The Piglet2017 / Final Round, 2017

Taste & Technique vs. My Two Souths

Taste & Technique

Naomi Pomeroy & Jamie Feldmar

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My Two Souths

Asha Gomez

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Judged by: Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner

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Lena Dunham is the creator and star of the critically acclaimed HBO series “Girls,” for which she also serves as executive producer, writer, and director. She has been nominated for eight Emmy Awards and has won two Golden Globes, including Best Actress for her work on Girls. In 2010, she won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay for her feature “Tiny Furniture,” which she also starred in and directed. In 2013, Dunham made history as the first female to win a DGA award in the Best TV Comedy Director category. Dunham’s book of personal essays, Not That Kind of Girl, was published by Random House in September 2014 and was a #1 New York Times best-seller. She is also a frequent contributor to The New Yorker.

Jenni Konner is a writer, director, and executive producer of “Girls.” She began her career as a writer on Judd Apatow's celebrated television series, "Undeclared." In 2014, she and Lena Dunham co-founded A Casual Romance Productions. She and Lena are also the co-founders of Lenny Letter, a feminist newsletter which features original editorial content focusing on politics, art and culture, style, health and wellness, and sex and relationships.

The Judgment

A funny thing happens when you share with your friends and family that you are part of a cookbook competition: They all start to tell the truth. In my first attempt at a recipe from Taste & Technique—an easy one I might add, the mushroom quiche— the reviews came in quickly, and honestly, they were not raves. Usually when my family sees me cooking a meal for over two hours, (too long for a quiche, but I’ll get back to that), they compliment me. The food is unquestionably delicious and I’ve done it once again, they’ll say—I’ve brought home the proverbial bacon and fried it up in a pan. Not so when when a competition is in the works. The first reviews came from my father, who was visiting from New York: “I’ve had better, but mushrooms aren’t my favorite.” Okay, if this is what honesty looks like, I can’t say I’m a fan. The next review came from Sam Sifton—oh no, wait, it was my twelve year old daughter. “I really preferred the quiche Lorraine you used to make.” But honey, you’re a vegetarian now—you wouldn’t even eat that. “Still, this isn’t as good.” Well, the first recipe taught me two things: Bacon makes things better, and vegetarians are kind of assholes.

When Lena and I agreed to take on this job—and really, to call it a job is sad, as I was literally so flattered I almost died and then I sent in a photo of my cookbook shelf as a CV that literally no one asked for—we had a deal. The deal is, I cook, Lena eats.

You might know a few things about Lena, like that she’s a hugely talented writer, actor, and director. You might know she’s a godmother. But here is one thing she can’t do: Cook. I mean, she can barely make toast. I actually think she can’t make toast—I was being generous. But she is the most delightful eater. So I promised to take on the cooking duties and she promised to answer the ten online questionnaires for Girls Press. A job, by the way, she can do in her sleep and I can dread for months.

She kept relatively quiet on the quiche. This is a sure sign there was a problem. If Lena is not pretending my food is good, who will? The answer is no one. And the worst part is that I loathed making this quiche. For me, quiche is a pantry food, whipped up at the last minute with only the chilling of the dough to slow you down. For Taste & Technique, there are ten steps where there should be five. You want me to squeeze out the mushrooms after I’ve chopped and sautéed them in butter? I did it because this was my job, but honestly, if it made a difference, the critics of the Hollywood Hills could not tell. 

 

The Taste & Technique rib eye was another story. All of the guests, including Ms. Dunham, said it was some of the best steak they had ever eaten. The fried shallots were delicious and I would put them on anything. I would probably put them on ice cream—they were that good. The technique itself for the steak, as the book promises, is very successful; I’ve never cooked such a perfect steak. That said, Pomeroy and her co-writer Jamie Feldmar ask us to brown the steak, take it out of the pan, let the pan cool, wash and dry said pan completely, and then brown another steak. And she doesn’t outline why, exactly, I need to get rid of the old steak’s pan drippings. I’m just not that person. Even for the best steak I’d ever made.

