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.
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.