Relish: My Live in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley for Cook the Books

This round of Cook the Books finds us reading Relish: My Life in the Kitchen  by Lucy Knisley. This was a first (as far as I know) for our culinary book club—Relish  is a graphic novel. Simona is hosting and you can read the announcement post here.

About the Book:

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe―many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions.

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.

Relish won an Alex Award from the American Librarian Association, was a NYT and Amazon bestseller, a Goodreads top graphic novel of 2013, a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of 2013 and an NPR Best Book of 2013.

About the author:

Lucy Knisley is an illustrator, comic artist and author. I’ll bet you’re wondering how to pronounce her name (the K is silent).

Lucy is a graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she went to study painting, and ended up making comics. She then studied at the Center for Cartoon Studies, where she received a scholarship to pursue her MFA (completed in June, 2009).

Beginning with a love for Archie comics, Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes, she has been making comics in some form or another since she could hold a pencil.

Lucy has published more than a dozen books and contributed to a number of collections and anthologies at various publishers, and made work for many periodicals and publications.

She specializes in graphic narratives, travelogues, stories about blended families, and rhapsodies about food. She has made comics for adult readers, middle-grade readers, and young readers, alike, and believes that comics are for everyone. She lives in Chicago, where she makes comics, does freelance illustration, and teaches the occasional comics workshop. Check out her blog and web comic essay series on!

What I thought…

Relish is a visual journey of Knisely’s taste-memories (and other recollections):  “I pick up the smells of fresh tortillas, slow-cooking bratwurst, basil growing in a nearby window box; each stimulates the taste recollection of a time, a trip, or  a person” (3).

Maybe it’s just because it’s a graphic memoir or maybe Knisely’s outlook is just positive, but I did not get any angst or drama from her childhood. She is obviously saddened by her parents divorce but she may be more depressed that she has to move from Manhattan and gourmet dining with her father to the rural confines of upper New York state. “I was unamused” (20).

One can’t help but smile a bit after reading every single page.

The most amusing chapter in the book has to be chapter three–“Getting Ours.” She chronicles the trip she takes with her mother, her mother’s friend, and Drew, the friend’s son. Drew and the young Knisely were both twelve at the time. Because the moms got the flu after arriving, she and Drew are basically left to their own devices to explore San Miguel, Mexico. The culinary part of of the trip started with the kid connoisseurs getting hyped up on a Pixie Stix. They were then treated (by the kind hostess) to fresh eggs over black beans, tortillas and salsa verde before they set off to explore.  On their treks they find “the best tamales I’ve ever tasted” (61), sweet corn with hot sauce and lime, grape sodas and limonadas, and sugary Mexican candies (including sugared dried hot peppers and candied cactus).  What an impressionable time. Drew discovers porn and Knisely gets her period.

Illustrated recipes are sprinkled throughout the book:  veggie sushi (and a drink), spiced tea (chai), Mom’s pesto, THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, carbonara, and sangria. These are just a few of the ones that spoke to me. The illustrations are beautiful and could be totally frameable.  There’s also a great illustrated technique for making perfect cooked mushrooms (via her mom à la Julia Child).

While this is a quick read, I tended to relish (pun intended) my experience with Knisley and I would set the book down, go back and re-read and then head to the kitchen.

In the final part of the book, her secret and intimate encounter with a Richard Serra sculpture (pp 113-114) was beautifully written and illustrated:  “I could be still with this piece of imposing artwork, unobserved and uncrowded….a gift gained through circumstance.”  She felt lucky to be a server, able to sneak off and have this personal experience in an art museum. (Serendipitously, this experience happened right before she left home for art school.) I wondered how this epiphany could be applied to her own cooking and eating life—one with much contemplation and personal reflection. And, how many culinary experiences did she also have “through circumstance”?

Aside:  Knisley’s relationship with food is joyful and insightful unlike our last author’s was in Undercooked.

The food:

As mentioned above, I was drawn (pun intended) to a few of her recipes. We’re always on the lookout for a new “best” chocolate chip cookie recipe so I tried that first.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Lucy Knisely (with some minor tweaks)

“Cookies are all about comfort. Sometimes something simple can comfort the most” (34).


  • 1 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. salt, divided
  • 2 c. flour
  • 16 oz. chocolate chips
  • 1 c. coconut flakes


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Cream together the sugars and the butter. Add vanilla and eggs while mixing.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking soda, 1 t. salt and flour. Gradually combine with the wet ingredients. Stir to combine.
  4. Mix in the coconut and chocolate chips.
  5. Using a cookie scoop, drop onto an ungreased baking sheet. SECRET WEAPON: Add a tiny pinch of salt (from the remaining 1 t.) to the top of each cookie.
  6. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Let me say that I did add a whole pound of chocolate chips (she calls for only 14 oz.) because I really didn’t want to leave 4 oz. in the bag. It worked out quite well! I also ended up baking mine for 12-14 minutes. (Knisely’s recipe states “Bake for about 10 minutes or until perfect.”) The salt sprinkle is the SECRET WEAPON!!!!

You know those chocolate chip cookies that have the crispy edges but are soft and tender (and delicious). These are those cookies.  Truly best cookies ever and I have posted that claim before. I think this time it stands.


I will wait for fresh garden basil to try her mom’s pesto (pp 26-27) but the first thing I will make is the salad dressing and to try it on avocado toast. Same for the sangria recipe—saving that for when I can get good fruit.

I’m sure I will try the carbonara recipe and add it to my repertoire of similar ones. This one creates a garlic oil to fry the pancetta and includes white wine. She also includes green peas which is something I always do.   I’m also sure I will try the vegetable sushi recipe (b/c that’s basically the only way I would make sushi at home).

As far as beverages go, I have saved the sangria (pp 132-133), the chai (pp 4-5), and the sushi drink (ginger, maple syrup, limes, seltzer and vodka or gin) (pp 28-99) recipes for later use!

Thanks, Simona, for recommending this book! I doubt I would have discovered it on my own.


We have announced our next four books (April through November). Deb from Kahakai Kitchen is starting us off with a murder mystery:  Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge for April/May.

I’m also linking up with Foodies Read for March.


3 comments to Relish: My Live in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley for Cook the Books

  • I enjoyed this graphic novel too. It was a first for me. I almost made the cookies… can never have too many chocolate chip cookie recipes.

  • mae

    Your review is great — it really makes me want to read that book!
    best, mae at

  • I’m so glad you enjoyed the book, Debra. I also thought is was well done overall. Great choice of recipe! I added unsweetened coconut flakes to my recipe and loved the change. Thank you so much for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books club 🙂