March 25, 2019

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood
Nonfiction - Memoir
2019 W.W. Norton & Company
Finished on March 17, 2019
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From her Italian American childhood through singlehood, raising and feeding a growing family, divorce, and a new marriage to food writer Michael Ruhlman, Ann Hood has long appreciated the power of a good meal. Growing up, she tasted love in her grandmother’s tomato sauce and dreamed of her mother’s special-occasion Fancy Lady Sandwiches. Later, the kitchen became the heart of Hood’s own home. She cooked pork roast to warm her first apartment, used two cups of dried basil for her first attempt at making pesto, taught her children how to make their favorite potatoes, found hope in her daughter’s omelet after a divorce, and fell in love again—with both her husband and his foolproof chicken stock.

Hood tracks her lifelong journey in the kitchen with twenty-seven heartfelt essays, each accompanied by a recipe (or a few). In “Carbonara Quest,” searching for the perfect spaghetti helped her cope with lonely nights as a flight attendant. In the award-winning essay The Golden Silver Palate, she recounts the history of her fail-safe dinner party recipe for Chicken Marbella—and how it did fail her when she was falling in love. Hood’s simple, comforting recipes also include her mother’s famous meatballs, hearty Italian Beef Stew, classic Indiana Fried Chicken, the perfect grilled cheese, and a deliciously summery peach pie.

With Hood’s signature humor and tenderness, Kitchen Yarns spills tales of loss and starting from scratch, family love and feasts with friends, and how the perfect meal is one that tastes like home.

I loved everything about this highly readable collection of culinary essays by Ann Hood! I have so many Post-It flags marking recipes that I'd like to try that I've decided I need to own a copy of this book. Here's a sample of some of the recipes that have piqued my interested:
  • Indiana Fried Chicken
  • Glamourous Curried Chicken Salad
  • Chicken Salad Veronique
  • Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins
  • My Perfect Spaghetti Carbonara
  • Michael's Whiskey Sours
  • French Scrambled Eggs
  • Never-Fail Souffle (really more of a strata)
  • Sam's Potatoes
  • Mary's Peach Pie
  • Jill's Tenderloin and Roasted Tomatoes
  • Gogo's Swedish Meatballs with Ikea Gravy
  • My Roast Chicken
  • Michael's Overnight Chicken Stock
  • Tortellini en Brodo
  • Perfect Grilled Cheese
  • Laurie Colwin's Tomato Pie
This list is mainly for my future reference, but it gives you an idea of the broad variety of recipes Hood includes in her memoir. Granted, most of the recipes are not exactly on a clean-eating menu, but we're all allowed to indulge once in awhile, right? Moderation in all things! 

A friend had given me Betty Crocker's Cookbook for my college graduation the year before, and I methodically worked my way through those recipes, ruining more dinners than I can count. Soon I was clipping recipes from the newspaper and buying other cookbooks--Moosewood, Laurel's Kitchen, The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet. Over the next few years, I taught myself to cook. Sometimes I reached too far--stuffed pork chops with apple compote, whole wheat pizza that I could have used for a doorstop. But slowly I learned how to make an omelet and scramble eggs, use leftover chicken for curried chicken salad, make stock from the chicken bones.
I remember doing the same with my first cookbook, Sunset: Easy Basics for Good Cooking, which I wrote about here.

A few favorite passages:
I realized as, over the years, I wrote essays about food--Laurie Colwin's Tomato Pie, my father's mac and cheese--that as M.F.K. Fisher said, writing about food is really writing about love. When I write an essay about food, I am really uncovering something deeper in my life--loss, family, confusion, growing up, growing away from what I knew, returning, grief, joy, and, yes, love.
I have read that Virginia Woolf's earliest memory is of a close-up view of the pattern of flowers on her mother's dress on a train trip to St. Ives. The Scottish poet Edwin Muir's first memory was of his gold-and-scarlet baptism suit. American historian Henry Adams remembered the yellow of a kitchen bathed in sunlight. Tolstoy's first memory is of being swaddled and crying out for freedom. Me, I remember fried chicken.
I love Hood's writing and conversational tone, which brought a tear to my eye as often as it made me laugh out loud. Her final essay about Laurie Colwin's Tomato Pie had my eyes brimming with tears and I hugged the book to my chest as I read the final page. Kitchen Yarns is as delightful as Laurie Colwin's culinary memoir, Home Cooking, which I wrote about here and they both belong on my keeper shelf for future readings.


  1. I think I'd love this too! It's going on my wish list.

    1. It seems kind of silly to buy a copy after borrowing it from the library, but it was so good and if I have it on my shelf, I know I'll remember to read it again (as well as try the recipes I've noted). I hope you enjoy it, Kathy!

  2. I can't wait to read this! I'm at the top of the library hold list now :)

    1. JoAnn, you may want to buy a copy! I know it's one I need to own. I'll be anxious to hear what you think (and if you try any of the recipes). She has really become a favorite author. I'm going to look for more of her novels, such as the Obituary Writer, The Italian Wife and The Red Thread.

  3. This is the third review I've read of this book recently and all are glowing. Love it. I must get this even though I am not the cook in my family. Thank goodness I have a husband who enjoys cooking.

    1. Iliana, this seems to be the darling of the year with a lot of my blogger friends. I'm a little envious that you have a husband who enjoys cooking. Mine enjoys eating. :)


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