I moved on to My Two Souths. The title and book are a combo of Asha Gomez’s upbringing in the South of India, and Atlanta, the second South, where she now lives with her family. The pages are filled with cozy stories of her childhood as well as her current life in Atlanta. The recipes are simple and straightforward. (The hardest thing you will have to do is source a few ingredients from a cool Indian store.) Gomez’s rice and chicken is as casual a dish as you can throw together, yet the novel spices (star anise, turmeric) bring it to the next level. It was reminiscent of the recipe for cardamom chicken in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem (a fav on my cookbook shelf)—chicken and rice taken to a new place, in one pot no less. I was thrilled. And the home critics loved it too. Lena said it smelled and tasted like the parts of India she loved visiting, and my ten year old ate a full two servings. My boyfriend actually saved some for leftovers—and you should know this is coming from a man who throws away Chinese food before it’s even cold.

 

Gomez’s beef stew takes everything you already know (beef stew is standard, almost no-recipe cooking) and it does two simple things: It adds turmeric and ginger, and then it asks that you stir in coconut milk at the end. That's kind of it—which is gloriously liberating in that you could go off-script if you want to, and, better, it gives you tricks to take with you and apply to other things. I basically learned to cook by reading recipes for beef stew in different cookbooks and learning the common elements. This one is a perfect beef stew base with an Indian flair. 

But I have a gripe: The baby onions in the beef stew’s photo are seared—their flat side is all gorgeously charred, which, the way the recipe is written, is physically impossible. You are supposed to take a raw onion and dump it into a hot soup. According to science, you can't get that char you see, and that is a food styling thing I really don't like: Cookbook photos already look better than my food will, but there is no reason to go on making them seem even more unattainable. Plus, my stew’s color was a lot murkier than the photo's. But I ate it all anyway. 

The thing is, the premise of Taste & Technique is to make restaurant quality food at home. And honestly, for restaurant food I want to go to a restaurant. The gorgeous duck confit on the cover is tempting, all glazed and stunning and all you’d want to eat. Reader: It takes 3 days! I just couldn’t do it. I know people who would. I bet my dear friends and world class home cooks Gary and David would make it. And trust me, I would eat it. And I will as soon as they invite me over. 

But the simple, delicious recipes of My Two Souths—oh, how my kids loved the crepes—beckon. I want to jump into the photos with the the author and her son shopping at the farmers market and I want to join their dinner party afterwards. Really, really good food and realistic to pull off is what I look for in a cookbook—that’s how I know I’ll use it again. That’s what My Two Souths offers. 

And as far as Taste & Technique, I really do get it: It’s brilliantly researched and written, beautifully photographed, and does exactly what it says it will do. It elevates your home cooking to restaurant quality. And that is right for so many. But in this case, Taste & Technique, it’s not you. It’s me.

And the winner is…

My Two Souths

My Two Souths

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Do you Agree?

152 Comments

beejay45 May 9, 2018
May I point out the comment spam from those with motor vehicles in their names???<br /><br />Hyundai Trường Chinh quoted directly from my comment a few spaces down from his/hers/its.<br /><br />Ford Hà Thành appropriated Antonia James's words.<br /><br />Should we be flattered? I've complained about this before but got booed and hissed at so much that I stayed away for months. Seriously? Is it more wonderful, happy and inclusive to protect content spammers and plagiarizers than to weed them out and save the genuine members the trouble of wading through their garbage? Not to mention having their content stolen.
 
beejay45 May 9, 2018
And while we're at it, can we get some way to edit our own comments?<br /><br />I should have said Hyundai Trường Chinh plagiarized my comment. If it was quoted, there would have been attribution, which there wasn't.
 
Rae May 8, 2018
Why was Lena Dunham judging a cook book contest, if she can't cook?
 
Harriet K. August 20, 2017
When I signed up for Food52 I only had one question, which is the best flour substitute for wheat flour when frying chicken? But alas, I saw the contest about the cookbooks, read all 153 comments and just had to be embarrassed for it and laughed a bit.<br />I'm a/was a regular ol' cook, but recently took a position as a caregiver/cook for a man with multiple sclerosis and does not have the use of his hands in the kitchen. He is a gourmet cook! He is also paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and all that jazz. Now since I started, he says he has not had anyone in the last 4 years who has made such creative, Innovative, delicious food! How did I do that? I scoured the internet, I bought Kindle cook books for free to $4.99; Googled advice. I researched and learned and love that I can make two gourmet meals at his home everyday, in 6 hrs, and his regular household duties. Yes, gourmet! I grind fresh ginger and I would never fathom such as using onion or garlic powder now. <br />I don't need an award-winning expensive cookbook or a bunch of hoo-ha about it, or the other, to make fabulous dishes at home. Thanks for helping me realize that. <br />Still I'm very thankful for the comment that coconut flour was just as tasty as wheat flour and browned well, as I have not fried anything yet for this gentleman. Oh, I made a sweet potato Apple casserole in coconut milk which I make homemade, with curry and turmeric among other yummy spices. I sauteed the onion and sweet potatoes a little too long, though
 
