Chew On This

Weigl: A friend in the kitchen with Laurie Colwin

May 29, 2012 

  • 14 summer reads for food lovers The James Beard Foundation’s book awards committee compiled a list of food books for the 14 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Enjoy! • “The Art of Eating” by M.F.K. Fisher • “Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris” by A.J. Liebling • “Blood, Bones & Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton • “Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War” by Annia Ciezadlo • “The Debt to Pleasure” by John Lanchester • “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace” by Tamar Adler • “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food” by Jennifer 8 Lee • “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany” by Bill Buford • “Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen” by Laurie Colwin • “The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten • “Oranges” by John McPhee • “The Oysters of Locmariaquer” by Eleanor Clark • “Simple Cooking” by John Thorne • “The Tummy Trilogy” by Calvin Trillin

Many years ago, I tried to read Laurie Colwin, the late novelist who used to write a monthly column for Gourmet magazine.

I was turned off by her professed love of boiled beef. I couldn’t imagine anything appetizing about such a dish or feel a bond with a writer who pined for such sustenance.

Now I adore Laurie Colwin’s food writing. Sometimes we have to grow into being able to enjoy a writer’s work.

Earlier this month, Colwin was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame for two collections of her Gourmet essays: “Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen” and “More Home Cooking.”

The former collection is included in a list of 14 Reads for Food Lovers, released last week by the foundation’s book awards committee. I sit on the committee and helped create the summer reading list, which offers a book for each week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The full list appears on page 4D.

In preparation for the committee’s discussion about whether to induct Colwin into the Hall of Fame, I picked up her books again. Now that I write a regular food column, I can better appreciate Colwin’s skill. I love her conspiratorial friend-in-the-kitchen tone.

My fellow committee member, Martha Holmberg, a cookbook author and former food editor at The Oregonian in Portland, described Colwin as “the proto-blogger, the inadvertent pioneer of the genre that is so prevalent in food writing today.” Holmberg points out, and I agree, few do it as well as Colwin did.

I also connect with Colwin’s writing more now that I’m a mother. Colwin died suddenly at the age of 48 after a heart attack, leaving behind a husband and a daughter. Colwin makes many references in her essays to her daughter, Rosa, who graciously accepted the Hall of Fame award in her honor.

As a new parent, I have a different view of Colwin’s essay, “Easy Cooking for Exhausted People,” the same one that turned me off years ago for waxing poetic about boiled beef.

Colwin writes: “I am not a fancy cook or an ambitious cook. I am a plain old cook. A while ago I was a person who liked to have friends over for dinner, and now that I have a child I am someone who is responsible for three meals a day plus snacks. ... Three meals a day seven days a week, even if you love to cook, is enough to get a person down, especially if the person has anything else to do such as pick up a child from school, write a novel, have time for such necessities as shopping, to say nothing of keeping up with friends or an occasional conversation with one’s mate.”

Colwin perfectly describes where I am in my life: overwhelmed by work and motherhood and finally understanding the necessity of 30-minute meals. I feel like I found a friend in the kitchen, although she has yet to sway me about boiled beef.

If you have never read Colwin’s work – either her food essays or novels – I encourage you to pick them up this summer, along with any other books we’ve suggested. Nothing makes a summer day better than a good read.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com

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