Disarmingly bright memoir from a clever food critic.
Currently a New York Observer columnist, Hodgson was born after World War II to a British Foreign Service officer and his elegant wife. Due to her father’s diverse postings, the author advanced from an English childhood ingesting food laced with suet to swimming in the Suez with the international set. She lived in Beirut and Stockholm, prewar Vietnam and postwar Berlin, tasting all the local fare. Leaving public school in Dorset, the tall teenager sailed to New York on the Queen Mary. Since her father worked at the United Nations, Hodgson became a UN guide, part of a convivial multinational circle. Episodes like being flung onto the Persian carpet by an amorous Iranian diplomat hastened the pretty young Englishwoman’s coming of age. She acquired boyfriends, took ballet classes and waited tables in Greenwich Village. Instead of toad-in-the-hole, she ate oysters; tajine and couscous replaced bangers and Marmite. During the ’70s, she led a bohemian life in Paris and Mexico, dallying with handsome dancer Claudio and sustaining a long-term relationship with poet William. (No surname is provided, but readers will have no difficulty identifying that Pulitzer Prize winner). Hodgson’s occasional recollections of memorable meals generally lead to anecdotes. She intersperses recipes like cloves in a ham, but her stories of exotic places and curious people provide at least as much entertainment as the tasty dishes. Pertinent comments assess the craft of a culinary critic and the food foibles of the famous. (When poet W.H. Auden woke up in the middle of the night, for example, he “liked to console himself with a cold spud.”) The author sweetly and smartly depicts her family and renders all her adventures with real descriptive power and an ear for language.
A jolly good memoir, served with savoir-faire.