I may have been the last one in America. When I sat down to read It Ain't All About the Cookin' I was a Paula Deen virgin. I'd never read one of her books; never seen her show. I've seen the line snaking down the block from Lady & Sons in Savannah, but I've never grabbed a place.
Now I feel like I'm about to get a new next door neighbor. Which would be great and not too surprising since I live about sixty miles south of Albany, Georgia where Paula grew up and spent the her early married years.
I understand Paula. We've got lots more than geography in common. I've written several times about how my grandmother used canned biscuits for dumplings—and didn't get caught. The first recipe in the book is for—no kidding—her mother's doughnuts made from canned biscuits. And in the next chapter she rhapsodizes over chicken and dumplings. She's great.
So is this book, and on many levels. Paula's a perfect candidate for Story Circle! She is completely honest. She tells it all, even when she doesn't have to, and we might not miss it.
"But suddenly, somehow, it's time to show and tell—warts and all. I plan to tell some hard secrets in the pages, but it's taken a long time to get up the nerve to do so," she tells us in the introduction. Her nerve holds for the entire book. When we shut it we know the whole woman. And she is a fine one.
Don't waste time being envious of Paula Deen because things have dropped into her lap; they haven't. She's earned every bit of the glory through a gritty nerve, a willingness (try eagerness) to take a risk, stick-to-itivness you won't believe, and, mostly, hard work. Really hard work.
Stick-to-it? For twenty-seven years this woman stuck to a marriage that she realized was doomed from the gitgo. Then the day came: "But I'm here to report that there's nothing like a little business success to lend a lady some personal courage." When the husband pocketed their son's car payments so many times that the car was repossessed, the camel's back snapped, and Paula showed him to the door.
Hard work? At that time she was making sack lunches out of her kitchen for her son to sell door-to-door or office-to-office in Savannah's businesses. A tough life.
And she toughed it out to reach the success she's most deservedly enjoying today.
Plus, she's a lot of fun, even when she's talking about the hard times, and especially when she's talking about the good ones. There have been plenty of those as well.
While this "ain't all about the cookin'," some of it is. With Paula Deen writing, how could it not be. She talks about cookin', and she shares recipes—many of them family treasures she's never shared before.
These days, I try to be a purist in the kitchen cooking from real scratch, but occasionally I recall that a can of mushroom soup can be a cook's best friend. Paula's convinced of this. No wonder her food is comfort food! Now this Texas girl may never add a can of French onion soup to her chili—or she might—but I'm going to give the Georgia Cracker (yes, it involves a whole sleeve of saltines) Salad a try, and the first crisis that brings on the comfort food craving, I'm for sure making Uncle Bubba's Crab and Shrimp au Gratin. Not only does it involve shrimp, crab, Tabasco and cheese, it calls for a healthy dose of Kraft Cheez Whiz. How can you not love it?
Or love this book?
Next time I'm in Savannah, I'll be in that line at Lady & Sons, no matter how long it is!
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