Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

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Since I have moved away from my mom’s yummy meals, I have had to start cooking for myself. My first year away, I attempted to try new foods and cook new things, but my heart just wasn’t in it. In January 2016, I decided I needed to eat healthier and joined the 6 week Daniel Plan to kick start my healthy living. A few months later, I discovered that cooking shows are on Netflix and became motivated to create my own dishes. I binge watched Chopped and haven’t looked back. However, TV isn’t the only way to become inspired. Lucy Knisley’s Relish is a fantastic graphic novel that combines my two favorite things-comics and cooking (recipes).

Lucy wrote an autobiography in a way I have never seen before. She illustrates and tells about her journey with food. Each chapter gives a snippet of Lucy’s life experiences and includes a recipe that goes with the story. She begins with her life in New York City. Her parents are both culinary fanatics, which means she grew up around good, healthy food. Lucy was absolutely forbidden to eat fast food and enjoyed primarily home cooked meals. This does not mean she did not eat sweets, as there is a recipe for homemade chocolate chip cookies at the end of chapter 3 and a whole chapter dedicated to her rebellion and enjoyment of so-called junk food. After her parents’ divorce, she moved out of the city and worked on a farm with her mom. There she learned how to appreciate food in a new way.

My favorite chapters were about her trips to foreign countries. Lucy and her childhood friend, Drew, went with their mothers to Mexico when they were young teens. The mothers got sick, so Drew and Lucy got to explore the town and try new foods. They ate huevos rancheros, tamales, empanadas, etc. When they were a little older, Lucy visited Drew who had recently moved to Japan with his family. The best part of that chapter was the 4 page visual recipe for sushi. It looks delicious, but way too complicated for my taste. I think I’ll just visit a restaurant for that kind of meal.

On the topic of making the food, I waited to write this post until after I had formally made the Huevos Rancheros. It was the recipe at the end of the Mexico chapter and it looked the best to me. Bonus: it was simple! The picture below is of the double page illustrated recipe and my dinner tonight! The meal did not look that big on my plate, but I assure you I am happily full.

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I highly recommend Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. It is fun, witty, and full of food.

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Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1

By Kelly Sue DeConnick ; Art by Emma Rios

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Death. Death is something that happens to everyone in time. Some survive for years, others do not. In this story, even death has its cycle. Death (personified) can be replaced with a new Death. Through this fairytale-like story, set in the Wild West, we see the impact death has on the world and in people’s lives.

A butterfly and a skeleton rabbit (Bones Bunny) narrate Pretty Deadly. Traditionally, a butterfly symbolizes new life, and in this situation, Bones Bunny represents death. Therefore, personified symbols of new life and death narrate the story of Death replacing Death. Confusing? Yes, I was confused too. However, DeConnick uses these narrators to weave a tale together in pieces, revealing only a little of each character at a time. This method allows me to truly appreciate individual characters as they are gradually revealed and as their past is steadily uncovered.

To introduce the characters generally, Sissy and Fox put on a show for the local villagers for money. They tell the story of Mason and Beauty. Mason takes his love and locks her in a tower to keep her away from other men. She pleads with him, saying she will die if she is locked up. He does not listen. She pleads with Death to take her. Death instead falls in love with her, but eventually grants her request. However, she and Death have a child that Death names Ginny. Ginny becomes a Reaper of Vengeance, “a hunter of men who have sinned.” She is then called Deathface Ginny.

The art is as beautiful as it is gruesome. I love how Rios incorporates the symbolism of the story into her art. Butterflies burst forth from death, water engulfs the living and brings new life, and the desert reveals the lack of life in the world. Life and death go hand in hand. Even when a character dies, he or she is still alive, they are just not “among the living.” Souls seem to live on despite physical death, yet they can eventually be “set free,” as Alice desires throughout the story. Although this tale seems to overtly focus on death, to me it comments more on the beauty and frailty of life.

