Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

American Cookery

 

by Laura Kalpakian
St. Martin's Griffin, 2007
432 pages
ISBN: 0312348142

Review by Rosanna Keyes

I’ve been thinking about choices a lot lately. It seems that we as humans are continuously inundated with multiple options and varieties. From the grocery store to coffee shop to library, we’re given the freedom to choose what we think will be the best option: going to the movies, dinner out or in, the best thing, crime novel versus romance, bar versus liquid soap, or the best food, peanut butter, latte, cappuccino, mocha, that will make us happy in that moment. But for many of us there is a duality that arises when we find ourselves facing a more challenging choice, such as a big move or a career change. In those situations we often feel the pressure of outside forces, such as family values and societal expectations, shaping the decisions we ultimately make.

In American Cookery, Laura Kalpakian’s tenth novel, she explores ideas about choice and how we reinvent ourselves through the life experiences of Eden Douglass. The book, mostly set in the town of St. Elmo in southern California, spans the 1920s-1970s and follows Eden as she grows from child to adult.

Eden’s early home life is turbulent , characterized by poverty and a lack of adequate food, yet she finds solace and support in the home of her aunt Afton, a strong, devoutly Mormon woman, who raises multiple children, helps to run the farm and holds the extended family together with an iron will and a bountiful table. Sunday afternoon meals were a chance for the family to share “pork loin roast, the slices studded with lemon, rosemary and peppercorns…great heaps of beets and mashed potatoes, corn salad, tomatoes [and] biscuits with homemade peach jam.” Afton’s table was a gathering place and offered a time to set grievances aside and simply enjoy the gift of good food.

Early in the book Afton tells Eden, “there is a recipe for everything in life.” She goes on to explain that “a recipe is a license for invention. You take what you have and turn it into what you want. It requires [adaptation and] imagination.” This is a challenging concept for the young Eden to grasp. As the novel progresses, Kalpakian explores the idea of reinvention so much that it begins to feel like the overarching theme for the entire book.

As I neared the middle of the book, I found that I began to think about my own life in terms of the foods I was brought up on and still make. In the beginning I followed recipes passed down from my mother but now I make my favorite dishes—tofu vegetable pie with mushroom gravy, apple pie with flaky homemade crust, buckwheat, fried potatoes and steamed greens fresh from the garden—from memory alone. And based on my ingredients and my mood, I can recreate them in a myriad of ways. One could say that, metaphorically, we are given a set of ingredients and allowed to choose what we will do with them. Some people will thrive and use all of their ingredients to their full potential, and others will falter a bit and make false starts, or even fail. It all depends on what each person is able to do with what they have, and what sort of changes and adaptations they can learn to make.

April 2013