Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes from an American Family

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9780143127697: Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes from an American Family

A delicious new memoir from the New York Times bestselling author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

A family history peppered with recipes, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good offers a humorous and flavorful tale spanning three generations as Kathleen Flinn returns to the mix of food and memoir readers loved in her New York Times bestseller, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. Brimming with tasty anecdotes about Uncle Clarence’s divine cornflake-crusted fried chicken, Grandpa Charles’s spicy San Antonio chili, and Grandma Inez’s birthday-only cinnamon rolls, Flinn—think Ruth Reichl topped with a dollop of Julia Child—shows how meals can be memories, and how cooking can be communication. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good will inspire readers (and book clubs) to reminisce about their own childhoods—and spend time in their kitchens making new memories of their own.

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About the Author:

KATHLEEN FLINN is the author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, a New York Times best-selling memoir about her experiences at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She leveraged her French culinary training to understand what holds home cooks back from cooking in her widely acclaimed follow-up The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, named a 2012 Non-Fiction Book of the Year by the American Society of Journalists & Authors. A trained journalist and writer for more than 25 years, Flinn’s work has appeared in more than three dozen publications worldwide. She lives in Seattle and Anna Maria Island, Florida, with her husband, Mike, and their trusty rescue dog, Maddy.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Also by Kathleen Flinn

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

Flinn family—rejected Christmas card photo, 1971

VIKING

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Kathleen Flinn

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Photographs courtesy of Irene Flinn

Montreal steak seasoning recipe from Field Guide to Herbs & Spices by Aliza Green (Quirk Books). Used by permission of the author.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Flinn, Kathleen.

Burnt toast makes you sing good : recipes of love, loss, and adventure from an American Midwest family / Kathleen Flinn.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

eBook ISBN 978-1-101-62400-5

1. Cooking, American—Midwestern style. 2. Flinn, Kathleen—Family. 3. Cooks—Untied States—Biography. I. Title.

TX715.2.M53F56 2014

641.5977—dc23

2014004497

Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author’s alone.

For my dad, Milton Gale Flinn Sr., and to the memory of my cousin Richard Fridline Jr.

“I don’t have to tell you I love you. I made you pancakes.”

—My grandmother Inez Monk Henderson

So It Begins . . .

I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish, which makes me want to talk about it.”

My older sister, Sandy, coined this phrase more than twenty years ago. I use it as if it were mine, just like the forest green sweater that I “borrowed” from her in college, which I wore until it was threadbare and ended up in a box for charity. Isn’t heritage community property?

But I didn’t stop to think about what it meant until I casually trilled that line for a laugh in a talk during my first book tour. As people descended on the last of the warm white wine and softening inexpensive cheese at a cozy bookstore, an affable blond woman loitered patiently at the end of the line. “I’m Swedish and Irish, too,” she said when she appeared at the table where I was signing books. She described a plucky, restless lot who emigrated to America to take on hard lives in their new homeland. “But, then, my parents, that’s when it got boring,” she said with an eye roll. “But yours, they sound so, well, interesting.”

Rarely am I struck without a comment. I’m Irish, after all. But my parents . . . interesting?

“I mean, you threw a dart at a map and moved to a strange city when you were a teenager and then you followed your dream and went to Paris,” the woman continued in my absence of words. “People with normal parents don’t do things like that.”

I’m a typical American mutt. I didn’t know much about my heritage then, not really. The further that I got into it, I discovered that in many ways, my family’s story is both unremarkable and utterly fascinating. Poking into the murky edges of my ancestry, I also uncovered that I’m not who I thought I was, that my pithy line wasn’t quite accurate. I’m a direct descendant of scrubwomen, a circus worker, a midwife, a bootlegger, a bigamist, an auto worker, and a cop. The most notable thing? That so many of my ancestors cooked, either for a living or as their passion. Until I started this journey, I didn’t know just how honestly I’d come to my love of the kitchen.

I consider what follows a multigenerational memoir. I set out to tell my parents’ tale and then realized that by extension, the whole thing necessitated sharing the lives of their parents, too.

