Great Food, All Day Long
by Maya Angelou
Random House, December 2010
Hardcover, 176 pages
Maya Angelou taught me how to be a woman. I had just reached the final cusp of my teens when I picked up my first fix from the library. Then I couldn’t stop. I was ripping through volumes of poetry and groundbreaking memoirs known for having expanded the genre itself. Angelou wrote with irreproachable dignity about society’s underbelly—rape, drugs, prostitution, discrimination, poverty, confusion, and broken truths. She spoke of attack without being a victim, and of her own youthful mistakes while still sounding sharp and wily. Her memoirs told the story of a single soul with a fleet of talents. She was a dancer, a cook, an outlaw, a mother and a poet. Her writings paved the way for American women of color to command ownership of their own narratives, in print and in the public eye. Her syntax and courage taught me that confronting exploitation and prejudice is how a girl can become a woman, victorious and uncorrupted despite the broken system.
So it’s no surprise that Angelou’s latest cookbook, her second, is brimming with lyrical reflections on her struggles with portion control and health. In Great Food, All Day Long, Angelou combines her saucy wit with the recipes and food philosophies she has accumulated throughout her lifetime. Predominately defined by Latin and Southern tastes, her recipes are wildly flavorful, as are the short autobiographical stories of her encounters with these foods.
Even while preaching the importance of nutritious food, Angelou gives her take on the pretension that often accompanies conscious eating habits. She shares a snarky poem in defense of carnivores, inspired by attitudes encountered at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant.
The Health-Food Diner No sprouted wheat and soya shootsAfter this, she describes her love affair with vegetables and the recipes that leave her mesmerized by eggplant. Great Food, All Day Long is a book flavored with irony and reflection. The recipes are marked by quick cooking proverbs about the virtues of portion control, timing, and how to be a good chef and hostess. As she does in her first cookbook, Hallelujah! the Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes, Angelou shows a talent for genre blending. She shares a heartwarming poem about soup alongside her favorite soup recipes. She includes a spectrum of tastes, from puchero and corn bread to pears in port wine. Her introspective explorations of healthy appetite, fulfillment, and taste leave a reader simultaneously satisfied and salivating. She adamantly encourages the creative use of leftovers and listening to the body rather than the clock for meal times—tricks she has learned by “the delicious age of eighty-one.” Her mischievous voice, whether instructional or lyrical, takes me back like an old song on the radio. I love how familiar the rhythm of her words feel on the page.
And brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw & spinach raw
Today I need a steak.
Not thick brown rice & rice pilau
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed & parsnips hashed.
I'm dreaming of a roast.
Health-food folks around the world are thinned by anxious zeal.
They look for help in seafood kelp.
I count on breaded veal.
No smoking signs, raw mustard greens, zucchini by the ton.
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run.
Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown & fresh ground round
I crave them all the time.
Irish stews & boiled corn beef.
And hot dogs by the scores,
Or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.
Angelou manages to squeeze a diversity of recipes and insights into a mere 150 pages, Great Food, All Day Long is short and sweet, a mouthful that is timeless and savory.
February 4, 2012