Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

I liked Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking:  A Writer in the Kitchen.  But I didn’t love it, and I know it says more about me than about the book.  I’m not much of a cook, frankly.  I make good scrambled eggs, can roast some vegetables, and can make a decent grilled cheese.  I pretty much leave the rest of the cooking to my husband, who really enjoys the task (see?  I call it a “task”) and take solace in the fact that I enjoy baking and am good at it.41NSwNv9PfL

So I think someone who is more comfortable in the kitchen and has a more adventurous culinary spirit would appreciate this collection of food essays more than I did.  Laurie Colwin was a writer who lived in New York City and not only wrote about cooking for Gourmet magazine in the 1980’s, but also wrote five novels and three collections of short stories.  Sadly, she passed away from a heart attack at the age of 48.  Her writing has experienced a renaissance of sorts, particularly her food writing. (You can read an interesting article about how her essays continue to influence foodies now here.  The comments are particularly moving since her daughter responds to many who expressed their admiration.)

What I liked about the essays was the tone – she’s quite funny, breezy, and opinionated. She admits no formal training but more of a “let’s just see what happens” attitude to cooking, which is something I admire in people.  My husband has that.  She also consistently writes about cooking as a way to get people together and apparently was a great fan of casual dinner parties.  She writes in a way that conveys her sense of cooking as an act of love and service to her friends and family.  And yet my favorite essay was the one called “Alone in the Kitchen With An Eggplant.”  This one details her former one room apartment in which she cooked and hosted friends with a two-burner stove; essentially a hot plate.

When I was alone, I lived on eggplant, the stove top cook’s strongest ally.  I fried it and stewed it, and ate it crisp and sludgy, hot and cold.  It was cheap and filling and was delicious in all manner of strange combinations.  If any was left over I ate it cold the next day on bread.  

Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures.  Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest.  People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone.  A salad, they tell you.  But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.  

I looked forward to nights alone.  I would stop to buy my eggplant and some red peppers.  At home I would fling off my coat, switch on the burner under my teakettle, slice up the eggplant, and make myself a cup of coffee.  I could do all this without moving a step.  When the eggplant was getting crisp, I turned down the fire and added garlic, tamari sauce, lemon juice, and some shredded red peppers.  While this stewed I drank my coffee and watched the local news.  Then I uncovered the eggplant, cooked it down and ate it as my desk out of an old Meissen dish, with my feet up on my wicker footrest as I watched the national news.

She shares a recipe for bread that I intend to attempt as one of my 40 Challenges this year.  I’ve never made bread before but the notion is appealing and is pretty much like baking in my book.  Other than that, I wasn’t tempted to make any of her recipes, really.  For one thing, there’s a lot of beef, which I don’t eat.  She presented the recipes breezily but they seemed kind of complicated to me.  A lot of the things she liked to cook are not things I want to eat.  I grew a bit weary of her opinions as I read on, and I ended up skimming the last few essays.  I truly think that someone who enjoys cooking and feels intuitive in the kitchen would enjoy this collection, though.  Lots of five star reviews on Goodreads attest to that.  The rest of us would be satisfied with picking and choosing a few essays.

Have you read anything by Laurie Colwin?  Is there a food writer that you particularly like? How do you feel about cooking and/or baking?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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21 thoughts on “Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

  1. I do all the cooking in my house, although I wouldn’t consider myself a good cook, I just follow recipes to the best of my abilities (I’m really good at following recipes!). I’ve never been one of those ‘intuitive’ cooks, mainly because I don’t like taste testing things during the cooking process. I don’t know why, I just think it’s weird. Before I was married and had my kid, I once ate a salad with hot dogs on top-that’s probably the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever made myself.

    You should definitely bake some bread, you would be great at it! Making bread is not cooking, it’s baking for sure :)|

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your hot dog salad! Maybe everyone else will tell me what their weirdest “eating alone” dish was. Mine wasn’t very exciting – I would eat things like Triscuits and cheese or popcorn for dinner.

      Thanks for the bread-baking encouragement! I’m going to do it!

