Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Kate Padilla

Muffins and Mayhem:
Recipes for a Happy (If Disorderly) Life

by Suzanne Beecher
Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, April 2011
Paperback: 233 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4391-1287

My mother's recipe box contains my memories of her. She loved to cook, and to bake, and I only have to take one look at that old metal box to tell which foods were her favorites. They are near the front.

This is one of the reasons why I love Suzanne Beecher's Muffins and Mayhem. She combines two elements of my childhood: recipes and books (like Beecher, my mother also thinks books should be present in every room of the house.) For Beecher, however, recipes do not apply only to food. In the introduction, she advises readers to create a recipe box of life: stories and moments that children can one day look back on:

Write down what you were thinking on your first date (it doesn't have to be fancy), how it took you hours, maybe days, to figure out what to wear. How awkward your first kiss was.

This book is Beecher's collection of “life-recipes.” What else can you expect from a woman who says in the first pages, “I used to think I didn't have anything to say about my childhood” before she goes on to tell 200 pages of stories? Within the context of cooking and of recipes, she has a feast's worth. The recipes that mean the most to her find their way into the book.

[Reflecting on her job as the nursing home's volunteer coordinator] I asked family members to bring in one of their mom's or dad's favorite cookie recipes, and in addition to baking and eating some mighty good cookies, we'd get to hear a story. “Sarah, can you remember when you used to bake these cookies?”

What is most entertaining about this book is Beecher herself. She's so full of life, even though she and life have battled. Every calling, every spark guiding her toward her purpose, she has stumbled upon by accident: meeting her husband, landing her literary columns, even her personal blogging and its resulting success.

Cooking allowed Beecher to escape from the limitations and everyday stresses. She was raised not to fail, but she learned from a very young age that she could save any mistake with a can of cream of mushroom soup.

Of the infinite lessons cooking and recipe-keeping has taught her, the greatest, she feels, is love:

Mrs. Creswick was a great cook, and there was love in her kitchen. Whenever I got the chance, I liked to watch her make dinner. One afternoon she even taught me how to make her famous Frosted Meat Loaf. When I asked for a copy of the recipe, she helped me write it down on one of her recipe cards, along with personal tips on how not to burn the meat loaf when it was time to put it in the broiler. I still have the faded Frosted Meat Loaf recipe card today.

Muffins and Mayhem is endearing, witty, and full of spice. We learn how Beecher found a way to marry her love for cooking with her love for books. She began as a book-club preview, but she needed the permission of the publishers before she could email three-chapter excerpts to her readers every week. This, of course, was a job only for chocolate-chip cookies:

I baked a batch of cookies and wrote a brief one-page letter simply stating that I had a new idea about how to get people reading again and how to sell more books . . . . My letter and cookies went right to the top. [of the list at the publishing house]

This is the power of cookies, and of recipes. When I think back to my mother's baking, I remember most clearly her Monster cookies—peanut butter, M&Ms, chocolate chips, and oatmeal all baked into one four-inch cookie. They still show up in care packages, and they will continue to make an afternoon special for years to come.

November 5, 2011