Tag Archives: cooking

Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

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Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

Dumond, Susie. Queerly Beloved. Dial Press, 2022. ISBN ‎ 978-0593243978 400 pp. $17

****

In this queer romance set in Oklahoma in 2013, baker Amy meets a hottie customer (new-to-Tulsa Charley) and makes a bold move to ask Charley out alongside her blueberry muffin. At her next shift, Amy is unceremoniously fired from her job when the homophobic owner discovers “Amelia” is lesbian (and obviously a threat to her daughter and family values).

Amy’s bartending gig is not quite enough to pay the bills or maintain her vehicle, so Amy begins moonlighting as a paid bridesmaid – not quite a wedding planner, but someone who can do emergency repairs on cakes, dresses and even relationships on what is often emphasized as both the most important and possibly most stressful day of one’s life.

Dramatic tension is built by Amy’s love for weddings (and for love) and her understanding that she lives in a red state where the governor is vocally anti-marriage and prevents legislation offering equal rights, let alone protection for the LGBTQIA+ community. Charley seems allergic to weddings, but Amy has grown up with HIV+ uncles in a LTR and knows the kind of loving commitment to aspire to when you choose to walk a path with someone. Amy and Charley’s dating is slotted around Charley’s crazy work and travel schedule and Amy’s bridesmaid gigs. They manage a real connection and a very sweet romance between someone not all the way out who leans to the femme side, and someone rather out more to the masc side, both a little shy and scared and funny and awkward.

The wonderful details about baking, and life in a primarily Christian flyover state is balanced with strongly drawn, non-stereotypical queer characters, a supportive mom turned activist, and realistic tension with less accepting family members. The wedding details range from over the top to hilarious, and tun spur of the moment events at the Wizard of Oz themed gay bar come to life with descriptions about food, decorations, fashion and music. A Thanksgiving cooking competition among family members was a fun detail.

Following a solid and realistic progression of events, this novel is also an examination of how far we have come, even in the last 10 years or so, of accepting people for who they are and who they love, our understanding of gender identifies, and a novel where there are no assumptions and introductions just include pronouns is wonderfully refreshing. And, a conflict between Amy and her best friend is well-resolved, with a believable amount of anger, meanness, stewing, and a strong apology scene.

Overall, Queerly Beloved is a great, solid read with a satisfying ending (and a bonus strawberry champagne cupcakes recipe!)

I received a advance reader’s review edition of #QueerlyBeloved from #NetGalley

Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

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Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

Smith, Sarah. Simmer Down. Berkley, 2020. ISBN 978-1984805447 336 pp. $16

****

I love a good foodie romance, though I’m less of a fan of the “enemies-to-lovers” trope. In this romance novel reminiscent of an episode of Food Truck Wars, the incumbent Filipino chef is pissed when her territory is encroached upon by two Brits pushing fish & chips and violating an unwritten rule that you don’t park in proximity to someone else’s claimed space. Sparks fly from the beginning with Nikki calling Callum out, a few pranks and arguments, a challenge to win the highest scores at the Food Truck Festival, a coincidental seating arrangement on an international flight, a super-hot clandestine FWB situation until a few misunderstandings unravel it all.

Mouthwatering dishes, sexy sex, and fleshed out supporting characters (Nikki’s mom Tiva, who their truck is named for, Callum’s brother Finn, and a social media influencer friend Penelope) give more depth to the story. Great, quick read.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

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Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Kelly, Anita. Love & Other Disasters. Forever, 2022. ISBN 978-1538754849 384 pp. $15.99

****

I love a good cooking competition romance, and this one is unique in several ways, most notably, featuring an openly non-binary character. London comes out in episode one, and almost immediately develops a crush on hottie Dahlia with the seductive hair, smooth cooking techniques, and adorkable awkwardness. Dahlia has found a refuge in cooking after her breakup and job loss, while London aspires to start a non-profit for LGBTQIA+ youth. Their attraction is mutual, palpable, epic and inconvenient.

