BookloverCook Reviews: Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball

Mark Bittman called this book, “Part history and part contemporary journalism,” and I would add to that, part food memoir and part cookbook. There’s a lot going on here. Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball is made up of interweaving stories about Victorian-era Boston, modern-day Boston, and Kimball’s spectacular and somewhat baffling attempt to recreate a high-society Victorian-style meal (complete with many equally baffling recipes). Think Downton Abbey with more historical context and set in Boston in 2009.

Fannie's Last Supper

I love the Victorian era: I love reading about it, watching movies and shows about it, listening to podcasts about it. Really. Love. So, take a book about Victorian history and add in food – recreating Victorian dishes, restoring an authentic Victorian kitchen, etc. – and I should be in heaven, right? Well, in the case of this book, the answer is…sorta.

I’ll get into some more details in a moment, but here’s the thing that I’ve realized about this book as I’ve tried to sort out, with no small amount of incredulity, my tepid reaction to it: much about the Victorian era has no place in our modern world and this book mashes them together in a way that ends up making me a little uncomfortable and ultimately ruins my Victorian fantasies.

This is because the Victorian era was actually pretty terrible for most of the people living in it, and the rest of the people were the upper class (like super upper, upper class). In that sense there is symmetry, unintended I think, in Kimball’s project because he and the friends he invites to his “Victorian-style” dinner are members of today’s upper class. For us normal people though, even though we may love learning about this time and fantasize about the aspects of life that were reserved for the rich, we would want nothing to do with it in reality. So, bringing it into our actual, current reality just feels…icky somehow.

Put another way – the whole book is just really bougy.

For instance, Kimball’s descriptions of buying and living in his “original Victorian bowfront townhouse” in South Boston in the 1990s will make anyone squirm who is conversant in the politics of gentrification. There’s also the sheer amount of money that is thrown at the whole endeavor: buying and restoring an original Victorian coal-turned-wood cook stove, testing and retesting and then preparing the 20+ (!!) recipes on the final menu, paying a staff of professional chefs and waiters to prepare and work the event itself. It is just absurd. Especially when you consider that this was happening in 2009, during the recession. And then to top it all off, a group of twelve elite food-scene celebrities (well, most of them anyway) gorge themselves on this 12-course meal in one Bacchanalian 4-hour evening. Ugh. It is enough to make me feel like putting on drab, olive-colored clothing and cracking open a copy of The Communist Manifesto

To his credit, Kimball does try to preemptively address the obvious criticism that this is “just a bunch of overprivileged gourmands enjoying ridiculous overconsumption” (his words) with an argument about how meaningful it was for the kitchen staff who prepared the meal, followed by a missive about what we’ve lost in our relentless march towards technological advancement. It is undeniable that we’ve lost something with our processed, microwaved food world, and I enjoy bucking those trends by cooking at home. I’ve even been known to make my own butter, cheese, bread, etc. when I feel moved to do so. Let’s not harken back quite so far though, lest we forget that the vast majority of the people doing this (brutal) kitchen work in the Victorian era were poor women who did not really have much of a choice in the matter.

Anyways, as you can tell, I got a little cranky with this book. But despite this, I did not hate it. I actually enjoyed most of it. I think that if Kimball had just left out the big finale, I would have loved it. I loved reading about the history of Boston in this time period, since much of what we get about this time period tends to be of the British variety. I loved reading about the food and marveling over the ingredients and how complicated and labor intensive many of the dishes are to prepare. Even though some of the descriptions are a bit hard for me to stomach as a vegetarian – seriously, who wants to see a whole calf’s head bobbing around in their soup stock?! – I can absolutely appreciate the respect involved in using the whole animal in the way that many of the recipes do. Meat tended to be a luxury during this time and even those that could afford it needed to make it count. It was also interesting to read about Fannie Farmer, a shrewd businesswoman who, though Kimball found most of her recipes to be a bit pedestrian, taught many a middle-class housewife bereft of kitchen servants how to cook.

