Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

If you're in need of a good book to read this summer, I highly recommend J. Ryan Stradal's novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest.


A light read, this charming story, set in Minnesota follows the life and career of Chef Eva Thorvald. Starting with her parents' stories, each succeeding chapter covers both a period in Eva's life and a certain food/ingredient. 

The author has a talent for describing the characters' quirkiness that's hilarious as well as an ability to describe food and tastes that almost seems tongue-in-cheek. I particularly enjoyed reading what Eva's father, Lars, who has a passion for food, is determined to feed his newborn: 

"Week One

  1. Homemade guacamole.
  2. Puréed prunes (do infants like prunes?)
  3. Puréed carrots (Sugarsnax, ideally, but more likely Autumn King).
  4. Puréed beets (Lutz green leaf).
  5. Homemade Honeycrisp applesauce (get apples from Dennis Wu).
  6. Hummus (from canned chickpeas? Maybe wait for week 2.)
  7. Olive tapenade (maybe with puréed Cerignola olives? Ask Sherry Dubcek about the best kind of olives for a newborn.)
  8. What for protein and iron?
Week Two

  1. Definitely hummus.
  2. The rest, same as above, until teeth."
The list goes on in the same vein. When the doctor suggests to Lars that the best thing to feed an infant is "just breast milk and formula for the first three months", Lars says, "That's awful."

Food plays a major part in this story: lutefisk, hot peppers, walleye fish, corn, tomatoes and other yummies. Stradal has inserted  a few recipes out of one of his great-grandmother's cookbooks. (I recognized the carrot cake recipe as the same one that I use.) Given her father's food philosophy and influence on her early life, maybe it's no wonder that Eva grew up to have an astonishing palate.

However, Eva's mother decides early on that motherhood is not for her and leaves to become a wine sommelier in Australia. When Lars, her father succumbs to a heart attack while Eva is still an infant she is subsequently raised by loving but non-foodie relatives. 

We soon discover that family support is crucial in Eva's life and although she has some rough moments with her peers when she's school-age (and devises an interesting way to confront the bullies), she soon develops relationships with people who recognize her uniqueness and support her ambitions. 

I loved this book. It was a light but refreshing read. 

If you too read and enjoy this book, you might also be interested in Stradal's short essay on family and culinary memories.