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

Dinner: A Love Story

 

by Jenny Rosenstrach
Ecco, 2012
336 pages
ISBN: 978-0062080905

Review by Amber Kuzmick

As every parent knows, it’s not difficult to find a new study or article or expert exhorting you to cook and eat dinner with your children (and warning you of the evils that may befall them should you fail to do so). And as every cook knows, it’s easy to find a dozen cookbooks that promise to take the stress out of making dinner with their quick! easy! make-ahead! five-dollar! 30-minute! recipes. What is rare is to come across a story so intimate and nuanced and empathetic that it seduces you into wanting to make dinner for those you love, that it reaffirms and cements the meaning of those shared meals and celebrates rather than effaces the labor that goes into crafting them. Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: A Love Story, based on her popular blog of the same name, is a book about family dinner that takes as its starting point not health, virtue, duty, or frugality, but pleasure. The book, though it can certainly be used as a handbook or guide, is primarily (as the subtitle indicates) a romance--a tale of how certain experiences with food can enrich the texture of our days and years and alter our perception of time just as much as (and perhaps more consistently than) romantic ardor does.

Rosenstrach, a former editor at Real Simple and Cookie magazines, and a mother to two daughters, made a vow early in her days as a working parent that she would be home to have dinner with her family on a regular basis. She organized her days and nights around this goal with military precision. Her book is a record of both the strategies she employed to reach her goal and the cumulative effects of a decade spent making dinner the highlight and the anchor of her days. It is a memoir in three parts, detailing what family dinner has looked like 1) in the early days of marriage to her college boyfriend, Andy, 2) in the harried days of early parenthood, especially the days of juggling “two under two,” and 3) in the present with two elementary-aged children who are, as she says, “capable of sitting upright in a chair, using a fork semicorrectly, and not spilling their milk all over the chicken.”

The book is a testament to the pleasures of the traditional, the familiar, the ritualistic. Rosenstrach emphasizes that each recipe in the book is a “real dinner” that her family has eaten at least ten times. The images include hand-written recipes on index cards handed down from her mother-in-law, and close-ups from her own “dinner diary,” a notebook where she has recorded what her family ate for dinner every night for the past fourteen (!) years. She implicitly coaches her readers to develop a reliable repertoire of meals that can be prepared without anxiety over whether they will “work” and ideally without consulting a written recipe. She clearly experiences certain dishes --breaded chicken cutlets, porcupine meatballs, vinegary pork chops, chicken pot pie, pork shoulder ragu--as culinary touchstones that both connect her to her past and root her in the pleasures of the present, and is evangelical about the ways in which these old favorites can liberate us from the anxieties of the paradox of choice.

The problem, if there is one, with this line of reasoning is that no cookbook or blog can ever confer on a recipe that time-won aura of nostalgia and familial recognition. In other words, we each need our own set of hand-written index cards that have been passed down through the generations, not to adopt the recipes from someone else’s grandmother. That’s not to say that readers won’t find recipes here that will become tried and true family favorites. For me, it was the salmon salad with green beans, sweet corn, grape tomatoes, purple potatoes, and mustardy vinaigrette. This meal is simple, delicious, healthy (when I’m eating salmon it’s because I want to feel virtuous), and perfectly deconstructable for my 4 year old who doesn’t like different foods touching each other. And if you have to get your recipes from a blogger rather than a beloved grandmother, Rosenstrach is a pretty great blogger to turn to. She inspires trust and warmth in her readers for many reasons but first and foremost with her candid, unapologetic acknowledgement of both the sacred and the profane elements of parenthood. One never for a moment doubts her devotion to her daughters. She adorns miniature pot pies with their initials and devises brilliant strategies to get them to eat (and enjoy) their kale salads. But she also makes no bones about the fact that parenting is hard work, and sometimes kids need to eat a Trader Joe’s frozen pizza for dinner. And sometimes (or all the time) parents need a strong drink right around 6pm. As she says, “you don’t have to completely change the way you cook when you have kids. You just have to change your mind-set. And your expectations. And maybe your medications.”

June 2013