Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys

Title. Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys
Author. Lucinda Scala Quinn
Year of publication. 2009

I originally picked this book up thinking it was going to be full of silly nonsense given it's title. My experience of the word 'mad' as a cool-person slang modifier comes from my time as a much younger person hanging out with other much younger persons outside of New York City. The title is actually from author Lucinda Scala Quinn's blog and cooking show of the same name. Scala Quinn has published five cookbooks to date including this one, with another one on the way, and she is currently the executive food director at Martha Stewart Living. I bought this book for pretty silly reasons: I was head over heels for some guy and wanted to make him food. It also had pretty pictures. I quickly learned that Scala Quinn's book was not quite what I originally thought.

The cover and spine originally drew me to this book. I love the big, colourful use of typography as design and the graphic elements of its design continue inside with good use of silhouettes and type.

The table of contents lists all the recipes as well as additional info pages that are found in each chapter. I found it helpful that the info pages were listed here. The recipes however are not listed by their names, but rather by a clever 'tagline' that is associated with each recipe. This is cute, and sometimes intriguing (as in the case of 'inhalable wonders') but for a table on contents, it doesn't really do it's job. 'Untended alchemy' leads one to a recipe for oven-braised short ribs which-- what? The table of contents thus becomes a sort-of fun game to figure out what means what, but it's not much else. Scala Quinn then lays out a 'ten tenets' list, which gives a good idea about the way she cooks and views food. There are some cool sections not often seen in cookbooks.; for example, Scala Quinn talks about bringing her boys to the grocery store and involved them in food shopping.

Then, of course, there are the recipes. The recipes mostly fit on one page; I've only found two that are spread over two pages. This makes for no flipping while in the kitchen, which is always nice. To date, I've made four recipes from this book:lentil vegetable soup, broiled salmon teriyaki, portobello mushroom steaks and sesame noodles.

The lentil soup is my favorite soup ever. I am not a soup person, but I`ve made this one twice in its original giant quantity and ate it all myself. It`s nothing groundbreaking, but it`s simple, quick and well-seasoned. I've changed up the vegetables in the soup both times and its worked well. The salmon is another winner. Straightforward and easy and tastes excellent with clean flavours. The mushroom steaks were more of the same; simple ingredients, quick preparation and tasty.

The sesame noodles are apparently one of Scala Quinn`s most popular recipes-- I`m sad to say this is the one that didn`t quite work out for me. The taste was alright but I was quite put off by the texture. I`m going to go ahead and blame my jar of tahini for this, as I think the tahini`s texture was off anyways, but it made it difficult to judge the success of this recipe.

All the recipes in this book follow this general idea; they're simple with short ingredient lists but the components are well-chosen to impart deep flavour and to work with each other to create something that is much more than the sum of its parts. The recipes themselves are laid out well with a small intro containing useful tips at the top, the ingredients listed on the left side and the instructions on the right. Some recipes have notes at the bottom which are usually helpful (ie. uses for plain yogurt, how to adapt a chicken broth to an asian-inspired one, etc.).

There are a few recipes that are too simple-- I don`t think a fried egg needs it`s own recipe and instead could be covered in a sidebar. There are no surprises or quirky flavour combinations. There are a few global influences scattered throughout with noodle dishes, red beans and rice and a few others, and includes some more complex recipes such as laksa, but on the whole, this is American comfort food/home cooking, and the recipes are relatively easy.

There's definitely a thread running throughout the book of the story of a mother feeding her sons. Scala Quinn talks about her experiences in raising and cooking for 3 young boys, and that's really what this book is about. Calling the book Feeding Men and Boys has caused some controversy in reviews of this book. Scala Quinn does say some things that caused me to raise an eyebrow at times-- she talks about men not being able to naturally recognize messes or how about all boys like hot sauce. It's hard to tell whether she's being flippant or casually sexist in these instances.

However, Scala Quinn also says a lot of wise things that I think her target audience, mothers, will appreciate. I think she did herself a disservice narrowing herself to a "feeding males" narrative.

Stripping away some of that gimmick, I think Scala Quinn's goal is really to teach families how to come together to cook and eat, and that's a laudable one. She gives good tips for how to reach this goal in the introductory pages and accompanying her recipes. She stumbles sometimes with specific prescriptions that can be jarring juxtaposed with her ideal of a cosy family meal-- such as advising to try honey from local markets while traveling (which is fine as an idea but seems out of place in a simple, family-style cookbook).

Scala Quinn is really telling us a lovely story about her family's relationships with other through food. She also pushes for involving men and boys in the cooking process, going with that old adage that if you teach a man to fish, he can eat forever. That's one of the best takeaways I got here, and what I think goes a long way towards balancing her awkward generalizations about men.

accessible - inspirational

novice - seasoned

quick - slow

healthy - indulgent

depth - breadth

classic - revolutionary
SUMMARY. This book is full of simple, easy recipes that work. There's some problematic language surrounding gender roles, but it comes off as more awkward than offensive. There's a lot here for busy, family-minded cooks, and that goes beyond the recipes into useful tips and general musings about food. It's sometimes too simple, but there is some seriously tasty food in here. Buy it if you need some basics plus a little more or are interested in refocusing your meals on your family.

Solid, simple recipes for family meals.

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