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

Come in, we’re closed: An invitation to staff meals at the world’s best restaurants

comeinwereclosed

 

A longstanding custom in France as well as in Japan, staff meals are gaining popularity as an insider perk for restaurant workers around the globe. The finest examples are meals made daily by passionate cooks using great (though often leftover) ingredients shared by everyone, free of charge, around one big table. At their most poetic, these meals highlight the raw beauty of people from all walks of life breaking bread together. In stark contrast, the not-so-great meals are chosen from an uninspired menu of bland, poorly executed, pre-processed options that are eaten in a hurry, or standing, or both. At worst, it is simply not served at all.

 

While I loved reading about the staff meals in various restaurants in North America and Europe, I wondered why there weren’t more restaurants from other parts of the world. This book should perhaps be retitled “western world”. Plenty of North America for sure, also quite a few in Europe like France and Spain, even as far away as Iceland. But no Asia. I mention Asia as the writers themselves had talked about family meals in Japanese restaurants. they do feature Morimoto but that is a Philadelphia restaurant. So I remain curious as to what a Japanese restaurant in Japan serves as its family meal. If we look at the (controversial) list of World’s Best restaurants, there are a decent number located in Asia such as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Japan. There’s also South Africa, India, Brazil and Peru.

I don’t expect the writers to travel the world for a book (nor did I expect them to pick off that list that I linked to) but my beef is that if you’re going to subtitle it “world’s best” then it shouldn’t be just about restaurants in North America and Europe.

(See below for a list of the restaurants featured)

Perhaps the answer lay in the interview with Charles Phan of The Slanted Door, a San Francisco restaurant, who said that Chinese and Vietnamese family meals tend to be very basic:

Usually there’s always a vegetable, there’s usually a broth, some sort of soup, a little meat stir-fried with the vegetables. Those are always the three components: protein, vegetable, and soup. And also starch, usually rice. But one day a Caucasian woman on staff just lost it; she said all we eat is “rice and bones” and noth-ing else. It’s pretty cultural. Some people would go crazy if there was too much cheese and pasta.

I’m probably never going to cook most of the recipes in the book, like the crispy octopus suckers, the beef heart and watermelon salad, Pine-Infused Langoustines. But there were plenty of ideas that any home cook could use. I really am tempted to try the toasted coriander basmati rice from Craigie on Main, potatoes braised in vegetable stock (kind of like a gratin-style thinly sliced potatoes covered with vegetable broth and baked) from Michel et Sébastien Bras.

What I took away from this book: to be more aware about food wastage. I try to save ends and bits of vegetables like the tops and tails of celery or carrots, the stems of mushrooms, use the carcass of a rotisserie chicken to make chicken stock that kind of thing. But these restaurants really make use of the scraps and bits. One restaurant serves fried bones. Another uses the whey left over from making ricotta. And yet another makes a pie of kidneys and root vegetables to use up their glut of kidneys as they butcher in-house.

Other things:

Grinding bacon into ground beef for burgers at McCrady’s, to add smokiness and grill flavour. Genius.

A recipe for peanut butter and curry cookies has me intrigued.

Crosshatching potatoes before baking them. I love hasselback potatoes and will have to try crosshatching them next time.

 

The restaurants featured:
Ad Hoc – Yountville, California
Annisa – New York, New York
Arzak – San Sebastián, Spain
Au Pied de Cochon – Montreal, Canada
The Bristol – Chicago,Illinois
City Grocery – Oxford Mississippi
Cochon – New Orleans, Louisiana
Craigie on Main – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Dill – Reykjavik, Iceland
The Fat Duck – Bray, England
Frasca – Boulder, Colorado
Grace – Portland, Maine
The Herbfarm – Woodinville, Washington
McCrady’s – Charleston, Sourh Carolina
Michel et Sebastien Bras – Laguiole, France
Morimoto – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mugaritz – Errenteria, Spain
Orleana – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Piccolo – Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Slanted Door – San Francisco, USA
St John – London, England
Ubuntu – Napa, California
Uchi – Austin, Texas
Villa9trois – Montreuil, France
WD-50 – New York, USA

 

weekendcooking

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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This is my third read for Foodies Read 2015