Book Review: Heart of the Artichoke, and Other Kitchen Journeys

Our Borders closed.  That’s how this story begins.

Last summer, the Borders bookstore near me went out of business and had a sale to get rid of the remaining merchandise.  And not just a sale, a sale.  I waited patiently as the prices dropped and dropped, knowing that whatever was left when we hit the 80% mark might not be worth it, but that it would be so cheap that I wouldn’t be able to help myself. Finally my time came and walked into what felt like a desolate cave.  Shelves that were once packed with books, now only a few remained.  It was disorganized, as if a hurricane had come through but I knew exactly where I was headed; cookbooks.  I’ve always loved cookbooks, their beautiful glossy photos and idealistic, if sometimes pretentious directions telling you exactly what should happen, even if it isn’t what actually happens.

Heart of the Artichoke first attracted me because of its cover.  Simple and beautiful, the hardbound book had a lovely photo of, well, an artichoke.  I bought it on that fact alone, but honestly, it’s changed my life.

Author David Tanis composed this aptly named volume, and it really is the story of kitchen journeys.  After a forward and a small disclaimer, Tanis begins the book by walking the reader through 14 kitchen rituals, small, private moments that turn cooking into an experience, a way of life, instead of just sustenance.  After the rituals (everything from peeling an apple to making sausage) come a collection of seasonal menus, divided as you’d expect, each with an anecdote or personal confession.  Finally,  a short collection of larger menus, meant for a crowd.  An afterward and an index follow.

The thing about the book really isn’t the recipes, which I’m sure are just fine.  I’ve made two of the breads (Focaccia and An Honest Loaf) and they both came out delicious, even for a novice bread maker like me.  The real draw is the journey Tanis lays out for you.  An opportunity to really think about food and emotion and family and ingredients and seasonal fare, Heart of the Artichoke reads more like a storybook than an anthology of recipes.  You’ll want to read and re-read it just for the way it makes you feel.

PS. For anyone who can’t get over the idea the my bookstore is gone, never fear! A Books-A-Millions moved in to the same space.  The only difference I can see is the sign on the door.  🙂

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