by Kim Severson
I really enjoyed this book. One of the reasons I'm so drawn to food writing is that I love reading what people have to say about their passions. Severson's passion and reverence for food and the communities and families food creates is obvious, and really comes through in her writing.
My one complaint about this book is that it's only half the story. Severson continuously refers to her mess of a life in Alaska and her drug and alcohol addiction. She mentions several times about how her addictions would have killed her. But we never get that part of the story. Granted, this book is about food and food writing and Severson making her life and finding out what he likes. However, I feel like if she's going to keep bringing up how potentially devastating her way of life was, and how crucial it was for you to make the change to move to California, then she needed to give the reader a little more about that previous life. Maybe this is just me being a greedy reader, but I needed a little more.
It is in the last four chapters that I think this book really shines, where her strongest lessons are learned. I especially love the way Severson intertwines food and faith. Cooking, and particularly baking, in themselves require an act of faith. "And we believe because someone told us the recipes would work. And so, on faith, we tried them. And once we tried them, and we saw that they worked, we became believers even though we had no idea how they worked. We spread the word to others who then tried them on faith, too. They became believers. Entire culinary cultures have been built on this kind of faith and trust." This beautifully sums up the magic and mystery of food and why food and cooking are so important to people. It's easy to forget how many people are involved in a recipe, that recipes are invented, tried, and tested. They are in and of themselves a record of communication and collaboration, and increasingly so in a well-worn, sauce-stained cookbook.
While Severson's book is a memoir, it is just as much a record of those she encounters on her journey from childhood kitchen table to her desk at the New York Times. Severson's book is inviting and admirably honest (not "frighteningly true" as Julie Powell's blurb says. And while I'm on the subject, the book needs no endorsement from Powell. Also, WHY would you refer to the memoir of a former alcoholic as "gimlet-eyed?"). She holds her food icons in high regard, but does not paint them through rose-colored glasses. While her respect and love for them certainly comes through, she is not afraid to take them off their pedestals, which is one of her best lessons.