The foodie details are mouth watering, and the competition believable – except for the cast having their phones and freedom during filming that might be unrealistic, but also allows for development of the character’s secondary relationships with family members, and leaves room for LA to become a character of the novel as well, since part of London and Dahlia’s friendship and then romance is exploring the city, Dahlia being a New Englander living outside of DC, and London hailing from Nashville. Unlike other novels riffing on Food TV reality shows that I’ve read in the last year (Sadie on a Plate, Love from Scratch, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake), in Love and Other Disasters, the narrative is more focused on the relationship than the competition.

In Judy Blume’s classic Forever, the protagonist Kat is advised to think about how they relationship will end; London and Dahlia avoid that conversation, and things get awkward when one of them is eliminated before the other.

Chapters alternate point of view. Writing and plotting is solid, and the intimate scenes are more lavishly detailed then the food description. This is a great read with plenty of long overdue queer representation.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Love&OtherDisasters from #NetGalley

Chef’s Kiss by T.J. Alexander

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Chef’s Kiss by T.J. Alexander

Alexander, T.J. Chef’s Kiss. Atria, 2022.ISBN 978-1982189082 320 pp. $16.99

****

This is the second cooking show themed queer romance I’ve read this year, and it’s only the third week of January! Pastry chef Simone is as proper, discerning, and uptight as her name implies–trained by the Culinary Institute of America, she has her dream job perfecting recipes for an American institution of a cooking magazine–but in a sudden attempt by the editor to change or die, is informed that video content and social media, both of which she eschews, are the wave of the future and she can get on board with tweeting and offering How to Cook Kale videos or risk losing her job. Along with a layoff of the marketing department, her kitchen has retired and in her place is tall, comparatively boisterous Kay.

Kay launches a informal homebrewing series that gets a lot of hits, but also a lot of flack from the hired guy who wants to be on trend and pay attention to SEO. It’s Ray and Simone’s show, based on Simone’s fresh takes on updating Ray’s outdated 1950’s canned and prepackaged dishes, that garners millions of hits and speculations they like one another.

When Kay reveals her gender neutral pronouns, Simone and a handful of staff immediately get on board–but management and the image rehauling team, not so much. Simone is bi but not out at work, lives with a trans person who schools her on being the best ally, and slowly wakes up to calling out transphobic behavior, and noticing that it’s only the video crew that’s made up of people of color. When Ray takes some earned vacation time to have top surgery, it’s Simone who stays the first night to help them through the post-op healing (and is challenged by Ray’s ex for doing so, until they agree to take nursing shifts).

It takes a little while for the couple to finally get together. The subplot of gender identity is strong and provides insight for cis-het readers and recognition and representation for non-binary readers. The food descriptions are salivating.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #ChefsKiss from #NetGalley.

The French Laundry Per Se by Thomas Keller

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The French Laundry Per Se by Thomas Keller

Keller, Thomas. The French Laundry Per Se. Artisan, 2020. ISBN 978-1579658496 400 pp. $75.00

****

Award winning Chef Thomas Keller’s latest book is part history, part philosophy, and over 100 recipes from the French Laundry (historically one of the best restaurants in America, with it’s whimsical, refined, carefully crafted modern cuisine) and Per Se (it’s sister restaurant in NYC, is no less exacting).

The dishes in this lavishly illustrated coffee-table sized cookbook are intended for recreation by home chefs–or at least, home chefs who are fine dining devotees, have watched Food Network for ten+ years, own a sieve, and have the time, budget and equipment to devote to multistep recipes. The volume does recognize not everyone cooks en sous vide at home or owns a $400 hot/cold blender, and offers substitutions, alternatives, and scheduling help.

Each dish is a work of art, and the food photography is gorgeous. I doubt I will attempt to make a single thing, but I loving reading the thoughtful essays, reading through the recipes, and eating with my eyes.

Beautiful Boards: 50 Amazing Snack Boards for Any Occasion by Maegan Brown

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Beautiful Boards: 50 Amazing Snack Boards for Any Occasion by Maegan Brown

Brown, Maegan. Beautiful Boards: 50 Amazing Snack Boards for Any Occasion. Rock Point, 2019. ISBN 978-1631066474 pp. $

****

This book is part entertaining, part cookbook, part art, and all food porn. The BakerMama showcases 50 delicious, often nutritious, and sometimes show-stopping presentations of meals, snacks, appetizers and desserts gorgeously arranged on simple cutting boards, in this hardcover volume.

