Carol McManus, the owner of Espresso Love Café in Edgartown, wants you to eat more at home .
Sounds suspicious? Like some new marketing ploy or something? Relax. It’s not. Not even close. Eating at home, cooking family meals, is something close to Carol’s heart. It’s something she not only believes in but it’s what she did for her own family. Because, despite being divorced and raising five kids (two of whom graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School), Carol kept the family meal alive. She cares deeply about the heart and soul of the home hearth, and she wants to make it accessible.
“Sharing a meal, along with the joys and frustrations of your day, is an act that binds families together,” she writes in the foreword to her latest cookbook, Table Talk: Food. Family. Love. And her cookbook is filled with recipes that even the busiest home cook can make.
Sitting in her ‘office’ — an intimate café table in the corner of Espresso Love’s garden — Carol gently cradles the cookbook in her hands as if she’s holding the ripest of peaches.
The book is clearly an expression of her heart as much as it is an expression of gratitude. Gratitude for its publication, yes. “I had a really good team,” she explains. ”The photographers, Betsy Corsiglia and Kathryn Osgood, Kolodny Dorr Media [Design] — Carol [Kolodny, formerly of Kolodny & Rentschler Design] did the original look for the café — [co-writer] Brenda Horrigan and Vineyard Stories Publishing. It came together so quickly because everyone believed in it.”
Yet it’s more about Carol’s gratitude for being able to share what the kitchen meant to her family — and what she thinks it can mean for the busy families of today. “People don’t eat together anymore,” she laments. “I’ve heard of families where the kids take their food and eat in their rooms. How sad is that?”
Yet the smile quickly returns to Carol’s face when she says, “Every time someone comes into the cafe and picks up my cookbook, they page through it and say ‘I can do this.’” Choosing recipes for the book wasn’t hard, she explains. They are tried and true. “I’ve been cooking these for years.”
Despite a hectic home life when she was a working mother of young children — school, sports and work schedules aside — Carol made dinner and she taught her kids how to cook. “I told them, if you learn how to cook, you can always take care of yourself.” Now her grandchildren — photos of them pepper the cookbook — are learning how to cook as well.
As a child, Carol’s family summered on the shores of Winthrop, Mass., where her father became a summer lobsterman. The money he made selling lobsters to local restaurants helped pay for the rental. Bycatch crabs went to the kids, and as Carol reminisces, her Boston accent deepens with a smirk: “The adults, they got to eat the extra lobsters . . . .
“You know,” she continues, “I learned how to cook from my mother [Dorothy Moisson, to whom the cookbook is dedicated]. “She made good food for us because she knew what it was like not to have it. She lived through the Depression. So we’d have the best meat on Sundays and use the leftovers through the week.” That theme is understated in recipes such as Carol’s Thyme Roasted Chicken with Rosemary, Potatoes and Carrots, the leftovers of which could easily be cooked up in the Grilled Chicken Wrap with Guacamole and even then followed by an adapted version of her Chicken and Rice Soup.
Yet what holds Table Talk together is that Carol keeps it simple and realistic. No fancy gadgetry, difficult techniques or hard-to-find ingredient lists are required. Basics such as Zingy Red Sauce do triple duty in recipes such as Tried and True Meatballs, Lasagna with Sausage and Mozzarella and the kid-friendly English Muffin Pizzas.
A community member whose work includes Vineyard House and Edgartown Board of Trade, Carol used to work in the Edgartown School and found a then-niche teaching cooking classes out of her house. Once a month, she took a small group of teachers through cooking the family dinner and then they’d sit down and eat together. It was a foundational experience — seeing how intimidated people were when they started the class and how confident they’d become by the end. Once the fear of failure was eliminated, Carol learned, cooks could be born.
Of course, any cookbook that Carol writes would be incomplete without her Espresso Love recipe for Presidential Muffins. Those strawberry, blueberry and cream cheese muffins are part of the pantry of lore that is Bill and the Vineyard. And the recipe is among the 80 in the book. But Carol’s cookbook also wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include her own mother’s recipe for Lemon Meringue pie. “It was what she was known for, after all.”
Table Talk: Food. Family. Love. A Cookbook (Vineyard Stories, $22.95) is available now in bookstores and at Espresso Love in Edgartown.