Books That Cook: Lemon Polenta Cookies

This September, we’re celebrating the publication of our first literary cookbook, Books That Cook. To ring it in, we’ve rounded up some of our bravest “chefs” at the Press to take on the task of cooking this book! In the next few weeks, we’ll be serving up food for thought in the form of reviews, odes, and confessions from Press staff members who attempted various recipes à la minute.

First up is a post from our beloved sales and marketing director, Mary Beth Jarrad.

Read, savor, and let us know what you think in the comments section!


Neither of my grandmothers could cook. Probably as a result, both of my parents were functional, rather than inspired, cooks. They have both gotten better, especially in the last ten years or so, but this is all to say that I do not have a long history of culinary traditions to draw upon. I don’t have cherished memories of a toothsome delight I would eagerly await as we drove to one grandmother’s house or the other.  I can’t recall waking up early on winter mornings to find my mother pulling some sweet object from the oven, created ‘specially for my consumption. My parents fried things. And put things in the slow cooker, so by the time we would sit down at the table, we would look at an undifferentiated pool of brown, lumpy, stringy stuff. I remember the microwave was going to change the way we ate forever, allowing us gourmet meals in minutes! It didn’t, but the popcorn was good.

It was only once I left college, and started meeting people with post-college lives, that I understood what cooking, and eating, could be. Suddenly, everything and every place was an opportunity to eat something new, and different, and the only thing that limited my efforts in the kitchen was my own ambition. I’m not a great cook, but I am a fearless one, and there are only a few childhood eating prejudices that I have allowed to follow me to this new eating landscape (I’m looking at you, cooked carrots—disgusting).

Probably because I was not steeped in my own family’s lore, I love reading about other people’s food traditions, and explorations, and expectations. There is something delightful about being so unrooted, I don’t have to unlearn habits, or overcome food anxieties, I just get to be a culinary tourist, adopting and discarding trends at will. Books That Cook speaks to exactly this sense of weightlessness, skipping across time and genre, exploring both tradition and the culinary frontier, including recipes both functional and metaphoric. The way we think about food has changed, and the way we talk about it has changed, as well. I like that (other people’s) food is freighted with memory, just as much as I like having no anchor myself.

I made the Lemon Polenta Cookies, from In Nancy’s Kitchen, a selection from Caroline M. Grant. The selection was a perfectly balanced remembrance, without veering into sentimentality, and it closes with two recipes, one for polenta, one for cookies with polenta. Recipe writing is an art, and the cookies are a bit imperfect as a result (I think, if I make them again, I will look for a cornmeal with a finer grind—the cookies are a little knobby), but the essay that precedes it more than makes up for the recipe’s shortcomings. In Nancy’s Kitchen makes me want to eat with people I love. And maybe that’s what all food writing should make one want to do.

Mary Beth Jarrad is Sales and Marketing Director at NYU Press.