So, to sum up this too-long-and-semi-ranty post: if you are interested in Victorian and/or food history, you will probably mostly like this book. There’s even a website where you can watch video of the dinner, look at pictures, and get more recipes. Suspend disbelief enough to get through the aspects I complain about above, and it is a sumptuous, nerdy fantasy. If the points I make above really resonate with you, I would consider skimming over the opening chapters and skipping the last chapter entirely. Or, go ahead and read the whole thing and then rant at people about it. 😉

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Have friendship, will travel

I traveled east last week, clear across the country to Raleigh, North Carolina. If you know me, or have read this post, you know I hate to fly. This time though, I packed up my things, gulped my Xanax, and boarded my planes happily because I was going to see a dear friend. We met during that chaotic, miserable, ignorantly blissful time known as our early twenties, and I couldn’t be more grateful that ten years later she still puts up with me.

Six months ago, she and her lovely husband welcomed an extremely adorable baby boy to the world, and I had of course been dying to meet him. You could imagine then, how excited I was when the dates for my trip were finally set.

It didn’t take long to dawn on me, however, that if I was going to see them in person I really should finish that baby blanket I started knitting not long after my friend told me she was pregnant… (In case anyone’s counting, yes, that would have been about a year ago!) So, that’s what I did during most of the free time I had leading up to the trip.

baby blanket

The blanket was a success. It came out at once nubby and soft, and looked charmingly homemade, but not embarrassingly so. My blog post writing during this time was not as much a success, in that it was non-existent. This is why I am talking to you about friendship and nubby baby blankets right now instead of food or books.

I know I can count on you to forgive me though. That’s what friends do after all.

I did read a lot on my trip, so I promise to be back soon with a review or two of food-related books I think you’ll enjoy. In the meantime, get in touch with a good friend – in the words of my ever-wise friend Jessica, it’s good for the spirit.

flying above the clouds

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Spring and spinach

Happy first day of spring! I am more excited than usual for its arrival this year. I am excited for spring every year, who isn’t? But this year the winter seems to have been longer, darker, more wearing. I’m sure this is all in my mind, but regardless, I am brimming now that spring has finally decided to show up.

spring flowers

One of the things that starts to happen in my kitchen when spring comes, and is fully ensconced as a policy by summer, is that the meals get simpler. The best spring and summer recipes involve less prep time, less cooking time, just less fuss all around. This suits my spring mood perfectly, since all of a sudden there are a million other things I’d rather be doing than standing over a hot stove (the opposite of how I feel in the winter, for the record!).

I want to plant an herb garden, for instance, and to ride my bike along that path by the river that I kept meaning to check out last summer. David and I are planning to hike and camp and swim in as many of the spots that new friends and acquaintances have described as the “best places” for such things around here as we can.

I’m looking to sit on patios – as many as I can find/get myself invited to – with a cold drink and a book, feeling the sun warm the back of my neck. It is my goal to have a picnic at every park in town and watch the dogs that will surely be at said parks run and play. I want to pick blueberries at one of the many fields that I pass on my drive to work, when the rows and rows of bushes that have been red and bare all winter become green and laden with fruit.

With all these plans, who has time to cook? Spring and summer produce is so glorious though, that I certainly wouldn’t want to forgo home-cooked meals during this time. That is where recipes like this Spiced Coconut Spinach come in. During this time of year I return again and again to old standbys like this one: recipes that I know by heart, that are quick, simple, consistently delicious, and that show off the season’s best fruits and vegetables.

mise en place

This spinach comes together in no time (seriously, 15 minutes from start to finish) and its flavors are dazzling – much more intense than you might expect. You can pair it with other spring and summer vegetables to your heart’s content. The original recipe pairs it with asparagus, which is lovely, and I imagine it would also meld well with zucchini, summer squash, corn, fresh peas, even green beans. 

It is also an ideal accompaniment for almost any starch or protein that you might be using to round out your meal. We generally eat it with brown rice, but it also tucks nicely into a pita and sits well atop a baked potato or a pile of pasta. The original recipe suggests folding it into an omelet, which is how I plan to eat it next.

