Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser

More a food diary with recipes than a proper memoir, I was reading this as I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It gave me a chuckle to realize just how horrified Hesser would be to have to eat at my house, what with the frozen blocks of squash pried out of their boxes and thawed, the boxes of dried corn torn open and rehydrated, the bag of processed stuffing cubes dumped into a bowl before being crammed into the turkey. While I might not be a gourmet cook, I do all right and we enjoy it. Hesser would, however, find the amount of real butter I used making that meal to be perfectly acceptable, I think. In any case, she did earn my respect by admiting that she has made the mistake of trying to speed up the mashed potatoes by using a mixer, at which point the potatoes turn into something with the consistency of silly putty (her description). I've done that too (only once). But this is not a book about her life in the kitchen per se, but more about her attitude towards food, eating, and how, as a published foodie, that permeates her entire life.

Ostensibly arranged around first meeting her boyfriend and then forging a lasting relationship, this book is composed of short chapters finished off by recipes either inspired by the story in the chapter or fitting the theme in some way. There are interesting tidbits here but not a real narrative line, which is only a problem if the reader goes into the book looking for more memoir, fewer philosophical musings on food, its preparation, its consumption, and its importance beyond simple nurishment. As the pieces were mostly written as installments for the New York Times Magazine, the episodic feel to the book is understandable even if it might have been more appealing had it held together a bit more. It was a decent enough piece of writing but left me slightly disappointed that it hadn't turned out to be more--more of a memoir with a few recipes or more of a cooking narrative with only a few personal asides. That it tried to straddle these two things instead of committing to the depth of one or the other weakened it as a whole. I have yet to try any of the recipes (see Thanksgiving comments above) but I do have some flagged to try. Of course, given my obviously plebian tastes and Hesser's more sophisticated palate, we could have a misconnect food-wise but I'm hoping the recipes make up for the otherwise tepid reading.

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