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The Kinfolk Table Hardcover – October 15, 2013
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“Unfussy menus . . . . A testament to slowing down to enjoy a good meal along with good company.” ―Celebrated Living
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There is no real visceral connection between image and type. Rather, the cookbook tells us the story of people who project the lives you wish you could live, and the recipes are merely an antecedent to that lovely fiction.
More troubling was the editorial decision to segment the book by "place." The Kinfolk Brooklyn is whitewashed and moneyed, devoid of flavor, color, or texture. Where is the Russian food? Where is the Caribbean food? Dominican, Italian, Polish, etc.? Having grown up in a borough so rich in gastronomic culture, I remember those diverse meals when you talk to me about Brooklyn food. I don't recall precious dishes made by transplants to the better known and more affluent areas of the borough (Park Slope, Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, and so on), who have a noticeably homogenous look and culinary point of view.
So much for the Kinfolk founder's claim that his cookbook will "peel off the fluff and commercial layers that complicate entertaining," and if that passion can't be seen in the pages' austere white dining rooms, it certainly won't be found in the book's recipes. The cooking instructions are as carelessly delivered as those anesthetized settings are carefully crafted. Because, like those spaces, the composition of the recipes is cold, formulaic, sometimes off; it hardly connects the meal to the person to the story to the gathering that celebrates it all. What is it, then, that we're celebrating? A life lived in organic sepia? A life lived through the lens of those who photograph it?
While you could argue that, perhaps, I'm not part of Kinfolk's target audience, I'm indeed part of the audience for homemade food that has the ability to connect loved ones. Yet, as executing a handful of dishes proves, the book has some demonstrable flaws where procedure and chemistry are concerned. Many recipes miss key steps in their methods, or offer ingredients that yield imbalanced flavors and textures. If I'm not a trained baker or a chemist and can recognize the flaws simply by reading the recipes, what of the reader who wants only to fix a good meal?
I made Sam and Ashley Owens's Apple Crisp twice following the recipe to the letter, and both times the crisp failed. Know that I've been making pies, crisps, and crumbles for the better part of a decade, and the recipe is flawed from top to bottom--the technique, texture, and flavors are off. The juice of two lemons, tart apples, and a quarter cup of sugar yielded a pronounced citrus note that overpowered the apples and cinnamon. The topping was entirely too sweet, sickeningly so, relative to the amount of flour in the recipe, so, on the third go, I was forced to make significant alterations. Additionally, covering the crisp with parchment and wax, as instructed, only added to the cooking time and didn't do anything in terms of the final product. I could have easily done without it and enjoyed a simple crisp. However, since Sam and Ashley's crisp was tented, I had to increase the cooking time to achieve a brown crust, which inevitably yielded a center with the consistency of applesauce. Although the two can carry a tune and drape a dress--he's a musician; she, a designer--I strongly question their culinary prowess.
You can't know how close I came to hurling this book out the window. I'd spent a pile of money on butter, flour, apples and sugar only to witness a recipe fail.
It should be noted that Doug and Paige Bischoff's Rosemary and Roasted Garlic Bread was a triumph. Roasting the garlic for an hour resulted in a sweeter, less pungent flavor that married perfectly with the fresh rosemary. While bread making isn't entirely difficult, it's time-consuming, and one has to be vigilant in upholding the integrity of the method: kneading and allowing the dough to rest and rise. A few critical steps were missing from this recipe, namely, the timing of kneading by hand versus by mixer. At the onset, we're given two sets of instructions for the initial, critical kneading--one for a machine application and the other for a by-hand approach. However, the subsequent instructions for the next two dough kneadings were vague. In theory, the directions that follow are supposed to be synched to the stand-mixer timing; in practice, that wasn't the case--a small point, certainly, but one that can adversely affect the end product, rendering a tough, dense loaf.
Luckily, I've screwed up so many bread loaves in the past five years that I've become hyperaware of the sensitivity in making bread.
I first encountered blogger and event planner Lillie Auld's Almond Jam Tart in Kinfolk's autumn issue, and I was perplexed by the erroneous cup-to-grams conversion for white flour--both the overestimated amount of flour called for (in order to make this recipe sing, I eliminated a half of a cup in the final version), and the mysterious elimination of the step in the recipe in which one would incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Are we left to fend for ourselves and assume the obvious? And obvious to whom? (Only to those who frequently bake, OBVIOUSLY.) Or was the recipe developer asleep at the proverbial switch?
My modified end result was a simple, buttery tart with a perfect crumb texture.
Sara and Hugh Forte's (of Sprouted Kitchen fame) Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes were a standout, impeccable in terms of the juxtaposition of flavor and spice (can we talk about flax meal, vanilla, banana, and chocolate for a second? Or maybe an HOUR?), and simple in execution. I made these semi-virtuous hotcakes this morning and they were wonderfully fragrant and a true delight. Admittedly, I felt confident in Sara's work, as I'm a longtime reader of her lovely blog and have made many recipes from her cookbook.
All of this raises a question: Were the recipes in this cookbook tested in a real kitchen so we, as consumers, may be certain the chemistry is on point? Was the cookbook proofed by professionals (of the editorial and culinary varieties)? After thumbing through three-hundred-plus pages, it occurs to me that the Kinfolk cookbook is a variation on a single theme: the creation of a life lived in an Anthropologie catalog. It's the reason why we get lost in blogs and the lives of strangers. We want to be happy, always. We want a life free of storms and sorrow. We want our linens, and bowls, and kitchens with reclaimed wood -- and in this way, Kinfolk succeeds, for its America is rarefied and specific, rife with denizens who are preened to dishabille perfection and apply pretty filters to their photos. I recall a similar charade: GOOP. While escapism looks lovely on paper, in practice it's difficult and expensive. You don't need a book to tell you how to gather, you don't need a formula to cultivate simplicity. Find the people you love, a space to lay down plates, and a meal that binds the two.
And let me be clear: I'm an early 30's, small business owner with an english degree from Reed College of all places. I spent half my life in Portland, Oregon and my tolerance for twee is high. But this is some silly, half-cooked hipster nonsense to be sure.