Here’s to spring!

spiced spinach

Spiced Coconut Spinach

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Serves 2 as part of an entree, 3-4 as a side

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like things)
  • 6 1/2 cups spinach (~7 oz.), washed and chopped (no need to chop if using baby spinach, but I’d recommend lovely, full, spring spinach!)
  • 1 cup summer vegetables, chopped (optional)
  • squeeze of lemon
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and toast them until they start to pop. Then, add the red pepper flakes and cook for one more minute.

Add the shallot, garlic, and salt and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and any other summer vegetables (i.e. quick cooking vegetables) you’re using. Stir frequently and cook for just a few minutes – until the spinach cooks down and any other vegetables are fork-tender.

Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and top with the toasted coconut.

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A rebellious tart

Now that I’ve gotten your attention… Today is Pi Day! A day that food bloggers have co-opted and use as an excuse to post about pies. A little silly? Yes. Do I need more than the slightest nudge to talk about pie? No. So, here we are.

Except, I’m not really going to tell you about a pie. I’m going to tell you about a unique tart that is part pie and part cheesecake. I’m just a little rebellious that way, and so is this tart. Because it is incredibly easy to make, especially the crust. This is not something anyone has ever said about pie, especially the crust. And although there are recipes out there for “quick” and “easy” cheesecake…I’ve never been impressed. But this tart is easy, quick, and impressive. Best of both worlds.

crust dough

Now, it works out that I get to share this with you on Pi Day, but this tart is rooted in a recent fixation I’ve had on making labneh. Labneh is yogurt cheese, and you can make it at home simply by draining yogurt for a few days in the fridge. Ideally, it comes out the texture and firmness of a soft goat cheese and is similarly tangy and creamy, and just plain delightful.

The “recipe” (it’s more of a process, really) I used to make my labneh calls for using a full 32 oz. container of yogurt. So for whatever reason, I got a bee in my bonnet to try making some of the stuff, but didn’t really think through what I would do with it once I had it. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious and I spread it on rice cakes and toast with jam for a couple days. But then it was still there – lots of it. This tart was my solution, and what an enjoyable solution it turned out to be.

tart filling

Back to pie for a moment: I love making traditional pie and homemade pie crust. I like a good challenge, and there are few kitchen challenges quite as daunting as pie crust. I’ve made some good crusts in my day (also some disasters!), but I can’t say that I’ve perfected it. I don’t know that I ever will – it’s like my White Whale. There is something about the mystique of it that keeps me coming back to try again.

But sometimes I just don’t want to expend the effort. Even Ahab took breaks from chasing the White Whale, right?! I imagine many people feel the same way (not about the dorky book joke, but about not wanting to expend effort).

tart crust

Don’t worry that you’re settling for an inferior dessert though. Despite being so easy to make, the crust for this tart works. It is buttery and holds its crunch, as the best tart crusts are and do. The filling is creamy, but also tangy, which saves it from being too rich and heavy, and it comes together in a snap (assuming you planned ahead and have your labneh ready to go). The baking process is also decidedly un-fussy. No need to chill it, freeze it, or put it in a water bath. You do need to be careful not to over-bake it, but that is easily done.

In summary: making labneh is fun, making this tart is easy, and it is a lovely dessert for an almost-spring Pi Day.

finished tarts

Labneh Tart (or Tartlets)

Barely adapted from Food52
Makes 1 tart or several tartlets, depending on size

I made this recipe into smaller tartlets; since it’s just the two of us here I wanted to portion it into multiple servings. This recipe will make four 4-inch tartlets, or one standard 9 1/2-inch tart. I also experimented with making even smaller tartlets in a muffin pan and that worked as well, so feel free to try different sizes to suit your dessert needs. You can get creative with the toppings, too. Blueberries were delicious and complemented the lemon, but other fruit would also work, and I think caramel would be lovely as well.

Crust:

  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup labneh
  • zest from one Meyer lemon
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350.

First, make the crust. Combine the butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Mix in the flour until just blended. The dough will be very soft, but don’t worry, it’s supposed to be (see photo above in post).

