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Bittersweet Cover


Lessons from My Mother's Kitchen

By Matt Mcallester

The Dial Press, Hardcover, 9780385342186, 224pp.

Publication Date: April 14, 2009


Matt McAllester lost his mother, Ann, long before she died, as mental illness snatched the once-elegant woman away and destroyed his childhood. In this beautifully written memoir, the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist chronicles the journey he took to forgiveness, which brought him straight to the place that evoked his happiest memories of his mother: the kitchen. Recounting the pleasures of his early days, culinary and otherwise, McAllester weaves an unforgettable tale of family, food, and love.


At first, Matt McAllester’s childhood was idyllic, a time when his mother placed heavenly, delicious food at the center of a family life brimming with fun and laughter. Then came the terrible years, years when he had to watch helplessly as his warm, quick-witted mother succumbed to an illness that was never properly diagnosed or understood. Desperate to escape, he eventually found work as a foreign correspondent, hiding in the terrors and tragedies of other people as he traveled to the most dangerous places in the world, from Beirut to Baghdad. But nothing he saw on the battlefield prepared him for his mother’s death—and his own overwhelming grief.

In the weeks and months that followed, Matt found himself poring over old family photos and letters, trying to reach out for the beautiful, caring woman who had now vanished for the second time. But as he looked anew at her long-cherished collection of cookbooks, it occurred to him that the best way to find her was through something they both loved: the food she had once lovingly prepared for him, food that introduced him to a thousand sources of joy—from spare ribs to the homemade strawberry ice cream that seemed in memory the very essence of happy times.

With a reporter’s precision and a storyteller’s grace, McAllester guides us through a long season of grief—cooking, eating, and remembering—at the same time describing his and his wife’s efforts to conceive and nourish a child of their own.

Complete with recipes to delight body and soul, Bittersweet is a memoir of extraordinary power, at once a moving tribute to his mother and a dazzling feast for the senses.

Praise For Bittersweet

“A war correspondent by trade–past assignments include Iraq, Afghanistan and Jerusalem–McAllester has produced in Bittersweet a scrupulously honest dispatch that's every bit as gripping as a report from Abu Ghraib, and every bit as vital…Above all, [it] is a mosaic of the disorienting facts of life after death–the prayers we con ourselves with, the old sorrows we uncover–assembled with an utterly unsentimental eye…This is the memoir of grief…no sugar added.”—Newsweek

“A book by one of our finest war-reporters, whose beat this time is not the battlefield but the kitchen. The precision of his descriptions, his frankness, and his defiant irony - for this is also a very funny book—gives us a powerful portrait of a family's courage, tragedy and love.”—Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between

“In Bittersweet, Matt McAllester, one of the most gifted writers of  his generation, has crafted a love story of the first order. His  unflinching honesty will make you cry. His culinary adventures will lead you to put on an apron. And his graceful storytelling will transfix you. It  is the most sumptuous of literary treats.”—Rajiv  Chandrasekaran,  author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

: “A remarkably loving and wise account of a mother whose “loveliness–her illness and her death” finally taught him about life.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch