Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Crabby Cook Cookbook: 135 Almost-Effortless Recipes plus Survival Tips

The Crabby Cook Cookbook: 135 Almost-Effortless Recipes plus Survival Tips
Author: Jessica Harper (@thecrabbycook)
Publisher: Workman Publishing (2010)

It’s easy to envy the pros. No matter what they seem to do, whether it’s shooting hoops, playing the piano or making their kids dinner, if it’s their specialty they put the poor laymen of the world to a crying shame. Why don’t we ever see Tony Parker tripping on his way out to the court, or hear Elton John’s accidental striking of a B-flat on the radio? The rich folks among the stars (and lets face it – that’s most of them) don’t have to even think about the last task of cooking. Heck, if they wanted to, they could hire a chef for as long as they wanted or needed, and throw in a nutritionist and personal trainer while they’re at it too. Why bother messing with the mundane bits of life when you’d never have to deal with the snags along the way?

Of course, it isn’t every celebrity that’s like that. They are all busy people (aren’t we all?) and I’m sure those that do choose to rely on hired help have their reasons. But sometimes, wouldn’t you like to hear an account of something gone awry to one of these invincible idols, but see them use their own ingenuity and brainpower to come up with a solution and “save the day” without becoming a victim of “woe-is-me-itis”? Take the example of dinner: when do you hear of Brad Pitt cooking breakfast for the brood of however many there are now, with one child clinging to his leg, another making faces with syrup on the table and a pan that’s just a little bit too hot?

If you are searching for one of those “sometimes reality sucks” manuals for yourself, it may seem counterintuitive to pick up one written by an actress. But then Jessica Harper flies in the face of most standard celebrity tactics, and cookbook-writing logic, by penning The Crabby Cook Cookbook: 135 Almost-Effortless Recipes plus Survival Tips. In it, readers will find a host of recipes that Harper makes or made over the years as a home cook and mom: from pancakes to potato salad to fish sticks, if it’s a home-cooked , reliable meal that is simple to whip together you’re after, Crabby Cook fits the bill. Harper ups the ante with her hilarious recollections of these meals past... it’s safe to say I enjoyed the book as much for the anecdotes as I did for the food! Some of my favourite tales (and their delicious accompanying recipes!) had to be of her brother in law’s experience with chicken soup on page 45 (pupik, anyone?) and a hilarious examination of a Real Simple magazine’s survey results (p.126). Parents will appreciate her exasperation at dealing with picky eaters (namely her children, who went through a “white” phase) after growing up with an “eat it or starve” type of mother. As someone with a gifted home-cook mother, I could relate to the frustration of trying to make something the family will enjoy (like her and the pasta sauce recipe on p. 49) when “grandma’s is better”.

Crabby Cook also proves that us “commoners” are not the only ones to try making a celebrity’s recipe. Whether it’s the ousted Thai prime minister’s dubiously named “pig’s legs in Coca Cola” (p. 80) or a Food Network casserole that she puts through it’s paces as something achievable in half an hour (p. 71), nothing, and indeed no one (even Richard Gere!) is safe. But, as Harper details, lessons are definitely learned along the way.

I only wish there were photos of her pursuits, no matter the beauty of their conclusions. A picture says a thousand words, and if they are as relatable, touching and funny a thousand words as what she jotted in this book, I’m sure we’d all be in stitches. Then again, I’m as guilty as she is – while the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (p. 254) and pancakes (p. 7) went down a treat over the Christmas break, I’ve discovered that in real life, nobody is pausing for a photo when there is anything good on the table! I did find it rather amusing that a quirk I had attributed to just our family of breakfast lovers – chocolate chips – is a key inclusion in Harper’s mother’s recipe, and that the chaos of several hungry teens home from school made me nostalgic.

The Crabby Cook Cookbook is not under any circumstances a read for the perfectionist, the singleton or the overly serious professional chef. But it doesn’t claim to be. It is an honest, amusing and interesting story of life as a human being with a kitchen and stove, and the tricks to getting out of there (and sometimes even the dishes) alive.

Available on Amazon

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