A Mini Review & Book Pairing: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Leslie has already named this book her “Life-Changingest Book of 2016.” And…it’s hard to top that recommendation. But now that I’ve finished it (and made a loaf of bread, to boot!), I thought I’d add my thoughts.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking SchoolIn case you missed Leslie’s review, here’s the short recap: a professionally trained chef gives basic cooking lessons to a group of unconfident home cooks. And almost without exception, the lessons are life-changing for these women– they go from Hamburger-Helper-Level cooking to baking artisan bread, chopping aromatics in seconds, and butterflying whole chickens. It IS inspiring, and I find myself thinking back to parts of the book often as I work in my own kitchen.

Although reading this book was a really helpful start, I’ve found myself wishing that Kathleen Flinn would actually come to my house and invite me to her cooking school. I’ve struggled with my own mediocrity in the kitchen, and I feel like just a few helpful lessons would catapult me into new realms of ability– to learn, once and for all, the proper way to hold a knife, dice an onion, cook fish, and make a sauce, just to name a few things.

It got me thinking about all of the other ways that I’m finding my own way as a parent and homemaker. What about a “Kitchen Counter Cooking School” but for basic household budgeting? For cleaning and maintaining a home and belongings? For how to do laundry the right way, for goodness’ sake?

It occurred to me that the kind of class that would have imparted information like this to eager young women was Home Ec. But by the time I was taking classes in high school, home ec was out of vogue, and girls like me were encouraged to more practical electives such as typing and a “business” class where I learned how to make spreadsheets and play Tetris. What a tragedy!

If a personal tutoring opportunity were to come up in any of these subjects, I’d totally take it. But meanwhile, I’m reminded that I do have resources ALREADY ON MY BOOKSHELF that can give me some of the knowledge that I crave.

Introducing……..book pairings for the ultimate text-based homemaking education:

The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith: refreshingly unfussy and accessible advice on making a house Your Home. Her style doesn’t have to be yours; her practical tips and can-do attitude is easy to transfer to whatever look brings you joy and peace.

Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson (yes, THAT Cheryl Mendelson): At almost 9oo pages, this is a pretty exhaustive manual on everything that happens within your four walls. Chapter titles illustrate how Mendelson’s approach to home keeping is both practical (“The Chemistry of Household Cleaning,” “Common Laundry Mishaps and Problems,” “Cleaning Man-made Solid Surfaces and Other Plastics,”) and poetic (“The Air in Your Castle,” Th Cave of Nakedness,” “Kindly Light”).

Caves of Nakedness aside, you might think this sounds like the most boring tome ever to prop a door open, but somehow Mendelson speaks on every topic with a pleasant, efficient manner, much like Mary Poppins come to help you clean up the nursery once and for all.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. This book is as polarizing to the world of clutter-management as the election of 2016 has turned out to be to the general population. But I’ll cast a vote for the KonMari method any day– it’s simple and effective, and if you can get past all the woo-woo stuff about thanking your shoes for their service, your reward will be a more peaceful, manageable home environment.

(Of course, a zillion-point-five blogs and websites exist to teach on all of these topics as well, and some of them do so quite effectively. But there’s nothing like having a nice reference book to hold in your hand, don’t you think?)

What practical guides have been helpful to you?

My Life-Changingest Book of 2016

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it is true. This has been a book that I have thought about, underlined, re-read, quoted, and refused to put away because I keep needing to reference something. Technically, this book didn’t even belong to me; Lindsey got it as a birthday present on our family vacation and I picked it up first. She agreed to let me borrow it for the drive home since we were going to be seeing each other again a few days later, but after reading a few chapters I texted her that I was sorry, but there was no way I was returning it. I just had to buy her a new copy. The book: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn.

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The premise of the book is simple: a professionally trained chef takes 10 self-described “bad home cooks” and teaches them basic cooking lessons. These women (the one man in the class dropped out before the first lesson) range in age, race, life-stage, and income, but the all feel equally incompetent in the kitchen.

