Behind Them (NY: Penguin Books, 2014. ISBN 9780143127659).  In her introduction, Holland says, “Whenever I go abroad my focus is on finding the food most typical of wherever I am, and the best examples of it.  Food typifies everything that is different about another culture and gives the most authentic insight into how people live.  Everyone has to eat, and food is a common language.”  In addition to the information Holland gives on the areas she traveled to, she provides a pantry list of items commonly stocked by those living in that region use; recipes; and a handy further reading guide in the back of the book.

If you want to get your children interested in this topic, be sure to share with them A Taste of the World: What People Eat and How They Celebrate Around the Globe by Beth Walrond (Berlin: Little Gestalten, 2019. ISBN 9783899558180).  I love Walrond’s quote, “Food is all about sharing. It brings people together.”  Richly illustrated, this book discusses different cultures, foods, and festivals.

No article about food and culture would be complete without mentioning books by Anthony Bourdain.  His latest, published posthumously, was co-written with Laurie Woolever, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide (NY: Harper Collins, 2021. ISBN 978-0-06-280279-8).  You may also find one of Bourdain’s earlier books of interest, such as No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach (NY: Bloomsbury, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59691-4476).

Further reading suggestions:

In Search of the Perfect Loaf by Samuel Fromartz (NY: Viking, 2014. ISBN 978-0-670-02561-9).  Fromartz discusses his four-year journey across the United States and Europe and his meetings with bakers, farmers and miller in an attempt to combat the industrialization of bread making.

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding (NY: Harper Collins, 2015. ISBN 978-0-06-239403-3) discusses and illustrates food and culture in seven regions in Japan.

I hope you’ve seen something here that will inspire your own adventure into food and culture!


Literary Destination: Coastal Southeastern Connecticut

I grew up in the Southeastern Connecticut region and, on a recent trip to visit with family, I was reminded of all the wonderful bookish places there are in this area.  So come on a journey with me while we travel along the I-95 corridor.

Our first stop is R.J. Julia Booksellers, located at 768 Boston Post Road, Madison.  I actually discovered this bookstore when an author I like did an event here.  R.J. Julia has much to offer – a wide selection of books, wonderful events, a café/bistro, podcasts, and more.  This store was founded by Roxanne J. Coady, who named the store after her grandmother.  Coady has found a way to, not only inspire generations of readers, but also to give back to the community.  She co-edited a book entitled The Book that Changed my Life, with proceeds benefiting The Read to Grow Foundation, an early childhood literacy organization.  Please click here to find out more about this book, and the store and all it has to offer:  RJ Julia Booksellers | A great place to meet books!

We’re traveling west to east, so our next stop is Paperback Café located at 210 Main Street, Old Saybrook.  I just love a place with bookshelves and you’ll find that here.  You can grab a coffee and some delectable treats while you’re recharging for your next stop on this literary trail.  Please click here for more info on the café: PAPERBACK CAFE | OLD SAYBROOK | HOME (

We’re moving on to the Book Barn in Niantic, which actually has three separate locations along Main and West Main Street.  On their website they call it A Bibliophile’s Bliss – and they are not kidding!  With every category of used books you could possibly think of, gardens and animals (yes, I did say animals) the Book Barn is truly a unique place to go!  I missed going on my last visit, but I will have to plan to stop again the next time I’m in the area.  Click here to learn more: HOME | Book Barn ( (The picture in the title box is from a previous visit we made to the Book Barn.)

Next up is The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford.  “Founded in 1964 by George C. White and named in honor of Eugene O’Neill, four-time Pulitzer Prize-winner and America’s only playwright to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the O’Neill has launched some of the most important voices and works in American theater and has revolutionized the way new work is developed.”  This place holds a special place in my heart because when I was in elementary school, troupes from this center came to my school to hold workshops and performances for us.  Today, the Center has numerous programs for writers and performers, and of course a variety of shows that you can see.  Please click here to find out more: The O’Neill | Launchpad of American Theater (

Now it’s off for a spot of tea at Alice in the Village, located in Olde Mistick Village, just off Exit 90 in Mystic.  This tearoom and giftshop, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is the perfect stop in our literary tour.  Want to plan your visit?  Click here for more information:  Alice in the Village

Just a few more miles down the road is Mystic Seaport, located at 75 Greenmanville Avenue.  Why are we stopping here?  Because we want to see the Seamen’s Friends Society Reading Room, located within the Seaport.  The American Seamen’s Friend Society was established in the early 1800s to “to improve the social and moral condition of seamen.”  The Society donated wooden cases, filled with about 40 books, to American ships so the sailors would have access to reading materials while away at sea.  The Society is no longer in existence, but their records are still located here.  For more information, please click here:  Seamen’s Friend Society Reading Room – Mystic Seaport Museum

