Saturday, March 08, 2014

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Late last year I read Lucy Knisley's travelogue/graphic novel French Milk. Whilst I didn't really love it, mainly because of the precociousness of 22 year old Lucy, I did like the style of the book. When Relish became available on my library catalogue I decided to give her another go and boy am I glad that I did.

This foodie memoir is a delight. Whilst there is still a hint of the precocious Lucy that we met in French Milk, it is much less of an obstacle to enjoyment, or at least it was for me. I think it also helps that rather than focusing on just one place (albeit Paris) for a very short period of only five weeks, this is an exploration of  a life long obsession with good food.

Knisley makes no apologies for the fact that she was introduced to really good food from a young age. Her mother is a chef and her father a foodie from way back and she spent her childhood years in the kitchens of restaurants. She remembers other kids bringing cupcakes to school for their birthdays but her mother would turn up with a blow torch to give the creme brulee a perfect crunchy top.

Lucy lived in New York with her parents until they divorced and Lucy and her mother moved to rural upstate New York - quite the shock to city girl Lucy. It wasn't long before Lucy's mother was involved in food again through farmers markets, catering companies and more, and therefore so was Lucy!

As well as talking about more exotic food and adventures, the author tells of her parents mortification at the fact that she still enjoys junk food like Maccas (McDonalds just in case you didn't get the Aussie vernacular), batches of chocolate chip cookies instead of anything more gourmet, of her shock at finding bits of marshmallows in breakfast cereals (I must confess I find this a bit shocking still!) and more.

We follow Lucy from New York to the country, to Japan, France and Mexico (which was a really fun story), to Chicago and then full circle back to New York. The one thing that stays constant is Lucy's love of good food, of being willing to try new foods, and of trying to recreate those foods. I loved the chapter where Lucy tried to recapture the elusive taste of a croissant that she bought in Venice to the point of being obsessed!

The thing that pleased me most as I was reading was how much it made me smile. In nearly every chapter there was some little quirky addition to the drawing or some tale that just made me happy to read. In one of the chapters, the author talks about going to Japan to visit friend and at the end of that chapter she gives a pictorial demonstration of how to make sushi rolls. In a very small corner, there are three pictures - one of a sushi mat furled, then unfurled and then worn as a hat. They are all tiny pictures, but it is the kind of detail that makes it worth the time to look at all the images closely!

As another example, there is a chapter about why Lucy Knisley doesn't feel guilty about eating foie gras. Let's just say it involves an incident with very aggressive geese. There were echoes of this story in my own family. My sister has a terrible fear of birds which has evolved over the years after being chased up a tree in our backyard by chooks, and then on another occasion being attacked by a black swan!

Here, as an example of what you might expect if you choose to read Relish, is Lucy Knisley's recipe for Pasta Carbonara (click on image to enlarge!)



I am always a bit reluctant to use words like charming when describing a book, but sometimes there is just no better word, and this is one of those occasions. Relish is a charming, delightfully fun foodie memoir and I recommend it highly!


Rating 4.5

Synopsis

Lucy Knisley's mouth-watering graphic memoir will make you hungry.

Whether she's injuring herself - again and again - in pursuit of a perfect croissant or bankrupting herself on fancy cheeses, Lucy Knisley know what she wants: a good meal. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, she comes by her priorities honestly. In this Technicolor love letter to cooking and eating, Knisley presents her personal history as seen through a kaleidoscope of delicious things.

Defying the idea of eating as a compulsion and food as a consumer product, Relish invites us to celebrate the meals we eat as a connection to our bodies, and to each other. Knisley's intimate and utterly charming graphic memoir offers reflections on cooking, eating and living - as well as some of her favourite recipes.

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30 comments:

  1. I'm one of those people who loved French Milk, but I agree that Relish is even better. I agree that it made me smile and that it's fun to look at all the drawings to catch Knisley's humor.

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  2. These two books have been quite popular in the blogosphere, so it's time I check them out. My library only carries Relish, so I'll start there. Interestingly, they have it classified as a Young Adult book.

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    1. Hmm. There's no reason why this couldn't be a young adult book but there is also no reason I can see why it should be and I don't think it has been classified as YA in the marketing. I could be wrong there though.

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  3. I went into this one a little reluctantly because I didn't love French Milk either, but like you I was charmed and surprised. Such an enjoyable memoir that I'll end up buying since I read a library copy. Glad you loved it too!

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    1. I was thinking about buying a copy too. I showed my son the way the recipes were done and he said that he thought all cookbooks should be done like that! lol

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  4. What a lovely (and charming :)) review! I've given this book away as gifts and love it.

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    1. This book would make a good gift idea.

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  5. Yep, this was one of my all time faves! I need to buy my own copy. Cheers

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  6. I really enjoyed this, too. Lucy's most recent comic seems to indicate that she's not that happy with her 22-year old self in French Milk, either: http://comics.lucyknisley.com/

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    1. Interesting. Thanks for the link! I wonder if we all look back and cringe just a little, or a lot for some of us?

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  7. There is a copy of Relish at my library's used book store, your review has made me want to rush down there and grab it.

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    1. I hope you did go and grab it! It's a fun read

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  8. Just curious, Marg, how old is she now? Still in her twenties? She seems to have travelled a lot ...

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    1. Lisa, she is in her late 20s now. Yes, she does seem to have travelled a lot!

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  9. I'm glad you liked it. I just ordered this online so I hope I do too!

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  10. This isn't the kind of book I normally read but what is? My library has French Milk but not Relish (yet). I'll have a read of it, once it comes in. Some people either loved it or not. Will be fun to see what I think. Great review.

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    1. French Milk does seem a bit divisive. Hopefully you will like it.

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    2. Part II- I got French Milk from the library and once I got into it and the rhythm of a graphic book I really enjoyed it. Read it in one sitting. I've asked the library to buy Relish as they have her other books and put a hold on it so may be awhile before I get to this. I really do want to read it as I love foodie books and their relations. Thanks for putting me onto Lucy.

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  11. I'm curious about this one, I'll have to look for it!

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    1. Shelleyrae, it is a lot of fun and something a little bit different.

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  12. Going to look out for this one. Thanks for the review.

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  13. I found this one charming as well! And thanks for reminding me that she went to Japan - I am going in May and am SO EXCITED about the food :-)

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    1. Wow! Jealous that you are going to Japan! I spent two hours in Narita airport but that's about as close as I got to going to Japan!

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  14. This sounds like one I definitely need to check out from the library. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  15. I mean to read this at some point and like the style as shown in the image you provided. It sounds a lot of fun whilst being full of serious information. And it does sound better than French Milk, though I want to read that, too.

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