When Hannah Howard started her first restaurant job as a host, she fell in love with the food industry. Food had been a significant part of Howard’s childhood, but it quickly became her calling, and while she found success in her chosen industry, her obsession with food had a darker side: disordered eating had made food into a thing she both loved and feared. At the time of writing Plenty, Howard is a former restaurant manager turned food writer, and she has left binge eating behind but still struggles with body image. In this memoir, Howard not only tells her story, but that of women in the food industry. She writes about chefs, culinary teachers, entrepreneurs, and even a barge captain working in food-related tourism. Plenty addresses being a woman in a male-dominated environment, struggling with body image while working in food, and choosing motherhood while also chasing career goals.
While Plenty examines all the barriers that are unique to women in the industry, it is ultimately a celebration of food, family, female friendships, and chasing dreams. The women she profiles are interesting and diverse, and all of them are people she befriended while at work. She writes about a young chef just starting out, a chef who tired of the sexual harassment in the industry and transitioned to teaching, and woman who became a barge captain in the Bordeaux region, first by default and then by choice. I think the most inspiring story to me was that of Eat Offbeat, an organization which employs refugee women with no previous professional cooking experience but who are talented home cooks willing to learn to cook for a living. Howard also addresses what happened to all of these women during the pandemic, as they adapted to the changing industry.
I think Plenty would be enjoyed by foodies and by women who work in male-dominated industries. It would also be a natural book club selection, because it lends itself to sharing stories about work, family food traditions, and motherhood. If either eating disorders or miscarriage are triggering topics for you, you might want to pass on this. Miscarriage is part of my own story, so I may have spent that part of the book curled up with a box of tissues, crying for both her and me. No regrets for reading it, but I did want to offer a warning to anyone who may need it.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Plenty on Amazon First Reads. It did not affect my review as I only review books I recommend.
Hannah Howard describes herself as a “writer and cheese maven” on her website, so the only acceptable food offering for a book club is a cheese plate or a charcuterie board. September is a great time to add some fall flavors into the mix, such as figs, pears, apples, and grapes.
Recommended book club menu:
Charcuterie board: One soft cheese and one firm cheese (brie and cheddar pictured), pear slices, figs, sugared prosecco grapes (recipe below), roasted grapes (pictured on brie, recipe also below), baguette, crackers, macarons
Cocktail: French 75 (recipe below)
Mocktail: Apple ginger mocktail (recipe below)
Sugared Prosecco Grapes
The first thing you need to know is that you’ll be draining most of the prosecco, so don’t use a fancy bottle. A $5 bottle works just fine here. Also note my lack of measurements here. You don’t need any terribly specific ratios here as the grapes are merely soaking in the wine. If you are preparing this for a crowd (a couple lbs. of grapes), then you’ll want to use a full bottle of wine. If you are using a small bunch of grapes like I did, you’ll use a third of a bottle at most.
- White grapes
- Granulated sugar
- Place grapes in a bowl. Pour enough prosecco over to cover the grapes completely.
- Cover and refrigerate overnight (or several hours).
- Drain grapes, but don’t dry completely.
- Pour sugar into a baking sheet. Add grapes and roll in sugar until coated evenly.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Variation: Prosecco grapes can also be frozen. I didn’t do so here, as this is a fall-themed board, but frozen grapes would be delicious for an outdoor summer party. If you freeze them, just make sure to do so in a single layer so they don’t stick together like a sparkling bundle of disappointment.
Grapes may be a fruit we are accustomed to eating only raw, but that’s a sad underestimation of this delicious fruit.
- Red grapes
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Rosemary (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- Toss grapes on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary (if using).
- Bake for 25 minutes.
First things first. Do you have simple syrup in your house? If you don’t, it’s easy enough to make at home, but you need to make it a bit in advance as it needs to cool before you use it. I’d recommend making it while your grapes are roasting. Just add equal amounts sugar and water in a small saucepan. (I used 1/3 cup of each.) Heat on low and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Let it cool.
- 1 ounce gin
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
- 2 ounces sparkling wine
- Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake and then strain into a champagne glass.
- Top with sparkling wine.
Apple Ginger Mocktail
- Apple cider (I used honeycrisp)
- Ginger ale
- Fill a glass with ice halfway with cider.
- Add the same amount of ginger ale.