Book review: ‘Apron Anxiety’ by Alyssa Shelasky

It’s rare that I finish a book with no clearcut reaction to it, but such is the case with Apron Anxiety, the latest in blog-turned-memoirs saturating the market. (Ignore the dig; I’m just jealous.) At various points in Alyssa Shelasky’s story, she upends her life, learns to cook and falls in love — and I alternated between fascinated and crazy turned off by her. But I never put the book down.

Successful writer Alyssa Shelasky’s New York is a glittery, shiny place — and one she never planned to leave. She’s very close to her family, has an excellent group of friends — and it’s her gig at People magazine that introduces her to celebrities and other influential people, including a “Top Chef” contestant who catches her eye.

After microwaving her meals for most of her life, Alyssa’s new beau — referred to only as “Chef” — pulls her into the wild and rollicking culinary world. As their tornado of a romance progresses, Alyssa upends her life and follows Chef to Washington, D.C., where he’s opening his own restaurant. Inspired by his profession and hoping to not look so obtuse to his kitchen-god friends and contacts, Alyssa uses her sudden influx of downtime to get serious about cooking. And the results are different than she anticipated.

My foodie background and love of all things dessert — plus, you know, those aforementioned that blogger-turned-author connection — inspired me to pick up Apron Anxiety, and Shelasky’s open writing style drew me in immediately. Regardless of how I felt about her decisions, Alyssa always seemed open about her motives. The stickier parts of the narrative came as her relationship with Chef progresses, and Apron Anxiety is one of those juicy books that felt like peeking into someone’s journal. Or, since this is 2012 and all, someone’s blog.

And that’s because it is. Shelasky detailed her adventures learning to cook on her website of the same name, and many of her stories had the feel of a woman hunkering down to tap out anecdotes over a 3 a.m. bottle of wine. Look, I’m not hating; I have a day job as a writer (albeit not for People magazine — holy crap) and blog in my “off hours,” too. It’s not always an easy thing, keeping up with both. But I guess many of the stories just came across as so emotionally distant I couldn’t relate to what Shelasky was going through. She’s so matter-of-fact about everything — even nasty break-ups — that I struggled to figure out how I was supposed to feel.

There were points in Apron Anxiety I thought, “I want to be her.” And then chapters would pass and I would think, “Wow, I could never do what she does.” And then my jealousy would nudge me again with an (ample) hip, and I would be back to envying Shelasky’s life. She seems to have it made: fantastic job; living in an incredible city; excellent support system; new hot guy who is obsessed with her and whisks her off to Greece just because.

And that’s what made it so hard to understand her actions.

I’ve written and re-written this review a few times, mostly because I’m going to try not to seem like a shrew. And Shelasky’s life? It’s hers, obviously. She wrote a book about it and I’m talking about the book, but the tricky thing with memoirs? Sometimes it’s hard to remember I’m not discussing characters, but actual people. People who really did these things. And what Shelasky does? Well, it was tough to fathom.

With the world in her metaphorical, New York-shaped oyster, Shelasky leaves it all — her career, her friends, her family — to move to Washington with Chef, a man with whom she’s crazy in love . . . but not completely compatible. When she gets to Capitol Hill, she has nothing to do. And then Apron Anxiety derailed for me, detailing how Chef is just too busy to spend much time with her and she has little to occupy herself aside from redecorating their apartment. That is when she learns to cook: out of necessity. Because she’s bored and lonely and embarrassed to know so little about the world in which her boyfriend is so entrenched. Because she’s far from home and needs something to fill her days until he comes home.

To which I say: why did that happen? Why did you throw everything away for a man?

On a heart level, I get it: she took a chance. She was in love and doing whatever she could to make her relationship work. I wouldn’t have done what she did, but that doesn’t matter . . . except it sort of does. It colored my perception of the narrative. It made me frustrated, and I couldn’t understand why we were supposed to sympathize with her and not Chef. She doesn’t make the guy out to be evil or anything — just, you know, overworked. Unresponsive. Unavailable.

And I’m from the Washington area. I’ve never lived anywhere else. Alyssa’s nose-in-the-air attitude about D.C. and its “scene” grated on me as badly as if you’d shredded my fingers on a mandolin. The word that popped up over and over, blinding me to anything else, was elitist. She seems so spoiled that any empathy I’d once felt for her evaporated. So Chef’s working all the time . . . and yeah, that sucks. But the man is starting a business. It’s hard work. He has a life — and Shelasky desperately needed to get one, too.

And she does. She most definitely does, but it was too little for me — and too late. As a reader, I’d become so disenchanted with her entitlement. For me, the book became a scramble of strange decisions and eye-rolling behavior. Apron Anxiety seemed less about the process by which Shelasky gained confidence as a home cook and more about celebrity name-dropping and promiscuous adventures. And it got a little tiresome.