Dump the dough into your tart pan. Or, if you are making tartlets, portion the dough out evenly. Then, press the dough out to cover the bottom and sides of the pan, making it as even as possible.

Put the pan(s) on a cookie sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. When the crust is finished, remove it from the oven and lower the heat to 300.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Whisk the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl. Then, whisk in the labneh, and then the zest.

Pour the filling into the par-baked crust(s) and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the blueberries on top. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the filling is set around the edges but not in the middle – it should still be loose in the middle when you give it a little shake.

It will firm up once it’s out of the oven, so you don’t want to over-bake it. Check it a few times during the last 5 minutes or so to make sure you catch it while the middle still quivers. Cool completely before eating…this is not something you want to eat right out of the oven. That being said, we liked it better at room temperature than cold. So, if you refrigerate it, pull it out 20-30 minutes before serving to let it warm up.

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Overnight oats are my best friend

My last post about the new attitude I’ve developed about bringing lunch vs. buying it got me to thinking about a similar transformation when it comes to breakfast. In case you’re wondering, I won’t do a tour of all the meals. Dinner and I have an uncomplicated relationship and I’ve always been big a fan of desserts and snacks.

For most of my life though, I have not been a breakfast person. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (they = the moms of the world, as far as I can tell), so my ambivalence has always felt problematic. Don’t misunderstand the scope of my breakfast statement, I am all about brunch. But the early morning, force-it-down-just-to-get-something-in-your-stomach-as-you’re-running-to-school-or-work meal has never held much appeal for me. As you can guess from the last sentence, I have never been much of a morning person, which I’m sure has something to do with it.

I have also gone through some fairly traumatizing breakfast phases – all self-induced, mind you. There was the Banana Phase somewhere around high school and/or early college, during which I ate a banana for breakfast every morning because I had read some magazine article about something bananas did for you that I wanted to achieve. After that phase I couldn’t eat bananas at all for years – I just started enjoying them again within the past year actually. Then there was the South Beach Phase after college when the Jessicas (two friends named Jessica) and I were living together and were on the South Beach Diet (why, god, why?!) During this ill-fated time we made scrambled eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast every single day. Ugh. I could never eat that breakfast again, no matter the monetary reward.

Based on these two examples that I’ve dredged up, it seems my troubles have come in too much repetition with my breakfast. This probably explains why the breakfast routine I have more happily settled on these days is much more varied. I’m still not a morning person though, and am perpetually running late. For a breakfast to make the cut it has to be fast and easy to put together in the bleary-eyed early hours (read: 5-10 minutes to prep and eat). And thus I present to you: Overnight Oats Two Ways and all their glorious variations.

Oats are my best friend in the morning, and they would be yours too if you let them. They are a nutritious blank slate that can be dressed up in a myriad of ways depending on your mood, the season, or what you happen to have in your kitchen. The overnight part is crucial, however, because it is what allows them to also be quick (without using quick or instant oats, which are not worth the effort).

muesli

Overnight Oats Two Ways

My definition of overnight oats is that you soak some type of raw oats in some type of liquid overnight and in the morning they can either be eaten raw or after a nominal period of cooking time. Whether or not they need to be cooked depends on which type of oats you use. Check out Food 52 for more overnight oats tips, and Food Riot for more overall tips about how to make superior oatmeal.

muesli

Option 1: Raw Rolled Oat Muesli (cold)
Adapted from My New Roots
Makes 1 serving

  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1/8-1/4 cup frozen berries (if using fresh add them before serving, see below)
  • 1/4 cup any type of unflavored, unsweetened milk (cow, soy, almond, and even coconut are all delicious!)
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

The night before you want to eat your muesli (or even a day or two before, really), stir together the oats, chia seeds, frozen berries, and milk. Cover and refrigerate overnight. When ready to eat, top with the toasted coconut.