In early research, I stumbled on a 1951 Time magazine article about my parents’ age group, the one typically referred to as the silent generation, the children born in the grips of the Great Depression. The so-called greatest generation, which preceded them, inspired tons of ink, as did World War II, the conflict that defined their era. The baby boomers had Vietnam and the resistance and all those cultural counterpoints. By contrast, my parents’ generation fought in Korea, sometimes called the forgotten war. Time magazine referred to the silent generation as a collective “quiet, still flame.”

My parents were rarely still, and never quiet.

I spent a lot of time separating what truly happened from family lore and legend, not always an easy task. It’s tricky working off memory, especially when writing from many people’s versions of long-ago events. The genesis of this book is a series of stories that my mother put down on paper years ago about my father’s childhood, her young family’s years in San Francisco, and life on their Michigan farm. I interviewed my mom, recording dozens of hours of conversation as we sat in our Florida cottage. We drank wine and sat in rocking chairs in a gazebo under swaying palm trees as she recalled details of her life going all the way back to the Great Depression. Then I went to work to confirm as much of it as I could. I’m a trained journalist, so along with numerous interviews of relatives, I scoured letters, public documents, military records, and more than twenty years of research conducted by a professional genealogist.

This is a true story. No names have been changed. My cousins are really named Larry and Gary.

Part I

“Thanks, God, I can take it from here.” —My mother, Irene Henderson Flinn, on marrying my father, Milton

CHAPTER 1

That’s Amore

Clyde (left) and Milton Flinn at my parents’ restaurant, 1960

Hey, Milt!” Uncle Clyde said, calling long distance. “What do you know about pizza?”

With that, my parents sold all their furniture and stuffed the rest of their belongings and three toddlers into the back of their 1954 Chevy Bel Air and headed to my Irish uncle’s Italian restaurant in San Francisco.

Dad was Irish American. Mom was Swedish American. Neither of them knew anything about Italian cuisine. They didn’t care. “So what if we didn’t know anything about the food?” Mom says. “We both believed that life should always be an adventure.”

My mother, Irene Henderson Flinn, just twenty-four, was a pretty, shy brunette with a klutzy streak who favored those bat-wing glasses so popular in the 1950s. She was heavily pregnant, nearly five months along with her fourth child.

My father, Milton, was a twenty-seven-year-old recent college grad and Korean War veteran who had sold life insurance until a major recession swept the country.

Before they met, Mom worked her way through secretarial school and scored a well-paying position with the Michigan Council of Churches. A marine home from Korea, Dad held multiple jobs while juggling a full-time load at Michigan State yet found time to date a half dozen attractive coeds.

At least, until the night he picked Mom up at a roller-skating rink in Lansing.

“Now reverse,” the rink’s announcer instructed a sea of circling skaters in a bored voice.

Dad turned in unison with the young crowd—and slammed directly into my mom, knocking her to the concrete floor.

As he knelt to help her up, Mom took his hands, struck by his chiseled good looks and solid build. A bit like Charlton Heston, she thought.

Then they both noticed they were wearing matching outfits. He wore a butter yellow cotton shirt and gray wool trousers; she was clad in a soft yellow sweater and a similar gray skirt.

“It looks like we came together!” he joked, still holding her hands in his as they stood on the rink. “What are the odds?” Dad skated backward with fluid elegance while she clung to a side wall for support as the hit song “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” by The Weavers played over the loudspeakers. They chatted without listening to the song’s story of a farmer’s life filled with children and hardships, but in the end, love made it all worthwhile. After another song, she implored him, “You’re such a great skater. You should really go skate without me.”

He gently guided her into the brightly lit concession area and bought her a Coke instead. They talked until the staff started mopping up and they realized the place had closed. She was surprised when he offered to take her home, and even more caught off guard when he asked her on a proper date. Mom couldn’t believe her luck that such a smart, handsome college guy wanted to date her. As she confided the story to a co-worker her age attending his college, the woman just shook her head and put up a hand to silence her.

“Listen, I wouldn’t get my hopes up,” she said flatly to my mom as she fixed the circle pin on her shirt. “Don’t you know he’s dating the Water Carnival Queen? They’re the big item around campus. I heard they’re getting engaged.”

The queen was a leggy, glamorous blonde. Her beauty was legend around Lansing.

