Mrs. Letsaveit, or “a few recipes embedded in lots of conversation” is going to be my exception to the rule of never reviewing (me, not necessarily my website) a book written by a friend. Add to that exception the fact that Sylvia Berek Rosenthal’s book is a cook book, sort of. There is no Table of Contents with the expected selection of Jewish recipes, not even one for matzoh balls. There is, however, a dynamite conversation about (including ingredients) Sylvia’s famous (her words, I’ve not yet tried to bake it) Jewish Rye Bread.
The author’s introduction to her book is a tasty bit all on its own: “You’ve just left home. Left behind was your mother, wailing, ‘You’ll starve.’ Don’t worry. You’ll manage without her care packages…. You’ll learn to cook. Someday you’ll even eat the stuff you cooked.”
The introduction continues along those lines, with the author attempting to put the novice cook at his or her ease. Reassuring words like: “Let’s say you’ve just moved into your favorite apartment with your boyfriend or girlfriend. (Listen to me, how modern I am. I didn’t say, ‘You just got married and moved into your own apartment with your husband or wife.)’ Maybe you even moved into an apartment on your own. What’s the matter, you couldn’t find anyone to share?”
This is a cook book? It is. Sylvia can talk you through perfect Blintzes to superb Corned Beef. She’s written a poem to Chopped Liver and challenged the Italian Biscotti to her Jewish Mandelbrot. Desserts are her favorite reasons to spend time in the kitchen. It’s not only the ingredients she is careful to include, but her asides add to the dishes as well. For instance, when cooking Pollo en Salsa de Mango, she directs the cook to be sure the large, skinned and boned chicken breasts should weigh a pound each or “your guests will call you stingy.” Preparing the mango involves drawn kitchen shades, or a bathroom sink, stripping to the waist, careful cutting and skinning of the fruit, and enough near x-rated methods of consuming the mango that such consumption can result in the necessity of taking a bath.
The book is fun. Sylvia is fun. I have not cooked one recipe from Mrs. Letsaveit, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending the book. If you read this review and it should lead you to buy the book and actually try one of her recipes, please drop us a line at Bookin’ with Sunny. It’s Passover, bon appetite! – Sunny Solomon