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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Kitchens of the Great Midwest

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Published by Pamela Dorman Books ISBN 978-0-525-42914-2
Hardcover, $27.95, 310 pages

J. Ryan Stradal's novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest received a great deal of buzz at last year's Book Expo of America (BEA) and for good reason: it's one terrific book.

It's also hard to describe, there is not a lot I can compare it to. His voice is unique, and the way in which he tells the story of young Eva, a girl with an incredible ability to be able to eat the hottest, spiciest foods imaginable, is spellbinding.

When you read Kitchens of the Great Midwest, you think you know where it is going, and then Stradal takes the reader on a detour. For awhile, you are not even quite sure whose story he is going to be telling, but you sit back and enjoy the ride.

The story is set in Minnesota, where a mixed race marriage is considered one between a Norwegian and a Dane. We think the story is about Lars, a chef who falls in love with Cynthia, who wants to be a sommelier. They have a daughter, Eva, whom Lars absolutely dotes upon.

Then we skip ahead eleven years to find Eva on the brink of adolescence. She grows hot peppers at home and gets a job working in a restaurant. She doesn't really fit in with her peers.

You just get comfortable with Eva, and we jump ahead to Braque, Eva's single-mindedly athletic cousin. Will this be Braque's story then? It doesn't really matter, the book is that consuming.

Each chapter has the name of a food- Chocolate Habanero, Walleye, Sweet Pepper Jelly-culminating with the Dinner chapter where the story comes full circle. There are some terrific recipes in the book, including some for county fair dessert bar contestants like Mississippi Mud Bars and Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars which had won five times. (I will be trying both of these.)

For someone who only knows Minnesota from  The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I like how this novel immerses you in the culture, the language, the people and the food of the region. It's Stradal's love letter to his home.

We get to know Eva's story through the people around her, much like we got to know Olive Kittridge through the stories of the people in her orbit in Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Eva is somewhat inscrutable, but also incredibly interesting.

If you are willing to try a book that is a little bit different, you will be rewarded with fascinating characters in a story that stays with you for a long time. I highly recommend it.

Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars
2 1/2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 cup melted Grade A butter
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup milk chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon Grade A butter

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, peanut butter, and sugar. Put into a greased 9x13 pan. Melt the chips and butter and spread them on top of the bars. Set in the refrigerator until firm. Cut into bars.


  1. This one has definitely been on my to-read list and your review makes me want to read it even more. (And those peanut butter bars sound pretty delicious too!) ;-)

  2. Sounds like a good read. And I'd like to try some of those bars.

  3. I miss baking, which used to be my go-to stress reduction method in the pre-dieting days. I used to have a thing about jumping from one character to another, but I think I've gotten over that and can adjust! I've got this one on my TBR list already!

  4. Sorry I'm so late getting around to your post. I know I'd love this book (being a cook/baker and a midwesterner). Maybe this summer.

  5. I listened to this book and just loved it. It was one of my favorites last year.

  6. This is going on my to read list for sure. Thanks.