Sometimes a book just beckons you. It calls you to pluck it from the shelves, even when what lies between the covers isn’t your slice of Brie. Months ago at Barnes & Noble, I glimpsed a pile of Kate Gosselin’s Love is in the Mix: Making Meals into Memories with Family-Friendly Recipes, Tips and Traditions. The glossy hard cover–designed to endure cooking splatters and grubby kids’ hands, I presume–reeled me in. I had to have it.
Seeing the reality TV starlet surrounded by her eight smiling kids struck the mama chord with me and made me want to buy. My subconscious seemed to be saying, I don’t care how fake the smiles or how crappy the recipes, I am going to buy this book so this single mom of eight (of eight!) can get 50 more cents in her quarterly royalty check.
I skipped my typical close reading of the front and back covers, table of contents and introduction. I knew, without flipping a page, what I was getting. Sure enough, the collection proved to catalog some of the most humdrum recipes known to the American kitchen.
But that’s the beauty of the book and its author. They make no apologies. One “recipe” calls for making two boxes of store-bought macaroni and cheese according to the package instructions and then dumping in a bag of frozen peas and two cans of white albacore tuna. I doubt that even the accompanying anecdote, revealing that this is the kids’ “all-time favorite,” could redeem it for many cookbook readers, but I appreciate its practicality and lack of pretense.
Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet, this is not. Love Is in the Mix is a real slice-of-life cookbook. I buy it 100%. I believe this mother of many who packs 40 lunches a week actually cooks this fanless fare on the regular. What else could she possibly do with nine mouths to feed? Of course, she’s cooking Memorable Pizza Meatballs, Kate’s Fish in Paper, Happy Face Hash Brown Casserole and “Sorta Healthy” Cereal Treats.
The cookbook gives all of us in the I-Don’t-Know-How-She-Does-It Club yet another voyeuristic view into her bulk-sized household–albeit without the husband drama this time around. I had no intention of ever actually cooking anything from it, but last night, in a fit of mommydarity, it beckoned me again. I found myself flipping through the pages, looking for something that would pass muster with my husband and daughter. Later that night, I served up some Gosselin-inspired herbed chicken with steamed broccoli and brown rice. It was a hit.
Taste-wise, the bird was just okay, but as I stood over the stove, which has been a rare occurrence the last few months, something special happened in our kitchen. The very act of home cooking–browning the chicken; sautéing shallots; mixing wine, stock and garlic; whisking half-and-half and mustard–can elevate even average food to an experience to be savored. My husband’s work-related text messages seemed to lose some of their urgency amid the sizzle and aroma of pan sauce thickening on the range. He settled into a chair, gave his phone a rest, inquired about my day. I need to cook more often, I thought. My curious toddler edged near the stove, too short to peer into the pan. Can I help you, mommy? I handed her some placemats to shuttle to the table.
“Nothing that comes from the kitchen is a mistake when you add love to the mix,” Gosselin wrote. One Creamy “Herbie” Chicken later, I concur.