As you can see from my reviews of Passion and Affect and Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, Laurie Colwin is one of my favorite contemporary authors. For me, her writing is exactly right, like having precisely what you want to eat when you’re hungry: tart lemonade on a hot day, or a soup with an exotic and exciting combination of perfect flavors when it’s cold out. She is satisfying and challenging at the same time. I never fail to be a bit saddened that she died so young, because of course there will be no more of her books to come. So when I finally got my hands on a copy of Home Cooking, which collects some of the columns that she wrote for Gourmet magazine during the 1980s, I was absolutely delighted. It might not be a novel, but it was more Laurie Colwin. I knew I couldn’t go wrong.
This isn’t a recipe book. In fact, it’s almost a memoir, studded here and there with recipes. Colwin says in her introduction,
One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.
This book is, essentially, talking about eating while eating with friends, as if Laurie Colwin were sitting in your kitchen. She confides in you about mistakes she’s made (“Kitchen Horrors”), about the way she got over her grief at being told she couldn’t indulge her salt cravings any longer (“Without Salt”), about her cravings (“Potato Salad”, “Chocolate”, “Red Peppers”, and others). She reminisces about the tiny kitchen in her tiny apartment: “For eight years I lived in a one-room apartment a little larger than the Columbia Encyclopedia. It is lucky I never met Wilt Chamberlain because if I had invited him in for coffee he would have been unable to spread his arms in my room, which was roughly seven by twenty.” She shares the joys of a good old-fashioned rut. And in my personal favorite essay, “Repulsive Dinners: a Memoir,” she talks about the truly terrible food she’s been given:
Here is what we had: the casserole contained a layer of partially cooked rice, a layer of pineapple rings and a layer of breakfast sausages, all of which was cooked in a liquid of some sort or other. Each person received one pineapple ring, one sausage and a large heap of crunchy rice. We ate in perfect silence, first in shock, then in amazement, and then in gratitude that not only was there not enough to go around, but that nothing else was forthcoming. That was the entire meal.
She also offers a recipe for what to cook at home after a dinner like that: potato pancakes that sound like heaven.
I could go on (and on!) quoting from this lovely book, but I’ll be merciful and let you read it yourself. This should be on everyone’s shelf. If you go out to eat, if you have people over to eat, heck, if you eat, you should read this book. Bon appetit!