I discovered Lucy Knisley’s ‘Relish’ through Shweta’s (from Literary Grand Grounds) year end favourite graphic novels post. (You can also find Shweta’s review here.) I love reading a book on food occasionally, and a graphic novel memoir was too tempting to resist. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.
‘Relish’ is Lucy Knisley’s memoir with a focus on the important food moments of her life. She tells us the story of her life – how things were when she was a child, about her artistic mother and her father who liked fine cuisine, about the dinners that her parents used to host, about her parents’ artistic friends who used to visit, how she grew up with rich experiences related to food – growing vegetables and fruits, visiting the farmer’s market to buy and sell, rearing chicken, trying all sorts of cooking at home with her mother starting from the simplest delicious things to the most complex, how food played an important part in important events in her life, how moving from the city to the country side led to a big change in the way she perceived food, how going to a country with a totally different cuisine opened her life to the rich cultural complexity of the world, how her mother inspired her to cook and appreciate beautiful food – these and other beautiful foodie stories and themes are covered throughout the book. Every chapter has a recipe on a particular food item and I enjoyed reading all of them.
Some of my favourite reading moments in the book were these – when Knisley describes the best tamales she ever had in a very cheap Mexican eatery, her description of the best croissant she ever had in a small bakery in Venice, her description of Osage oranges (a new discovery for me), her description of a flock of geese which attack her proving that geese are not at all benign as we might think, her description of how her mom’s cookies were always better than hers (exact quote coming later), her take on junk food, how she and her mom sometimes satisfied their crave for food by just eating sautéed mushroom or spinach for dinner, her Japanese culinary and cultural experience, how her dad liked sniffing her mom’s earthy cheese smell clinging to her hair and skin and how in later years her boyfriend did the same to her – these and many other moments were my favourites, that is most of the book:)
The book started with a recipe for spice tea (chai) – how can one resist that (though I make chai in a slightly different way) – and I fell in love with the recipe section of the book after that. My favourite recipes were this one and the ones on how her mom made sautéed mushrooms and the one on Huevos Rancheros. The recipe on making sushi was an eyeopener. I felt sad that the surprise has been revealed behind this magical dish, but I was also happy to read it.
I loved many scenes and conversations in the book but my favourite was the one where Lucy Knisley compares the cookies she made with the ones her mother made. It went like this :
I’ve since turned to the mixing bowl so often in times of turmoil, I can practically bake blindfolded. The act is so soothing – reminding me that I might be a mess, but I can at least do ONE thing right. For me, the act of assembling and combining chocolate chip-cookie ingredients is like watching ‘The Sound of Music’. Mom might make fun of me for being generic or clichéd in my cookie / movie choices, but when I’m upset, it’s all I want. Cookies are all about comfort. Sometimes something simple can comfort the most.
My mother might scoff at the unimaginative chocolate chip cookie, but when she can be persuaded, she makes a mean batch. After all these years of me ritualistically dropping spoonfuls of chip-peppered dough on baking sheets, she still trumps me in cookie skills. Maybe because baking, unlike cooking, is more of an exact science. My mother’s steady hand and cool head make her an excellent baker, though she prefers the creative freedom of cooking. My baking is too emotional, too volatile with distress, to ever match Mom’s cookie perfection. But my cookies contain the anxious deliciousness earned through an afternoon spent in turmoil, soothed by separating my troubles into warm crispy pieces.
If Hazel (the heroine of John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ ) doesn’t mind, I would like to use her line here. I fell in love with ‘Relish’, the way you fall asleep : slowly, and then all at once. I still remember the ‘all at once’ moment – it was when Knisley described how she and her mom satisfied their food cravings by eating sautéed mushrooms and then went on to describe how to make sautéed mushrooms. That was the moment I totally fell in love with the book.
‘Relish’ is a beautiful book. It is a treat for foodies and graphic novel lovers. If you are either or both of these, you will love it.
Have you read ‘Relish’ by Lucy Knisley? What do you think about it? Which were your favourite reading moments?