Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

We all eat, and we all get food, one way or another. But, like so many other things in life, many of us don't think about eating, the way we don't think about our work or homes or daily routine. Lucy Knisley, though, is not one for the unexamined life: her first book, French Milk (created and published when she was only 22) was the story of a month spent in Paris with her mother, focused on small moments, day-to-day rhythms, and, yes, the food.

For her second book, Knisley has gone even deeper: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen is a combination memoir and meditation on food -- with a few recipes thrown in along the way, as all good food books must. She comes by her food obsession the honest way: her mother was a chef and a caterer, and she worked in a cheese shop herself for a while.

Relish is not a book to read when you're far from your next meal; Knisley's art is open and welcoming, with cartoony food that all looks and sounds incredibly good, whether she's focusing on specific foods (cookies, mushrooms, cheese, croissants, pickles) or times in foreign countries (Italy, Mexico, Japan), you want to have some of whatever she's writing about right then. And her stories are equally enticing and immediate, specific stories from her own life related to food and growing up (let's be fair; she's still quite young, so her story mostly is about growing up at this point). Through it all, Knisley makes it clear she knows she's been incredibly lucky to have encountered a lot of great, interesting food in her life to date, and she has the true gourmand's missionary streak, the desire to want to tell everyone about this tasty new thing she's just discovered.

I haven't tried to cook from Relish's recipes yet, but they're detailed enough that I'm pretty sure I could -- more cookbooks could use pictures like Knisley's, to show us what something should look like between stage 2 and 3.

French Milk was a sweet little book about a moment in an interesting life; Relish is an examination of how she came to live that life -- and, more importantly, how to keep living a life open to experiences, in food and art, and to express what's important about that life to others. It's a big-hearted, savory, mouth-watering feast of a book, ready to be gulped down.

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