That being said, I can’t act like I didn’t still enjoy Apron Anxiety. Snide remarks about D.C. aside, Shelasky’s memoir is very entertaining — and foodie fans who love hearing about delicious eats, great wine and the process by which it’s all created will find plenty upon which to feast their eyes. Shelasky’s demeanor was often a turn-off, but passages like this could reel me back in:

After all, everyone cooks for matters of the heart. We’re all in the kitchen because it fulfills a longing inside, whether it’s for inner grace, pure survival, a renewed sense of self, or just the thrill of it — these are the stories that get us there, keep us there, or sometimes take us away. But without the people who have moved us, pushed us, left us, maybe even hurt us, then really, it’s only food. (page 249, advanced reading copy)

And like everyone I’ve ever met who comes from or has lived there, New York City itself holds limitless appeal. Shelasky’s descriptions read like a love letter to the Big Apple and drew me in, too:

But that’s New York. The streets are filled with neon-lit restaurants that taste like nostalgia, glamour, guilt, and goosebumps. If you’ve lived here long enough, every corner booth, deli counter, dive bar, coffee shop, and critic’s darling becomes a Polaroid of your life. (page 30, advanced reading copy)

Nice, right?

So here I am: stuck in the middle. Part of me aggravated by a quick read that had me white-hot with annoyance but also still thinking about it after finishing. It inspired some real emotions, you know what I’m saying? I definitely felt something while reading. Shelasky isn’t always a likeable heroine, but she is a real person. Someone I could see sharing a beer and a chat. (Though I’m not sure she’d be up for either with me after this review? Eek.)

If foodie memoirs, bloggers-turned-authors, relationship voyeurism and the plights of 30-somethings finding their way hold appeal, Apron Anxiety is a fast-paced story that had me Googling the principal characters to see what became of them. Reading about real people is a pretty unique experience, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Shelasky’s paramours — especially Chef — feel about their starring roles in her narrative. Guess she owes them a delicious dessert as compensation — and she now has the skills to deliver.

Also: there are recipes. With chocolate.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0307952142 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

Meg’s classic green beans — with an exotic name

In the first Spanish class I took in middle school, my teacher — Señora Volland, if anyone local is out there — asked us to bring in a traditional Spanish recipe to share at the end of the school year. Of course, being 13, I knew next to nothing about cooking . . . and though my passion for the practice has certainly increased over the years, I haven’t really mastered many recipes yet!

But the recipe I made more than 10 years ago has become a “classic” Megan recipe, and I make it for lots of family functions. If you’re like me not at all adept at chopping veggies quickly, this can be time consuming. I figured out a good cheat for one part of the dish, though — I buy the onions already chopped. Fresh green beans and tomatoes are a must, though. It’s a fun dish, best served hot but still yummy cold, and I whipped some up this past Easter! Thanks, Señora Volland, for giving me a relatively fool-proof side dish with which to impress friends and relatives — another win for public education!


Habas Verdes Con Salsa De Tomate

(Green Beans in Tomato Sauce)

• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 lb. fresh green string beans, trimmed and cut into 2 in. lengths
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 1/4 cup finely chopped onions
• 1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
• 4 medium tomatoes, or 1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
• 1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
• 2 tsp. sugar
• black pepper


tomatoesIn a 3 to 4 quart saucepan, bring the salt and 2 quarts of water to boil over high heat. Drop in the beans, a handful at a time. Bring to boil again, reduce the heat to moderate and boil uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, or until beans are slightly tender. Drain and set beans aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy 10 to 12 inch skillet until a light haze forms above. Add onions, garlic and stir frequently, cook over moderate heat 5 minutes, until onions are soft and transparent but NOT brown. Stir in tomatoes, parsley, sugar and a few grindings of pepper, bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until most of the liquid evaporates and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape lightly in a spoon.

Stir in the beans and simmer for a minute or two until they are heated through. Taste for seasoning and serve at once.

Best ever spinach dip becomes… mediocre

So I did attempt to make my spinach and artichoke dip on Sunday — though with a slightly different, and easier, recipe. And with moderate success! It was good, but not nearly as creamy as I hoped it would be. I doubled the recipe and, when I increased the amount of spinach, I think I was a little stingy with the alfredo sauce and mayo! It definitely needed more wet ingredients. But I’ll keep all that locked away in my “failed recipes” file for now!

It looked pretty, though:


And my artichoke hearts were quite delicious! Even though saying I ate the “heart” of something makes my stomach flip over.


Here’s the original recipe I used — it was very simple and straight-forward. My only helpful advice? Double the amount of cheese and alfredo sauce! And add in some salt. A pinch or two won’t hurt you!

Best Ever Spinach & Artichoke Dip

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Alfredo sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. In a small casserole dish, mix the spinach, artichoke hearts, cheese, mayonnaise, and Alfredo sauce.
3. Bake 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly bubbly and lightly browned.

Beginner’s cooking with Meg & Palmer: Tacos

I’d taken a break from my culinary escapades — I had a few bits of luck and some serious misses. But Palmer and I were feeling adventurous the other day and decided to make . . . homemade tacos! He’s a serious Mexican food fan, and I’m pretty fond of it myself. Plus Mom was busy, Kate was working on an essay and we were loose and fancy free. So off to Safeway we went!

