Book Review: Bubbe & Me in the Kitchen
cooking with grandma
I had been looking for a new food-memoir read to round out my own research as I prepared to write ‘Not For You: Denial & Comfort Foods’. Miri found out about my search and decided to gift me this book instead. I am so grateful that she did.
Bubbe & Me is a fond homage to Miri’s grandmother, who is her Bubbe, and grandmothers’ like her that shared their love for their family through food. In her book Miri includes Kosher recipes, careful adaptations of what she remembers and has added recollections from other writers who have similar warm and sentimental memories of their own Bubbe’s love of family and food.
Miri takes great care to explain Jewish cooking guidelines - golden nuggets of information for lay people like me. The recipe head-notes are fantastically written, to the point where you would want to savor the conversation with Miri in the head-note even before you embark on the recipe, then relish the process of making the recipe, before moving on to the next conversation and the next recipe. The recipes are well written, detailed in their instructions and enticing. And at the end of the book, I found a small section on sample Jewish holiday menus, a treat in itself.
I was glad to see recipes I could consider making, because they included familiar flavors like ginger, garlic or cumin and especially was delighted to find recipes similar to my own. For instance, Miri’s recipe of Za’atar Pita Chips feels like serendipity – I make something very similar quite often, even before I had seen her take on it; Miri’s Feta & Olives with Oregano feels similar my tapas dish of Marinated Paneer & Feta Chunks and Miri’s Potato Cakes with Quick Salted Cod bears a resemblance to something I occasionally prepare in my kitchen Griddle Fried Fish Cakes – a dish inspired by Macher Chop, a Bengali preparation! There are always some differences, for instance, while Miri’s recipe uses Old Bay seasoning in her recipe for Potato Cakes, mine uses fresh spices, she uses eggs, milk and cracker crumbs to bind it, and I don't.
The difference remains in what is local to each of us, what is familiar, what is made in her kitchen versus mine. But, our love of food unites us.
Although the book includes recipes I can’t use (because of my own religious dietary restrictions), I can see how adaptable and comfortable these recipes can become in kitchens that eat more meats than I do. Indian recipes use slightly different combinations of spices but I see similarities in technique and the process of building of flavors, joyous byproducts of learning to cook from expert home cooks like our grandmothers or mothers.
As someone who is 1/8th Jewish with only a faint relationship with my once-Jewish grandmother, I read the book with a great deal of curiosity. Within Miri’s words I got a glimpse of what it might have been like, if perhaps my grandmother had not converted to Hinduism before her marriage to my grandfather, if they had not lived in a little coastal fishing village, and if my father and his siblings had been raised Jewish. Miri’s book makes me feel closer to her cooking traditions than she would have expected. It also makes me feel that regardless of geography or political allegiances, some of the best recipes are inspired by the same loves: of flavors, of seasonality of raw materials and most importantly, the love of family. I seldom like to keep cookbooks I can’t relate to or cook from, but this one feels like a keeper.
My recipe for Marinated Paneer & Feta Chunks is included my first cookbook: A Dozen Ways to Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts For the Culinary Indulgent (2014), available on Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay & Nook Books.
Not For You: Denial & Comfort Foods (Turmeric Press) is a family memoir due out in Fall of 2016 or early Spring. ARC's and pre-orders are available through this link. This will be my third cookbook and first food-memoir.