On Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m., we will wrap up our Spring Talk About Literature in Kansas (TALK) series with Secrets of the Tsil Café by Kansas author Thomas Fox Averill. Gene Chávez, diversity consultant with Chávez & Associates, Kansas City, leads the discussion of a son’s struggles to construct his own path within the world of his two strong, loving parents’ different food traditions. Humanities Kansas provides the free TALK book discussions, which immerse readers in captivating stories and introduce different experiences through literature.
This coming-of-age story, set in Kansas City and New Mexico, describes the life of Wes Hingler, his parents and how food is involved in their relationships. Hingler’s two parents had one marriage, but two kitchens – his father’s Tsil Café, with its authentic native-American foods, and his mother’s European-heritage catering business. Wes’s search for his own cooking style, and thus his own adult identity, comes interwoven with a number of memorable characters, family crises and secrets, and a richness of wonderful, whole-world recipes.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this book. It definitely makes me hungry with every page I read. There are detailed descriptions of how the food is prepared, how it smells, how it tastes. Recipes and historical food references are scattered throughout the story. If the Tsil Café or Buen AppeTito catering business really existed in Kansas City, I would be a frequent customer.
As I have been finishing the last few chapters, I think about my own food traditions. I can still taste my grandmother’s knadelach, a kind of dumpling made with matzo meal during Passover, smothered with sour cream. Or her “hambingers”-her pronunciation of hamburgers-made with kosher meat and only a little bit of salt and pepper, seared to perfection, eaten with a fork and no bun required.
My grandmother used to take us with her to the butcher shop and the bakery when we visited her. She didn’t drive, so we would walk. She would usually stop and see some of her friends along the way. Sometimes they served us cookies, freshly baked pound cake or another treat called kmish bread, a crispy, doughy cookie-like pastry with nuts and/or dried fruits rolled into the center.
When we finally arrived at the butcher shop, he would give us kosher pepperoni sticks to munch on while my grandmother gossiped with him or other customers. Then we would go next door to the bakery, where the smell of freshly baked bread wafted out the door. She always purchased fresh challah (twisted egg bread) for the Sabbath, along with pumpernickel or rye bread for the rest of the week. She would also gossip with the baker, a relative of ours. He would give us free crispy, cinnamon swirls to eat on the journey back to my grandmother’s house.
You can search the NExpress catalog to find other authors who include recipes in their novels. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the kitchen looking for a snack while you read.