On Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart — I’m Still Reading…

I have not finished reading Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart, and I’ll likely not have it completely read until next week.  But I wanted to share something that has never happened before — at least not to me — when reading a book of writing advice/tips.  I nearly cried; yes, cried!

I’m nearing page 100, and there’s a chapter about food and taste.  Kephart talks about how “a way of eating passes with your mother” following the death of her mother — a series of passages that are written beautifully and with deep honesty.  It is not my mother or her cooking that Kephart reminded me of, but that of my nana — funny, as I just shared a book with Kephart in which I talk a little bit about her.  Her cooking was the stuff of legend and unfortunately with her passing 15 years ago — can it be that long — at the age of 82, she took many of her cooking secrets with her.

How did she make that shake-and-bake stuff on chicken — only ever on chicken — taste so much better than when I make it straight from the box?  How did she get those mashed potatoes so buttery and creamy, there wasn’t a lump to be had or a spoonful that didn’t taste heavenly?  And most of all, how did she get those apple pies to not only be equal parts sweet and — not tart — but just a tad spicy, while ensuring the apples were al dente in a thick, creamy apple-y sauce that made your heart melt?  These are things I can never learn, nor can my mother, but these are the foods that rushed into my mind when I read Kephart’s passages.

Creamy seems to be a recurring theme with the foods I remember her making, and perhaps that’s because of her easy-going way with things, no matter how hard they seemed — even as death neared.  Most of all, I miss nana’s quiet support and encouragement, even when my cooking attempts as a young teen went very wrong and my writing attempts were even worse.  I’ve tried many times to recreate her mashed potatoes, her brownies, her oatmeal cookies, but only my attempts at banana muffins — the one recipe we worked on many times together — comes even close to tasting and being as moist as hers.

Perhaps this is what memoir means…and should be.


  1. My gram made the best baked beans, but I don’t have her recipe. And my dad taught me how to make poached eggs. I am always surprised by how food can trigger memories. And your nana’s muffins are the best…and you know you got it right by how many my kid ate at Easter!

    • I wonder what her recipe was for the baked beans….J would have loved that. There were no written recipes in her house I take it.

  2. Isn’t it funny how sometimes what we’re reading can evoke such powerful memories and now you have all of us thinking of our favorite memories. LOL. Mine is with my Auntie Tally who passed years ago now but we used to spend weekends in the summer at her house all the time and I have the greatest memories of making pickles, chicken and gravy, and breads with her. I doubt I’ll ever forget them, nor will I ever be able to make mine taste anything like hers did.

    • Dar, I had no idea that I would inspire everyone else to start thinking about their own favorite food-related memories.

  3. Isn’t it amazing how one thing, like the smell of an oatmeal cookie, can trigger so many memories and words? My grandmother didn’t cook much, but she loved her morning coffee, just as I do know.

  4. I was so young when my grandmother’s passed away, I don’t remember their cooking but Carl sure has fond memories of his grandmother’s. I love that this book brought back these memories for you.

    • Generally, these writing advice guides don’t affect me personally or bring back memories…this book is much more personalized.

  5. Yes! MY nana and oatmeal! How in the world did she transform even OATMEAL? :–)

    • My mother was not the cook in the family, it was my nana….I spent a lot more time with her in the kitchen than my own mother. I often wonder how they did it, but I guess it was because my mother had to work outside the home and my nana worked inside the home.