We’re staying in Mystic and heading over to 53 W. Main Street, where we will find Bank Square Books.  This is one of my favorite independent bookstores.  I not only visit there when I’m in the area, I’ve taken advantage of some of their virtual events and have ordered books shipped to my home.  I love their local author section, too.  What’s even better than this location?  They also have a sister shop called Savoy Bookshop & Café, located just across the CT/RI border in Westerly, RI.  Like R.J. Julia, Bank Square also gives back to community.  The store participates in Operation Paperback, which provides books to our troops overseas, as well as to their families here in the States and to veterans.  For more information about this store and this program, please click here: Bank Square Books/Savoy Bookshop & Café | Locally Owned, Fiercely Independent

I learned about our last stop on this literary trail through Bank Square Books.  The James Merrill House is located at 107 Water Street in Stonington.  James Ingram Merrill was a noted American author, who wrote poetry (for which he won the Pulitzer Price in 1977), plays, essays, and fiction.  He lived in this house from 1956 until his death in 1995.  The house is now a National Historic Landmark and offers a residency program to writers that provides a living and workspace, as well as a monthly stipend.  To find out more about James Merrill and this house and program, please click here: Home | James Merrill House

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this literary tour with me and I hope it inspires you to visit these wonderful places in person someday soon.


Literary Destination: Bucks County, PA

Bucks County, Pennsylvania is a wonderful place to visit.  It has picturesque landscape and is steeped in history.  Bucks County is also a fantastic destination for literary lovers.  Here are some of the many places to include in your visit to Bucks County:

The Michener Museum

Michener Art Museum – Doylestown, PA

James A. Michener (1907-1997) was a native of Doylestown.  He authored dozens of books, including the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, Tales of the South Pacific.  Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted this book into the 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific, which was then adapted into film in 1958 and again in 2001.  Michener was an art lover and a philanthropist, and donated money to the project that established this museum.  And here’s an interesting bit of trivia – the building that houses the museum was once the County Jail!  The museum opened it’s doors in September 1988.

When you enter the museum and turn left, there is a permanent exhibit – “James A. Michener: A Living Legacy”.  This is one of my favorite parts of the museum.  You’ll see Michener’s desk, typewriter, and other items from his office, in addition to books, photos, and awards.  The Michener Art Museum also has fantastic art displays, and variety of art classes for all ages.  If you are a researcher, the museum has an art library and archive, for which you will need to make an appointment to access.  For more information about the Michener Art Museum, please click here:  James A. Michener Art Museum – Art and Education in Doylestown, PA.

If you would like to know more about James Michener, I recommend Michener and Me by Herman Silverman (USA: Running Press, 1999. ISBN: 978-0762406203).  Silverman was a long-time friend of Michener and a founder of the Michener Art Museum.

The Mercer Museum
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Fonthill Castle

Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle– Doylestown, PA

Another prominent citizen of Doylestown was Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930).  Mercer was a scholar with interests in archeology, anthropology, and art, and authored several books on these topics.  Fonthill Castle was his home, which you can still visit today.  Completed in 1912, Fonthill contains an amazing display of tile work from Mercer’s company, Moravian Pottery & Tile Works (located next to Fonthill).  I mention this location because Mercer’s substantial personal library is one of the rooms you can visit in Fonthill. 

About a mile or so away and located directly across the street from the Michener Art Museum is the Mercer Museum.  Mercer built this to house his collection of pre-industrial tools and was completed in 1916.  The museum also has the research library of the Bucks County Historical Society.  What do Mercer’s home and museum have in common?  They were both built almost entirely of reinforced concrete (including interior walls). To find out more about Mercer, Fonthill Castle, and the Mercer Museum, please click here: .

Pearl S. Buck’s home at Green Hills Farm

Green Hills Farm – Perkasie, PA

Another famous author, philanthropist, and activist who resided in Bucks County was Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973).  Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck moved shortly after her birth with her missionary parents to China.  She lived in China for a good portion of her early adult life, which greatly influenced her expansive literary works.  She received many awards and accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for The Good Earth (film adaptation in 1937).  Buck returned to the United States in 1934, and purchased Green Hills Farm around 1935.  In 1964, she established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation (now known as Pearl S. Buck International).  This organization provides aid for children, hosts a Global Leadership Program for high school students, offers writing classes and book groups for adults, and much more.  Tours are available of the house, and there is also a gift shop and exhibit gallery.  While visiting, you’ll get to see Buck’s office and personal library.  If you’d like to know more about Buck and this organization, please click here: Home – Pearl S Buck .

