Los Angeles food blogger Amelia Morris paints a delicious portrait of love, loss and what I ate in her memoir, “Bon Appétempt: A Coming of Age Story with Recipes.” I read this book the way I eat a pizza that’s really good. I ate the whole thing in one sitting.
I was gluttonous. Hooked by the first few pages when Morris reveals her dad’s mistress gave birth to her half-sister and left it up to her, a 5-year-old, to tell her mother. Her parents were separated but not divorced. The two worked together in the same medical center. Her mother was one of two pediatricians in the small town, and her father one of two ob-gyns. Awkward.
Morris is masterful and funny in stirring the pot, revealing family secrets that we can all relate to. It soon becomes obvious why she was awarded “Best Food Humor Blog” in 2012 by Saveur Magazine.
Eventually her father makes it official with his new baby’s mama, Dolly. Meanwhile her mother marries a nice guy name Bruce, who is also adjusting to a blended family. They move several Pennsylvania towns away, in part because the mother is embarrassed by the situation her cheating ex-husband caused.
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Morris and her older brother, Billy, decide to live with their father, more out of not wanting to leave their familiar routines and close friends. But the living arrangements are quite different. They share a 100-year-old farmhouse with their stepmother, her son from a previous marriage, Dad and new half-sister.
The two are treated as second-class citizens, sleeping in the old part of the poorly insulated house instead of the nice addition where Dolly and her clan reside.
Morris finds she is starving for attention from her father, who seems oblivious that his new wife, Dolly, doesn’t want to be a mother to his children. Morris’ dinner plate is often as empty as her heart as she tries to figure it all out. Eventually, she moves to her mother’s house.
Some of the most endearing scenes involve family members and food, like the maternal grandmother who likes to stores leftovers from restaurant meals in the car trunk. “I then watch carefully as she returns with her purse, a Styrofoam container, and the announcement that she’s going to make smoked salmon dip. … I put my hand on the box of cream cheese, which is warmer and softer than cream cheese should be. I peak inside the Styrofoam container and spot the leftover bagel and lox from breakfast thirty-six hours ago.”
Or another scene in a fast-food restaurant, where Morris realizes she’s in trouble when her paternal grandmother doesn’t order a sandwich. “There’s something about going to lunch with someone who doesn’t order anything that instantly puts you at odds.”
Most readers will recognize their own dysfunctional family members, fighting over food: olive oil versus canola oil to make salad dressing. But really we know the melees are over values, choices and one generation’s misunderstanding of the other.
The author also serves up romance and what it’s like to be struggling financially out of college. She marries her on-again, off-again high school boyfriend, Matt, a struggling screenwriter. After several dead-end jobs, she decides to come to North Carolina to get her MFA from UNC-Wilmington.
Morris keeps it real, spilling out the juicy morsels of her relationships with her flawed father, stepmother and husband Matt. Between hearty laughs, readers are treated to wonderful recipes ranging from Matt’s Lemon Pasta to A Very Pretty Orange Cake.
Whether Morris is winning or failing in her relationships or mastery of the dishes, she always human.