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Bittersweet: Lessons from My Mother's Kitchen
By Matt McAllester
ISBN: 0385342187
Publisher: Dial Press
Publication date: May, 2009
Format: Hardcover
List price: $25 
Type: Memoir
Sample recipe: Oeufs en Cocotte à la Crème (Baked Eggs with Cream)
Intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
Apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive coffee-table Biblical stature
Competition: outclassed follower in the pack strong challenger likely champ
Recipe Content
Variety: too little too much unusual nice mix just right
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 ≥300
Practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% ≥80%
# of ingredients: ≤4 ≤7 ≤10 ≤12 >12
Ingredient hunt: 7-Eleven airfare required online pantry supermarket
Recipe complexity: too hard simple medium challenging professional
Instructions: inadequate verbose bare-bones full-figured educational
Added info: zip overwhelming scant balanced generous
Recipe results: ≤dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
Nutritional info: none overwhelming hit or miss adequate comprehensive
Format/Ease of Use
Layout: ugh cluttered fine considerate work of art
Legibility: unpleasant challenging tolerable clear brilliant
Production quality: cheesy dubious years of service gift quality stunning
Page numbers: non-existent hard-to-find spotty sufficient every page
Writer: beginner food writer writing cook journalist auteur
Cook: unknown self-taught chef teacher celebrity
Fulfills ambitions: falls short almost there satisfactory exceeds home run
Flavor delivered: sad inconsistent tasty delicious exceptional
Overall tone: sterile trying too hard straightforward best friend mom
Value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money a deal
Overall rating: skip it good very good excellent Ochef Top 100

Comments: When Matt McAllester's mother passes away suddenly, it sends him on a multi-year effort to rediscover the woman who loved and nurtured him and his family until mental illness started to take her away when he was about ten. He spent most of his teens and twenties trying to block out unpleasant experiences and memories, and her death makes him want or need to search the past.

He tackles his subject like the reporter he is, interviewing everyone who had been close to his mother, seeking old medical records, going through her papers. He finally decides, with his mother's cookbooks and notes in hand, that the best way to find her may be through learning to cook as she did for the family.

Along the way he quits his work as a war correspondent (an ultimate form of escape from being tied down and painful memories), settles in London, gets married, has all kinds of travails trying to conceive a child with his new bride, and has all of the struggles of daily life.

In the end, it may be that time heals all wounds, but he essentially finds that he doesn't need to live in the past, through memories, or even through cooking. He can embrace the possibilities of the present – although it doesn't hurt that he is now a much better and more creative cook.

There are only a few recipes in the book, but that's not the point. The cooking is only one tool that helps him get past more than 25 years of grief. Really well written, the book has more than a little bitter mixed in with the sweet. You can expect to shed a tear or two.


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