I started this book on Friday. I finished it today. (Granted, I had one of those lay on the couch and read days, but still. 4 days. It feels like record time for me, lately.)
Firstly, let's take a moment and remember how much I loved Flinn's first book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. Remember? Good.
This book opens with this quote:
"You teach best what you most need to learn." - Richard Bach.
That's the prologue, and then part one opens with:
"For most people, the only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." - Julia Child
So there you go. This is Kathleen (I feel after two memoirs, I can call her by her first name) giving 9 volunteers permission to have a what-the-hell attitude in the kitchen. You read that right: volunteers. She asked people to let her teach them basic cooking skills. Things that I feel like I know, but would still pay someone to help me hone. And Kathleen is a Cordon Bleu trained chef. Teaching these women for free. If I hadn't learned so much reading the book, I'd be much more jealous. As it is, let's just say my list of Seattle Food Writers To Stalk keeps growing and growing and growing.
She starts off with something that almost everyone lacks: knife skills. Then she moves on to some taste testing (iodized salt DOES taste like chemicals!) and approaching a whole chicken, beef (not the whole cow), soups, stocks, what to do with leftovers, and tips for planning your menu so you can shop more efficiently.
Kathleen has tirelessly researched the details she uses to motivate her volunteers and readers: Americans waste 30% of the food they bring into their homes, for example. She packs in recipes, more recipes, a hearty bibliography, and recommended reading - all of which I am grateful for (and you will be, too.)
Her volunteers all have the same thing in common: they are so removed from the process of cooing and nourishing themselves that they admit to being scared to cook. Scared of the knives, scared of chicken, scared of fish, scared of failing. They represent a lot of people out there, I think. Although they are all women, they range in age and income from early twenties to mid-sixties, from food stamps to an almost $1000 a month budget.
To help with these classes, she brings in experts: fellow chefs, nutritionists, a former-chef, a Top Chef cheftestant - they add much needed color and I found myself learning things I'd never even knew I didn't know. I also will be bringing home any bones from restaurant meals. Particularly steak bones. Hello, beef stock!
So, like I said, I know my way around a kitchen, but this book wasn't written for me, necessarily. It was written for people who have a go-to meal and then a stack of take-out menus or frozen dinners. It's a wake-up call to take back our kitchens and our mealtimes...if only to regain control of our sodium intake.
I tagged this inspirational because, well, it is, but also because I have been inspired: 2012 is the year I conquer yeast. That's what I'm scared of. Yeast. We have a fair-weather relationship and really, I just want to make it my bitch. You hear that, yeast? I'm coming for you!
Kathleen Flinn's youtube channel can be found here. It's got some helpful video tutorials in it, well worth watching. Enjoy!
So you'll notice that I tagged this with "instructional" - it's not a how-to manual, per-se, but for those of us with a "how to kill someone and what to do with the body" shelf in their library, this is invaluable.
It's just about as grisly as you'd expect it to be, especially considering every word of it is true. When you stack that up against something like American Psycho (where not even Brett Eason Ellis is sure he's actually torturing those women*,) this proves that truth is often much stranger, much more shudder-inducing than fiction.
This is broken up by year/poison - it starts in 1915 and ends in 1935 - spanning prohibition, alcohols feature heavily in the text. As do things like Arsenic (the "inheritence drug") and Radium (have some Radithor for youthful vitality!) and Carbon Monoxide (still a threat.) Blum is unapologetically on the side of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler - the team who created modern forensics in America. They were inexhaustible and determined and enthusiastic about their cause. For the entire span of Prohibition, for example, these two - a doctor and a toxicologist - were the most vocal opponents of the Noble Experiment due to the fact that it killed more people than it saved. This crusade is broken up by cases that were investigated by the duo: from industrial poisonings to crimes of passion.
Blum made even the chemical compounds enrapturing and I found myself reading "just one more page" despite the fact that I have a list of things to-do that's as long as my arm. I also found myself thinking that Bones and/or House and/or the new Sherlock on BBC need to do a story arc with a serial poisoner - one who's always poisoning, but changing the poison. It makes me dizzy just to think of it.
A note for those who find themselves squeamish about such things: Blum does not pull punches. If you ever wanted graphic (while remaining extremely clinical) details about what things like Arsenic and Carbon Monoxide do to you, this is your book. Just remember that some things can't be unread. You should get over your squeamishness, though. This book is THAT GOOD.
* I heard that on a Fresh Air interview a million years ago, and I cannot for the life of me find it. Anyone have a source? Or did I hallucinate that?