Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal

a review

Until about five years ago, I could count on one hand – maybe on one finger! – the number of people I knew from the Midwest (unless you count Missouri, which I don’t think you do?). My knowledge of the Midwest was limited to Garrison Keillor (Saturday night) and Packers fans (fall Sunday afternoons). But now, though I live in the Southeast, they seem to be swarming all around me like an invasive species.

kitchens-book-coverBut they’re a pretty neat lot. Some of them are even pretty good friends…so when I saw this title at the library I was more intrigued than I would have been five years ago.

The novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the story of how Eva Thorvald (honestly, how more Midwestern a name could you have??) became the most celebrated and sought-after chef in just about the whole world.

Stradal relates Eva’s development in creative and unique ways. Each chapter is devoted to the tale of how a particular ingredient came to be part of Eva’s palate. She makes at least a cameo appearance in each chapter, but is rarely the focus of it – and yet the story climaxes with a feast that brings all the people and ingredients together in a surprisingly sweet way.

Stradal explores just about every family relationship, Lutheran church suppers and chili cook-offs, deer season and farmer’s markets, high school garage bands and world-class sommeliers, rich and poor – all scattered across the American Midwest from the early 1980s to the foodie culture of today.

Some dog-eared passages:

“When Lars [her father] first held [Eva], his heart melted over her like butter on warm bread, and he would never get it back. When mother and baby were asleep in the hospital room, he went out to the parking lot, sat in his Dodge Omri, and cried like a man who had never wanted anything in his life until now.” – p. 7

What a sweet description of the fierce love of a new parent! (Alas, things do not go well for Lars, but, no spoilers!)

Eva the teenager on a date:

“When, after at least ten seconds, they let go of each other – him first – Prager looked at her. She now looked older, like a woman, a woman whose hand he could take and stride into the darkness with, because she was a woman whose darkness matched his own, and they could fix each other without even trying. They wouldn’t even have to talk about it.” – p. 111

And isn’t this how new love feels, and isn’t this the lie our culture perpetuates daily? “They could fix each other without even trying. They wouldn’t even have to talk about it.” Of course we would never say this outright, because it’s so naïve, but it’s precisely how we think love should work – “without trying,” without having “to talk about it.” From money to sex to in-laws to parents to those secrets from the past, we all too often believe that “love conquers all” means we don’t have to work at it. Sigh.

“Women look their stupidest when they have a crush on a guy who’s out of their league.” – p. 145

Just a good funny line.

“The thought of seeing her…again pruned every competing impulse, and the priorities of what now felt like a former life, once so bright and heavy, had fallen away. This commingling of obsession and simplicity was a surprisingly satisfying way to get by.” – pp. 274-275

And isn’t that the truth? I think of a life lived wholeheartedly for Jesus, and in it, there is obsession (to live in him and for him and pursue the things of his heart), and simplicity (not striving, not a seeking to fill an emptiness, not consumed by the temporal). Sweet!

Also in the book: a recipe for peanut butter bars that will turn you diabetic just reading it.

It’s a great read.

Published in: on December 16, 2016 at 3:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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