In Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen, Alyssa Shelasky details her time with man she just calls “Chef” as he opens restaurants in D.C. and she, desperate for a sense of purpose or direction, teaches herself to cook. The beginning of the book follows Alyssa’s exploits while working for Us Weekly and People magazine and traveling back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. She spends a lot of time telling us how little she knew or cared about food. It was a good device because I definitely found myself wondering what the impetus to start cooking would be.
It isn’t until about a third of the way through the book that Alyssa stops making sandwiches and turns on her oven. Alyssa uses cooking as a way to dig herself out of this hole of depression she finds herself in after her move to D.C. The first thing Alyssa decides to cook, after sifting through hundreds of recipes, is mac and cheese. This is also one of the first things that I made when I started cooking, so I bonded with Alyssa through this story. Alyssa makes it through the dish and then looks around at the amount of bowls, pots, and counter space that is now covered with food. I literally remember thinking the same thing after I made mac and cheese. My stove was covered with pots, my sink was full of dishes, and, just like Alyssa, I was the one who had to clean it. As she says, so eloquently, “I’d have more fun shaving my head than cleaning my house.” I laughed out loud and imagine that every brand new home cook has probably felt the same bittersweet high of a successful dish coupled with the depression of having to clean up after it. It is observations like this that endeared me to Alyssa and made me want to follow her journey to see where food could take her.
I definitely enjoyed Apron Anxiety, though sometimes found myself a little bit jealous of the ease with which Alyssa seems to do everything. It’s the same complaint that some people have about Eat, Pray, Love: everything seems to work out a little bit too well and come a little bit too easily to Alyssa. She wants to meet her famous chef crush? Done. Learn to cook? No problem. Host a dinner party? Done, without even breaking a sweat. Become a huge blogging success and book author and work for Grub Street? Absolutely! While we see Alyssa struggle through her relationship with Chef, her sadness in D.C., and her ultimately heartbreak, we don’t really see her struggle professionally. For me, someone who would ultimately like to follow in her path one day, I would love to know if the progression from gossip columnist to cook to blogger to author was really as clean and simple as it appears or if there were challenges along the way.
I found out about this book through a tweet from Stephanie March (ADA Alexandra Cabot on Law and Order: SVU and wife of Bobby Flay). She compared the book to a bag of potato chips in that it is, “Delicious and can be consumed at any time.” She was definitely right. I enjoyed Alyssa’s style and her brassy voice. Even though, in the end, it may have seemed too easy, I still liked her and am happy that she found success.
Read more Book Reviews here: Book Review: The Truth about Forever, By Sarah Dessen
In honor of Apron Anxiety, I give you my favorite, and first, Mac and Cheese Recipe (adapted from Weight Watchers):
12 oz uncooked pasta, gemelli or other twisted pasta (about 2 1/2 cups)
Salt, for pasta cooking water
10 oz uncooked broccoli, small florets (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 tsp salted butter
1/2 cup(s) fresh breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 1/2 cup(s) milk
1/3 cup(s) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup(s) uncooked onion(s), diced
1 cup(s) Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Coat a shallow 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.
Cook pasta in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water according to package directions, adding broccoli to water 3 minutes before pasta will be done; drain pasta and broccoli and return to pot.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; add bread crumbs and cook, stirring often, until light golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer crumbs to a small bowl; stir in 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and set aside.
In same saucepan (wipe clean if necessary), whisk together milk and flour until blended; add onion. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in cheddar cheese, mustard, salt, pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Pour over cooked, drained pasta and broccoli; toss to mix and coat.
Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle top evenly with bread crumbs. Bake until bubbly at edges, about 20 to 25 minutes.