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

Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen

 

by Alyssa Shelasky
Three Rivers Press, 2012
272 pages
ISBN: 978-0307952141

Review by Dana Staves

In a month, I will be leaving my home in Virginia, relocating to the west coast to follow the woman I love, who has orders through the Navy to move to California, a state I’ve never been to on a coast I’ve never explored. I am going in good faith that I will find meaningful work, and happiness, because it’s not a choice of whether or not to continue my relationship. Where she goes, I go. Simple.

Alyssa Shelasky, author of the food memoir Apron Anxiety, began her food journey in earnest when she made a similar leap of faith and moved to Washington, D.C., to be with her boyfriend, a former contestant from Bravo’s Top Chef. He had opened a restaurant there, and she relocated in good faith that she would find meaningful work, happiness, and continue her relationship. But once she got to D.C., she felt alone, out of place. She called herself “a nobody.” In an effort to feel useful and valued and closer to her boyfriend, she began cooking.

Shelasky spends the first few chapters of her memoir establishing that she did not grow up a gourmand. No one took her to Paris or even to French restaurants; she wasn’t taught fleur de sel alongside long division; the height of gourmet cooking was her mother’s banana bread. And while Shelasky’s non-gourmet upbringing converges with mine (in my younger days, I would have mistaken fleur de sel for fleur de lis, and I started my culinary education with hot dogs and boxed macaroni and cheese), I had trouble relating to her at the beginning of her book. We’re both writers, but her stories of writing for People and UsWeekly, of late-night parties and glitzy dresses and high heels, completely lost me. I was intrigued by her life, but found it so separate, so different from mine.

But as I read more of her story, I began to relate to her on a soul-deep level and eventually found her to be a kindred spirit. Because, in my heart of hearts, I fear that feeling of being “a nobody.” I fear homesickness and unemployment and loneliness. I have had cooking on my side for years, and I know I can turn to it in times of need. But reading about Shelasky’s journey into cooking and the ways that it could provide her with the comfort and sustenance she needed reminded me that food is about so much more than basic nourishment: it’s about feeding ourselves, fulfilling what Shelasky calls “a longing inside, whether it’s for grace, survival, a renewed sense of self, or just the thrill of it all.”

Shelasky began cooking, partly to please her boyfriend and partly for salvation, an attempt to “[r]ise up from the sleeplessness, the friendlessness, and the homesickness.” She tells herself, “Please, girl, rise the hell up.” As I anticipate my move for the sake of love, I need to hear those words. I need to be reminded, now and in the future, to “rise the hell up.” And as Shelasky continued her education, even as her relationship strained and eventually broke, she grew to understand that “[e]verybody hurts and everybody is hungry.”

Sing it, sister.

Food isn’t perfunctory. It’s not just calories and vitamins. It’s comfort, it’s ritual, it’s tradition, and at times, it’s salvation. The kitchen isn’t just a room with a stove; it can be a safe haven, a home base. And while the culinary world can, at times, seem like an exclusive club, matters of food really come down to matters of the heart, feeding ourselves not just food but also love, and romance, and comfort, and hope. We can “rise the hell up,” and to power that uprising, there will be banana bread and rigatoni and fresh herbs. There will be Internet recipe searches and experiments in the kitchen. There will be Alyssa Shelasky’s story to remind us that “strong women [or men] don’t just happen.” We are crafted from homesickness, loneliness, struggle, and our will to climb up on top of a mountain of pasta and find our way from that new vantage point.

March 2013