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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Starting From Scratch, written by Sarah Elton and illustrated by Jeff Kulak. Owlbooks, 2014. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"As you get older, it will become even more important to know how to cook. And no matter what you cook, remember that whenever you mix together raw ingredients to make food, you are feeding your stomach, your heart, and your soul. And hey, it's fun, too."

This is not necessarily a book that I think of as a cookbook for kids. What I do like about it is Sarah Elton's obvious love of food, and of learning about cooking it. There is so much more to it than just reading a recipe, and then enjoying the fruits of your labor.

She begins with the 'why?':

"Turning raw ingredients into a delicious meal is an art. It's like painting a picture or writing a story or composing a song. Once you get the hang of it, cooking becomes easier and easier - and the food you make will become tastier and tastier."

There are six chapters. In the first the author explores the various aspects of taste. We have favorites and some that don't appeal. Certain foods leave a bad taste in our mouths. Our taste buds are designed to recognize five: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami*. What do you have most of in your kitchen? What do you like best? Interesting to take the time to think about such questions seriously. Information boxes are frequently used to explain various aspects of taste and flavor, to present food facts, to offer challenges and quizzes. There are even boxes that provide expert advice from those who job concerns taste.

The culture of food is influenced by many things: crops, climate, animals, foods from other places. Oh, and it helps to be creative when trying something new. Just think about the differences between Greek and Mexican food. A graphic map plots the ways in which people in world communities prepare. It's very interesting, to say the least.

Each chapter has much to teach all readers about food and about cooking. In the final chapter Ms. Elton offers tips on food preparation for her young readers. 'Prepping' provides tips for the eventual task of putting the meal together. Definitions are shared, as are the ways in which foods can be cooked and where...stovetop, oven, barbecue, or in the microwave. Once again, I really like the visual page that discusses the many ways to prepare an onion, and then how it can be used for a variety of food choices. There is information about baking and food safety, and a graphic showing a table setting to match where you live, or the food you are preparing...Western, Japanese, Ethiopian, and Indian are shown.

An important message here is that if it doesn't work the first time, try and try again. Practice is the name of the game for each one of us! Basic recipes are included and a chart that suggests what flavors might be paired to make for delicious fare.

This is a great read. I cannot think of one thing that the author left out in trying to make the learning fun for everyone who shares it. It is certain to inspire discussion and encourage participation in meal planning for the family. Can't we all use a little help? Won't our children benefit from anything that inspires them to take up the challenge of helping to feed the family and themselves? Don't miss it!

*Umami This is  the new kid on the block [for taste]. Umami was first identified in 1909 by a Japanese chemistry professor in Tokyo. But it took the rest of the world many decades to accept his finding. Umami is often described as a meaty flavor. It's that rich, round taste you get in your mouth when you eat foods like bacon or Parmesan cheese. The word "umami" comes from the Japanese umai, which means "delicious".

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