Monday, June 1, 2009

Book Review: Comfortably Yum by Luisa Perkins

I'm not sure when I first became aware that Luisa was going to put together a cookbook, but I absolutely knew I would buy it.

Luisa has shared many recipes via her blog, Novembrance, and some of her family's favorites have become the favorites of my family, as well. (Her "Brookies" are to die for, and if I make them, it's an easy way for me to get D or C to do just about anything for me).

You can imagine my excitement as I tore through my copy of Comfortably Yum and found that my all-time favorite food quote (the description of breakfast from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy) was Luisa's pick for the intro. to her Breakfast section. I knew that my keen anticipation had not been in vain.

What I love about Luisa's philosophy about food is that it is a gift to be enjoyed, and that if people have "food issues" that's about other things and choices they make, not about recipes prepared well. She doesn't stint in the use of butter or sugar, and she has this marvelous story about her mother-in-law:

"Last Thanksgiving, my friend Tina Fairweather asked her (Luisa's mother-in-law) how to make it(cream of vegetable soup); my mother-in-law began giving instructions in response.When she came to the cup of milk and the cup of heavy cream, Tina asked, 'So you could use half-and-half, then?'
My mother-in-law replied in gracious but firm tones, 'Oh, no. I find there is no substitute for heavy cream.' Amen, Mother, amen."

Luisa also manages to convey her patience and kind heart via her writing: she presents an extremely useful ingredients/tools section at the beginning, which will certainly help in re-creating the recipes to their best advantage.

This book is actually a love letter to her family and friends, and she has beautiful commentary throughout, including humorous "Prelude" and "Postlude" sections. The Prelude concerns Luisa's personal history with food, and the Postlude contains some of her philosophy about food and enjoyment. Luisa is also an active member of her church, and she shares LDS traditions and philosophy along with her comments on family rituals and fun. Her comments are never heavy-handed or proselytizing, however - her views on these areas simply add to the points she's making about a particular recipe or section.

The recipes themselves are everything one could wish for - practical and delicious. Most of the recipes are fairly straightforward, but whether a recipe is as simple as her "Lynyrd Skynyrd" dip or is somewhat more complex, such as her Fondue recipe, her directions are crystal clear and feature humor and heart. Drinking peppermint tea is part of the Fondue ritual, for example, and listening to Los Fabulosos Cadillacs or The Gypsy Kings on low is a secret for making the Chicken Enchiladas the best they can be. While many of the recipes could define home-cooked "comfort food" - creamed tuna, a truly fabulous granola recipe, lemon squares, chocolate cake, and the previously mentioned enchiladas (which apparently elicited her wedding proposal), there are also a wonderful smattering of international recipes, especially Canadian (including poutine - for which I praise Luisa forever) and many Swiss recipes, reflecting her mother-in-law's heritage.

The sections themselves cover the gamut: breakfast, soups, main dishes, accompaniments, desserts and "snacks and pantry food".

I've had a tradition of giving Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything to newlyweds, college grads, and those who are just, plain starting new lives: for me, it is the modern version of The Joy of Cooking. I love the book, but it's somewhat overwhelming, and there are some things that Bittman does far better than others (his bread section, for example, is fairly abysmal, IMHO). I've decided to switch, however, to Comfortably Yum.

While it is on a smaller scale, Comfortably Yum is everything a new cook (or an experienced one) could wish for, and in addition to the fabulous culinary recipes, a wonderful recipe for living life with heart and humor is woven throughout. Who could ask for more?

I loved this book so much that I want to share it with one of my readers. If you'd like to win your own copy of Comfortably Yum, simply leave a comment by midnight, June 5th, and tell me why you need a copy of this book. It can be a need for yourself or for someone you know. I will probably determine the winner via random selection, just because I like being random like that.

This is my first real book review, but I need some way of rating this, so I'm going to give it 5 out of 5 "local love points".


diana murphy said...

Jen: Beautiful review of a perfectly splendid and wonderfully delicious cookbook. I have my copy in hand (and more on the way!), so my comment's intent is to add even more stars to your recommendation!

Luisa's recipes are great (I have some chicken enchiladas in the refrigerator waiting for their dinner debut), but what I love most about Luisa's book is that her luminous personality and charming wit shine through on every page.

Lovely review, Jen. Yummy cookbook, Luisa. Congratulations to you both!

Marianne Arkins said...

