|By ALEXANDRA GREELEY (special to Super Chef) |
For foodies, the title says it all—a life filled with delicious indulgences and of meals and food memories that enwrap family, friends, and a few stray folk who wander onto the scene. Or rather, sit down at the table. But most importantly, as Bonny Wolf writes in her delightful eating saga, Talking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories (St. Martin’s 2006),
I realized that handing down recipes from one generation to the next is an intimate, simple act of love and connection. (p. 40)As it turns out, the book’s essays become a compendium of treasured recipes—from her family and from friends’ families, friends, an occasional chef, and even from the gas company. A food commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition since 2003, Wolf writes in her introduction how as a young bride she began collecting recipes for every possible cooking category. After twenty years of filing and compiling every clipping and recipe printout, Wolf experienced an epiphany. As she writes in the introduction, “As I went through these recipes, I realized that I remember most life events by what I ate,” (p. 5) and reviewing the recipes brought back memories of her wedding day, her son’s bar mitzvah, her dad’s 90th birthday, and of course, memories of every place where she and her family had lived, traveled, and eaten and of many of the people with whom she had broken bread and sipped tea.
Reading the chapters is a bit like coming to the party, sitting at Bonny's table, and joining in when the turkey gets passed, or her steaming-hot pumpkin-and-black bean soup is ladled into serving bowls. Reading them also lets you peak into some harried kitchen moments, like the kind of dinner disaster everyone experiences and everyone dreads. Take her story of her friend Jen, who as a newly wed in Dubai invited her husband’s boss and his wife over for Thanksgiving dinner. An inexperienced cook, Jen hadn’t understood the necessity of timing her cooking, so both turkey and sweet potatoes were served raw. Worse yet, her helper, when asked to cook up some rice, had proceeded to boil ten pounds’ worth, using every saucepan available.
And Wolf helps to recount the happy moments, too, such as in the chapter Market Memories, where she tells how she and her friend Stephanie stroll weekly through Washington, D.C.’s famed Eastern Market for their cup of coffee, bran muffin, and their must-have produce and meats. She then segues into celebrating the survival of old-fashioned public markets and the resurgence of farmers’ markets around the country, commenting, “Public markets have become fashionable.They had fallen out of favor with the advent of supermarkets and the year-round availability of just about anything,” she writes. “But we’re over that…. A hundred years ago, city dwellers had to shop at farmers’ markets to get fresh produce. We’re back.” (p. 196)
And then, there are the poignant reminiscences, as Bonny writes how she and her friend Stephanie made an all rose-petal dinner for a friend’s second wedding; of her first real taste of Mexican food on a visit to Mexico City; and of her introduction to real Texas barbecue. By the end of the book and of the recipes, you will have experienced—vicariously, of course—almost every iconic food type that has made up the great American culinary/cultural mixing bowl— from barbecues and fried chicken to meatloaf and Cherry-Wine Jello. From Aunt Esther’s antipasto to Fern’s (her mother’s) egg foo yong. And when you finally put the book down, chances are you will have marked at least twenty recipes you plan to make in the upcoming week. After all, this really is American comfort food.
Bonny has put into words all those hard-to-reach emotions about food, reminding those who feel that food marks life’s greatest moments to savor each crumb on the table. Great food. Great read.
Gifford & Baer-Sinnott: The Oldways Table
Modern Indian Cooking: Khanna and Nayak
[Cookbook Reviews - complete]
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