Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

homecooking   Food writer and critic Ruth Reichl calls her “the anti-Martha Stewart”.

And perhaps it is because of that that Colwin’s Home Cooking is such an enjoyable read.

In the introduction, Colwin tells the reader that she is a homebody. She loves to stay at home, loves to eat in, and enjoys cooking, but adds that “while I like a nice meal, I do not want to be made a nervous wreck in the process of producing one. I like dishes that are easy, savory, and frequently cook themselves (or cook quickly)”.

“I am probably not much fun as a traveler, either. My idea of a good time abroad is to visit someone’s house and hang out, poking into their cupboards if they will let me. One summer I spent some time in a farmhouse on the island of Minorca. This was my idea of bliss: a vacation at home (even if it wasn’t my home). I could wake up in the morning, make the coffee and wander outside to pick apricots for break- fast. I could wander around the markets figuring out that night’s dinner. In foreign countries I am drawn into grocery shops, supermarkets and kitchen supply houses.”

She’s my kind of cook!

I adore reading food book, and I’ve read more than a few by chefs, restaurant critics and other foodie celebs, but Laurie Colwin’s writing is refreshing in its candour and her ability to connect with the reader, whose domain is more likely to be a home kitchen than a professional one.

Ruth Reichl, the writer, editor and former New York Times restaurant critic, told the New York Times: “You want to be in the kitchen with her — that is her secret. She is the best friend we all want. She never talks down to you.” Colwin is always encouraging:

“Of course there is a motto here: always try everything even if it turns out to be a dud. We learn by doing. If you never stuff a chicken with pâté, you will never know that it is an unwise thing to do, and if you never buy zucchini flowers you will never know that you are missing one of the glories of life.”

She willingly shares her kitchen mistakes:

“This was in my younger days when that sort of thing seemed like a good idea. Triple bypass surgery on the vice-presidents of a medium-sized corporation could have been performed in the time it took me to bone this chicken because the trick was to bone it without cutting into it. You sort of wiggled the knife inside the cavity and got the bones from underneath. When I had finished, I was exhausted and the poor little chicken looked like a dead basketball. But nevertheless, I was determined to stuff that creature with a fancy mixture of ham, chicken, pistachio nuts, cream, cognac and so forth. It makes me shudder to think of it.”

And muses on parties and other people’s cooking:

A party by its nature is free-floating. People are free to float about your rooms grinding cake crumbs into your rugs, scattering cigarette ash on your wood floors, scaring your cat and leaving their glasses to make rings on your furni- ture. This sort of thing is enthralling to some potential hosts and hostesses, horrific to others. Most people feel a combination of these things: the idea of a party fills them half with horror, half with excitement.

The old-fashioned fish bake was a terrifying production. Someone in the family had gone fishing and had pulled up a number of smallish fish – no one was sure what kind. These were partially cleaned and not thoroughly scaled and then flung into a roasting pan. Perhaps to muffle their last screams, they were smothered in a thick blanket of sour cream and then pelted with raw chopped onion. As the coup de grace, they were stuck in a hot oven for a brief period of time until their few juices ran out and the sour cream had a chance to become grainy. With this we were served boiled frozen peas and a salad with iceberg lettuce.

And writes her recipes without too much of a fuss. Sure it’s nice to have a fancy meal on occasion, but with a busy lifestyle, sometimes you just need an idea for a simple meal, like this one for ‘Last-Minute Soup’ in which you steal your kids’ pasta shapes:

“one cup jellied stock, two asparagus chopped up, some little pasta, one egg, juice of half a lime, and black pepper Let the stock come to a simmer and add the asparagus and pasta: you can steal your child’s pastina, or pasta stars. When the pasta has cooked, stir in a beaten egg and the lime juice. Add fresh black pepper and eat at once.”

Here’s when you should read Laurie Colwin

– when you’ve had your own kitchen disaster

– when you’re planning a dinner party

– when you’ve stuck your head in the fridge wondering what to cook for dinner and your kids are demanding “where’s my dinner??”

– when you’ve had a horrendous meal out and everything else is closed and you’re still starving

– when you’re despairing at the size of your home and kitchen (“I did the dishes in a plastic pan in the bathtub and set the dish drainer over the toilet”, says Colwin)

– when you need to feed the fussy and want to disguise vegetables

Or you could just read Colwin anytime and every time. And then reread.

(I read this on Scribd)\

lauriecolwin

Laurie Colwin is the author of five novels: Happy All the TimeFamily HappinessGoodbye Without LeavingShine On, Bright and Dangerous Object; and A Big Storm Knocked It Over; three collections of short stories: Passion and AffectAnother Marvelous Thing, and The Lone Pilgrim; and two collections of essays: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. She died in 1992, aged just 48.

(Maureen Corrigan of NPR recommends starting with Colwin’s 1982 novel Family Happiness, if you haven’t read Colwin’s work before.)

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This is my fourth read for Foodies Read 2015

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

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

  1. Oh how I miss Laurie Colwin. I love her writing and am pleased that she is still being read. For most part, her work has held up over the years.

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  2. She says “I like dishes that are easy, savory, and frequently cook themselves (or cook quickly)”.

    Me too! I’m going to see if my library has this book.

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  3. Timely. I tried to make scones for the first time last week. Turned out like flat pancakes. Now I don’t feel so bad. Don’t know about pate in chicken (actually it sounds quite nice!) but I do know it is unwise to expect scones to rise into a shape that is totally unlike the one they have been cut into.

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    1. Ugh we all have kitchen mistakes. Just yesterday I completely forgot about the bread dough in my bread machine. I was meant to take it out after the dough cycle was done (let it rest and shape it) and of course I left it there for nearly three hours instead. Let’s say it was more than a little over proofed! The other day, I can’t even remember what I baked, but it was rather sad and miserable and uneaten after a few days that I threw it in the compost.

      Anyway, I made raisin scones a couple of months ago and I must say that the recipe was quite awesome. Lots of cream perhaps was the reason for the deliciousness of those scones. There’s a link to the recipe on my post somewhere… https://olduvaireads.wordpress.com/2015/05/02/weekend-cooking-scones/

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    1. Oh I love Nigel Slater too! I have his Kitchen Diaries in my kitchen cupboard (where I keep my cookbooks) and often like to pick it up and turn to today’s date and see what he’s eaten and written about!

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  4. I read this for the first time late last year and loved, loved, loved it. Colwin immediately went on to my list of favourite food writers. Knowing how young she died, I did spend a lot of the book feeling unbearably sad. But what a wonderful legacy to leave.

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