Gardenfarmandtable.com December 20, 2017
I loved reading this comment. Cooking for someone has an amazing affect of care and your approach is so thoughtful and generous. I hope there are many more cookbooks to inspire your adventures.
 
Peppa April 29, 2018
I'm not sure what your fascinating anecdote has to do with The Piglet, but it's nice that you enjoy cooking.
 
Gabrielle G. March 31, 2017
If I'm trying a cookbook for myself and my needs, you're right, I likely wouldn't give it more than two recipes. But if I were reviewing a cookbook for a competition, knowing I had a wide audience? I'd certainly try more than two recipes! I don't see how any cookbook can get a fair assessment based on two recipes--even if the point is simply to introduce new books or have celebrity judges.<br /><br /><br /><br />
 
beejay45 September 23, 2017
Not exactly the same thing, but when I'm looking at a cookbook with thoughts of purchasing, I give every recipe I'm sure I will use a value of a dollar. If there are enough of them, I buy. Now, if you price your cookbook at $50, it's going to have to be pretty good across the board for me to make a buy decision, and I have bought at that price point.. ;) Maybe assign a required miminum of points to get the win and try/really analyze enough recipes to see if one book beats another???
 
Kathleen March 31, 2017
It's such a personal call but I do disagree with the result. I bought Taste & Technique and for me it's an incredible book with such versatility. But, it's great for the site to have engaged readers so it's all good.
 
beejay45 March 31, 2017
Not that many people disagreeing with the verdict, but so much hating on the review! Oddly, the majority of the angst seems to be due to a feeling of being cheated because Lena Dunham was all but invisible here. If I were Jenni Konner, my feelings would definitely be hurt.<br /><br />That said, I really enjoyed this review. I think that trying just two recipes that required an unusual amount of effort, only one with a good result, was enough. How many of you would persevere with a cookbook that just wasn't your style? And the comment about vegetarians? A hoot. To me, it gave a sense of the kind of joking that goes on in families -- a glimpse into the real person behind the famous name.<br /><br />I've enjoyed the quality of reviews in this Piglet much more than many of the past years. They felt more reasoned and even-handed. In the end, the choice is going to be subjective. As long as I get an idea of what's inside the books, I'm pretty happy.<br /><br />
 
Margit V. March 29, 2017
Reading the lively and thought-provoking comments provided a sense of relief, much-needed after reading the puzzling and jarring review. The aside about vegetarians was really weird, especially when I realized that it was directed to Jenni Konner's 12-year-old daughter. (That made my stomach fall!)
 
lynne March 30, 2017
Really--this struck me as a humorous comment--why did others take it as a slam?
 
Bluedog March 29, 2017
Some serious sporadic ugliness at this cookbook competition. Since it occurs every year, I assume this is part of the business plan—in the same way that vicious, contrived locker room arguments are a standard marketing strategy in sports talk radio. Maybe this ugliness helps meet business goals but it really detracts from the site’s reputation and mission. You really ought to think about altering your modus operandi.
 
petalpusher March 29, 2017
I don't know if the piglet recognizes 'sporadic ugliness' policing. Only ice cream can almost make everybody happy or pizza. But aside from your opinion, what cookbooks are you enjoying from this tournament? I am so pleased to have found Samarkand. Do you enjoy cooking? Do you provide nourishment for loved ones? My family doesn't follow this ' cookbook blog happening' but they get to eat some more delicious food inspired by it.
 
Jaye March 30, 2017
I agree with you petalpusher about the book Samarkand. I think it is a refreshing addition to the cook book market.
 
