Local writer, food critic receives national recognition for cookbook

SHELBURNE Melissa Pasanen was surprised to find herself mentioned in the Boston Globe and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Her cookbook, Cooking With Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont, has been well-received throughout New England and in various parts of the country. Her reaction to being included in the New York Times list of notable cookbooks in 2007? I jumped up and down, she said. Screamed a little bit. Pasanen, who lives in South Burlington and works for the Burlington Free Press and Art of Eating, said that she was in New York City when she received a number of e-mails from her publisher. She was told to check the New York Times website for her book, which she wrote with help from Chef Rick Gencarelli. I kept going back to the website to check if I was really on the list with Deb Madison and Bobby Flay, and all of these other people who have written tons of famous cookbooks, said Pasanen. To have the book on this list, it goes beyond people just loving Shelburne Farms. The holidays have been busy for Pasanen. She has spent much of her time on the road, promoting the book alongside Gencarelli, who is the head chef at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. Other than the promotion time, Pasanen said that her success hasnt dramatically changed her life. Were at a very busy time, promoting this book, she said. Weve been all over Vermont; in Shelburne, St. Albans, Norwich. The support throughout the state has been wonderful. I knew that if we did a good job, people in Vermont would love the book. To receive this kind of national attention is amazing. My kids are very proud of me. While her biggest fans are her kids, Pasanen has been telephoned by acquaintances from around the area asking her to sign copies of the cookbook. One day, standing in line at the grocery store, the cashier recognized her from the author photo and asked for an autograph. Pasanen everything in the book, including the recipes. The creation of the recipes, however, was a joint endeavor with Gencarelli. After developing a recipe, Pasanen would buy the ingredients locally and then she would follow Gencarelli through the kitchen, keeping track of his every move. There is a huge amount of work that goes into translating even the simplest of recipes into a readable cookbook, she added. We had to do all of the cooking in my kitchen, because the kitchen at Shelburne Farms was closed for the season. One of the books hallmarks is its simplicity, though, and cooking in a smaller kitchen works to the advantage of the reader. All of the recipes were designed to be user-friendly, and the publishers actually paid various people to test the recipes out in their own kitchens. Friends of Pasanen also volunteered to try the recipes out. Pasanen said that she never set out to be a writer, and she owes much of her success to Deborah Straw, a local writing teacher who once taught a class at the Book Rack in Winooski -- a store that is no longer in business. My mother always told me that I should be a writer, said Pasanen. Deborah told me that I had a knack for bringing food to life. The people and the stories behind food are what interest me most, she continued. Everyone eats. Food carries memories, culture, and challenges. You can learn a lot about people and what makes them tick by talking to them about the foods that they enjoy. For more information about Shelburne Farms, visit www.shelburnefarms.org. To view the complete list of New York Times notable cookbooks for 2007, visit www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/books/review/cooking-extra.html .

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