In Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, Patricia Volk delivers an affection-filled tribute to both family and food. In a series of vignettes, she lovingly describes her adored extended family. Each chapter, titled for a different food, from Butter Cookies to Caviar, is primarily devoted to one of her relatives. Among them are her great-grandfather, who was the first to import pastrami to New York; her grandfather, who invented the wrecking ball; her mother, forever trying to improve her daughters (“Mom made me, and now she will make me better”); her beautiful and best beloved older sister, Jo Ann; her embittered Aunt Lil, who embroidered a pillow with the phrase, “I’ve never forgotten a rotten thing anyone has done to me”; and her magnetic father, who taught her:
…how to swim, speak French, drive, eat using the utensils American-style (which nobody in America seems to do), spot welder, solder, emboss, ride English, ride western, merengue, sing pop songs from World War I’s “Keep Your Head Down Fritzie Boy” up through his favorite—the one that chokes him up, although he’s not sure why—“Younger Than Springtime,” remove a splinter, sap a blister by sticking a sterilized threaded needle through it then tying the exposed ends in a knot, carve a Thanksgiving turkey, chop, dice, and mince, make canapés, deglaze a pan, suck meat off a lobster a lobster doesn’t know it has, blind a mugger, kill a rapist with a rabbit punch, remove stains, cloisonné, and intimidate a tennis opponent by clenching my teeth then drawing my lips back and growling like a gas-station dog.
Volk’s family is sufficiently odd enough to keep anyone’s attention, while her writing (she’s also the author of a novel and two collections of stories) is both witty and tender. I pored over the all-too-few family photographs, and wished that that I, too, could be part of the whole Volk/Morgen clan.