Friday, May 24, 2013
So, confession: I'm not really a food person. Now, I know being a "foodie" is a relatively new thing in America, so I'm not a weirdo for not being one. And don't get me wrong! I may "eat to live" instead of "live to eat", but I won't shovel just any old thing into my mouth! I love eating, especially things I've never eaten before, but you probably won't ever hear me raving about some meal I ate at some fancy restaurant or anything like that. My true appreciation for food is an aesthetic one: for example, I'm not a huge hamburger fan, but look at the rainbow of colors in a good hamburger - red tomato, green lettuce, brown patty, purple onion, yellow cheese - and TELL ME that doesn't look awesome. Since I love the way food looks, this book, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley, is PERFECT for me. And perfect for you, too.
Note: Spoilers ahead.
Relish is a beautiful combination of memoir and recipe book; it depicts Knisley's life through her food-entwined relationships, using her sense of taste as a vehicle for her memories of her family and friends. She tells her story chronologically, starting from her earliest years eating her parents' cooking and ending with a visit to a molecular gastronomy restaurant on her cartoonist salary. Each chapter is followed by a recipe for a relevant dish, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that the recipes are delicious - I made the sangria recipe at the end of chapter nine with my little brothers (non-alcoholic, of course), and it's delicious! (Note: it's a little acidic, but we just took the lemons and oranges out after the first day and it got much better.)
Knisley may portray herself as a gourmand first and foremost, but it's important to remember that she is also a cartoonist. Relish is a gorgeous and easily-accessible comic for those who aren't fans of the medium. The words and images work well together, thanks in large part to Knisley's beautiful drawing style. Her panels are meticulously detailed, and her figures and faces have a delicate simplicity - I especially love her hands. My favorite part about her art, though, is the color! The images are so vibrant, with each color subtly textured, giving the objects and people a sense of realness, and each page seems to contain a rainbow. It gives you a real sense that Knisley approaches her art the same way she approaches food, in that she truly appreciates the variety of colors/tastes at her disposal and wants to capture them and deliver them to you, the reader, to bring you her own feelings about these things. Look! Look at these gorgeous croissants! Don't they look delicious? Love them with me!
Although Knisley's art is standout, we don't want to ignore her gift of storytelling. The way she relates anecdotes about her childhood and her family is so warm and relatable. I feel connected - Knisley and I have similar go-getter mothers (who bake great cookies), our parents are divorced, we're art students, and we even look alike! But I also feel connected to her because she writes her parents so well. I feel like I know them, even though we've never met. Knisley has a way of telling stories that makes you feel like you were there with her. For example, it doesn't come across how well-traveled she is. She makes it seem normal to have been to so many countries when she was a kid, because it feels like you went there with her! I particularly love the story of the croissants from Venice in chapter 9. Everyone should have a story like that, of a delicious food which changed the course of their vacation. For me, it's a crepe from a foodtruck I ate on a beach in South Carolina - it was stuffed with chicken, feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and tzatziki sauce. I also love the coming-of-age story in chapter 5, where Knisley gets her first period while her friend Drew discovers porn. I thought it was very sweet, and I loved how their moms knew about their kids' secrets even though the kids were convinced that they were hiding them perfectly.
I've always said a good book is one that makes you want to DO something, motivates you, whether that be to travel or to fall in love or to go camping, whatever. Reading Relish isn't like passively watching The Food Network OR reading a bland memoir. When Knisley talks about making pickles, you want to make pickles! Right now! It's an experience which engages you through your eyes and your taste buds and connects with you on a human level. Everyone eats, but in Knisley's gorgeous book, eating is an indulgence of all the senses which brings people together, and that's a beautiful sentiment. Maybe I'll start living to eat after all.
My rating: 9/10