Monday, August 5, 2013

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen is a food and travel memoir in full colour comics format by Lucy Knisley. She begins with an image of herself as a baby with a round of brie held to her mouth, seated on a kitchen counter amid cooking utensils. "I was a child raised by foodies."

Knisley's mother loved to cook. She was a cheesemonger first, then had a catering business. She worked a farmer's market stall on behalf of growers, along with a partner named Kip.

"Kip seemed to know every spot in the Hudson Valley where one could obtain a free harvest. The Osage oranges we sold at market were often plucked from the lawns of Kip's unsuspecting neighbours. This was also how we obtained goldenrod, pussy willow, and a fruit that Kip called 'goldenberries' for market. (Otherwise known as physalis, or the 'lost fruit of the Incas,' they're raspberry-sized semi-sweet objects that grow encased in lantern-like husks.) On goldenberry-harvesting excursions, we'd pluck them from bushes on the side of the road, or from the backyard of a local resident who hadn't the sense to appreciate them in time. Once in a while, the lawn owner wasn't too pleased with our scavenging, and a few times we had to get out of there quickly. But Kip would creep back as soon as their cars pulled out, escaping with buckets of the little yellow fruits in their papery jackets."

In Tama Matsuoka Wong's Foraged Flavor, she sensibly advises foragers to ask permission before collecting on someone else's property. (It is also a way to ensure that plants have not been sprayed with chemicals.) To Knisley, the danger in being caught was part of the thrill of her excursions with Kip.

As in Knisley's earlier memoir, French Milk, travel and food are linked. I loved the description of Knisley's attempts to replicate the perfect apricot-jam-filled croissants that she enjoyed in Venice. Recipes are included at the end of each chapter, and I was wondering how many pages it would take to illustrate making this pastry.

"Making croissants is HARD. I'm serious. I've tried so many ways, always with imperfect results. You know what's good, actually? That canned dough you can buy at the grocery store! Way less cleanup! Pretty decent results!* So, that said, sorry -- no croissant recipe. How about one for Sangria instead?"
My first attempt at bread, age 12.
Simone is at left. Anyone remember
those stretchy terry cloth
jumpsuits from the early 1970s?

Like Knisley, I started cooking when I was a child because I loved food. When I was 18, I spent 6 months cooking in a construction camp and sometimes took on ambitious culinary projects. One day, my sister Simone and I decided to make butterhorn pastries for the crew of 30 men. The results were delicious but it was so much work that I never attempted them again.

Readalikes: Blood, Bones and Butter (Gabrielle Hamilton); Farm City (Novella Carpenter); Marzi (Marzena Sowa); and A Fork in the Road (Anik See).

If you love reading books about food, click on the label below for more of my reviews in the category "cookery/food." Also, I've just discovered a great blog called Reading in the Kitchen. It's by Melissa Brakney Stoeger, author of Food Lit: A Reader's Guide to Epicurean Nonfiction.

*Note added August 7, 2013: Knisley's book prompted me to buy that canned dough yesterday. I baked the rolls this morning and then threw them in the garbage. They taste awful!


Claire G said...

You must have been intensely curious about that canned pastry, Lindy, because you are the most 'make it from scratch' cook I know. Perhaps the results depend on the brand?

For shortcrust pastry, at least, I think there's nothing like making it fresh. (I haven't cooked with any other kind.)

Lindy said...

There may be other brands available but I have no intention of investigating further. It was a momentary lapse and I've put it behind me. Knisley praises the taste of fast food from MacDonald's, which should have been a clue that our taste buds differ. In her earlier book, French Milk, she raves about the taste of UHT milk, which I personally find slightly unpleasant.

Claire G said...

Ugh! Me too.