Thursday, May 17, 2012

A fun way to sate your "Hunger"



4 out of 5 stars

I adore cookbooks, don't ask me why. The entire bookcase nook off my kitchen is stuffed with them and there are several more individual books sprinkled around the place. I also love novels which feature food, and not just food but descriptive food. Entire meals, banquets, feasts, ales and punches and liqueurs. Food which draws me into the story and gives me an idea of the people involved, who's suffering through hardships, who's living the high life, why they're celebrating. So, quite naturally, I love tie-in cookbooks, official or not, which take those fictional foods and beverages and bring them to life.

Admittedly, some tie-in cookbooks merely go through the motions: collecting a bunch of recipes from one of those huge online databases, without even bothering to check whether or not those recipes actually create something edible, changing the names to fit dishes found in the novel, slapping them together and calling it a cookbook. I've run into those and, man, are they disappointing. However, from the detail of many of the recipes found in The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, especially in regards to the desserts and breads, it's obvious Baines put quite a bit of time, effort, and thought into producing this work. The recipes, even the more outlandish ones, are easy to work with, with clear, direct instructions for the most part; in fact, most recipes only take up a single page and hints for substitutions and time-savers are given on many of them, along with other helpful cooking tips. Some of the recipes are quite simple, almost to the point of "Why was this included?" simple, such as Clover-Mint Tea or Propos Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Yet even the simplest recipe has meaning in the world of The Hunger Games and, while simple, those recipes possess just enough of a twist, a sense of being somewhat alien to our lives, that you realize, "Oh, that's why that was included."

As I pointed out, some of the recipes are rather bizarre, illustrating the lengths Baines went to to maintain a sense of authenticity. Such recipes as Fightin' Fried Squirrel, Wild Raccoon Sauteed in Bacon Drippings, and Hazelle's Beaver Stew with Rosemary Potatoes will probably only be made by the most fervent of fan; however they and their accompanying tips on how to work with wild game further demonstrate Baines's sincerity and her adherence to The Hunger Games universe. My only comment about the recipes is that, for some of them, Baines has taken what was eaten in a scene of the original novel and condensed it into a recipe. For example, in Chapter 4, when Katniss comes into the train car for breakfast, Peeta is dunking one of the sweet rolls into his hot chocolate; Baines turns this scene into a recipe for Attack of the Chocolate Chunk Muffins, which is a perfect blending of the two tastes. Authentic? Not really, but certainly delicious and definitely a lot easier to recreate for a cookbook. So I'm not really complaining about this kind of translating, just making a note of it.

Some have complained about the lack of photographs in the cookbook. While I'm sure it would've been impossible to photograph each individual dish, I admit, it would've been nice to have had at least an insert of a dozen or so glossy photos of finished dishes. However, I don't find the lack of photos quite as annoying as others, mainly because I'm sure that, for one, the book was probably put out as quickly as possible in order to take advantage of the groundswell in popularity of the series, and, for another, this particular publisher, which seems to specialize in tie-in cookbooks, puts out a certain style of book which doesn't seem to allow for photos. We can always hope that perhaps a later edition will be published and will include those much-lamented photos. I will say this: Because it's obvious the publisher wanted to get this out as quickly as possible, there are some goofs. A step may be left out, portions may be off. I think, if you really want to work with this book, it might take some experimenting on some recipes to get them right and perhaps some adjustments, especially in regards to altitude.

As with most tie-in cookbooks, at the top of each recipe is a reference to which book and scene it came from, as well as what the recipe or the foods it contains means to a certain character. At the back of the book is a small section entitled "Katniss's Family Book of Herbs" describing some of the herbs Katniss surely gathered during her foraging trips outside the fence. Along with a brief description of the plant's appearance, each entry lists in what environment the plant can be found and how the plant is used. While you shouldn't go out looking to gather these wild plants based on this small guide alone (the lack of pictures to positively identify a wild plant would probably garner you a slow and painful death from poisoning), the guide is informative, providing yet another link to the novels and to Katniss's world. With a detailed table of contents and extensive index, The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook is a thoroughly entertaining companion to the novels. And I think that's the most important thing to remember, that this is a companion book. Yes, it's a way to ride the coattails of the series' success and a quite obvious marketing ploy. However, for fans of the series, it's also a fun bit of memorabilia and while the book will probably be more entertaining to read than to actually use, it's still worth a look-see, even if you only check it out from the library. Just remember, have fun with it and let the Games begin!

Read April 10, 2012
Originally reviewed for Amazon Vine April 18, 2012

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