Still Life with Menu

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Mollie Katzen’s philosophy of cooking has evolved over the years. “In 1972, when I began working on my first cookbook,” she notes, “I didn’t know anyone who worked a 9-to-5 full-time job.” With most of her friends in graduate school or pursuing highly flexible countercultural life-styles, she felt no need to consider time of preparation in planning and publishing menus. In the 1980’s, however, Katzen’s contemporaries are working demanding jobs and caring for children. Accordingly, economy of time has become an important issue in cooking. Furthermore, instead of loading her newer recipes with cheese or sour cream, as she was wont to do in her early days as a vegetarian cook, Katzen has committed herself to reducing animal fats wherever possible.

STILL LIFE WITH MENU has a decidedly international cast, an orientation reflected in such recipe titles as Thai Garlic Soup, Sunomono (Japanese Noodle and Cucumber Salad), Greek Stuffed Eggplant with Bechamel Sauce, Turkish Bulgur Pilaf, and Spinach Roll-ups with Lime Chutney. Most of the dessert recipes are variations on North American favorites--Chocolate-Chip Peanut Butter Cookies, for example, or Applesauce-Cocoa Cake--but some of those variations are indebted to other nations’ cuisines. Watermelon Chunks Soaked in Tequila, for example, is suggested as a follow-up to Mexican Home Fries and Oaxaca Bean Salad.

Whereas Katzen’s first two cookbooks sported pen-and-ink drawings, STILL LIFE WITH MENU is graced with full-color pastels. Katzen’s artistry is evident not only in these illustrations (which manage to be at once bright and serene) but also in the menus and recipes themselves. Indian Summer Casserole, for example, with its corn, scallions, and red, yellow, and green peppers, baked with eggs and cheese as a kind of crustless quiche, is a delight to eye and palate alike. Its suggested accompaniments are Watercress Salad with Currants and Walnuts and Summer Fruit Crumble.

Purchasers of STILL LIFE WITH MENU should make another investment as well: a Lucite holder/cover. It would be a shame to mar these luminous pages with crumbs and drops of grease.