I can’t tell you how pleased I was to get a package in the mail from Amelia Morris of Bon Appétempt. Amelia was kind enough to send me a gift of her new book, Bon Appétempt: A Coming of Age Story (with Recipes) and a tote bag (as my Mom has infamously said about my love of totes, “I know you like those bags.”). I have long been one of Amelia’s biggest fans and I think I can say that we have become Internet pals thanks to Facebook and Instagram, but mostly to the comments section of Bon Appétempt. For those of you unfamiliar with the blog, it began as a way to document Amelia’s attempts to recreate beautifully photographed and delicious sounding recipes from magazines, blogs, and cookbooks. The results were often hilarious, and Amelia does a great job of showing how burdensome the unnecessary steps in some recipes can be. But very quickly the blog evolved into something else — a more substantial voice and presence in food writing (and videos). Amelia writes beautifully about life, using food as an entry point. But to state it that way actually reduces it. On her blog, food appears in the spaces between life’s other events, just as it does in life itself. And although food can be the event itself, that is not what makes for good food writing.
I received the book in the mail and told myself I couldn’t really read it for a few weeks, given my busy work schedule right now. But after getting a bunch of work done the same night I received it, I decided to read a couple of chapters before going to bed. 200 pages in, I forced myself to turn out the light. Then I couldn’t sleep, so I tiptoed out to the couch, Bon Appétempt in hand, and proceeded to finish the book rabidly. I should mention here that as much as I love Amelia’s blog, I wasn’t certain that I was going to love her book. Sure, I was eager to read it, but lately I have been thinking about all the blogs that get turned into memoirs and how the process of reading the blog-turned-memoir can really reveal why some blogs don’t have enough heft to be books. To be frank, a lot of them come up short. Of course, there are exceptions, and Bon Appétempt is certainly one of those exceptions.
The central story of this memoir is a strong narrative about the minor and major trials of life, told with humor, grace, and vulnerability. I made pasta carbonara the other night, and I chuckled to myself recalling Amelia’s story about attempting to make it the first time, only to have her husband look at the ingredients and ask, “Wait. Where’s the cream?” The egg grossed him out too much, and they didn’t finish their pasta that night. If you’ve been reading Amelia’s blog all these years, you’ll be happy to know that she is not reusing the same material. For example, even though they made a video about their trip to Paris, Amelia’s discussion of the Paris trip in the book gives a fuller and more profound representation of what the trip meant for her. And it makes for great reading. In fact, for a seasoned Bon Appétempt fan, there is a lot of new information that gives a completely different perspective on the blog. Amelia has struggled with some very difficult family events and dynamics, but she writes about them in a way that highlights exactly why it so hard to wade through the seemingly everyday disappointments and judgements. We learn about family secrets, conflicts, and disappointments, as well about the difficulty of making one’s way in a new city, without a job or many contacts. Amelia and her husband Matt have gone through a lot of uncertainty, which makes the effort they put into the blog all the more impressive. If you’ve ever felt alienated by a favorite food writer’s seemingly perfect life, this is the book for you. Amelia lays it all out and she does so with her classic humor and self-deprecation. After reading about the uncertainty and difficulties, we are left with a deeper appreciation for the life that Amelia and Matt have carved out for themselves and of which the blog provides occasional glimpses.
Because it is a coming of age story with recipes, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the recipes. So far, I have made the Korean-style shrimp and scallion pancakes from the book. They really hit the spot for dinner on a recent night. There are a lot of other promising recipes such as “Matt’s Lemon Pasta” (which follows one of my favorite chapters in the book) and “A Very Pretty Orange Cake.” I can’t wait to try more recipes from this book, and I really can’t wait to see what Amelia writes next. The book comes out today, so make sure to pick up a copy. I don’t think you will be disappointed. And stay tuned for more Amelia-related stuff on Sabzi in the very near future!