This recipe can be customized to your heart’s desire. Keep the oats and milk, but other than that you can mix in anything you want. I personally love the chia seeds, so I always keep them in, too. Use any kind of fruit you can think of, though. I’ve used berries, stone fruit, apples, and pears. If using frozen fruit, soak it with the muesli as instructed above. If using fresh fruit, simply top the muesli with it when ready to eat. You can also use different toppings. I’ve replaced the coconut with various types of nuts. I’ve also topped it with fruit compote. Last but not least, I have recently taken to leaving out the chia seeds and topping the plain muesli with chia fruit jam and coconut whipped cream a la this recipe from Cookie and Kate (hint: this variation is heavenly). So, in summary, go wild!

steel cut oats

Option 2: Steel-Cut Oat Porridge (warm)
Adapted from The Food52 Cookbook and Food Riot
Makes 2-3 servings, depending on how much you like to eat for breakfast

  • 1/2 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup water or milk (or even whey from draining yogurt!)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon nut butter (almond, peanut, or sunflower are all delicious)
  • 1 teaspoon honey

The night before you want to eat your porridge, stir the oats and 1 cup water together in a saucepan. Cover and leave to soak overnight. I usually just soak the oats on the counter, but you can put them in the fridge if you’d like.

In the morning, add the additional 1/2 cup of liquid and a pinch of salt to the pan and cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes. I tend to favor a shorter cooking time because I like my steel-cut oats to still have a little pop when I eat them. When the oats are done cooking, serve with nut butter and honey stirred in.

There are many variations on this one, too. In addition to varying the cooking liquid and nut butter, feel free to vary the sweetener (maple syrup is always a winner). Or mix up the toppings: chopped nuts instead of nut butter, fresh or dried fruit, etc. The jam and coconut whipped cream combo works here as well!

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Ruminating on lunch

I recently reread The Wind in the Willows, which you may have seen if you follow me on Twitter because I’ve talked about it a lot. In addition to being just about the most charming, perfectly lovely book I’ve ever read (even better now that I’m an adult), it has several passages of really appealing descriptions of food.

One in particular, near the beginning when we are just starting to get a feel for the friendly, quirky animals that live in this pastoral world, started me ruminating on the topic of lunch:

“…after a short interval [he] reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket… ‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wiggling with curiosity.
‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwidges potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water–‘
‘Oh stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’
‘Do you really think so?’ inquired the Rat seriously ‘it’s only what I always take on these little excursions'”

The Wind in the Willows

Image from books4yourkids.com

Yes, I know I don’t even eat many of the things in Rat’s basket, but for some reason this scene just tickles me. And more to the point, it made me realize that I’ve managed, over the last couple years of grad school-induced austerity, to get into a pretty good habit of making my lunch and bringing it with me (to school, or now, work) as opposed to buying it every day like I did for so long. I am quite proud of this habit – and how often can you say that about a habit? – so it seemed like something worth sharing.

The recipe in my lunch repertoire that I’m most excited to talk about is for a lunch salad. Womp womp. Yes, I know, I know, but hear me out. The problem with lunch salads in my experience is that they are either too virtuous – vegetable-only affairs that leave you hungry, or too heavy – sure it has fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and ranch dressing in it, but it’s a salad! And neither of those are what I want for lunch. This salad is different though: it’s healthy yet filling, but not too heavy, and it has lots of different textures and flavors – veggies, protein, salty olives, crunchy pumpkin seeds, creamy avocado. In short, it’s the perfect lunch salad.

mix-ins

Oh sure, I’ll bring other things for lunch as well. I tend to bring leftovers from dinners during the week, mixed and matched together to create something new. Recently I tried this twist on a tuna salad sandwich and really liked it. While working on this post, I found that one of my favorite food websites put together a list of lunch recipes that take 5 minutes to pack, which I will definitely try out. But where my luncheon basket is concerned, I keep coming back to this salad. It hits all the right spots, and leaves me feeling both satisfied and healthy.

salad

An Ideal Lunch Salad

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Makes 4 lunch-sized salads

The key to getting this salad (or any salad, really) to work with me is prepping it ahead of time. So, on weeks that I want to have this salad for lunch, I spend 10-15 minutes on Sunday evening to get it ready. Assuming you may want to do the same, my instructions below are for this scenario. If you are making this salad for lunch on a weekend, or perhaps a leisurely picnic, then you could obviously prep and mix it all up at once – just make sure to wait on the dressing until right before serving, as with most salads.

