by Ivy Knight

There are certain books you can judge by their cover, they look right, they look polished, something clicks in your brain and you know this book will not disappoint. This is especially the case with cookbooks and specifically with Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys. Scala Quinn worked for Martha Stewart so she knows a little something about esthetics and the North American consumers love of all things retro, kitchsy and rustic when it comes to the kitchen.

From the textured matte cover, smartly sans dust jacket, to the informal food shots and comforting recipes inside, this book makes you feel relaxed and sophisticated, cosmopolitan and country, all at the same time. It’s got a barefoot, breakfast in bed with the crossword feel to it.

Distressed barn board and rumpled cheesecloth become the background for simple white plates of grilled, sliced hanger steak and creamed spinach, a Mexican egg scramble or a pumpkin flan.

From coffee cake to potstickers, vinegar-glossed chicken to oxtail broth with noodles, these recipes make for a hodgepodge of a book that speaks to how we eat now. Our lives and palates have expanded beyond our borders, our menus now come from all over the world. Sustainable fish, organic vegetables, and ethically raised meat are no longer only the purview of the wealthy gourmand, they are now the bare minimum many of us demand. Vegetarian or vegan dishes are cooked and served with pride rather than disdain tinged with defensive malice.

Mad Hungry still includes recipes for shrimp and salmon, but does at least inform readers to try to make sustainable choices by checking Serving less meat, eating more beans, and beefing up veggie side dishes are also championed by the author.

Although the eponymous message of Mad Hungry is about men, boys and cooking, it’s not some throwback theme about keeping your stereotypical cavemen happy and fat. It’s about cooking with them, showing them what real food is and how it’s made. Scala Quinn recounts a story of her son’s first year living on his own and the meals he made for himself and his friends, after many phone calls home for advice from mom.

“Every phone call, every question validated my instincts: Raise boys on fresh-cooked food, and they’ll want to make it for themselves.”

You don’t need a man or a boy to enjoy this book anymore than a flying fish needs a parachute, it’s a relief to be able to recommend a cookbook that doesn’t take itself too seriously while still getting the right message out.