Flinn starts her project by doing a “What Not to Wear” style pantry and fridge evaluation of each volunteer and notices some common issues like food waste, fear of under-cooking meat, reliance on hyper-processed boxed foods, and general self-consciousness about cooking. All of these women want to provide healthy, cheap, delicious meals for their families, but they are overwhelmed and don’t where to start. Flinn hosts lessons that cover basic cooking techniques like roasting a whole chicken, adding a “flavor kiss” to veggies to keep them exciting, baking homemade bread, mixing salad dressings, salvaging leftovers, and so much more. Each lesson is simple, but revolutionary to these women. Flinn also takes some of the pressure out of home cooking. She constantly encourages them to take risks–even if they fail, it’s just one meal, not the end of the world! They feel empowered and equipped to tackle the should-be-simple task of home cooking.

Now I would not consider myself a bad cook. I make meals for myself and Reggie most nights of the week, and I feel pretty comfortable trying new recipes. But this book has given my cooking new life. I regularly fight falling into a slump  cooking-wise, and this book was a right-book, right-time kind of thing. After reading it, I was re-energized to try some basic but really fun things in my kitchen. In the past few weeks I have made several whole chickens (plus chicken stock from the leftover bones), fresh bread, and mayo. I visited the farmers market and found some really great, local fruits and veggies that have added a little excitement and variety to our days. So far everything as turned out pretty good, which makes me more confident and excited to keep trying new things.

Reading The Kitchen Counter Cooking School made the necessary task of daily food preparation seem like a fun, and not overwhelming task, and if you are anything like me, that is always a good thing!

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My first batch of homemade bread!

June Recap

June was a really fun month of reading for me. I started in a little bit of a slump, but once I got going on a couple of these, I just couldn’t stop reading!

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1. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The first of a long series of books following Maisie Dobbs, a detective/private investigator/boss lady in the 1920’s. She is smart and totally lovable. This first book has a lot of flashbacks to set up Maisie’s back-story, but I hear that doesn’t continue much through the rest of the series. I really enjoyed Maisie and can’t wait to continue with the series!

2. Ready Player One by Earnest Cline

Full post here. Surprisingly enjoyable dystopian YA nerd novel. Ready Player One takes place in dystopian future America and follows an eighteen year old boy who is trying to win a video game contest for the hope of a better life.

3. Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s first Chief Inspector Gamache novel. I read a different Louise Penny book that comes later in the series before I realized that it was a series, so I finally got around to starting at the beginning. I loved it. The crazy characters, the quaint small town, the quiet confidence of Gamache–I can’t wait for my library to get me book 2!

4. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

True confession: I did not finish this book. I had it on my kindle from the library, and I didn’t know my time would expire so quickly. I really enjoyed the parts that I did read (I highlighted and took screenshots almost every time I read), but I found it hard to pick it up and read for very long. Someday I would like to come back and finish this book, but I probably won’t right now.

5. The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

Beautiful memoir about Elizabeth Alexander’s husband who passed away suddenly. Alexander is a poet, so her descriptions of her Ficre (her husband) and their life together were really beautiful. Lindsey did a full review of The Light of the World here.

6. Little House on the Prairie, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books are just so classic. I read these three in preparation for our trip to visit Laura and Almanzo’s house in Missouri, and I laughed and cried through them.

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All the heart eyes for Laurmanzo

7. The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes

SO FUN. This might be one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. It takes place in the fashion world of New York City and follows a seasoned editor-in-chief of Glossy Magazine through a transition into the new world of social media. I loved all of the name-dropping of famous designers and the commentary on the bads (and goods) of our instagram-obsessed culture. It was fun, thought-provoking, and just overall very entertaining. Definitely a great summer read.

8. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

I really enjoyed this one! It is the story of two sisters (named for the Bennets) who struggle to connect after years of bitterness following their mother’s death. One is a chef, one is a stay-at-home mom battling cancer, but both have some serious emotional baggage to sort through. Even though that sounds heavy, the book is quite lighthearted and full of quotes and conversation about Jane Austen, other classic literature, and food.

9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Marie Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is one of my favorite books. I reread it this month for my book club (I got to choose the book, so of course I picked this on), and it was just as good on my fourth read. The story is told through a series of memos, emails, flyers, and newspaper clippings, so it is really quirky. I LOVE it.