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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Selfie Book Club: Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

So here's my resolution for 2015: I am going to read 25 books this year. 

Usually my resolutions are so vague: "I want to be healthy!" or "I might go to the gym!" But 25 books is a goal and I think I can reach it.

So to kick off the year I decided to treat myself to a food book. For many years these cooking memoirs were all I would read, and of course they made me hungry so I would have to snack while I paged my way through each journey. After reading all the Ruth Reichl and Jeffrey Steingarten I could get my hands on, I had to take a breather. Now I treat food books as chocolates. It's good for once in awhile but I can't let myself rot my brain on them. Also I can't afford that many Fritos.

So you can imagine how pissed off I get when I treat myself to what I think might be a quaint little book about home cooking in 1988 and instead I get lectured about made up nutrition pseudo-science and weird ramblings about pimento loaf. Who even recommended this book to me? How did it make its way onto my To-Read List? And why does everyone on Goodreads think Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin is "comforting," "insightful," "witty"? Did we even read the same book? These cutesy comments make me angrier than the book itself.

So I'll give her this: food memoirs were probably edgy back in 1988. There was no Food Network. The idea of celebrity chefs probably would have puzzled many people back then. She had a couple good stories and a nice appetite and probably a workable typewriter, and she went for it. She wanted to share favorite recipes and dole out advice on things that maybe she wasn't in a position to really give but fact checking was probably a lot harder without Google. 

Okay but I seriously cannot get past the fact that there is an entire CHAPTER called "How to Avoid Grilling" and it includes the message that "Grilling is like sunbathing... everyone knows it is bad for you but no one ever stops doing it" and "Since I do not like the taste of lighter fluid, I do not have to worry that a grilled steak is the equivalent of seven hundred cigarettes." 


Lady, you fry literally everything in tons of oil, but a grilled steak is 700 cigarettes that tastes like lighter fluid?

I also have to give her props for her opening comment, "Unlike most citizens of these United States of America, I do not grill." I guess the humblebrag really was born before Facebook.

These United States. Pssht.

But grilling is not the only thing she despises. Oh no no no. She also makes the claim that "I do not like to eat al fresco. No sane person does, I feel." I mean I get that under certain circumstances it may not be entirely pleasant to eat outside but are you really going to call every happy picnic-going family insane?

Here is a list of other things she does not like:

  • (Cake) mixes: "They are uniformly disgusting"
  • Stuffing on Thanksgiving (no sympathy for even the disappointed kids!)
  • Little Fry Guys: for "nasty fried chicken.... crisp little baby shoes or hockey pucks"
  • Fried chicken coated with eggs or crumbs
  • Fish eyeballs
  • The idea of sweet fruit soup
  • Stuffed Breast of VealCaviar "My only allergy is a slight one, making me a cheap date" (humblebrag #2!)
  • "Glamorous" food
  • Dinner parties. But she throws them anyway to "keep the wheels of society spinning" so "no one will ever know how antisocial you really are." (Honey, I think they have a clue)
  • Canned broth: its "pretty nasty"
  • Parties at night
  • Chocolate cake
  • Chocolate ice cream
  • Microwaves

Things Laurie Colwin likes:
  • Potato salad: "There is no such thing as really bad potato salad."
  • Chocolate, which she likes but does not love
  • Lebanon bologna, with which she was able to (singlehandedly!) "buck the trend" of grilling
  • Some weird thing called beef tea
  • Pretty much anything "festooned" with something else (though I guess this does not count as "glamorous;" see above)
  • Chicken salad, which has "a certain glamour," but apparently the right kind of glamour; again, see above
  • Pimento
Things Laurie Colwin wrongly says "is good for you":
  • Vegetable fritters formed into cakes and fried in butter
  • Fried zucchini
  • Broccoli di rape, which would be true, but she sells it as "a perfect foil for buttery food."

In the chapter called Feeding the Fussy, she goes to extremes to tell us about how she isn't fussy and can eat pretty much anything and that makes her the "universal recipient - the O Positive for hostesses." (Insert blanching emoji that doesn't exist). She goes on to make fun of people's idiocyncracies about food restrictions, fads, diets, notions, phoebias, religious limitations, etc. I feel like she must have been a really long lag while writing this book where she forgot about this chapter and penned the later chapter called Without Salt where she TALKS ABOUT HOW SHE CAN'T EAT SALT BECAUSE SHE HAS HYPERTENSION and then reminds herself that when she's giving those dinner parties she hates that "when I feed people without salt, I am actually doing them a favor."

To boot: we are asked to take inspiration for "low tea" from P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins.

I'm sorry to hear that she died of a heart attack not long after writing this book. But I really do wish she'd done her research on nutrition before giving a condescending diatribe about the virtues of things fried in butter.

TWO STARS because maybe I should just give festooned pimento a chance 

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