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How to Cook a Moose'

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An outsider's perspective on Maine life

Maine is a big place with a small population compared to other states, a fact that was not lost on Kate Christensen, who moved to New England in 2011. The writer splits her time between a farmhouse in the White Mountains and a refurbished home in Portland.

But this book isn't really for Mainers. It's for tourists. Though she does live in the state, Christensen lives a very touristy lifestyle which is kind of the point. She visits restaurants, cooks food, isn't obligated to get up and go to work in the traditional sense so her approach is that of a permanent visitor. This is not an experience most people in Maine will entirely identify with not that there's anything wrong with that, but she doesn't seem to be aware of the distinction.

The writing is fine, mostly with an informal air of someone sharing their life. But it gets a little too self-indulgent, almost narcissistic. This is a trap of the memoir genre, one that Christensen doesn't manage to escape.

The book's biggest offense is the level of condescension, along with a casual dismissal of much of the state. For Christensen, living in Portland is rural living as someone from New York is bound to see it.

Maine is famous for its contradictions a starkly beautiful landscape that comes with a host of challenges. And its people, rugged and individualistic, can also struggle with poverty and addiction. But for someone who considers herself almost a Mainer, who loves the state and presumably the people, she has a funny way of showing it. Consider this passage:

'Of course, in terms of the people who live here there's very little variety. This region, apparently, is called by certain New Yorkers the South of the North, evidently because it's populated largely by the type of white people referred to as rednecks by urbanites, who view them as uneducated, poor, backwards-dwelling hicks who subsist on Walmart canned and junk food as well as hunting, fishing, foraging and the occasional roadkill, throwing Bud Light cans out of the windows of their pickup trucks into the woods.'

I kept waiting for her to drop the other shoe where she qualifies the statement with some bit of wisdom about how she had come to know the people here and it changed that view. That never happened. Instead you get to hear how awesome Christensen is, and it starts to read a little too much like a lengthy, self-indulgent social media post. She expresses a deep respect and love for some of the people who call Maine their home, but this is overshadowed by her strange habit of glorifying her own actions and strange bouts of haphazard snobbery like criticizing a restaurant, but pointing out she still left a big tip. Or eating at an establishment that costs a couple hundred dollars a plate, and still denigrating those who patronize the place for having more money than good taste. It's off-putting for a book that's mostly about good food and fellowship.

Where Christensen succeeds is in her descriptions of foods and restaurants throughout the state. Focusing on the food allows her to get outside of herself. The book positively shines when the spotlight falls on the restaurant owners and people who raise animals, tap trees and otherwise work within the landscape of the state to make good food. She locates these intrepid souls all over Maine, connects with them and shares their insight.

The recipes are delightful and tend to have a real sense of place. And the enjoyment she clearly gets from cooking and eating food is palpable. Truly, it has some delicious moments but you'll probably enjoy this book a bit more if you're from away.


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