Oh, my. I really don’t want to write a negative book review. Ms. Brunstein is, according to a quick internet search, a talented chef and caterer. Indeed her recipes and photographs all seem to be in order. They are not particularly imaginative but that’s fine since they are presented as traditional Southern European dishes. It’s the rest of the book that I have a problem with.
The author begins the book by getting on a train in West Chester, NY on her way to visit her granddaughter in Buffalo. She introduces herself to her seatmate and, deciding that the poor fellow is a “captive audience,” proceeds to tell him a bizarre dreamlike story about a Christmas fund-raising dinner that she attended with her ex-husband. It isn’t exactly clear where this fundraiser is being held, it could be a private home, restaurant or hotel. What is clear is that it is in a second floor ballroom and that someone has gone to great lengths to make arrangements for canine guests. Quite extravagant ones too for there are grooming stations, beds, sitters, and doggie dishes scattered about. For some inexplicable reason, the author decides to shock her philandering spouse by leaving the party to run out and buy the supplies needed to color her hair. She sneaks back into the party venue to dye her hair (apparently, unnoticed) in the kitchen.
I suppose her intent was to embarrass her husband, since she was dripping with hair dye as she left the kitchen to return to their table. On the way past the dog food dishes a glob of dye slides off her head into a bowl of chow. She scoops up the goop and deposits it into a nearby water drain, whereby the drain becomes blocked and sewer water spews about the party. Okay, stop right there. Why is there a water drain in a ballroom?
At this point, I am thinking that this poor woman must have suffered a complete break-down and the travelogue will continue with her leaving her cheating husband to find solace in the sunny climes of Southern Europe. Along the way we will hear charming little stories about how she finds peace cooking simple peasant meals. But, there doesn’t seem to be any purpose to her travel vignettes. It is just a vehicle to share recipes from different regions.
The last chapter features Greece. I don’t have a clue why she went, who she went with, or what she did while she was there. There are some nice recipes and a few photos, including a picture of the author outside a hotel in Crete. Then, just as suddenly as the book began, it ends in back in the train car with this unfortunate guy who has presumably sat through a recital of Mediterranean dishes.
In the beginning, when I first saw this book going off the rails, I hoped it could be resuscitated with good old fashioned editing. But, that isn’t enough. The difficult bit is getting around the premise. It simply isn’t a travelogue. There just isn’t a story to tell, or if there is, I couldn’t find it. Surely, the recipes and the culinary photographs would have been enough. Oh, and I did like the book jacket.