April 2, 2013
Graphic Novel/Memoir, 192 pages
A vibrant, food-themed memoir from beloved indie cartoonist Lucy Knisley.
Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions.
A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a book for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.
It is rather ironic that, not even forty-eight hours after Ramadan ended, I am sitting here and fighting the urge to lick my fingers - over a graphic novel.
I think the particular beauty of Ramadan, and Relish as well, is that it all rests in being grateful for what you have, and appreciating it more when you have it in front of you. You can have the simplest Iftar and close your eyes in bliss in the first moments of it rolling over your taste buds: a pot of simply served ramen, a few dates and a water bottle.
Like Lucy Knisley, a lot of my fondest reminiscences are interlinked with what I ate at the time. My childhood memories are peppered with wading in the Atlantic Ocean, raising butterflies and numerous trips to the library, as well as my best friend's mom packing a "little" lunch to tide us over during our adventures at the aquarium (fresh parathas and perfectly spiced omelets) and the Carvel ice cream cake that graced my fourth birthday.
(Yes, I do remember. And it was pure, sugary goodness.)
And of course, there are the Eids: fluffy plates of biryani, syrup-soaked gulab jamun lovingly handmade by my uncle's own hands, colorful platters of fruit that are often passed over for slices of Trader Joe's carrot cake and ice cream.
The best moments of the reading experience is when you feel the presence of someone like you behind every word - or at least, somewhat like you.
I definitely can't claim Knisley's lovely, often humorous words or drawings, or her gourmet upbringing; though, I could tell you a lot of interesting facts about growing up Muslim, and how quickly I learned to decipher the back of a food label.
At the heart of Relish, though, is the shared pleasures of eating, of finding new things you like or the comfort of returning to old faithfuls when times are bad - and, of course, celebrating the communal aspects of a good dinner and sharing that experience with friends and family and beloved ones.
It made me miss last year, when, stressed and overtaxed from all sides, I spent hours browsing Foodgawker, discovering that lemon bars may just be my claim to fame and telling myself that one summer, if not that summer, I'd make a peach cobbler.
(It's July. I still haven't baked one. But there's always next summer, right?)
This little jewel of a memoir celebrates the fancier dishes, and the moments when you just need a little salt and grease on your fingers. It's studded with deliciously illustrated recipes and college student angst and a little bit of self-reflection. I'm grateful, I'm inspired, I'm determined to square off some time for kitchen duty during the semester, and I'm hungry.
Of note: I just took a gander at GoodReads and realized that this is listed as adult nonfiction, so. Teen readers (particularly my conservative ones), please take note.
There are discussions about relationships and dating (yes, I know some people who will be concerned by this, but there's nothing really major) and...I think you can skip over most of the part about the trip to Mexico and take in the huevos rancheros recipe instead.