Instructions at the beginning are occasionally repetitive from the introduction to the instruction (better editing next time!) Instructions for creating some elements, like how to make nutter butter acorns, or that the snowman’s scarf is twisted meat, are very helpful!

Some pairings seem more about hitting the color scheme or theme without thought to how it will all go together (black frosting on brie cheese wheels? Sure, it LOOKS cool… but will have to try it and get back to you.

The book contains over 2 dozen recipes, ranging from mix these 3 items together or wrap cocktail wieners in crescent roll dough to blender guacamole and potato latkes (love the hash brown cheat, but use real onion and some potato starch if you’re trying this at home).

While the boards are charcuterie heavy, there are nods to vegan and gluten free snackers. I appreciate the inclusion of a Hanukkah board, but laughed at the bagel board with bacon (will substitute whitefish salad!). All garnishes are edible.

The brief resource page at the back only lists where to shop. A shopping list for prepackaged ingredients, and possibly diagramming and labeling might have been helpful, as well as sources for each board (are those Trader Joe’s fig crackers? Where do I get a fig salami log? Who sells rainbow marshmallow twists?)

Beautiful boards inspired me to artfully arrange some of my own DIY meal and snack spreads; instead of just lining things up on the table, I am likely to consolidate to a board next time. At the most, this gave me some great ideas for dinner tonight, a party on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday; at worst, I can make a fig and brie sandwich already. The book is absolutely worth the purchase price and has more value in it’s suggestions beyond just scanning pinterest and instagram.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

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Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

Julie Powell. Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.  Little, Brown and Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0316042512 400 pp. $12.99

****

Julie and Julia is a little like a meta book; the book deal was landed because of Powell’s blog, documenting her self-imposed challenge to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol 1. and document it. I had thought the book would just be repackaged blog entries, but it wasn’t–I almost wish they had been juxtaposed, along with actual recipes, but I supposed the rights would have been hard to get. Instead, Powell fills in more the details about the process, talks more in depth about her friends and family, and finds parallels between her life, and Julia Child’s. It’s far from a biography, but the speculative bits are based in some degree of research and add a nice dimension to the text.

The writing is a bit uneven but I like Julie Powell’s voice a lot, she’s pretty charming. The food descriptions are seductive. And, I like that she’s often pretty raw and honest – about her marriage, her shortcomings, her language. By the time I finished this book, I wanted to read Powell’s new book, Cleaving, and make eggs en cocette. Which turned out shitty, but ah well. I just had another (vodka) gimlet and ate the potatoes, which came out great.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

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Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Samuelsson, Marcus. Yes, Chef. Random House, 2012. ISBN 978-0385342605 336 pp. $

****

World-renowned master chef Marcus Samuelsson shares his story in an engaging and straightforward manner, opening with what he doesn’t know about the birth mother he barely remembers, and coming full circle to conclude with a visit back to Ethiopia, the country he fled with his family in his youth.

His African heritage coupled with being raised by his adopted parents in Sweden are the pivotal circumstances that ultimately lead to him becoming a chef who wonders, why not? when it comes to pairing flavors from several cultures. Samuelsson relates stories of cooking with his grandmother, cooking for his father on fishing trips, and working in restaurants before pursuing a formal education in cooking school that resulted in an appointment at the award-winning Swedish restaurant Aquavit in NYC, and his own venture, the Red Rooster, in Harlem. It all clarifies his food point of view beautifully.

Samuelsson has a strong personality, and the televised food competitions he has partaken in have not always shown him in the most flattering light. It’s fascinating to read about his upbringing, and come to understand what made him the man he is today. He is a good storyteller, and comes across as honest, even when it’s not flattering, and he doesn’t make excuses or pull punches.

The book is sure to appeal to foodies (and Food Network TV fans), or those looking for another insightful piece on the restaurant industry akin to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.