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Karen Barnaby’s Everyday Celebration Cookbook

by Karen Barnaby

Karen Barnaby, executive chef at Vancouver’s Fish House in Stanley Park, evidently eats with passion, and in Karen Barnaby’s Everyday Celebration Cookbook, with a dozen real and “fictional” seasonal feast menus, accompanied by numerous other seasonal recipes, she invites the reader to celebrate eating as much as to celebrate by eating. To that end, she has filled her book with surprise, decadence, and even wonder, making it as delicious to read as it is to cook from.

Thanksgiving, The First Day of Summer, Christmas, The 12th Day of Rain, Crocuses, The First Sweater of Fall – from the high holidays to the seemingly mundane, all are celebrated here with imagination and verve. Any excuse to cook seems to be Barnaby’s motto. Almost Seven Hour Leg of Lamb, Spoon Bread, Alaskan Black Cod with Clams and Chorizo Sausage, Crusty Rib-Eye Steaks (marinated in mayonnaise!), Butterscotch Pudding, Asparagus Risotto, Strawberries Steeped in Port with Mascarpone and Honey Cream: doling out fat, it seems, by the ladleful, Barnaby’s recipes set one’s mouth to watering and heart to palpitating. This is not for the timid. But then, who wants low fat on the 12th day of rain? This is party food. And at her finest, Barnaby rises to the poetic (“Imagine the roast is a leaf…” she begins when telling how to marinate a leg of pork); or to the surreal (Grape Focaccia only seems a non sequitur until deliciously eaten); or to the riotous (she unabashedly delights in a story about Zebra Cake aka Mr. Christie’s Wafer Log made for her birthday as a Barbie doll’s skirt). Thus she displays the sort of remarkably confident spontaneity that only comes with years of work. There’s a love of food here that reminds the reader of Julia Child or Madhur Jaffrey.

The Everyday Celebration Cookbook is anything but everyday; it’s a treasure to be savoured, and read. But readers must be warned: this book is frustratingly “put-down-able”; once you sit to read, you will need to get up and cook. Barnaby’s passion is contagious.