Teresa @. March 24, 2017
There is a strong lobby for a more serious cookbook competition in place of this one, but I love the freewheeling format of the Piglet. I see it as a place for creativity and the construction of a good argument to support the reviewer's choice. For me, the disappointing reviews are the ones that give short shrift to one (or both) of the books, make weak arguments that come across as serving a pre-judgement, or don't seem to embrace the spirit of the competition. That said, it's all part of the game. I don't follow the Piglet to find out which cookbook is the best of the year - there are other competitions for that. I come here to discover cookbooks I might have overlooked, to enjoy agreeing and disagreeing with the judges and commenters, and above all, to relish the terrific writing that emerges each year.<br /><br />For this review, I was disappointed that only one of the two promised judges was present in the review. I felt the same way last year, when Ayelet Waldman and Michale Chabon were co-judges. If there are co-judges in the future, I'd love to see a dialogue between them, or instead, let capable writers like Jenni Konner and Ayelet Waldman stand on their own.
 
klclark March 24, 2017
totally agree.<br />
 
chardrucks March 25, 2017
Thank you for GETTING IT and stating it so eloquently, Teresa. We created the Piglet for all the reasons you said and for people like you. <br /><br />With much appreciation,<br /><br />Charlotte Druckman (Piglet Co-Founder)
 
Victoria C. March 25, 2017
Teresa, I agree with you completely. The freewheeling format is what keeps The Piglet fun, and, if you think about it, keeps it workable. Imagine how difficult putting this together must be. We want to keep it fun for readers and reviewers not make it an onerous task that reviewers will be reluctant to do. Also, I'm with you on feeling that it isn't a tournament to choose the best book of the year; it's a place to expose FOOD52ers to all the best books of the year. They start out as the winners!
 
Gabrielle G. March 29, 2017
I understand your argument--however, it still seems unfair to particular cookbook authors when their books are dismissed because the judges can't be bothered. (If the reviews aren't meant to be taken seriously and the mere entry into a Piglet tournament is a great honor and people would rather hear from celebrity judges than from serious cooks, OK, fair enough. I have to confess, I didn't GET IT.
 
Rick March 29, 2017
I'm with Gabrielle. I like the mix of reviewers and the 'free-wheeling' nature of it but any competition, even one that's ostensibly not that serious, should try to have some rules or guidelines. Asking reviewers to make at least 3-4 dishes, asking them to get the right ingredients, etc is not onerous. <br /><br />Charlotte - due respect, this is the only comment you've bothered to reply to here and it's one praising your creation. It would be nice to see some F52 people address the concerns many of us have expressed vs what it feels like... ignoring them.
 
Rick March 29, 2017
Victoria - "...Also, I'm with you on feeling that it isn't a tournament to choose the best book of the year; it's a place to expose FOOD52ers to all the best books of the year. They start out as the winners!...:<br /><br />Then don't organize it AS a tournament with winners and losers. I'd be just as interested in these reviews if they weren't structured as a tournament but simply as people reviewing two books in a compare and contrast mode. However it's patently silly to create a tournament with brackets, winners and losers, then say "it's not a tournament!"
 
chardrucks March 29, 2017
it's not the first comment i've replied to, Rick, due respect.
 
Gabrielle G. March 23, 2017
This review made me angry. Perhaps My Two Souths is a better book. I don't know because I don't have it although I will check it out as I have read and heard good things about it. But I have been cooking out of Taste & Technique, and it certainly got an unfair review here. Someone who basically objects to the premise of the book shouldn't be judging it--especially in the last round. (By the way, the duck confit is amazing and not that difficult.) <br />Again, no axe to grind about the books, but this whole Piglet thing and unqualified judges who are more interested in sounding disinterested has gotten tiresome. It's hard to take this competition very seriously.
 
Gabrielle G. March 23, 2017
This review made me angry. Perhaps My Two Souths is a better book. I don't know because I don't have it although I will check it out as I have read and heard good things about it. But I have been cooking out of Taste & Technique, and it certainly got an unfair review here. Someone who basically objects to the premise of the book shouldn't be judging it--especially in the last round. (By the way, the duck confit is amazing and not that difficult.) <br />Again, no axe to grind about the books, but this whole Piglet thing and unqualified judges who are more interested in sounding disinterested has gotten tiresome. It's hard to take this competition very seriously.
 
