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Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid Hardcover – July 8, 2010

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Amazon.com Review

Product Description
With grace, humor, and irresistible recipes, the author of Girl Sleuth takes us on her journey as an amateur chef, amateur farmer, and amateur parent

Melanie Rehak was always a passionate cook and food lover. Since reading the likes of Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Wendell Berry, she'd tried to eat thoughtfully as well. But after the birth of her son, Jules, she wanted to know more: What mattered most, organic or local? Who were these local farmers? Was it possible to be an ethical consumer and still revel in the delights of food? And why wouldn't Jules eat anything, organic or not?

Eating for Beginners details the year she spent discovering what how to be an eater and a parent in today's increasingly complicated world. She joined the kitchen staff at applewood, a small restaurant owned by a young couple committed to using locally grown food, and worked on some of the farms that supplied it. Between prepping the nightly menu, milking goats, and sorting beans, Rehak gained an understanding of her own about what to eat and why. (It didn't hurt that, along the way, even the most dedicated organic farmers admitted that their children sometimes ate McDonald's.) And as we follow her on her quest to find the pleasure in doing the right thing--and become a better cook in the bargain--we too will make our peace with food.

A Recipe From Eating for Beginners: Carrot Purée


  • 1 pound carrots
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste


1. Wash or peel the carrots and chop them roughly; circles are fine.

2. Place carrots and butter in a frying pan (preferably not nonstick) over medium heat.

3. As butter melts, stir constantly so that the carrots caramelize and don't stick to the pan. You want them brown but not burned--about fifteen minutes.

4. When carrots are nicely caramelized, remove them to a blender and add heavy cream.

5. Blend on low, pressing carrot mixture down as it purées, so that it all gets blended together. If it seems too thick, you can add a bit more heavy cream to loosen it up (this is really personal preference, but you don't want it too runny).

6. Remove the carrot purée to a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste, folding it in as you go.

From Publishers Weekly

Rehak (Girl Sleuth), a Brooklyn resident and new mom, spent a year toiling delightfully inside the kitchen of a neighboring restaurant to get a handle on where the food we consume really comes from. Volunteering to help long hours at Applewood, a small restaurant in Brooklyn owed by trained chefs Laura and David Shea and devoted to the idea of supporting local farmers and sustainable agriculture, Rehak was able to observe and participate in the "choices and the compromises" of gathering, preparing, and cooking the food we consumers pay good money to eat. At the same time as she manned the garde-manger station, preparing aesthetically pleasing salads and cold appetizers, Rehak had to deal with her finicky toddler, Jules, at home as he refused to eat even toast. Eventually, Rehak was happily promoted to the fish station, and Jules took a bite of a chicken leg. By turns, Rehak proved game at making cheese at a diary farm in Connecticut, sorting beans at an organic vegetable farm in Hamden, N.Y., and, hilariously, getting violently seasick while catching monkfish aboard a lobster boat off Long Beach Island. Lovely recipes at the end of each chapter display her culinary achievements. As part of a welcome, continuing spate of recent works concerned with rehabilitating American eaters, Rehak's chronicle is pleasantly lowkey, generous, and nondidactic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (July 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015101437X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014378
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,286,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By K. Kasabian VINE VOICE on July 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
(Note: this review is based on an uncorrected copy)

For one year, author Rehak planted herself in the kitchen of applewood, a Brooklyn restaurant that uses local produce, meats and cheeses whenever possible. This book chronicles that year, where Rehak learned not only to chop, slice, grill and fry, but to witness firsthand the relationship between small farmers, growers and fishermen and the people they feed.

Though I have read many books on the subject of small vs. global farming - (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; The Omnivore's Dilemma What Are People For; Stolen Harvest), Rehak's contribution has its place. First, her experience at applewood is a fascinating chronicle of a truly progressive foodie haven, where egos are checked at the kitchen door to make way for passionate, innovative cooking and one inexperienced author-turned-cook. Her stories from the kitchen are informative, inspiring and at times humorous.

Rehak's research doesn't stop in the kitchen, however. During her year at applewood, she visits a cheese maker, livestock farmer, fisherman, produce farmer and organic food distributor to track food from its source to the dinner table. In the end, Rehak (and the reader) gain a better understanding of the challenges and rewards of growing and eating locally.

The writing flows well and Rehak weaves a good story, with the exception of her anecdotes about her picky toddler's eating habits, which distracted me enough to make me wonder why they were included at all. Another questionable addition was the recipes at the end of chapters. In other books, such as Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life and David Lebovitz' The Sweet Life in Paris, the combination of prose and recipes relate better to one another and the recipes are incredible. Here, I'm not so inspired.

Those two points aside, it's still a good piece of writing. Well researched and written. Recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid is an easy to read introduction to the issue of what we eat, where it comes from and what impact it has on the local and global environment as well as on the local economy. She addresses these important questions in a reasonable, non-preachy and often humorous manner.

As she thinks about what to feed her toddler, she considers the impact of shipping off-season fruits and vegetables across the country (and in some cases the world) on the environment. She balances this concern with her son's refusal to eat most foods (including toast) and her love of imported Austrian cookies that bring back fond memories of her childhood.

Despite a lack of any formal cooking education or experience, she takes a job in the kitchen of a local restaurant (called applewood) that serves mainly local produce and cheeses. She branches out to visit a local farm, dairy, meat co-op, and the distributor who collects those products to supply approximately 50 restaurants. She also survives a bad case of seasickness on a day trip on a fishing boat with no bathroom based out of New Jersey.

The author comes to realize how difficult it is for farmers to break even, let alone make a profit, and what the farms mean to the local communities (as far as open space, jobs, and connection to the food that sustains them).

This quote aptly demonstrates the shift in the author's thinking in the course of her experiences: "...the people and places I was visiting, applewood included, were making an intricate web of eating, environment, and community newly clear to me.
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Melanie Rehak's "Eating for Beginners" is an enjoyable read which delves into the day-to-day struggles of the modern parent trying to figure out what to eat. As the book begins, you assume that it will take a tone similar to many of Michael Pollen's books, however while there is much anecdotal storytelling sprinkled through the book about the author's personal experiences at various subsistence/organic farms, the bulk of the story leans away from the facts and figures which made most of Pollen's books informative rather than just entertaining. Whereas you might classify Pollen's work to be detailed enough to be filed in the Reference section of a local library or bookstore, Rehak's book would be solidly filed into the Non-Fiction category.

Through the book, Rehak is working as an intern at the local applewood restaurant owned by David and Laura Shea in New York City. Those hoping for the drug-addled and obscenities-filled kitchen akin to Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsey's books will be sorely disappointed as applewood functions more like Thomas Keller's French Laundry or Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin - clean, respectful and civilized. Randomly through the book, Rehak takes "side trips" to various locations - such as the farms where the vegetables are grown, the ranch which supplies some of the meat, and a day trip on a fishing boat. At the same time, Rehak rotates through the positions within the kitchen, migrating from appetizers to fish to grill and eventually to desserts. From chapter to chapter are small mini-stories about her new son Jules' eating habits. I believe that the intent with the "Jules' Stories" was to try and make the reader think about how feasible eating sustainably or locally really is when confronted with real-life scenarios.
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