A couple months ago food blogger and author Jane Alessandrini Ward mentioned a book on her blog that caught my attention, Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. The name rang a bell -- though I could not remember which one -- so I went directly to Amazon – always my economic downfall. By the time I was finished reading about her, I had ordered Home Cooking and 4 other books. They arrived in short order and I have been enthralled ever since.
For those who do not know, Laurie Colwin was a writer of novels, short stories, and food columns. She was born in New York in 1944 and died too young at the age of 48 after giving the world a tidy little collection of books. So far in my experience, all of them are wonderful.
Home Cooking, the first one I opened, is exactly the kind of cookbook I love – long on stories with a smattering of recipes, all of them perfect. She spends the first part of each chapter explaining how she managed to get herself into the situation of having to make potato salad or needing to learn to fry chicken or trying to unravel the mystery of perfect gingerbread and then, while you are chuckling – largely out of familiarity – she gives you the recipe and/or the technique. From Home Cooking I learned possibly the culinary revelation of 2011 so far: sautéd red peppers with boiled potatoes. Like Ms. Colwin I am a red pepper fanatic and find that most dishes benefit from a red pepper added in. But the idea of sautéing them in a little butter with a touch of garlic and then, when they are just tender, stirring in a couple of sliced, boiled potatoes never occurred to me. I went immediately to the kitchen and that was dinner that evening and a number of them since.
From Home Cooking I moved on to her short story collection The Lone Pilgrim. I love short stories and there is plenty to love in this collection. All of them are stories about people attempting to unravel the mysteries of personal relationships, falling in love, trying to fall in love, trying NOT to fall in love, trying to fall out of love. It is a delicious read, sassy and sexy without ever slipping into tawdriness. In one memorable story a woman who has long avoided intimate attachment finally falls madly for someone and, too late, finds out he's a rat. She cries on the shoulder of her long-married best friend whom she has always envied. The friend comforts her and then makes the astonishing revelation that she has cheerfully embarked on a number of affairs in the course of her marriage. She hands out this useful bit of advice, if you want to have affairs be sure to always select someone who has as much to lose as you do. That way, when you get tired of one another, you'll be perfectly happy to let go and go back to your respective mates. Words to the wise.
In her second food book, More Home Cooking, her adventures in cooking now include the food rituals acquired while being married and raising a child. She writes about dinner parties, picnics, feeding children, and writes seductively about meals shared with friends at summer cottages and vacation homes from the outer shores of Long Island to the Riviera. Everything makes me want to put the book down and make a run to the grocery store – assuming I knew about a grocery store where they sold Latvian Sourdough Rye and French artisanal cheeses.
There are two more books in the Laurie Colwin stack by my bed – a second collection of short stories titled Passion and Affect and Happy All the Time. And when I finish those I can always go back to Amazon.
I have long been of the opinion that writing sensuously, being able to draw your readers into a world where they can fully experience the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, is a rare gift. it should not surprise anyone that writers gifted at writing about food can conjure such worlds in their fiction writing. I am very happy to have found Laurie Colwin and I'm looking forward to many more hours in her company. She has a lot to teach me – both as a writer and a cook. What could be better?
Thanks for reading.