I need a copy cuz I'd sure like to have something to cook that would make MY DH and DD do anything for me. *G*

Actually, I'm always looking for good recipes that my DH (who is not a culinary adventurer) will eat.

Sounds like I need to get a copy, no matter what! I have a niece getting married soon... perhaps a wedding gift?

Luisa Perkins said...

I am touched beyond measure; thanks, Jen.

anno said...

Um. I need that enchilada recipe. Really, really need it. Sounds like a wonderful book!

Charity Tahmaseb said...

You know I need this book, since I'm pretty much of the "honey, you need to take the egg and break it first" variety of cook.

It sounds like a wonderful book just to page through as well.

Ben said...

I don't know Luisa or her blog, but I am going there right now to look through her recipes. Your review of her book makes me wanna get a copy. Thanks for introducing us to another great food "philosopher" :)

Jen said...

Diana, as usual, you said it beautifully, and I couldn't agree more.

Marianne - both excellent reasons! And I'm telling ya... do Brookies and they'll melt. Truly.

Luisa - you're very welcome. It's been my pleasure reading it!

Anno - I think you do, indeed!

Charity - I was... cough, cough... thinking of you in part when I put out this challenge. ;-)

Ben - you would SO love Luisa's recipes. They are wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lovely book. I"m tempted to check it out just to find out what Brookies are!

I enjoyed the anecdote about the mother-in-law, but was confused because I read it to mean the person was asking if you could sub the milk AND cream with half and half (since isn't half and half just that, half milk and half cream, which is what was called for?)

In any event, thanks for sharing, and I'll keep my eyes peeled for this one next time I'm at the bookstore or library.

Jen said...

Noelle - it's self-published, so it won't be at the local bookstore in all likelihood, but you could certainly encourage your library to order it!

Brittany | the Home Ground said...

This book sounds wonderful! I'm sorry to hear about all of your pain, Jen. It's very hard to live with and to be happy. I think I need this book because I don't know how to cook. Haha! But really, I don't, and it sounds like her book not only tells you how, but tells you why.

Liz Dwyer said...

Fantastic review! I wish I could go pick up a copy of this book or win it because I'm in SUCH a cooking rut and I need things that are simple and easy to make! I have a super finicky five year-old, a husband who doesn't like veggies, a carnivore 8 year-old and then me, the vegetarian. I feel like the only thing I can make to keep everyone happy is pasta with optional meatballs! But clearly, we can't make that every night. Sigh, what to do!

Jen said...

Brittany - happily the pain is OVAH!!! My chiropractor, the mild, mild stuff I'm taking and my regular routines have come through. I'm totally off the steroids now and still feeling fine. I think the pain ... well, it's not important. I'm cool now, though, and thanks for asking!

Los A - I think this cookbook would catch all of you on some level.

hotmamamia said...

I love all of your book reviews and have found that I usually go out and get the book after you give it a thumb's up!

Why I need it...for Korie, a little gift for the bride to be to help her with some of her culinary challenges!

p.s. Just got the Cheerleader book and can't wait to snuggle down and read it!

Jen said...

Hot Mama - I think you'll enjoy GGG as a post-school year read!

I think both Korie and Hans would enjoy this book - I definitely agree!

Acedog said...

There must be something about living in the Ann Arbor area that calls forth an ability to write good book reviews, and especially to write well about food.

Momisodes said...

What an incredible review. I would love to check this out, as well as Luisa's blog.
"...there is no substitute for heavy cream."- I feel the same way :)

Jen said...

Acedog - thanks for the kind words. It must be the influence of all the surrounding farms.

Momisodes - it's really a gem of a cookbook. Absolutely.

painted maypole said...

i remember her posting the brookies recipes.

i need this book, because I could use a little pick me up after delousing my daughter and whole house. ;)

Jen said...

Yes, PM, I could imagine you would! I'm so sorry you've been through all that.

Goofball said...

oooh I'm not to late yet for your contest.

Well, I need a copy of Comfortably Yum because as a soon to be newly wedded wife I want to surprise my husband (who does 95% of the cooking at home) with some cooking that I never came up with before. I'm sure Luisa can teach me some new style of cooking that I didn't try yet (such as baking....never ever baked in my life before...ssst don't tell anyone). And I really really want to read those humerous comments in the book that I hear about all the time!!

glamah16 said...

Would love to have a chance to wina copy.

Jen said...

Goofball - she would indeed teach you to bake!

Glamah - I think you'd just love this book and CS would, too. A lot of CS-friendly recipes.