Mix-ins:

3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
15 kalamata or niçoise olives, chopped

Toppings:

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 small ripe avocado, sliced

Dressing:

1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons (depending on how loose you like your dressing) water or any type of unsweetened milk
a pinch of salt (or more, to taste)

Greens:

2-3 handfuls of whatever greens you prefer (I’ve tried it with spinach, romaine, arugula, mixes – you can’t go wrong)

Prep

Steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes – until it is fork tender, but not mushy.

In a large container, combine all the mix-ins and store in the fridge until ready to assemble your salad.

Toast the pumpkin seeds and store in a separate container on the counter.

Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients until smooth. Adjust the consistency to your liking by adding as much of the milk/water as desired. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Store the dressing in a glass container in the fridge.

Assembly

In a med-large container (I use one that holds 1 quart), first lay down a bed of greens. On top of the greens, scoop about 2/3 cup of the mix-ins. Top with 1/4-1/2 of an avocado. (I store the other half of the avocado – pit still in it! – in a container in the fridge and it keeps just fine for a day or two).

Bring the toasted nuts and the dressing with you to work. When you are ready to eat lunch, top the salad with about a tablespoon of toasted seeds and as much dressing as you like. Put the top back on your container and then shake it up – I find this is the best way to distribute the dressing throughout the salad. Enjoy!

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Food Books I Love: Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl

Food can stir up memories like almost nothing else. Perhaps it’s because we eat with so many of our senses at once? Take coffee for instance. I hardly ever drink it, I’m more of a tea girl, but the smell of coffee brewing in the morning makes me think of my dad every time. I blink and I’m seven years old, the smell wafting into my bedroom where I’m still warm under the covers and half asleep, knowing he’s up and getting ready to leave for work, waiting for him to come kiss me goodbye, his mustache tickling my cheek and the smell of coffee on his breath.

Or blueberry pancakes. While a lovely idea, the sight, the smell, or (god forbid!) the taste of them will forever start my stomach quivering with the memory of a particularly bad flu I had as a child. I’ll leave it at that.

I’ve talked about this idea before. Here in reference my grandma, and how she is so connected to Italian food in my mind that almost anything with red sauce conjures her up before my very eyes. And here, when I told you about this decidedly un-hip Snickerdoodle, one bite of which drops me in the middle of the kitchen floor in my childhood home.

It’s a theme I can’t help repeating though. It is the key to why food holds such an important place in my life. It turns out I’m not the only one. In the book I just finished reading, Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, food is the center around which Julia Pandl’s family orbits.

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch

Her parents own a restaurant and, at the age of 14, Pandl is conscripted into the family business just like her eight (!) brothers and sisters before her. The coming-of-age story that unfolds from this event is punctuated with food: from a scarring breakfast sausage to smoked trout with a hangover to fiscal responsibility as taught by a can of peanuts.

It is certainly cliché to say “I laughed, I cried…,” but I did both. Pandl has an understated, self-effacing, but steady humor that had me chuckling through much of the book. And when fear, loss, and grief creep in and take that humor’s place, as they of course do in life, they are all the more moving for its absence.

The book is broken into two distinct halves. In the first we grow up with Pandl and get to know her family, especially her parents, through the lens of the restaurant, Pandl’s in Bayside. In the second half, we go along for the ride as Pandl wrestles with life, examines her faith, and explores her relationship with her parents. My only slight complaint is that the halves are too starkly different. That one moment I’m surrounded by the warm, comforting smell of brunch in the restaurant and the next I don’t get so much as a pancake for chapters. That is also, I suppose, how life is though. You think you’ve figured out what your life is all about and then it turns out that’s not it at all. The loss of what we think is important can be one of the surest ways to show us what is truly important.

For Pandl and her family, as for me and I’m sure many others, food is the vehicle through which memories are formed. It is the catalyst for them to be shared and related to. Ultimately, however, it is the people we love who are the substance of our memories and the true sustenance of our lives.

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