Do you want to know more about the famous and talented people, such as Oscar Hammerstein, II, Dorothy Parker, and Moss Hart, who lived in Bucks County?  I recommend The Genius Belt: The Story of the Arts in Bucks County by George S. Bush (editor) (Penn State University Press, 1996.  ISBN: 978-0271016733).

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Inside the Christmas Museum at the Byers’ Choice Visitor Center

Byers’ Choice – Chalfont, PA

Byers’ Choice got it’s start as a business in the 1960s when Joyce Byers began creating Christmas decorations (specifically Carolers) in her home.  This at-home start up grew into an international business.  Why is this being included with other entities that are book related? Well, if you check out the Carolers, or visit the Christmas Museum at their Welcome Center, you will notice the heavy influence of Charles Dickens.  As you’re entering the museum, and on your way to the Observation Deck (where you can watch artists creating the Carolers), you’ll pass through a walkway that makes you feel like you’re walking through the Victorian streets of London.  The connection with Dickens does not stop there.  For many years Gerald Dickens, the great-great grandson of Charles, has been coming to Byers Choice to perform his one-may adaptations of several of Dickens’ stories.  Unfortunately, due to Covid, Gerald Dickens was unable to hold his live performance of A Christmas Carol.  I have seen his live performance and it really is exceptional.  He plays the roles of each character without major costume or scene changes so seamlessly.  If you get a chance to see him live, go and see him.  If not, I believe you are still able to stream his recorded version.  If you’d like more information about the show and Byers’ Choice, please click here: . (For information on streaming Dickens’ performance, click on EVENTS, and scroll down.)

Okay, now you’ve traveled to Bucks County and are seeing the sites, and you feel the need to pick up a great book….where do you go?  If you just want to browse in a public library, the Bucks County Free Library has its center in Doylestown, and is located right next to the Michener Art Museum, and directly across the street from the Mercer Museum. There are 17 other locations throughout the county.  For more information about Bucks County Free Library, please click here: Home – Bucks County Free Library ( .

Feeling like you might want to purchase some books – something that you can take home with you?  You might be interested in the Bucks County Book Fest. The Book Fest began in 2018 and has been held annually since then (2020’s was held virtually).  Past authors have included Anna Quindlen, Ibram X. Kendi, and Kate Moore.  The 2021 Book Fest will be held September 24 -26 and includes keynote speakers Christina Baker Kline and Jason Reynolds, and at least 18 other authors.  For more information about this event, please click here: .

You might also want to visit some of the wonderful independent book stores located throughout the region.  Here is a listing along with their websites for more information:

The Doylestown Bookshop (Doylestown, PA) and The Lahaska Bookshop (Lahaska, PA): The Doylestown Bookshop .

Farley’s Bookshop (New Hope, PA): .

Newtown Bookshop (Newtown, PA): Newtown Bookshop | Your Neighborhood Independent Bookshop .

Commonplace Reader (Yardley, PA):  Commonplace Reader ( .

(NOTE: Map of Bucks County in the above title box is from Visit Bucks County. Click here for more information if you’d like to plan your trip to Bucks : Visit Bucks County, Pennsylvania )


Literary destination: London, England

My favorite thrift shop has a large book section I love to browse because I never know what marvels I might stumble across there.  On one recent visit, I found this book by Anna Quindlen, Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2004, ISBN 9780792265610.)  I love reading.  I love London.  I love reading books set in London.  Brilliant find!  Some of the authors that inspired Quindlen’s London adventures discussed in this book are, Virginia Woolf, Margery Allingham, Nancy Mitford, John Mortimer, and of course, Charles Dickens.  If you’d like to find out more about Anna Guindlen and her books, please click here:  Anna Quindlen

We took a family trip to London in 2012 and one of the spots we visited in common with Quindlen was Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey.  Over 100 English authors/poets are buried or honored here, including Robert Browning, Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare.  The first poet buried in Westminster Abbey was Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400!  When you visit here, you’ll notice the vaulted ceiling soaring above you, and you’ll be surrounded by beautiful archways, stained glass windows, and statues.  What an amazing way to pay tribute to your national treasures of literature.  Out of all the photos we took while we were there, I can’t find any from Poet’s Corner! If you’d like more information, and to see official photos of Poet’s Corner, please click here:  Poets’ Corner | Westminster Abbey (