Mom decided to check out her competition. She learned the beauty queen frequented a certain hair salon on Saturday mornings. With the deft nonchalance of a detective, she feigned waiting for a bus across the street until the blonde turned up. Mom watched her walk with the practiced poise of someone comfortable with being on display. Her dimpled smile showed off perfect, brilliant white teeth that matched her perfect, delicate gloves.

Mom felt beaten. She got on the next bus that arrived, even though she had no idea where it was going. As she took a seat, she gulped back tears. How could I be so stupid? she thought as the bus pulled away, leaving the blonde in the distance. She’s like a movie star. I don’t stand a chance.

After a few dates, Dad pulled into the drive-in movie theater. They’d brought along their own popcorn. He asked Mom to hold the paper bag, and when he took it back he spilled it all over them. “Irene, I’ve got something to say,” he started nervously.

Here it comes, Mom thought. He’s going to dump me.

“I’ve been trying to figure out a way to ask you to . . .” He paused and took a deep breath. “Will you marry me?” he blurted.

“But what about the Water Carnival Queen?” Mom asked, incredulous.

“Are you kidding me?” he responded, dumbfounded. He took her hands gently in his. “You’re the brightest, most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. I knew you were the one for me the minute I picked you up off that rink.”

Just a few months after getting knocked down, Mom was happily knocked up after getting married in a town named Hope. First on the scene was Milton Jr., whom they called “Miltie.” Douglas, “Dougie,” arrived almost to the day the following year, making them what relatives called Irish twins. My sister Sandy came along just two years later.

Sandy’s birth coincided with the so-called Eisenhower recession, which began in 1958, a bleak reminder that the postwar boom years couldn’t last forever. Michigan always feels economic turndowns harder than other parts of the country. After all, a new car is the last thing someone orders when times get tough. Unemployment hit 25 percent in the state, Great Depression numbers. Every night after they put the kids to bed, my parents stayed up late, figuring out bills, worrying.

On one of these nights, the phone rang.

Uncle Clyde had a successful Italian eatery in San Francisco. Would Milt be interested in coming out to California to learn the restaurant business?

Within two weeks, they were on the road. They sold everything except their clothes, the rocking chair, and a baby carriage. “We really didn’t think twice about it,” Mom says. “We just decided to go.”

In Illinois, when they saw the first sign for the famous highway, Mom and Dad burst out singing “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” as the kids cheered. “We felt like those people who went west in covered wagons,” she says. Which made sense, since part of Route 66 follows a wagon trail blazed in 1857 by the U.S. Department of War as a way to access the western frontier. By 1926, the government joined other roads to patch together the nation’s first cross-country highway.

Mom and Dad drove for seven days. Each morning, they scooped still-sleeping children off the hard beds of cheap roadside motels. They stopped to see a few sites to let the kids run around. They took in a big Paul Bunyan statue in Illinois, the world’s largest rocking chair in Missouri, a blue whale in Oklahoma, and a ghost town in California. To save money, they mostly ate sandwiches for lunch and dinner, but they had breakfast out. In Amarillo, Texas, my Midwest parents discovered people outside the movies actually say “y’all” when a waitress asked, “Y’all happy with your cheese grits?” They had never had them before. They marveled at the flavor of the chorizo that came with their eggs at a diner in Arizona and were enchanted at the sight of tortillas in place of toast in New Mexico.

By the end of the week the novelty of the drive wore off. My parents were exhausted. Dad’s left forearm was thoroughly s...

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A delicious new memoir from the New York Times bestselling author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry A family history peppered with recipes, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good offers a humorous and flavorful tale spanning three generations as Kathleen Flinn returns to the mix of food and memoir readers loved in her New York Times bestseller, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. Brimming with tasty anecdotes about Uncle Clarence s divine cornflake-crusted fried chicken, Grandpa Charles s spicy San Antonio chili, and Grandma Inez s birthday-only cinnamon rolls, Flinn--think Ruth Reichl topped with a dollop of Julia Child--shows how meals can be memories, and how cooking can be communication. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good will inspire readers (and book clubs) to reminisce about their own childhoods--and spend time in their kitchens making new memories of their own. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143127697

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