Jack's Skillet: Plain Talk and Some Recipes from a Guy in the Kitchen

Jack Butler, Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $19.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-56512-149-2

From a down-home intellectual (whose novels include Jujitsu for Christ and Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock) comes a breezy and only occasionally windy collection of recipes, stories, folklore and advice about everything from Band-Aids to his daughter's graduation from college. Some chapters contain no recipes at all but are simply ruminations on some aspect of food and eating (one, on his occasional fasts, is successful in its wackiness; another about kitchens in his various houses is less interesting). The chapters that do contain recipes have a major flaw: Butler tends to repeat himself. This is most obvious when, for example, he spends a page or two explaining quite specifically how he made Chicken Pot Pie when his wife came down with a cold, then provides a recipe that repeats the same information in more orderly fashion. The 60 recipes here are mostly traditional Southern (Buttermilk Biscuits; Hush Puppies; Strawberry Shortcake) with a few innovations and explorations thrown in (Homemade Pizza with Yeast-rising Crust; Basil Pasta with Egg Dressing; Meatless Loaf). Despite Butler's warning in the introduction that readers will encounter ""a streak of health consciousness,"" the dishes he rustles up are on the heavy side. Still, Butler's encouragement of experimentation is endearing, and he has some smart things to say about food and life, not the least of which is that cooking ""is a way of taking responsibility."" Author tour. (Nov.)