Official Review: Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire

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Official Review: Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire

Post by SpencerVo » 08 May 2019, 07:00

[Following is an official review of "Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire" by Sineidin O'Niall.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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What do you often expect from a cookbook? Innovative recipes and meticulous photographs? If so, Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire will prove to be an interesting twist. Calling it “a culinary journey” is too pretentious, but “a commonplace cookbook” sounds a little reductive. This is the food-themed diary of Sineidin O'Niall, whose pen name is Jennifer Frank. At a lonely night, Frank goes on an impulsive trip to the local grocery store and sees pork butts on sale. The sight of those “fatty hunks of meat” brings back her memories of forty years and makes her wonder what food means to her. From that reflective moment, the story naturally goes on. The book is separated into two sessions. In the first half, each chapter details a particular phase of her life and the special dish or cuisine making a strong impact at that phase. All of them are also cleverly adorned with her love for exploration and arts. In the latter half, Frank provides the recipes with exact measurement and more detailed instructions.

First and foremost, I love how Frank uses food to fill her literary and figurative hunger. From her abusive childhood, her unstable adulthood, to her challenging marriage, simple food has helped her tremendously in difficult financial situations. Food serves to showcase her artistry. Food satisfies her craving for attention and intimacy. Food helps her connect with people and make new friends. Food stabilizes her restlessness. Overall, you will feel as if food were her most trustworthy friend and confidant.

The book focuses on rustic and humble cuisine. There are plenty of economical, fun, and spontaneous recipes which anyone can follow easily and adjust to fit their kitchen’s capacity. Fortunately, they are not tasteless and boring TV dinners since Frank takes great delight in cooking exotic dishes, including Greek, Chinese, Mongolian, Mexican, Croatian, and more. The recipes are suitable for many occasions and gatherings, all presented with dry humor and a touch of free flair. On the downside, I think it would be more appropriate if each recipe immediately followed its related story instead of being bundled up at the end.

The storytelling is straightforward and succinct. Frank recounts her various ventures: learning to play musical instruments, teaching disabled children, and practicing law. Despite being enjoyable and exciting, these ventures speak loudly of Frank’s unstable nature. Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire does not feature a lovable and admirable figure like Julia Child. Frank uses a raw, brash, and slightly sarcastic voice, yet she not-so-discreetly shies away when hinting at her tragedies, confusion, and the emotional baggage still plaguing her now. Her tough shell definitely hides insecurity. To be honest, her character is not my cup of tea. I find her general attitude patronizing, haughty, and stubborn to the point of being childish. I even sense her discomfort and reluctance when discussing her ups and downs, which makes me uncomfortable peering into her world. Besides, she mockingly declares herself “a habitual wanderer,” but I think it is just another proof that she often has no exact idea what she wants to do in life. Yet, I highly appreciate the fact that this book is actually an attempt to sort out her disorganized life and overflowing emotions.

Apart from few mistakes, Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire is professionally edited. I rate it 3 out of 4 stars. The recipes do require some skill and good judgment, but they are still perfect for busy people who want hearty, convenient, and cost-effective meals. Even if you are not much of a cook, if you like reading about people’s experience related to arts, culture, and traveling, you may have fun reading this. On the other hand, the book is not recommended to anyone in search of a structural approach to cooking or haute cuisine.

Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire
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Post by Rachel Lea » 09 May 2019, 08:27

O'Niall's Dancing in Time, Playing with Fire is such an interesting mix of genres (both memoir and cookbook). This sounds like a very intriguing book, apparently as intriguing and quirky as the individual who wrote it. Although the author definitely has her flaws (as we all do), what I appreciate about this book is that it is very human. The author is still on her journey of figuring herself out, and she chooses to share where she is on that journey with the reader. (On a purely structural note, though, I think I would also prefer if the recipe immediately followed its related story.)

This was an excellently written review. Thank you so much!
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Post by Amanda Deck » 09 May 2019, 08:46

I like the premise, but that description of her character...I don't think I want to 'spend time' with someone like that. The way she uses experimenting with cooking to help her through life made me want to read it at first.
I'm on the other side, the author's side, about the recipes. I definitely prefer them to be together at the end instead of hunting through chapters to find the right one.

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Post by kandscreeley » 09 May 2019, 08:52

This is definitely a different take on a cookbook. I remember when I was a child an Encyclopedia Brown book that actually included some recipes. I never made anything from the book, but it was fun to read. I wonder if this would be similar for me. Thanks!
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Post by kdstrack » 09 May 2019, 14:41

People do tend to associate certain foods with special occasions. Christmas cookies, Easter ham, Valentine's chocolates! It would be interesting to see what kinds of recipes she associates with the different stages of her life. This is a unique book. Thanks for the great review!

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Post by ElizaBeth Adams » 09 May 2019, 17:09

I love the way the author tied food to different stages of her life. We all have to eat... We all can probably think of stages of life when we ate more of something than we do now; for me Ramen noodles in college, deer chili and guacamole during pregnancy (though not at the same meal), and frozen cheesecake as a newlywed. Even if we can't identify with this author's foods or specific life experiences, we can connect to her over-arching concept. This is pretty cool. Thanks for an excellent review.

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Post by DogoMulla » 10 May 2019, 04:57

This one is unique. I'm not much of a cook, but it seems like something I would consider. Thank you for the review.

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Post by Quickstudy » 11 May 2019, 01:20

Cook books never really appealed to me. However, your review has me definitely putting this book on my reading list. I grew up with the woman you described in your review. The experience left me capable of understanding and communicate with this type of person.

Great review.

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