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‘Relish:’ Book Review

I recently picked up Relish on recommendation from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast (the “Fall Books and Great Detectives” episode, which aired September 26th**).  Wanting to start a new graphic novel and always a sucker for a good foodie experience, I jumped over to the my public library e-book site and was delighted to see it was available for immediate consumption.

Relish is a perfect Sunday afternoon read, hopefully after a lovely brunch, while you sit lazily at home, pondering what to fix for dinner.  It will spark conversations about favorite dishes, family memories, and travel.  It will make you hungry.  It will make you want to get up and cook something.

Lucy (You’ll be on a first name basis with her, too.) tells us stories from her life growing up around professional foodies. Each chapter is punctuated with delightfully illustrated recipes and cooking tips. Open and charming, she reveals a life of encouraged discovery, of appreciated failures, and an ever-growing love for people who love food of all types. (I was particularly fond of her tale of rebellion against her parents by embracing McDonald’s and Lucky Charms.)

I identified with her experiences as an only child in rural areas (upstate New York), where there was a freedom to explore unpressured by peers or parents.  Similarly, my own strongest food memories are surrounded by family and have a very specific geographical location . . . the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. (Yes, there are mountains in Arizona!)

My grandparents retired in the mid-’70s to a small plot of land where they had gardens (flowers, strawberries, and vegetables), poultry (terrifying chickens, turkeys, and ducks), and cows and horses.  Every summer, all my mom’s brothers and their families gathered to go raspberry picking.  We would pile into a couple of pick-up trucks (women and children in the back, safely encircled by the wood rack) and head off to the backside of some mountain to sit chin high in bushes (peering around occasionally for bears), picking red, succulent fruit by the basketful (and mouthful).  It never occurred to me until much later in life that a person could (or would) purchase jam in a store.

Our family gatherings were focused on the enjoyment of the outdoors and filled with wonderful homemade food contributed by everyone.  There would be long folding tables snaking through their small house, barely able to contain all of the dishes and people.  I remember my grandfather early in the morning, concocting some version of enchiladas, chilaquiles, or tacos for breakfast. (Put an egg on top, it’s breakfast!)  I remember one uncle eating home-canned sauerkraut until he made himself sick.  I remember turning the handle on an ancient butter churn until I thought my arm would fall off.  I remember just-caught rainbow trout and pickled tomatoes and ice cream with freshly picked strawberries.

So wonderfully hungry and homesick now . . .

Another thing that hit home with me was Lucy’s assessment of the eating out experience.  “I love the treat and pleasure of eating when it becomes an act of focused giving and sharing. Good restaurants manage to emulate this act of generous creativity. Bad ones try, at least.” It’s the definition of “good food, good wine, good friends,” and something that is perhaps more valuable to seek out in a restaurant than a celebrated menu or popular location.

I was wholeheartedly delighted by Relish, with the artwork, the relaxed tone, and the easy introspection that Lucy achieved.  It was a magical door back to my own sense memories.  I spent a lovely few hours with friends, family, and food from the past and felt a renewed desire to create more such memories now.

Also, at the end, she quotes one of my very favorite books by one of my very favorite authors:

“And, looking at one single label on a jar, he felt himself gone round the calendar to that private day this summer when he had looked at the circling world and found himself at its center.  The word on the jar was RELISH. And, he was glad he had decided to live.”
     –Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

**If you’re not listening to this podcast, START LISTENING TO IT! Hosted by Linda Holmes and featuring an array of wonderful commentators from across the NPR spectrum, the podcast discussion covers everything pop culture that you could ever want and with a scholarly, analytical approach that maintains an inclusive attitude accepting of all genres, tastes, and “guilty” (no such thing!) pleasures.




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