Book review: Stir, by Barbara Lynch

If you read no other part of this cookbook (don’t worry, you will), read the introduction. That’s because you hear Barbara Lynch’s voice loud and clear, and it’s a voice that is authentic, real, and “of-Boston” as she is.

“I was born in 1964 in South Boston, a working-class town bordering Boston proper. My family lived in a four-room apartment in the Mary Ellen McCormack housing project. Like most families in Southie, ours was a big one. And, like most, we were poor, fiercely Irish, and extremely loyal. From what I saw, people hardly ever left the neighborhood. The older boys I knew grew up to be policemen, politicians, and criminals (often a mix of the three), but they stayed right there in Southie. And the girls I knew married them. If I ever had thoughts at all as to what I might be when I grew up, they were modest ones.”

Lynch describes high school in newly-desegregated Southie: “we white Southie kids were bused to predominantly black Roxbury while the Roxbury kids went to Southie.”

And she describes how, at about that time, she had a first food epiphany: “I began to hang out with a girl down the street whose dad was Irish but whose mother was Italian and therefore exotic. On the steps that led to their apartment were huge pots of basil, parsley, and rosemary, none of which I had ever seen fresh. And instead of the Oreos and milk my mother offered to my friends, Mrs. O’Brien plied us with homemade biscotti and tiny cups of espresso from an enormous chrome and gold machine that dominated the room. Eating at her house, you could forget you were in Southie.”

Lynch’s essential cooking advice:

  • Start with the best ingredients.
  • Get to know your stove and oven.
  • Season well and keep tasting.
  • Break rules once in awhile.
  • Find pleasure in the process of cooking.

The last is my personal favorite. Lynch elaborates: “Set aside a chunk of time, put on some comfortable shoes, play your favorite music, and give yourself over to the tasks at hand. Have a glass of wine, if that helps, and relax into the feeling that what you make will bring happiness to your family, your friends, and, most important, you.”

The photographs are gorgeous, some of them abstract, others suggestive. As for the recipes themselves, some are easy though most “are for those days when you have the time to slow down and prepare something with care to share with others.”

Cathy Huyghe writes for the WGBH Daily Dish blog. Read new WGBH Daily Dish posts every weekday, where you can explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

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