Mandahla: Man with a Pan

John Donohue has combined 21 writers and chefs, 13 "civilians," 21 New Yorker cartoons, to get a tasty mix of more than 60 recipes, cookbook recommendations and 34 sweet, funny stories about men cooking. Mark Bittman talks about parenthood and the necessities of daily life that taught him to cook. Shankar Vedantam reminisces about a potato dish a departed aunt made for him, and his search to replicate the dish for his daughter. Jim Harrison, delightfully opinionated, proclaims, "Currently the overuse of rosemary among bad cooks in America must be viewed as a capital crime." Omar Valenzuela, a Brooklyn carpenter, keeps the fact that he does most of the cooking a secret from his construction crews, but says, "Good cooking, I have learned, is the secret to a happy marriage."

Stephen King says he has never cared much for cooking, but enjoys frying ("You can call it sautéing if it makes you feel better--but it's really just educated frying."), and says the key is to turn down the heat and show some patience--no splatters, no smoke detectors blaring: "Be gentle is the rule I try to follow. I can respect the food even if I'm not especially crazy about cooking it (mostly because I can never find the right goddamn pan or pot, and even if I can find the pot, I can't find the goddamn cover, and where the hell did those olives go--they were right on the bottom shelf in a Tupperware, goddamn it)." He follows his rule of gentleness with instructions for making a really good omelet, which works quite well (yes, we tested), and ends with, "If you want to flip it, you're either an acrobat or an idiot."

Jesse Green opens with his childhood memories of secret Sunday bacon while his father was at synagogue meetings, made possible by the fact that his father never knew what was in the freezer. Now he has his own family, and is somewhat more acquainted with the refrigerator than his father, but still has his limits:

"In some people, the habit of nurture is the last thing to go. In others, it is the habit of being nurtured that persists. I was reminded of this when my partner recently learned that he would need to have a hernia repaired. I panicked. It was minor surgery, to be sure, but nevertheless it provided an opportunity for him to engage in several days of Percocet and licensed malingering. It was therefore likely to derail the gravy train of meals Andy provided daily for me and our two boys. How would we survive his absence from the kitchen?"

Survive they did, because Andy prepared meals ahead. "If you put dinner on the table, though, you are--as our older boy sometimes exclaims when he sees Andy's bubbly mac and cheese emerge from the oven--the man." Happily, the mac and cheese recipe follows, along with Jesse's Spinach and Rice Torta.

Families are changing, more men are cooking, and this book is a testament to the joy and frustration they are experiencing. But this book is not for men only; it's enjoyable for anyone who likes to read about cooking and to cook: Double-Crispy Roast Chicken, Herbed New Potatoes, Peanut Butter Soup, Lone Star State of Mind Chili, Mexican Chocolate Pie--Man with a Pan will send you into the kitchen with a smile.--Marilyn Dahl


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