I first remember hearing about this book last year before it came out. It was one of those “it’s going to be the book everyone is reading” books. And then it did fairly well on the NYT Bestseller list, but wasn’t really a book that I heard a lot of people talking about. So when I had another hole in my book queue, I looked on my Overdrive Wish List, and there – sitting available – was the book I’d heard great things about a year ago.
And it turns out that the hype was right – especially for me. There were so many things that I loved about this book, that I can hardly express it. For starters, it’s about food. And I love food. I love to read about it, I love to cook it, I love to watch videos of other people cooking food online that the Boy calls “my porn”. So the fact that this book is centered on food, and how it fits into our lives, and how it has changed in popular culture and the “foodie” world is fascinating.
The thing that I liked least about this book was that each of the stories was so interesting that I wanted more time in each of them. And that’s because the book is broken up into about a dozen stories which all center around our protaganist, Eva Thorvald. Mostly from friends and family, but some from those who are on the outskirts of her life and looking in and seeing the effects of what’s happening to her. But over the course of each of these vignettes, we come to be fascinated with whoever the newest narrator is, their story, and how Eva fits into their world.
I’m not from the Midwest, and some of the foods described don’t sound appetizing to my tastebuds at all – primarily the descriptions of lutefisk – but others sound tantalizing in that homey Midwestern way. Chicken Wild Rice Casserole. Carrot Cake. Pepper Jelly. French Onion Soup. Succotash. Venison. Peanut Butter Bars. The way that the author – J. Ryan Stradal – wrote about each of these things and more made my mouth water. And the fun thing is, that there are often recipes included in the book, so if your interest was piqued by something, you could go ahead and make it yourself.
Like any good meal, it was perfectly satisfying, but made you wonder if you had room for more. I thought longingly of how wonderful it would be to spend more time in the world that Stradal had created, and wished that there were more chapters so I didn’t have to finish the book quite yet. But he was smart – anything more would have been too much. Better to leave the reader (and eater) longing for more than to get past the point of contented fullness.
And because I love you, I’m including the “blue ribbon winning recipe” (according to the book) for Pat Prager’s Peanut Butter Bars. I haven’t made them, but those on the internet who have say they’re pretty darn good.
Pat Prager’s Peanut Butter Bars
Yield: approx. 24 bars
2½ cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 cup melted Grade A butter
1 cup peanut butter
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 cup milk chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon Grade A butter
Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, peanut butter and sugar. Pat into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Melt the chips and butter and spread them on top of the bars. Set in the refrigerator until firm. Cut into bars.
Details: Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal. First published 2015 by Viking Press.