I love food almost much as I love books, and on occasion, it takes the cake (pun totally intended). Surprisingly, unless you count the growing number of cookbooks I possess, rarely do food and literature come in contact with each other in my life. They did earlier this year when I read a dreadful book about a supper club. (It was more coming-of-age/confusing drama than supper club, though). That was less than satisfying.
Recently, I finished A Little Life and felt my soul sink to a new low; something can be four or five flames without providing contentment. So BLL friend Dana came through once again when I told her I needed an absolute joyous read that was both flameworthy and would bring me zero sadness.
I distinctly remember laughing on page two of Garlic and Sapphires and thinking I had found the perfect pick-me-up. That laughter returned at many, many points during this book, and I also remember a lot of New York nostalgia and my constantly growling stomach … perhaps that’s just par for the course for this book-lovin’ foodie.
You never know what you’re gonna get. For main character Lillian Dunkle, that was quite the case, as she navigated life from being an impoverished and abandoned immigrant on the Lower East Side to a national phenomenon living on Park Ave. And as a reader, I definitely didn’t anticipate that The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street would be the Forrest Gump of the dessert world. But that’s what Susan Jane Gilman gives us in her debut novel. From Ellis Island to the conservative movement of the 1980s, Gilman provides us with a lesson in American history through the lens of her main character, much like Winston Groom did with his 1986 novel.
If you’re going to follow the concept of a book that led to a Best Picture Oscar, then you have to nail it. Gilman does. She chooses a strong and interesting, albeit abrasive, character to lead her tale. And she keeps her storytelling consistent with the same humor, drama, and characterizations lasting for 500 pages.
Make Your Butt Bigger Bars do more than expand my derriere. They fill me with warmth; they make me nostalgic; they make me feel homesick, grateful, and loved. My mom’s signature bars, which have traversed half a country to impress the finicky minds of New Yorkers, might seem like a gluttonous Midwestern treat to the outside, but if you’ve had the pleasure of indulging in one, you know their power: They transform your soul.
That capability of food is the core of Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which makes it a relatable and beautiful read. As a young food savant grows into a powerhouse chef, she takes the most important ingredients and meals in her life with her to the next chapter (literally and figuratively). This love affair with food heightened my senses of sight, smell, and taste (not to mention induced perpetual hunger), but I struggled to follow the book’s plot and connect the characters. To Stradal’s credit, though, he has a way of filling in the gaps right when it matters the most: the very end.