Đại L. March 23, 2017
http://www.dailyxeford.net/
 
Daniel March 22, 2017
so, the other book won just because you are lazy and you don't want to do restaurant quality food at home? that is a shame
 
greg T. March 22, 2017
Even though Lena can't cook.. the one thing she CAN do is WRITE. And write great! That's whats so weird about this review.. why not have Lena write it up? Doesn't make any sense and is def. my least favorite of all Piglet reviews perhaps ever. I will buy that book though.
 
sufitt March 21, 2017
I wish the Piglet reviews were more objective. It's kind of turning me off this tournament forever.
 
mainecook61 March 21, 2017
The Piglet has become (or maybe it always was) a cookbook reality show. Or maybe a cookbook wrestling match. Reality shows rely on spectacle, keep the viewer/reader hanging, and are about as substantive as a bag of Cheetos. Now that we have a reality show host at the highest level of government, let's give the cookbook judging back to the little people, that is, the accomplished home cooks who actually buy the books.
 
Shem A. March 22, 2017
mainecook61 - Often I read in comments that Piglet is for the average inexperienced home cook and that's why they picked judges of the like. However, I agree with you. I tend to buy two cookbooks a month and do my best to give each one a fair shake. They all teach me something and make me a better home cook. I get trying to appeal to those who might not be buying cookbooks in the first place but I also feel the judging of a cook book should be two-fold. I would love to see a review of the book from a home cook who knows their way around their kitchen (and whether or not they have cream of tartar on hand…) as well as a review buy someone who's never cook that type of food before. They really should appeal to both their audiences. Once both judging are in on the same book then their review is posted and the community votes on it and thats how a book advances in the brackets… Well, thats my opinion anyways…
 
Anne T. March 21, 2017
Agree completely with Antonia James. Piglet reviews are amusing but I take them with a huge grain of Maldon salt
 
AntoniaJames March 21, 2017
I've suggested this several times, and been met with radio silence, but I'll try one more time. There should be a shadow tournament, pairing the books the same way but using judges who are Food52 members who are experienced home cooks willing to commit to testing and reporting on at least 5 and preferably 6 or 7 recipes from each book. If it's too much work for the Food52 staff, I'll organize it!<br /><br />And if that just doesn't fly, how about this? Set up a page for each book in the contest, where the only comments allowed would be reports from Food52 members who have cooked recipes from the book, and substantive follow up questions relating to those comments. Anyone who had cooked from a book could go through and talk about what worked and what didn't, what they loved and what they didn't, and why, etc. <br /><br />I find that the most helpful and constructive comments on the Piglet are those from the community members here who have actually cooked from the books. Wouldn't it be handy to have those comments all in one place? <br /><br />Please, consider this. Not only would it provide a way to share more cook-to-cook insights into the recipes, but it would also make up for the slackers, and too busy and/or less experienced cooks selected as judges. <br />Many thanks. ;o)
 
Dana V. March 21, 2017
(Hi AntoniaJames!) Count me in for next year :) Also, this isn't exactly what you're asking for but there's a Food52 Cookbook Club on FB where members (over 5K!) cook from a cookbook each month and post their results, sometimes with photos. April is going to be Diana Henry's Simple.
 
mainecook61 March 21, 2017
Antonia James, I couldn't agree more! I'd look forward to reading a review you wrote.<br />
 
Shem A. March 22, 2017
Antonia James - I have to say for me to cook 6-7 recipes out of a single book might take far too long to be timely but I love the idea of having a Food52 page per book of each tournament so that the community can comment on a individual book, work with that book and share what they have learned. It just so happened that I had Taste of Persia before Piglet began but hadn't had a chance to cook from it until after it got knocked out of the competition. The review and many of the comments were harsh about the recipes. I made the Tart Lamb Stew with Fried Potatoes and Basic Persian Rice and loved it. There were some things I learned from it that would have been great to share. I did a write up in my blog https://aronofskycreations.com/2017/03/14/a-middle-eastern-culinary-adventure/ and already have another recipe planned. Loved your ideas!
 
Asha L. March 22, 2017
Well said, Antonia James!
 
