Book Review: Pen and Palate

Pen and Palate: Mastering the Art of Adulthood, With Recipes
By: Lucy Madison & Tram Nguyen
Published By: Grand Central
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
Page Count: 304
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Memoir/Cooking

Two young women, best friends since high school, weave in and out of each other’s lives as they go to college, move out on their own in different cities, and learn to navigate adulthood. Oh, and there’s food; lots of food and lots of stories about food. It doesn’t necessarily sound like the recipe for an amazing book, and yet as with all dishes it becomes much more than the sum of its parts. 

Pen and Palate is told in alternating chapters of Lucy and Tram’s points of view. Readers can see the heart of the friendship pulsing as they describe meeting and getting to know each other, what they thought of one another, and how each saw the other as the amazing one. It was sweetly sad, and I think very honest, how they both felt a little inadequate in the face of each other’s talents. I found myself a envious of how long their close friendship has lasted, and wishing that everyone could have a relationship as nurturing as theirs. 

For each chapter of the book, the authors have chosen a couple of recipes that either feature prominently in that part of their lives or are somehow emblematic of it. The way they worked food into the narrative made me really excited about trying the recipes – much more so than a regular cookbook. It was like getting a cookbook, but only with the recipes that you would actually want to try. I did the grocery shopping yesterday, so I’ve yet to make anything, but Flat Iron Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce and Caramel and Coconut Braised Pork are on the menu at my house this week! 

A memoir about life as a twenty-something could fall into the trap of being overly angsty, whiny, or even too earnest. What kept Pen and Palate from becoming self-indulgent is the authors’ wisdom and senses of humor. I read most of the book in the airport or on a plane while traveling over the weekend. I laughed out loud enough, I’m sure my fellow travelers thought I had gone round the bend. Even if you never make any of the food in the book, everyone will appreciate Lucy and Tram’s excellent storytelling and comedic timing. 

I absolutely loved reading about Lucy and Tram’s friendship and how supportive these two women have been of each other over the years. It made me want to reconnect with my high school best friend. Love you, Jennifer!!!

From the writers of acclaimed blog Pen & Palate, a humorous coming-of-age (and mastering-the-art-of-home-cooking) memoir of friendship, told through stories, recipes, and beautiful illustrations. 

Getting through life in your twenties isn't easy--especially if you're broke, awkward, and prone to starting small grease fires in your studio apartment. For best friends Lucy Madison and Tram Nguyen, cooking was an escape from the daily humiliation that is being a twenty-something woman in a big city. PEN & PALATE traces the course of Lucy and Tram's devoted friendship through miserable jobs and tiny apartments, first loves and ill-advised flings, successes and setbacks--always with a shared love of food at the center of the narrative. A modern take on Laurie Colwin's classic Home Cooking, this coming-of-age memoir for the Girls set weaves together comical (mis)adventures and recipes meant to be shared with a best friend and a bottle of wine. 


  1. My college roommate and I were complete strangers upon entering the dorm room, but we became best friends. We still keep in touch although we don't get to see each other very often. This review makes me miss her!


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