From Publishers Weekly
In this eloquent tribute, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist McAllester (Blinded by the Sunlight: Surviving Abu Ghraib and Saddam's Iraq) takes a break from global conflict to address a much more intimate struggle, his late mother's descent into mental illness. After learning of her death, McAllester pores through his mother's old collection of cookbooks in an attempt to reconnect with the loving woman he remembers. Using the wise work of British celebrity chef Elizabeth David, his mother's true north in all things culinary, McAllester masters cassoulet, lobster, elaborate omelets, and steak with bordelaise sauce, gaining not only in confidence and ability but in understanding and acceptance. The process involves McAllester's touching descriptions of his mother's dishes and the memories they elicit: strawberry ice cream, homemade bread and a stolen taste of fresh parsley all provoke fond stories of his mother in her prime. As he tries to makes sense of his mother's declining years, visiting past residences and even requesting her medical files, McAllester loses some of his enthusiasm for cooking, but brings his mother's complicated, troubled soul into focus. With this memoir, McAllester makes a fine, food-centric testament to the redemptive power of grief and acceptance.
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He may have garnered a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of grim and gritty wars in the Middle East, but McAllester’s emotional life still focuses on his late mother. Her debilitating mental illness left her nearly incapable of unconditional love for Matt and his sister, but her unflinching devotion to Elizabeth David’s cookery principles cut through the horror and left her son a remarkable bequest to enlighten his life. The family started out in London, but they soon decamped for the primitive Scottish Atlantic coast. As he recounts his mother’s life, McAllester interleaves her story with that of his own marriage and the couple’s attempts to have children via in vitro fertilization. McAllester’s own deeply conflicted religious attitudes surface often, but his day-to-day practical psychological anchor is the sustenance that comes from cooking as his mother did. The book’s many sensitive photographs are a legacy of McAllester’s father, a professional photographer. --Mark Knoblauch