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Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family and Identity by Candace Walsh will make you hungry. Even if you’ve just eaten dinner, Walsh’s way with words (about food) will make your stomach rumble. There is the natilla, the ropa vieja, the koulourakia, the schneewittchen kuchen… Are you hooked yet? Good, because there’s more deliciousness to come as the pages turn.
Licking the Spoon is a gastro-journey to self-discovery. It begins with a short family history, because Walsh’s family is instrumental in her life and cooking. Then it moves from her birth through her growing up on Long Island, her college years in Buffalo, her early twenties in New York City, her first marriage, divorce, and more. Through it all, Walsh narrates her life alongside the food that inspired and sustained her—from cookies baked at her mother’s side to thrifty split pea soup to “dinners of the defeated” to bacon-wrapped eggs with polenta. It’s a clever concept, and there is much to savor within these pages.
Walsh has a remarkable sense of pacing and is a born storyteller. She has a knack for the perfect detail and her prose is descriptive in all the right places. Licking the Spoon covers a lot of material, and moves effortlessly through it all. This isn’t a memoir that dwells in the past; if anything this is a book about transformation. That being said, Licking the Spoon isn’t lighthearted. Walsh casts an honest eye on her struggles and doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff: there’s some drug use, some bulimia, some sexual abuse, and plenty of other wince-worthy, truly awful scenes. Yet, Walsh writes about it all in a clear, unflinching way. And so, this memoir is not about throwing stones, but about learning to care for and love oneself, and finding a way through madness to happiness and acceptance.
Food is, of course, the perfect metaphor for Walsh’s life: through much stumbling, there is a persistent desire to find the right dish, the perfect spice, the ingredient that brings it all together. One could say that Walsh’s life is an act of discovery, recovery, uncovering, and it is. But it is also an unabashed look at the power of food to define a life; from the strange, unfamiliar tastes of youth, to the aestheticism of college years, to the indulgences of first loves, to the perfect flavor pairing of a soul mate, Walsh has a recipe, or two or three, for it all (many of which are included in the back of the book).
Licking the Spoon’s central theme is love—familial love, self-love, romantic love—and with love comes sexuality. Walsh does a fine job of portraying the struggle that so many women go through when uncovering their true selves, especially if that self is gay. Walsh sticks with a straightforward narration of events and allows this discovery of her desires to unfold organically. Of course, there are signs:the intense friendships of her youth, the make-out session with and resulting mega-crush on Pam, who Walsh later becomes roommates with, and other telling details: lusty descriptions of certain women or wondering idly if her midwives’ apprentice is gay. By the time Walsh divorces her husband, enters the lesbian dating scene, and meets Laura, the reader is completely wrapped up in Walsh’s story, and rooting for her.
I’m lucky to know Candace, and to have had an essay published in a book she co-edited, Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write about Leaving Men for Women. As such, I knew the happy ending to Candace’s story before I began reading Licking the Spoon, though that knowledge certainly did not alter the pleasure of this delectable journey.
Licking the Spoon is, in so many ways, a story of triumph, and it comescomplete with a cherry on top. I won’t give everything away, but I will say that like a perfect flavor pairing, Licking the Spoon ends on a note of dulcet accord.
Licking the Spoon
by Candace Walsh
Paperback, 9781580053914, 330 pp.