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  2. I’m like Anne – I can follow a recipe but I’m not an instinctive cook. Hmm… I live alone and truthfully rarely cook from scratch, but maybe the weirdest thing is that I have a life-long deep passion for Ricicles and often eat them for dinner!

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      1. Haha! No, they’re a puffed rice breakfast cereal, full of added sugar! They’re aimed very definitely at the kids’ market, but hey! My inner child still loves them! Their advertising slogan used to be Ricicles are Twicicles as Nicicles… I can still sing the song… 😉

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  3. I don’t really cook much since I live alone though I do download recipes from the internet from time to time. This sounds like the perfect book for someone who enjoys cooking as you said. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My husband also has a breezy way in the kitchen. He’s so much more creative than I am when it comes to cooking. It’s a good thing because he does about 95% of the cooking around here! That section about the eggplant, though… that is so cool! I can’t think of any food that I make in so many different ways – other than eggs. It sounds like a fun book though; nice find!!

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  5. I tried reading this one on a transatlantic flight which had come after another 7 hour flight that had preceded it, and did not enjoy it. I’m pretty sure some of it must have been my general tiredness but I remember not really liking the voice of the author either, so I dunno!

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  6. Like short story volumes, I find it hard to read essay collections or anthologies straight through. Kudos to you for plowing through! The eggplant excerpt was amusing.

    Even though I love to cook (and eat), I’m stumped trying to think of food writers I like. I’ve got both Ruth Reichel and MFK Fisher on my TBR. My reading eyes are definitely bigger than my stomach.

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    1. Yes, essay collections straight through are hard for me too – I read a Ruth Reichl years ago – Tender at the Bone – and enjoyed it a lot. I’ve never read Fisher but have heard of her frequently. Oh my goodness, that’s the story of my life – as my endless TBR attests to!

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  7. This is a new book to me, and it sounds right up my alley. I love essays, and I adore cooking weird and complex things on my own. I haven’t spent much time reading foodie literature, though. Honestly, I didn’t know it was a thing before last year’s Read Harder Challenge with a “food memoir” (I read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential; I enjoyed it, but I learned he’s still not sympathetic even after reading his memoir).

    I like essay collections because they challenge me to think about the world differently. Suddenly, a small slice of my life is being examined in a different way. Perhaps it’s not a direct slice of my life, but I can relate to it. At least you found the bread recipe! I hope that it turns out well for you. 🙂

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    1. I hope you can find a copy and enjoy it! I read Bourdain’s book years ago and liked it but didn’t love it. He’s great on his show, I really enjoy it, but in print he comes across as snarkier. A great food memoir is Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelson. Have you read it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oooh, no, I haven’t. I really want to get back into food memoirs, but Bourdain just took the love out of it. I haven’t seen him on TV; it’s hard to believe he is snarkier in the book than on TV! At least on TV he can sensor himself.
        I’ve added Yes Chef to my TBR. Thanks for the recommendation!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re welcome! Hope you enjoy it. And as for Bourdain, I find him to be really respectful of the people and cultures he comes in contact with in his travels. He is genuinely appreciative of all the different kinds of styles of food and the hospitality that his hosts show him. He is still snarky, but at targets that deserve his snark, if you get me. You should check it out – I think Parts Unknown is on Netflix!

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  8. What in the world are shredded red peppers? LoL! Anyway, I don’t enjoy cooking simply because I hate grocery shopping. I might be one of those people who love those companies that send food in a box that has everything for the recipe….

    If you want a fun, casual, funny book about food, I would highly recommend My Life in France by Julia Child. It reads like a story and talks about her California upbringing, how she got to France, and what it was like with three very different women trying to put together a cookbook of French dishes that could be made in an American kitchen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melanie, I LOVE that book. I went into it knowing nothing about Julia Child but came away from it completely in love with her.

      And I’ve often wondered myself about those subscription cooking boxes. I would like to try one, I think, maybe one day?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read the Child book for book club and really loved it. I think it kicked off a memoir/autobiography craze for me. It suddenly occurred to me last night that I am on my 3rd nonfiction book right now. I did Anne Moody, Cheryl Peck, and now Zora Neale Hurston. I need to throw in some fiction or you guys might leave me!

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