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12.18.2015

The Homemade Kitchen [book review]

So... I read a cookbook.

Six months ago, if you told me you were reading a cookbook, I would have laughed at you. Scoffed, even. Who reads a cookbook? As my dear Abbigail Kreibs said, that’s like telling someone you’re reading the encyclopedia. You just don’t do things like that.

But I did. And what’s more, I enjoyed it.


Now, you guys already know that I am not a cook. I can’t claim anymore that I don’t cook, because I do. When I started staying home with Little Rabbit, I also started cooking dinner (nearly) every day. But even though I now cook, I don’t count that as part of what makes me tick. So reading a cookbook is especially out of the ordinary for me. But, again, I did it.

What drew me in about Alana Chernila’s The Homemade Kitchen was the cover. It’s gorgeous–all moody photography and trendy typography. It feels modern, fresh, and just a little bit granola hipster. It made me want to cook something just because it’s so beautiful.
Once I got past the cover, I realized that the book wasn’t at all what I expected. It’s different from every other cookbook I’ve ever picked up. It sort of combines the straight-up-recipes approach of the classic Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and the heartfelt-essay-content of Shauna Neiquist’s Bread & Wine. Except it was better than either of those in every way.

I think Chernila and I could be friends. I love the way she thinks about food and life in general. There were a few passages in the very beginning of the book that had me internally jumping up and down shouting “yes! YES!” These two are my absolute favorite:

“When I create what I want to eat, the simple task becomes the seed that empowers me to live the life I want, and to create that, too. And when I cook and eat in a way that reflects how I want to live, it means I have the opportunity three (or more!) times a day to make decisions that help me live that life.”

And this:

“Homemade food is the opposite of perfection. It holds the stamp of its maker. It’s salty because you wanted it that way, or it’s made with the kind of tomato you chose to grow when poring over seed catalogs last January. This process of cooking at home is my window into what I want to create in life as a whole. I want to make it better, unique, delicious, stamped with my own love and work. It’s going to be imperfect, and I’m good with that.”

I’m not a cook. I love eating, but I don’t particularly enjoy getting there. But those two passages, and this book in general, make me want to change that. I love seeing cooking as a means to an end, a way of living the kind of life you want as a whole. I think that’s just beautiful. And her thoughts on the imperfection and uniqueness of home cooking make me feel so much better about all the ways my execution of various recipes differ from the original author’s. This cookbook is the best encouragement I’ve ever received when it comes to life in the kitchen.

Instead of being organized by recipe type, the book is broken up based on Chernila’s thoughts about buying, growing, cooking, and eating food (see content titles). This makes it more like a book than a true cookbook. Instead of just hammering you with recipes, Chernila talks to you like a good friend and teaches you all about food and navigating the kitchen. She covers basic things like:


  • How to cook an egg
  • How to buy fish
  • How to cook a vegetable
  • How to turn fruit into jam
  • How to roast a chicken
  • How to use fresh herbs

It’s like being taught how to cook from the very beginning. As someone who really wasn’t ever taught that, I find it amazing. But she also shares fairly exotic recipes that I think even seasoned cooks would enjoy trying. (Want to make your own kimchi? She tells you how.)
Most of all I love the way she shares her recipes. Some are straightforward, but often she shares them in a way that makes it easier for you to make it your own. When she gives a recipe for quiche, for example, she shares the basic recipe first. On the following page, she shares some of her favorite flavor additions (like bacon or broccoli). This way, you can easily see what’s necessary to start with and where you can mix up a recipe to make it unique. She does the same thing with muffins, salads, breads, and more.
I love that approach because I’m not one to try changing a recipe on my own. I am just not that confident in the kitchen. But when the recipe itself encourages me to try different things with it… well, it gets a whole lot easier.

I think I could wax poetic about this book for a very long time, but I won’t. I’ll just say this: if you’re a little afraid of the kitchen, if you don’t like to cook but kindof want to like it, if you’re unsure of yourself or not confident about your skills… get this book. Sit down and read it through once before you start using it. You’ll find a friend in these pages. And I think you’ll walk into your kitchen feeling a whole lot more inspired than you’ve ever been.
P.S. I received this book for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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