Rick March 22, 2017
But let's say you're being asked to review a book. Cooking 5 recipes that, in your judgement, represent the breadth of the book would be a bit more than 1 per week if you had a month. IF you had just 2 weeks, it's only 5 of 14 meals (less if some of the recipes are side dishes, desserts, etc). <br /><br />So, as long as the F52 folks can give reviewers reasonable amounts of time to do the review, ~5 recipes doesn't seem like a big ask. IF someone doesn't want to do that, can't because they have other commitments during that time, etc, they should pass.
 
BerryBaby March 23, 2017
I so agree! Have those that would actually USE and ENJOY the cookbooks judge them. Every time I see a 'celebrity' as a judge on a cooking show, I ask myself "Why?" They offer nothing except their opinion and have no culinary knowledge of food or preparation. I would like to add that having PROFESSIONAL chefs, who know what goes into writing a cookbook and testing the recipes, would make more sense in judging these wonderful books. They know about the processes, they know all the work and science behind the recipes and can offer a more professional point-of-view. Two panels for judging: one professional chefs and the other members of this community, who would give an honest assessment of the books. JMO BB
 
AntoniaJames March 23, 2017
I've been thinking about a structure for Food52 members' testing that would take it off road, so to speak, making it more like non-basketball and football sports tournaments, where a contestant gets more than one chance to advance. <br /><br />To that end, three people would judge each round and the book with the majority would advance. That would also allow testing of a minimum of 3 or 4 recipes by each. We, the home cooks who use cookbooks, would get a lot of information (all three reviewers' comments would be provided, with word /sentence limits and a template format to ensure plenty of useful insights. (In fact, one of the questions to be answered for each book would be, "Would you recommend this book to someone who doesn't have much experience? If not the whole book, any particular recipes (and which ones)?" <br /><br />I'm sure we'd have more than enough volunteers. I offer this, respectfully, as a way to satisfy the hunger expressed by readers of the Piglet in so many rounds for more useful information about each book's recipes, provided by people like us . . . . ;o)
 
AntoniaJames March 23, 2017
Thanks for the link, Shem. What a great blog! I really enjoyed your review of "Taste of Persia" - quite helpful, indeed. ;o)
 
Shem A. March 24, 2017
Your welcome Antonia, Thanks for checking it out. I think what's fascinating with a book like Taste of Persia is that many of the recipes recommend the addition of the "Herb Plate". I am not a huge fan of cilantro but the Tart Lamb Stew with Fried Potatoes needed something to brighten it up and not be so heavy. Cilantro did just that. I enjoyed it so much in fact that each night as we ate it I kept adding more and more. I was shocked by the end of the week just how much cilantro I was putting on this dish. I learned that I do like cilantro in the right context (something I am learning about most foods) and that had I not added the herbs as recommended I would have been very disappointed with the dish. All that said when I read the review in Piglet and they said the recipes were bland I now question if they put all the different parts together or just tried a recipe alone without any of the recommended accompaniments. <br /><br />I also have to say that as I cook with a cookbook I always tweak the recipe to how I cook and what I like. A cookbook is a guide for me. So in that same stew the second night I reheated the stew on the stove and added a ton more water to get it to a stew like consistency so it wasn't so thick and loved it! I know some people need to follow a recipe exactly but when judging a cookbook I would have to look at another aspect. I would look at can I get something delicious out of this recipe if I tweak it. I wouldn't have known how to make a Persian dish without her book. I may not follow her recipe exactly but she, along with her recipe got me there so for that I love her book…
 
marmar March 21, 2017
There's so much I love about Food52, and following the Piglet is an opportunity to learn about some of the best cookbooks out in the big wide world. But, I have to say--maybe it's because I'm utterly uncool and unhip-- I don't see why the I-can't be-bothered reviewers are acceptable. What is the time and energy required to produce a cookbook? Then we hand it off to be judged by someone who cooks 2 recipes out of it? If they can't be bothered, why are they here? I thought the review of Fuschia Dunlop's book was pretty insulting and the argument that 'we gave two books to someone who didn't like either one" left me confused but I said nothing. I'm just bothered by the unseriousness (laziness?) here and the sneaking suspicion that if I don't get the inside joke, it's on me.
 
Gabrielle G. April 4, 2017
Nah--it's not just you.
 
Brian G. March 21, 2017
Who knew so many cooks lack a sense of humor? My esteem for the wonderful Jenni Konner continues to rise. Great Piglet this year!