I checked this book out from my local library and hope to check out volume 2 that comes out in late August 2016! I first discovered DeConnick by reading Captain Marvel and fell in love with her story telling ability. I am looking forward to reading more books by her and can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

The Complete Persepolis

By Marjane Satrapi

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Telling off some European girls for making fun of Satrapi for being Iranian – p. 197

I fully believe humans have not inherently changed over the centuries. I also believe that humans are the same across cultures. I don’t mean to say that we all think the same, have the same ideals, or even want the same things, but that we are all struggling, growing, and trying to find our individual place within our cultural environment. Persepolis solidified these feelings for me. In her introduction Satrapi states, “I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists.” Satrapi, through an autobiography of growing up in Iran (and Europe) during the Iranian/Islamic Revolution (1979) and Iran-Iraq War, she shows the humans involved in their fight for freedom and her interpretations of the world as a child and teenager. I really enjoyed this perspective, as I felt it was an authentic representation of some groups of people who opposed the Islamic Revolution and found ways to quietly, or loudly, oppose the Islamic extremists.

Marjane Satrapi led an eventful life as she watched her beloved country change in basically one year and then continue to become more and more fundamentalist as she became more liberal during her teenage years and early twenties. Before the Islamic Revolution, she went to a French school in Iran. Her parents were progressive and wanted her to be well educated. After the Islamic Revolution, universities were closed for two years to “revamp” the educational system to fit Islamic ideals and women were forced to wear a head covering or risk being harassed or arrested. Anyone who did not strictly follow the new Islamic guidelines for the country were arrested, and many were killed.

Satrapi’s first major encounter with harassment regarding the veil was when her mother’s car broke down. While her mother was waiting to be picked up by her husband, two “bearded guys” (synonymous with Islamic fundamentalist men in this book) indicated that women like her (those not wearing the veil) needed to be raped and thrown in the garbage. I find this absolutely abhorrent. I cannot understand how they believe that a woman not wearing a veil should be treated like that. Though, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Some men even in non-Islamic countries try to tell women how to dress, lest they “tempt the man into sin,” rather than teaching men how to respect women and their bodies. Women are always at risk of being raped, and for some reason, the Iranians believed a head scarf would better “protect” them, just like “dressing modestly” is supposed to prevent women from being raped elsewhere. Apparently, if you’re not wearing a veil or you’re not completely covered, then you’re “asking for it.”

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Watching the TV – p. 74

On the other hand, Satrapi makes an observation later in the graphic novel that makes more sense for the Islamic fundamentalists to have women wear head coverings and adhere to a nearly impossible dress code. She states, “The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: ‘Are my trousers long enough?’ ‘Is my veil in place?’ … ‘Are they going to whip me?’ no longer asks herself: ‘Where is my freedom of thought?’ ‘Where is my freedom of speech?’ … It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection, our fear paralyzes us … Fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression. Showing your hair or putting on makeup logically became acts of rebellion” (302). Therefore, the Islamic Revolution, according to this graphic novel, is using the head covering as a way to strike fear into the citizens and to locate dissenters. I truly felt bad for all the progressive Iranians who lived and are living in Iran. Some try to leave, but they have to hope that the Visa will go through and they can escape.

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Advice from her beloved grandmother – p. 150

The story is divided into three main story arcs. Marjane Satrapi as a child during the Islamic Revolution, her life in Europe during a majority of the Iraq-Iran War, and her life back in Iran after she is tired of being alone in Europe. She was sent to Europe because Satrapi’s parents believed it would be better for her to be away from the new regime and the danger of war. They raised her to be educated and think independently, Iran did not really allow that freedom. In Europe, she made some friends and some enemies. Satrapi spoke her mind and did not allow others to insult her heritage, or else she would fight back. This caused her to move around a lot and have to attend multiple schools. However, her most devastating moment was when she caught her boyfriend of two years, who she had doted on and left all her friends for, cheating on her with another woman. Along with having some arguments with her landlord around this time, she leaves and becomes homeless in Europe. Eventually, she managed to go back home to Iran and her family. She loves her family, deeply. She said that her time Europe was lonely and she almost wishes she had been able to stay in Iran during the war, if only to have her family by her side. Family and friends are important to most everyone across the world. We form bonds and relationships and want to experience life beside them.

