If you like your prose punchy and ironic and your heroines spunky as Pippi Longstocking, if Pippi had grown up to be the proprietor of the toughest restaurant reservation in the world with a nearly superhuman tolerance for hot peppers, then J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest (July 2015) is the book for you. The story revolves around Eva Thorvald, a native Minnesotan who manages to survive a rough start in life with little baggage. Eva knows no boundaries. Only food drives her and the quest to produce the best quality feasts she can.
It’s a quick and joyful read. You feel like you’re rolling downhill with Eva and her cohorts. But mind those bumps. Just when you think you’ve settled into a story about Eva’s extraordinary palette, the book veers off into the lives of tangential characters such as Jody Snelling, who is not at all distressed about his blackout, drunken episodes as long as he can make the perfect margarita for his dying mother.
And then there’s devout Pat Prager, who posits that everyone likes bars, specifically her peanut butter bars, and is she ever right! After years of blue ribbon winning bars, she is feeling divinely punished by the appearance and baking skills of Celeste Mantilla.
While the book offers some terrific advice to a budding foodie (which heirloom tomato makes the best salsa and the pros and cons of store bought butter), it is foremost about the primacy of family in all its messy iterations. It is the pursuit of love and family that drive much of the characters’ actions.
Take the ride. Try some of the recipes. And enjoy this truly unique summer read. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is for general fiction fans and those with more than a passing interest in food.
Reviewed by Carol Malkin
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