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If You’re Afraid Of Butter, Use Cream

Erin hangs out in the kitchen of Tanita Davis' A La Carte.

If You’re Afraid Of Butter, Use Cream

BOOK REPORT for A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis

Cover Story: A Puzzle
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Like a Julie and Julia That Doesn't Make Me Want To Kill Myself
Bonus Factors: Recipes, Saint Julia, Old-Fashioned YA
Relationship Status: Fellow Foodies

Cover Story: A Puzzle

So, check it. There are two different covers to this book. The original cover is the sort of jazz-inspired graphic cover, which I love, because it reminds me of some old art posters that a neighbor of mine had when I was a child. Plus, it plays on two of Lainey's great loves: cooking and Vocal Jazz.

The second cover is a little more chick lit and, dare I say it? A little too mainstream. I mean, considering that half of the publishers of YA these days outright whitewash the covers of books starring Black protagonists, maybe I should just be grateful that there is in fact a Black person on the cover? But, uh, Lainey is a size 14. That girl ain't a size 14. Plus the size of the tasting fork in her mouth sort of makes her look like a giant.

The Deal:

Lainey Seifert has two real passions in her life: cooking and her best friend - and secret crush - Simeon. Simeon doesn't come around much anymore, having replaced Lainey for the cooler kids in school, so Lainey spends most of her time hanging out in the kitchen of her mother's restaurant, La Salle.

Lainey dreams of having her own television cooking show, just like her idol, Julia Child, even if, unlike Julia, Lainey herself is a shudder vegetarian. But when Simeon suddenly starts showing up again, will Lainey's dreams - and her close relationship with her mom - go up in smoke?

BFF Charm: Yay!

I really liked Lainey, even when I was frustrated with her Life Decisions. She's just a good person, although she sometimes doesn't think she is. Plus, she loves to cook and is always bringing in new experiments to school. THIS IS MY DREAM PERSON. I'm always hoping someone wants to use my tummy to experiment new foods on, and it never seems to happen. Why? Isn't my tummy good enough for my friends?

But our friendship wouldn't just be one-sided! Lainey could use a REAL BFF, to let her know that her old BFF, Simeon, is a total jerkface and not worth her time. Plus, I'd convince her to stop worrying so much about her weight and that burgers are delicious. She NEEDS me, y'all! She can't live a burger-free existence forever!

(Sorry, vegetarians; I'll stop disrespecting your life choices now! Probably . . .)

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

SIMEON I HATE YOU SO MUCH. Davis does such a good job drawing Simeon in this novel - he's the kind of guy that, at sixteen, you'd think was the bee's knees, and at thirty, you'd be making a cross sign and trying to ward off his emotional asshattery using several complicated magic chants. He's just such a . . . dick.

But, of course, he's a hot dick, and shows Lainey just enough genuine affection - when he isn't in his narcissistic cocoon of dickweedery - to keep her stringing along. I totally got why Lainey was so crazy for him, even when I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake the crap out of her.

Talky Talk: Like a Julie and Julia That Doesn't Make Me Want To Kill Myself

Just as in Julie Powell's book, as in my life, Julia Child is the benevolent saint who guides Lainey's life. But unlike Julie Powell and her book, Lainey isn't a self-absorbed, tedious brat who makes me want to stick my head in an oven.

Where this book really shines is in its voice - Lainey is authentic and sarcastic and thinks she's badder than she is. Lainey's mom is awesome and patient and I really felt like I got to know all the characters as friends. That may be because of the food, though. I would definitely come over for the food.

Oh! Also, Lainey has a habit of "performing" when she cooks - that is, she pretends she's on a cooking show when she makes anything, narrating all of the steps and explaining what ingredients can be subbed in, etc. I am not too ashamed to admit that I do this exact same thing when I'm cooking alone. It's very soothing and you don't forget to add the salt this way! Try it!

Bonus Factors: Recipes

There are recipes in this book!! Lots of 'em! Of course, they're all vegetarian, but they still sound totally yummy, because APPARENTLY you don't actually need meat in everything you eat. And the gingerbread. Lord! The gingerbread!

I haven't made any of the recipes in the book (YET), but reading it certainly inspired me to get into the kitchen: over the last few days, I've made lasagna, tiramisu, chicken soup, creme brulee french toast, chocolate souffles . . . so please someone come over to my house, because I can't eat all of this.

Now, maybe some brown butter shortbread . . .

Bonus Factor: Saint Julia

There is a reason Julia Child is a national icon, and that reason is because she is AMAZING. Lainey often finds herself quoting Saint Julia in times of trouble, and why not? Anyone who instructs you to cook a chicken by getting good and loaded and then just whacking at it is someone who will always have your best interests at heart.

Bonus Factor: Old-Fashioned YA

After the last two books I've reviewed, it was refreshing to go back to a true YA book. And such a classically simple one as well: no dystopian wars, no killer plagues, no werewolf/vampire/zombie menage a trois. Just a book about a young girl who isn't quite sure she knows what she wants out of life and the ocassionally stupid mistakes she makes on her way to figuring things out.

Casting Call:

Jurnee Smollett as Lainey

I know she is too old, and not Lainey-sized, but fuck, I miss Friday Night Lights and Jess's gorgeous smile way too much.

Ethan Peck as Simeon

Hey, she has to have a REASON to be in love with him, right?

Relationship Status: Fellow Foodies

This book and I are pretty similar. We both grew up in safe homes in safe neighborhoods, with parents who loved us and did their best by us. And we both spent a lot of time in our youth thinking we were badder than we were. So we were already pretty good friends at school, but when I realized this book loved to cook? Aw, then it was on like Donkey Kong.

Soon, this book and I became fast friends in the kitchen, sharing little anecdotes about our lives while sampling each other's baked goods. We may not ever talk about the really serious stuff, because it's hard to discuss heavy shit while trying to get enough air into your whisked egg whites, but we both know that we can always feel at home together while trying out a new recipe.

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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