Dishing With the Kitchen Virgin
by Susan Reinhardt
Published by Kensington
227 pages, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Ward Menke
The writer who Booklist called the “modern-day, Southern-fried Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry” has done it again with Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin. Susan Reinhardt’s third book (Not Tonight, Honey: Wait Til I’m a Size 6 and Don’t Sleep With a Bubba Unless Your Eggs are in Wheelchairs were numbers one and two) is another hilarious endeavor for the syndicated humor columnist born and raised in the South, whose talents apparently don’t carry over into the kitchen.
In Reinhardt’s words, Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin:
The true audience is much wider, though. The book will appeal to kitchen virgins and trollops alike, as well as those who enjoy (or not) the results of their efforts and those who just want a good laugh. The chapter titles alone are good for a chuckle; consider: “If Your Kids Like School Lunches You Suck as a Cook,” “When Roadkill Meets Mikasa” and “Before SPAM Hit Computers, It Was a Meat to Be Reckoned With.”
Reinhardt comes by her kitchen virginity naturally; her own mother was half-crazed trying to come up with meals of “more than a single color”:
Sundays were the one day of the week when Mama “turned from Betty Clueless to Betty Crocker, fixing marvelous Southern meals...” Much later, Reinhardt and her sister figured out why Mama pulled out all the stops on Sunday -- it was the day she got some “afternoon delight,” thus leading to Reinhardt’s theory that, “Sex and food are about as intertwined as diet and exercise. You do one and expect the other.”
Dishing combines accomplished story-telling with a mixed bag of recipes. No one tells a self-deprecating story better than Reinhardt. The panic attack she suffered at the office -- complete with a 9-1-1 call and her subsequent refusal to be treated by the paramedics -- over her impending first dinner for the in-laws, the Easter dinner prepared while in the throes of labor, the 40th birthday after-dinner-in-a-restaurant-lovemaking in a cemetery are a few side-splitting examples.
Her experience on the “other side” of a cafeteria line in an effort to overcome newspaper reporter burnout is a real hoot. Unable to stick to the script of “Serve you a meat?” or “What are you having?” Reinhardt took it upon herself to act as nutritional adviser to those lucky enough to have her as their server:
The recipes are an assortment of “I think I’ll try that” and “I think I’ll pass,” the latter especially when it comes to the chapter on roadkill. If you cringe at the thought of another circa-1950s green bean casserole, take heart: “Not Your Usual Boring Green Bean Casserole,” which includes shoepeg corn along with the French-style beans, is a welcome alternative. Gone are the “crunchy dried onions,” replaced by a topping of crushed Ritz crackers. And for those who hate vegetables, the addition of shredded cheddar cheese camouflages the taste admirably.
If you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud read with an opportunity to start or replenish your recipe file, Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin is tailor-made for you. But unless you want to risk spewing food out your nose, hold off cooking until you’ve finished eating. | July 2008
Mary Ward Menke is a contributing editor to January Magazine and the owner of WordAbilities, LLC, providing writing and editing services to businesses and individuals. Her work has been published in The Toastmaster, Dog Fancy and Science of Mind magazines, in the Suburban Journals (a weekly St. Louis community newspaper) and on STLtoday.com.