Mystery and Magic in the Kitchen
Book Reviews by Sam Tillis
Set aside the clean-living and healthy diet books for the moment. It’s time for some magic.
We have all heard that the moon is made of cheese, but it took Berkeleyite Anthony Kosky to give us The Mouse and the Moon. The tale features Guinevere, a cheese expert (and mouse), who, on setting out to learn exactly what type of cheese the moon is made of, makes the frightening discovery that the moon is slowly disappearing. Someone, she concludes, must be eating it. She abandons her scientific inquiry in order to handle the more pressing matter of preserving the moon, which she accomplishes by perpetuating the falsehood that the moon is, in fact, only made of boring old rock, and therefore not worth eating at all.
While this is certainly not the first children’s story of mice, moons, and cheese, it is undoubtedly the most illuminating. The conversational tone of the story belies a surprisingly broad survey of world cheese: Over a dozen cheese varieties are name-dropped in the course of the 24-page book, and each is described in further detail (along with a helpful and kid-friendly pronunciation guide) in the back of the book. The result is an entertaining children’s tale that also serves as a superb introduction to cheese connoisseurship.
The story, originally written by Kosky for his daughters, reflects the love of cheese the author shares with his wife. “I actually met my wife through an online dating service about twelve years ago,” says Kosky, “and in the part of my profile that listed characteristics I was looking for in a partner, I wrote ‘an appreciation of fine cheese is a plus.”
But did it succeed in making cheese-lovers of Kosky’s daughters?
“My younger daughter always wants to try the cheese cubes on toothpicks that they have in Berkeley Bowl,” Kosky says, “so there’s definitely hope.”
Find The Mouse and the Moon on Facebook.
Rumors are afoot that some Berkeley trolls have created a cookbook. I track them down at an enchanted store hiding in plain sight at 1805 Fourth Street, deep in the heart of West Berkeley. Castle in the Air has been described as a sort of art supply store, but upon entering, I find so much more: books, tarot cards, empty bottles with labels like Snake Oil and Dragon Blood; jewelry, stones, beads, and curiosities of all kinds. A back wall is lined with crepe paper, fine pens, and bottled inks. One of the two employees I interact with is a Berkeley hipster; the other is a fairy. Neither seems out of place.
Co-written by Castle in the Air founder/owner Karima Cammell and her literary partner Clint Marsh, The Troll Cookbook is equal parts food lore and folklore. The hefty volume is an in-depth guide to the world of trolls and their cuisine.
The trolls of The Troll Cookbook are an ancient race. They grew up alongside humans, but live in wild places. While humans “advanced” in technology and sophistication, the trolls retained their connection to nature and perfected their knowledge of the ancient magic and wisdom stored therein.
Trolls are mischievous, tending to play pranks on hapless humans when not scheming to eat us for supper. But the most important quality of trolls (and the realm in which we might learn the most from them) is their love for simple, natural, wholesome food.
The Troll Cookbook is organized by season, with each chapter containing reflections, folklore, informative essays, and, of course, a bevy of classic troll recipes ranging from Oatmeal Almond Waffles to Smoked Eel with Buttery Mollusk Sauce. Also included is a troll measurement conversion table, so you know what you’re doing when the local troll asks to borrow a sneeze of milk. And Cammell’s whimsical illustrations serve as a useful inventory of the many types of trolls one might encounter when one has been allowed entry to their sphere.
A lesson of The Troll Cookbook is that we should not reject the trolls, but embrace the trollish tendencies within ourselves in order to help us simplify, reconnect with our food, and, in doing so, paradoxically regain some of our humanity.
“The Troll Cookbook is really just a natural result of a life spent eating good food with amazing people,” Cammell tells me. Growing up around Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, she spent many a night not only enjoying the food of restaurants like Chez Panisse, but also absorbing the neighborhood’s prevailing philosophy of creative courage: taking risks to create something new and unique. “Trolls have a devil-may-care approach to eating and cooking, and that’s the attitude I hope to impart to readers.”
Sam Tillis is an Oakland-based renaissance man whose occupations include editing, occasional writing, and social-media curation for Edible East Bay; tutoring; and acting and directing for stage and screen. He runs Quantum Dragon Theatre, the Bay Area’s premiere science-fiction/fantasy theatre company. quantumdragon.org