Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Greasy Bookshelf: Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

With the temperatures in the teens earlier this week, I felt like a character in a Jack London story. Feeling this way is understandable when I'm outdoors, but I also feel this way indoors, which is pitiful. As I get older, it seems like it becomes more of struggle to maintain my core body temperature. I'm sure I'm imagining this, but it's becoming a problem because I've actually contemplated purchasing one of those Snuggie blankets, a sure sign of madness or that I'm one step away from joining a cult. I've resisted such drastic measures though. Instead I bake, prepare a good soup, or distract myself by curling up with a good book.

I usually don't curl up with a cookbook because they tend to be bulky and cumbersome. Recently though I encountered Laurie Colwin's cookbook/memoir Home Cooking. The book fit snuggly into my hand, and in the opening she writes, "Unlike some people, who love to go out, I love to stay home." At that point this this homebody realized he had discovered a kindred spirit and a perfect book to distract me from the cold.

The book's casual delivery put me at ease. Her recipes are more casual suggestions rather than rigid instructions. Throughout the book, she gently nudged me to contemplate the possibilities each recipe might offer. This is an approach I need to adopt, for I too often cook by the book and find myself getting uptight about following a recipe verbatim.

This book also contains a dash of gentle humor, which is nice respite from the in-your-face, cynical humor that is in vogue. Do yourself a favor? Visit a bookstore or library and read pg. 150, where she describes some bad home-cooked meals she's had the misfortune of eating. She doesn't merely lambast these meals; instead, there's a certain reverence for such meals. She writes:
There is something triumphant about a really disgusting meal. It lingers in the memory with a lurid glow, just as something exalted is remembered with a kind of mellow brilliance. I am not think of kitchen disasters - chewy pasta, burnt browneis, curdled sauces: these can happen to anyone. I'm thinking about meals that are positively loathsome from soup to nuts, although one is not usually fortunate enough to get eith soup or nuts.

Bad food abounds in restaurants, but somehow a bad meal in a restaurant and a bad home-cooked meal are not the same: after all, the restaurant did not invite you to dinner.
Then she goes on to describe some of the worst home-cooked meals she's encountered. The following is a little taste from one of those meals:

At the door, our hostess spoke these dread words: "I'm trying this recipe out on you. I've never made it before. It's a medieval recipe. It looked very interesting."

Somehow I have never felt that "interesting" is an encouraging word when applied to food.
In the kitchen were two enormous and slightly crooked pies.

"They're medieval fish pies," she said.
This book is triumphant indeed and provides the perfect companion for some under-the-cover reading on a cold, winter day.

take care,

PS. . . Checkout the Snuggie blanket parody at YouTube.


Rechelle said...

Greasy - you crack me up! Now go out and get yourself a snuggie. Go on! GO!

Anonymous said...

The Pat Conroy Cookbook is another cookbook that reads like a memoir. Even if you're already familiar with his story (The Great Santini and all that), it's still an interesting look at southern culture. I actually enjoyed the narrative more than the recipes — have never had much luck with southern cooking, I'm embarrassed to admit.

muddywaters said...

Rechelle: I'm succumbing to peer pressure. I just might do it.

Steve: Maya Angelou also has a cookbook that is quite good. I'm intrigued by writers who cook. I still need to track down Jim Harrison's book that you suggested to me.

I've always wanted a copy of former Black Panther Bobbby Seale's BBQ cookbook. It's out of print, and used copies can be quite pricey.

Thanks for the suggestion.

muddywaters said...

Steve: The Bobby Seale book is titled Barbeque'N With Bobby: Righteous, Down-Home Barbeque Recipes.

I found some used paperback copies for a decent price, and I just might buy a copy. It would be a great conversation piece in the kitchen.

When I think of the Black Panthers, I always think of Forrest Gump: "I'm sorry I had to fight in the middle of your Black Panther Party."

Cracks me up every time.

Kate said...

The medieval fish pie story sounds funny enough to make me want to buy the book!