I enjoyed that this autobiography was told using a simple black and white comic style. The style of art really helped lighten some of the horrible situations that the author endured. I learned a lot about the lives of some progressive Iranian Muslims and their ability to live through all sorts of torture and discrimination. I also saw the humanity in the novel. Humans can be vicious, cruel, and heartless toward one another, but they can also show love, humility, and compassion for each other. What I got from this story is that race, religion, or any other defining label should not matter in how we relate to one another. Humans are humans and we should treat each other with kindness and respect.

This One Summer

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By Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Recently, This One Summer was removed from a public school in Minnesota. Therefore, it has been the subject of many online library and comic book articles of late. Within the last year or so, I purchased this graphic novel at my local comic shop during their semi-annual sale. I liked the art and the overall feel of the book. I couldn’t remember any reason why it should be taken from the school completely, so I took the opportunity to reread it. After rereading it, I still do not agree with the school’s decision to remove it. I understand that the school has students ranging from elementary to high school, but I believe that middle school, high school, and university students would greatly benefit from reading this graphic novel. In addition, I fully believe that parents should read it too. It would be a great opportunity for families to bring up hard topics and have real-life discussions.

The entire story is set in Awago Beach, a small summer beach town. Each year Rose Wallace travels with her parents to spend the summer there, where she has the chance to reconnect with her summer friend, Windy. Windy travels with her mother and grandmother. Windy and Rose immediately set out to have fun at the beach, have meals with their families, and watch horror flicks (which is not necessarily an approved activity, but they are young teens and do it anyway). The reason they watch so many horror films is so that Rose can see Duncan, the cashier at the only store in town, basically a convenient store and movie rental shop. The store is consistently surrounded by teenagers who are vulgar and crass. They pretend to try to be quiet when the girls come through, but they don’t do a good job of masking their attitudes. It is through these peripheral exchanges that the girls learn more about the locals and they start incorporating the older teens’ vocabulary (much to the distaste of Rose’s mother). The girls learn that Jenny may be pregnant with Duncan as the father, but he is not supportive and won’t even talk to her till she goes to a doctor to confirm. Meanwhile, Rose’s mom and dad are fighting, which Rose assumes is all about her mom trying to have another baby and continually failing.

“You should tell her. Kids are…they get it.” That line told by Windy’s mother to Rose’s mother seems to sum up what the author intended to express about children, specifically young adults. Children are not dumb. They know things, they see things, and they hear things. Since the story is told from the perspective of young teens who are in the process of growing up, they only hear half of what the adults and older teens are saying, which causes them to formulate their own conclusions about what is going on. Their often incorrect assumptions only stresses the importance of families actually being present to talk to their kids, even if the kid doesn’t want to talk either. The girls talk with each other, but while Windy tries to be there for Rose, she is still a free spirit who wants to play and have fun. She is not burdened with all of the same stresses and certainly does not care about crushes and boys. Whereas, Rose is trying to grow up faster so that she can be more like the teens she is observing.

The beauty of this book is its discussion about pregnancy. Some people want kids and can’t seem to get or stay pregnant, while other people don’t want kids and can easily get or stay pregnant. This topic of pregnancy permeates throughout the graphic novel, but is only directly discussed on a few pages. I think the author and illustrator did an excellent job balancing such a difficult topic within the confines of traditional and non-traditional families. The dialog is real and the illustrations are perfect exposition. It is my opinion that this graphic novel truly earned the awards it achieved: Caldecott Honor Book and Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from the American Library Association (ALA) and should not be too hastily removed from middle school, high school, or public libraries.