Smitten Kitchen Every Day: What To Read, Listen to, Watch Next | RA Crossroads

As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, a culinary delight leads me down a winding path.

Begin:


Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
by Deb Perelman. Knopf. Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781101874813. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781101874820. COOKING
There are all kinds of cookbooks, from the coffee-table tomes readers marvel over but rarely take into the kitchen to the ragged third-generation copy of staples such as Joy of Cooking, covered in splatters and handwritten additions. Perelman’s books are on their way to becoming an example of the latter. Her best-selling debut, Smitten Kitchen, won the IACP Julia Child Award. Her newest is a joyful family cookbook full of straightforward yet creative cooking, written in a warm, witty, and confiding voice that makes readers wish Perelman lived next door. The recipes are each headed by an introduction that frames the scene before tumbling into easy-to-follow instructions for how to make everything from breakfast to cake.

Read-Alikes:

 

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. Scribner. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9781439181881. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781439181898. COOKING
The delights of Smitten Kitchen and Smitten Kitchen Every Day include the ways in which they lead to the dual pleasures of cooking and reading. Fans of Perelman who enjoy reading her books because they feel they are in the company of an active, thoughtful voice might enjoy this set of culinary essays from another deeply engaged author. While more M.F.K. Fisher–style narrative than “1/2 cup sugar” or “two sticks of butter,” this is for readers willing to follow the prose-style recipes (with the occasional list version sprinkled in), who want to sink into the language of food. A rich next read—redolent, smart, and intimately connected with food and the importance of cooking.

The Home Cook: Recipes To Know by Heart by Alex Guarnaschelli. Clarkson Potter: Crown. Sept. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780307956583. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780307956590. COOKING
One of Perelman’s most notable qualities is her positive, embracing tone that clearly illustrates her love of food. Guarnaschelli, an Iron Chef, possesses that same manner in this approachable guide to recipes she has come to rely on. The introduction and headnotes demonstrate that Guarnaschelli thinks about meals as a touchstone to the world and as a creative outlet—consider her grilled cheese sandwich with brie and sesame seeds. Her recipes speak to one another and to the reader, across seasons, memories, and types of ingredients. This cookbook is as no nonsense as Perelman’s when it comes to flavor and instruction and big heartedness.

Taste & Technique: Recipes To Elevate Your Home Cooking by Naomi Pomeroy. Ten Speed: Crown. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781607748991. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781607749004. COOKING
Pomeroy’s award-winning cookbook strikes the same balance as Perelman’s: personal and professional, with a quick nod to the chef and the role the recipe plays in her life before turning to help the reader cook. Both authors share a vivid ability to describe how to make something, and Pomeroy, like Perelman, is descriptive, inviting, and supportive. Some of Pomeroy’s food choices might be fancier, but they are all accessible for the undaunted home cook. Most impressively, she digs into the instructions with a keen eye while deftly teaching how to master each essential element. Her book makes for a lovely culinary read, which is the hallmark of Perelman’s as well.

Read-Arounds:

 

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. Vintage. 2010. 208p. ISBN 9780307474414. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781497673809. COOKING
When it comes to writing about food in a confiding, convivial, and compassionate way, few top the delights of Colwin (1944–92). A novelist and food columnist for Gourmet magazine, she immerses readers in smartly observed and funny stories about her life and food, just as Perelman does. A beloved figure while she was living, Colwin has slipped into cult status since her untimely death. This most famous of her nonfiction works takes readers into the kitchen to talk about chocolate, soup, dinner parties, and more. In an intimate, almost offhanded tone, she illustrates how food and daily life are—or should be—enmeshed, a message Perelman clearly endorses.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal. Penguin. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780143109419. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698196513. F
Chef Eva Thorvald has a multiyear waiting list for her invitation-only dinners, and plans meals that she prepares for by planting corn in a specific field years in advance of when a meal will be held at its edge. In merry-go-round style, Stradal’s first novel explores how Eva was born to an adoring chef father and a mother not at all willing to be a parent. As she ages, people come and go in her life, some acting as anchors and some as kites. Always present, however, is food, from extraordinarily hot peppers she grows in her closet while in grade school to tasting menus worth thousands. In effortless prose, highlighted by heart, tenderness, and wonderful detail, Stradal spins out Eva’s tale and those in her orbit.

Listen-Arounds:

 

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl. 6 CDs. 6:44 hrs. Books on Tape. 2015. ISBN 9781101924099. $32. COOKING
Listening to recipes is an acquired taste, but if anyone can convince those who are doubtful that the experience can be wonderful it is Reichl. Here, she reads her cookbook/memoir with special attention to the flavors and textures of dishes that comfort and bring her back from the abyss of Gourmet magazine closing on her watch. Her voice is enriched with tone and color, extolling the flavor of a mushroom or suggesting in an offhanded way the best food storage solution. Her pace draws listeners in and offers up her story in a confident and confiding manner in this charming and heartfelt recording that supplies multiple pleasures beyond those centered on food.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. 5 CDs. 6:4 hrs. Books on Tape. 2009. ISBN 9781415962602. $35. F
The way food can transform a day, or even a life, is a central theme of Perelman’s cookbook. The same can be said of this lyrical novel about a group of characters who attend a cooking class taught from a local restaurant. Each of the students brings with them a need—one that extends beyond the desire to learn to cook. Over the course of the story, they all share a part of themselves, allowing narrator Cassandra Campbell plenty of room to showcase her skills with characterization. With pitch-perfect pacing, her beautifully modulated voice plays up the culinary notes with lush attention.

Watch-Arounds:

 

Chef. 114 mins. Jon Favreau, dist. by Open Road Films. 2016. Blu-ray UPC 025192356735. $9.99. COMEDY/DRAMA
Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) is frustrated at his job, cooking the limited cuisine his boss allows. When a food critic takes him on, things unravel quickly, and Casper is out of a job in this fun look at the power of cooking with heart and what can happen when a crazy, obsessed chef starts to do so. Casper finds his way back—to food and to his estranged family—by starting to cook out of a food truck. Favreau brings an inviting good heartedness to Casper’s character. Sofía Vergara plays his still-in-love-with-him ex-wife, while Robert Downey Jr. jumps in for a cameo. This fast-moving, good-time film should charm a wide range of foodies.

Julie and Julia. 123 mins. Nora Ephron, dist. by Columbia Pictures. 2009. Blu-ray UPC 043396292321. $14.99. BIOG
Smitten Kitchen Every Day takes up the same philosophical territory as Ephron’s film: that cooking can shape your life, bring joy and wonder into the world, and instill happiness and fulfillment. Told in two shifting story lines, it showcases how Julia Child (Meryl Streep) moved to Paris, became a cook, and, with Louisette Bertholl and Simone Beck, wrote the iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The second follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams) in New York City as she undertakes a project to cook her way through Julia’s book and chronicle the effort on a blog. Both Streep and Adams fill their roles with charm and grace in this tender film of coming into one’s own.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt is LJ's reader's advisory columnist. She writes The Reader's Shelf, RA Crossroads, Book Pulse, and Wyatt's World columns. She is currently revising The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 3d ed. (ALA Editions, 2018). Contact her at nwyatt@mediasourceinc.com.

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