While we were in London, I was hoping to see the “home” of Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street, an address that did not actually exist when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Holmes stories.  Now, that address belongs to the Sherlock Holmes Museum.  We were unable to make it there due to several road closures, so I guess I’ll have to plan another trip someday. Would you like to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum on your next trip to London?  Make sure to click here for more information:  Sherlock Holmes Museum – The official home of Sherlock Holmes (  Want to know more about the man behind it all?  You can find information about Doyle here:  Arthur Conan Doyle – Licensing – Official Website of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Family Estate (

My copy of the complete Holmes stories

If you’re planning on going to Baker Street when you visit London, and you’ll be traveling with children, you may want to visit Paddington Station while you’re in the general area.  Why?  Do you remember Paddington Bear?  In the 1950s, Michael Bond bought a stuffed bear for his wife, which they named Paddington since they lived near Paddington Station.  Bond began to write stories about this bear, and in 1958 A Bear Called Paddington was published.  A statue of the bear was commissioned by Bond and was unveiled in its new home in Paddington Station in February 2000.  If you’d like to find out more about Bond and his famous bear, click here:  Paddington

The first Paddington Bear book

If you’re continuing on your adventure with your children (or even without), south of Paddington Station is Kensington Garden.  While you’re strolling in the park and taking in the lovely views, you may come across the statue of Peter Pan, made famous by author JM Barrie.  Peter first made his appearance in the 1902 adult novel, The Little White Bird or Adventures in Kensington Garden.  Peter then made his way to Neverland in the 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.  The statue has had its home in the Garden since 1912.  If you’d like more information on Kensington Garden, please click here: The Peter Pan Statue – Kensington Gardens – The Royal Parks.  For more information on JM Barrie, you can click here: The Largest Archive & Database of Scottish writerJ M Barrie

Photo credit:

There is another stop I should mention.  Book lovers young and old would enjoy a visit to the British Library.  Not only does this magnificent structure maintain holdings of global historic and cultural significance, but it also contains a library of over 300,000 volumes.  That’s a lot of books!!  What’s even better?  You don’t have to wait until the end of the pandemic to visit – you can visit virtually!  Please click here for more information:  How to explore the British Museum from home – The British Museum Blog. And while you’re in the area, continue on to the British Library. You’ll find originals of the Magna Carta, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in their holdings. To find out more about the British Library’s online exhibits and more, please click here: Online exhibitions – The British Library (

I hope you’ll find some points of interest here and will begin planning your own literary journey to London.

(Photo credit for picture of map in title box : London AZ Street Atlas)


Baldwin’s Book Barn

Have you ever read a book that described what you thought sounded like a really cool place, only to discover that this place actually exists? It happened to me several years ago while reading Sheila Connolly’s Let’s Play Dead, which is one of seven books in her Museum Mystery series.Lets_Play_Dead

I love to read books, fiction or nonfiction, with settings in museums, libraries, or bookstores (not surprising!). In the Museum Mystery series, Nell Pratt is the president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, a fictional organization based in Philadelphia. In Let’s Play Dead, Nell is invited to a nearby children’s museum for a preview of a new exhibit. A murder at the museum causes Nell to search for the killer. While taking a break from her busy schedule, Nell takes a drive to Chester County to visit a bookstore she calls the Book Barn. As I was reading Connolly’s description of the Barn and its locale, I began to wonder if this place was real. I did a little research and happily discovered that, indeed, Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester, Pennsylvania is an actual place!

Baldwins_BooksThe barn that houses the bookstore started its life as a dairy barn in 1822. In 1946, the original founders of Baldwin’s, William and Lilla Baldwin, moved their business into the barn. Today, Baldwin’s has four floors of treasures! This bookstore is so large that they provide visitors with a map to help you navigate each level, with categories clearly labeled. Items are not cataloged at Baldwin’s, so if you’re looking for something in particular, you will need to search the shelves for it.


Baldwins_BooksAs we made our visit in the winter on a very overcast and damp day, it was wonderful to be greeted by the warmth of the wood stove in the Rare Books room (this is where the main entrance is located). You’ll notice the obligatory scent of old books (a delight to many book lovers); and the creaking floorboards add to the ambiance of the rustic barn setting.

If you’d like to know more about Baldwin’s history or plan a visit, check out their website at We found our treasures – hope you will find yours!

Let’s Play Dead is published by Berkley Prime Crime (July 2011), ISBN 978-0-425-24220-9. For more information on this book and more, go to