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May 18, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Daddy take a bow: Matthew Amster-Burton’s Hungry Monkey

My shelves are lined with books written by friends and colleagues, and I revel in the fun-factor of reading about the lives, loves and liberties taken — in fact or in fiction — by every one of them. Matthew Amster-Burton is both a friend and a colleague. His first book “Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater” had me laughing out loud in recognition, and that’s something bound to happen to any parent, whether you know the guy or not.

Matthew, last week at Olivar on Capitol Hill

If you’re a regular reader of the Seattle Times, Seattle Magazine, Culinate, or — where Matthew is a frequent contributor — his humorous self-deprecating writing-style may be familiar. Ditto for his blog, Roots and Grubs.

Walk the streets of north Capitol Hill where he lives with his wife Laurie (a school librarian), hangs out writing (at Joe Bar) and shops at Bailey-Coy Books (where he proudly sold 50 copies of “Hungry Monkey” at last week’s book-launch party), and you may see him arm in arm with this pretty young thing — whose big blue eyes and appetite for life will be broadcast across the nation tomorrow morning when she cooks with her dad on the CBS Early Show.

Iris Amster-Burton, looking far more serious than usual

There’s a reason Iris is on tour with 33-year-old father, promoting the recipe-filled memoir in which she stars as the beloved child of a food-obsessed “stay-at-home dad” who knows his way around the kitchen: a tour that may have 5-year-old Iris discussing her distaste for cheese and love for the oily mackerel that might turn up the less attuned noses of her mac ‘n cheese-loving playmates. And that reason is Iris’ grandmother — Matthew’s mom and chief babysitter, Judy Amster.

Judy Amster at a Books & Cooks event on Beacon Hill

I met Judy — whose son is so cool he hyphenated his wife’s name — through a mutual friend in Portland, shortly after she and her husband moved to Seattle from Portland a decade ago to be closer to their college-age boys. The first time she called, we stayed on the line for more than two hours. I quickly learned she shared my love of cookbooks (which lined every nook and cranny of her home) and a special fondness for “Anne of Green Gables” — making us instant kindred spirits, as Anne-with-an-“e” would say.

Judy told me she’d worked at Powell’s Books for Cooks and as a caterer, but said her proudest accomplishment was raising three sons whom she adored. Her eldest, Matthew, was a UW grad-student with a food-focused blog — whatever that was. And in the course of our conversation she suggested I view his work online. I was so impressed I brought him to the attention of the Seattle Times editors (which, full-disclosure, explains why he acknowledged me in his book as having got him his “first-ever paid assignment”). Today, as her son and granddaughter prepare to meet America, Judy couldn’t be more proud — as she told me over lunch last week at Quinn’s. Rightly so.

Matthew and Iris get cooking [photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

In case you were wondering, I’d have suggested you read “Hungry Monkey” (filled with recipes kids and grownups will appreciate cooking and eating) whether I was a friend-of-the-family or not. You don’t even have to have kids to get a kick out of it, so long as you remember what it’s like to be one. “Hungry Monkey” has a significantly Seattle slant, making it that much more fun to read if you live here. Among the reasons why?

From the chapter “Magic Cooking Robots — Fun with the Slow Cooker and Pressure Cooker:

I’m not going to be a jerk and wag my finger and say that you, for the sake of yourself and your children, must make more time for cooking. Neither am I going to say something like “Grinding your own flour doesn’t take nearly as long as you think!” That strikes me as a pretty jerky thing to say, and maybe you already think I’m a jerk, since you figured this book might give you some ideas for your own life and your own kids and then it turns out that the author has two hours each day to make dinner. Man of the people, my ass!

From “Snacktime”:

If I miss my three p.m. snack or make the mistake of eating a few tortilla chips and thinking this constitutes snack, I get sulky before dinner. Iris is always teaching me valuable lessons like this. Like, who knew that I needed a nap every day at one p.m.? Unfortunately, once Iris turned two and a half, she stopped taking naps, whereas I still start to fall asleep around one p.m. I would happily pay Iris five dollars to take a nap, but kids today just don’t understand the value of money.

From “Monkey goes to Market — Shopping our way through Seattle”:

On one of our visits to Bavarian Meats, they were giving out free samples of landjager, a hard German salami stick. I tried it and warned Iris that it might be too chewy. By the time we got halfway down the block she had finished it, and we had to go back and buy some. Iris will try absolutely anything offered as a free sample. Once I tried to kiss her good night and she said, “No free samples!”

For more free samples of “Hungry Monkey,” Matthew reads June 1 at the University Bookstore and June 6 at Barnes & Noble in University Village. An excerpt of his book will appear in the Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine on Father’s Day.

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