Palmer makes a winning choice

img_4741Of course, my improvisational skills when cooking are pretty thin. Palmer’s much more of a seasoned chef than I am — though I would never give him the satisfaction of admitting that! — so I let him take the lead. He figured we needed onion, tomatoes, red peppers, fresh lettuce for a salad and an embellishment and, of course, the taco meat. We try to eat as lean as possible at my house, so we went with frozen ground turkey — two packages. That turned out to make a ton of meat, but more on that later!

Armed with our ingredients — we grabbed shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream and tortilla shells on our way out the door — we headed home. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how incredibly bossy I am as a whole, so I pretty much tried to commandeer the cooking of dinner . . . but I was unsuccessful. Right around the time that I realized I was in over my head trying to saute stuff together! I know, I’m lame. But I’m getting there . . . that’s why it’s still beginner’s cooking!


 Yes, I was left mostly to chop — and even that I didn’t do terribly well. Palmer wanted a sharper knife, I found one and he took over my station! If this was “Hell’s Kitchen,” I would have demanded to be left on my own project. But hey, he was a much better chopper. So much better, in fact, that he took over the red pepper chopping as well.


I made my peace with that . . . and moved on to moving things around in the hot pan. Palmer had added in our chopped onion and red peppers, along with some olive oil and the seeds of the pepper. I’m really afraid of popping oil, so it took every ounce of my trepid enthusiasm to stand there and not run away from the loud simmering noises. I guess if I’m going to be a culinary master, I’ll have to stop being so terrified of hot stuff! Eventually, maybe.


And, at some point, I was put back on the chopping station . . . this time to cut up carrots for the salad that I hand-shredded. Yes, it was interesting! But I had a bigger knife now, so things went a little smoother. Don’t mind my evil expression:


And then we just had to add in our meat! Palmer rinsed everything off and threw it in the skillet. I kept everything stirring to prevent any sort of burning, we put the finishing touches on our salad and set the table. And voila!


This might be a classic “it tastes better than it looks” moment, because it was actually pretty delicious. I was proud that I managed to slice up some stuff, let Palmer direct me without pouting and had dinner ready early for the family. Another successful cooking adventure to help bolster up my limited confidence! I’m a much better baker, I think . . . and I made Christmas cupcakes last night. Another post to come!

Beginner’s candy-making with Meg

Armed with a print-out from and a little bit of chutzpah, I set about making a tasty fall treat for my Halloween pot luck at the office tomorrow: candy corn bark. Had I heard of this sort of snack? No — but it’s delicious!

I ran into a few problems right off the bat while gathering my ingredients at Target last night: They did not carry the specific type of chocolate cookies the recipe calls for, and they were sold out of white chocolate baking chips. Not a great start! But I improvised: they did have graham crackers (I figure chocolate, grahams . . . you know where I’m headed with this!) and plenty of milk chocolate baking chips. I know that “improvising” isn’t usually a good idea for an inexperienced chef, but I was exhausted after a very long day . . . and Mom and I were not about to head over to a grocery store.

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Beginner’s cooking with Meg: Cottage cheese noodles

In the tradition of the mighty “pot luck,” we’re always looking for something quick, easy and delicious to take with us to parties. My mom’s been preparing a recipe courtesy of my grandmother for quite some time: Polish cottage cheese noodles! They’re easy, quick and hearty — and definitely a comfort food.

So, of course, we need to gather together our ingredients. I wandered into the kitchen on Sunday to see what my mother was up to before we left for my grandmother and cousin’s birthday party. Another successful venture for one of our favorite Polish dishes! All we need is bow-tie pasta, butter, one package of cottage cheese, pepper and minced onion.

So we boil up our pasta, which took about ten minutes or so. I think Mom actually used two boxes of noodles — making sure we had enough for the party and for home, if there are leftovers (there are always leftovers).


Ah, the lovely aroma of freshly cooked pasta!

After the pasta is cooked and drained, I put it all back in the pot in preparation of adding our final few ingredients. I popped three heaping spoonfuls of low-fat margarine, about three tablespoons of minced onion (I’m just eyeballing here), an entire package of cottage cheese (you can’t really have too much cheese), then sprinkled the entire casserole, at Mom’s suggestion, with black pepper. Voila!

Then the only tricky part is figuring out how to eat all of the delicious party food . . . and making sure the dish is still hot when you reach your destination. Check and check!

Monster biscuits return as… pancakes!

I gave myself some time to cool off a bit following a less-than-stellar cooking experience last week, but I think I’ve had enough time to recover. All the same, I wanted to take it slow . . . ease myself back into trying not to screw up dinner! I decided to make some cheddar biscuits that seemed to go over well last time — and they still turned out okay, though slightly cylindrical in shape!

Uh oh . . .

Uh oh . . .

I used the same Bisquick recipe as last time, courtesy of Kelly. They’re for cheddar garlic biscuits, made using low fat ingredients instead of the full-fledged good stuff. All I needed was heart healthy Bisquick (2 cups), 2/3 cup of skim milk, and a cup of shredded, low-fat cheddar cheese. I baked the biscuits for about ten minutes at 450 degrees, then made a butter spread (margarine, though) with some garlic powder sprinkled in. The spread was spread (ha!) on the warm biscuits after I pulled them out of the oven.

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