My reading of this book seemed to have coincided with a very important milestone in my life: the marriage of a best friend. I find this happens to me quite frequently; I will pick up a book and find it is the perfect thing to be reading at that very specific time in my life. For example, I was reading a book about an overly protective mother before and after the birth of my child — the lessons of that story are still with me today. The same has happened in this case because it has forced me to reflect on a decades long friendship I have been lucky enough to enjoy, similar to the ladies in this latest book. Pen & Palate: Mastering the Art of Adulthood with Recipes is all about female friendships, specifically the very close, fluid relationship between the authors Lucy Madison and Tram Nguyen.
I’ll go ahead and state right off the bat that this is chick-lit, also known as “women’s commercial fiction” for those who feel the need to defend the genre. It’s not mindless though; men and shopping are not at the forefront of this book. It’s a refreshing change to see romance taking a back seat in this story because the plot really does center on these two women and the way they evolve as friends. But food could be considered the third character in this memoir as each chapter ends with a few recipes and a story as to why the recipe is relevant to the author(s). Madison and Nguyen seem to use food as an outlet and a way to connect with each other and those around them. I would consider both women to be “foodies” so their intense focus on cuisine is understandable, but still fun for the reader to take part in.
We are introduced to Madison and Nguyen as young girls and follow them along their path to becoming “adults”. We leave them around their thirties (by my estimation), both in committed relationships, and comfortable with their current situations. Instead of agonizing over weddings and babies, both authors are intent to build up their own lives first, which seems to be the norm in my generation. Women aren’t so concerned with how many kids they have these days, but they are worried about the direction their career is taking them, and how stable their lives will be in the next five years. This is one of the reasons I loved this book so much — it rang true to me for so many reasons, another one being that the dialogue between Madison and Nguyen is so relatable.
My one complaint is that the recipes were given too much space, which forced the very interesting stories to end too soon. I felt as though the writing in between recipes was a bit rushed, or perhaps a large section was taken out, in order to meet a shorter pagination requirement. I would have liked to read more about Lucy and Tram; they were funny together and they reminded me of how easy it is to settle back into a childhood friendship even after months away. Pen & Palate celebrates not only the strength of women, but the strength of women together — which is something important enough to be given plenty of writing room.
About Lucy Madison, Tram Nguyen, & Pen & Palate
Lucy Madison is a NYC-based writer and journalist. She has written for Interview magazine, Teen Vogue, W, The Awl, The Hairpin, Talking Points Memo, and CBS News, among other places. She is on Twitter and Instagram. She also has a website.
Tram Nguyen is an illustrator and costume designer based out of Chicago. Her work has been featured in Saveur, Cherry Bombe, The Guardian, and other publications. To see a selection of her illustrations, please visit her portfolio site.
» Book Reviewer & Host Of Wordfest Bookclub: About Anne Logan
Anne Logan has worked in the Canadian publishing industry for 7 years and loved every minute of it. She reads a lot and I does not want to keep her opinions to myself, and so she reviews books.