Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Book Review: I Loved I Lost I Made Spaghetti

(Blogjob tags: comic memoirsItalian-American recipesmillennial courtship customs,millennial social customs,naturally gluten-free Italian-American foodProgresso chicken noodle soup.)

A Fair Trade Book
Title: I Loved I Lost I Made Spaghetti 
Author: Giulia Melucci
Date: 2009
Publisher: Hachette
ISBN: 978-0-446-53442-0, 978-0-446-55232-5
Length: 278 pages
Quote: "Whenever I start dating someone new, I just can't hold back...I have to cook for him."
Once upon a time, "dating" meant that, of a wholesome teenager's many friends, s/he picked one to sit beside at one particular movie, dance the first and last dances with at one particular party, treat or be treated by at a restaurant, and/or walk home with. Neither intimacy nor commitment was even an option; you weren't engaged, just dating. Reasonably popular singles had "date books" (or Rolodexes) to keep track of all these people. Eventually, when ready to Settle Down, they chose one of their many "dates" to marry, or shocked everyone by marrying someone outside the crowd. I may have been one of the last American girls who had the opportunity to "date" this way. I wish The Nephews had the opportunity to understand "dating" as friendship, fun, and freedom.
That's not what it means to Giulia Melucci or the young men she reminisces about "dating" in this book. "On the way over to Kit's apartment..." "For the first month I convinced myself I was pregnant..." "It's four in the morning and you're on my couch..." Once upon a time, a woman who admitted to having that kind of "dates" in her past was doomed to social rejection, an embarrassment even to her old school friends and family, best advised to plan a career of ritual penitence in the nearest convent. Melucci wrote a book about it, used her sexual mistakes to entice readers to buy an otherwise ordinary cookbook, and is now married. Social change has not been altogether bad.
This is a story about an insecure, curvaceous young woman using her cooking skills to win friends and influence people. Guys stay with her about as long as the guys who "date" her skinny friends, in the same sense of the term they do her, stay with them; women friends and platonic friends stay around longer, and everybody has fun and swaps recipes. And sexually suggestive jokes.
Some of the recipes are jokes, like "Kit's Drunken Soup: Open can of Progresso chicken noodle soup. Put in saucepan over medium heat. Pass out on couch. Cook until girlfriend hears strange crackling sounds..." That one's not listed in the recipe index at the end. (Speaking of Progresso soup reminds me that I never gave a specific recipe for souping up canned soup after discussing the general idea at Bubblews. That'll be the next post.)
Other recipes are told as second-person anecdotes where, in spite of the story about how the recipe went wrong on that particular occasion, you can tell how it might have gone right. "Bucatini Amatriciana with MP3 File-Sharing Technology," "Incendiary Sole," "Ineffectual Eggplant Parmigiana," "Salad That Failed to Make a Perfect New Year's Eve," and "Mitch's Mother Is a Yankee Pot Roast" might work out well under happier circumstances. One recipe for cupcakes has a deliberately offensive name that won't be quoted here, but it's basically generic yellow cake with a distinctive chocolate frosting, and would probably work just fine for those who like bourbon.
These are, predictably, Italian-American recipes. Does this book have anything to offer people who can't eat wheat or cheese? Surprisingly, it has. Italian cuisine is best known for spaghetti, and (although manufacturers have concocted gluten-free spaghettis that sometimes work for some of us) God's gift to gluten-intolerant people is spaghetti squash. By itself this naturally stringy vegetable doesn't taste exactly like spaghetti, but it's bland enough to harmonize with asparagus, eggplant, "Friendly Little Fish," zucchini, eggs, tomato sauce, meatballs, tomatoes, basil, arugula, pine nuts, or whatever just as spaghetti does.
Anyway most of the recipes in this book aren't for spaghetti. "My Father's Minestrone" without the optional barley or farro, "Unforgettable Halibut," "Salmon with Lemon-Tarragon Butter," "French Lentil Stew," "Baby Arugula and Avocado Salad," "Chicken Soup," "Orthopedic Cod," "Frugal Frittata," "String Bean and Potato Salad," "Real Estate Roast Chicken"...almost half of the recipes are naturally gluten-free.
You can still buy it new to show respect, which is recommended to anyone who has the money, but this book is so widely available used that I'll go ahead and offer it as a Fair Trade Book. Send $5 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment to either address at the bottom of the screen, and I'll send $1 to Melucci or a charity of her choice.