Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Home Cooking.

One of the unfortunate things about starting your blog way back in the ancient days of Blogger is that all the nifty new features are inapplicable to your old template. For instance, I love the feature on newer blogs where you can attach identifiers and categories to each post, thereby making it easy for you and your readers to find topics related to home, or thrifting, or cooking, or whatever you write about. But I have not been able to find the courage to try to do a template change on four years' worth of writing, lest something dreadful happen.

So for that reason, I can't remember, and don't feel like sorting through four years of posts to find out, whether I have ever mentioned Laurie Colwin here before.

I have a very pleasant memory of discovering Laurie was my junior year of college and I was at the mall at home on a break, browsing through the bargain rack in front of Waldenbooks.

[I have a pleasant memory of the Waldenbooks, too, as it was the first bookstore I ever visited, thanks to my aunt Charlotte,who gave me a gift certificate for my 8th birthday--an event that looms very large in my life.]

So in the bargain rack was a hardback copy of Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, which is a collection of columns Colwin, a novelist, wrote for Gourmet magazine. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about E.B. White and his wife and their writing style, and I think Colwin's style falls into the same category: erudite, straightforward, deceptively simple, gently opinionated.

I'll never forget reading Colwin's description of cooking in her first New York apartment which was the size of a box of animal crackers, as I believe she described it, while sitting in my dorm room, which had roughly the same dimensions (plus a sheet strung on a rope across the middle to divide my roommate's half from my half--this was our third year rooming together and the thrill was gone.) Whenever I picture her apartment, I see my dorm room. I read and re-read that book, just for the enjoyment of her voice and the images she evoked.

A few years later, Todd and I were living in Idaho Falls, Idaho, which at that time had no real bookstore. (It was a great day indeed when the Barnes and Noble finally went in on the edge of town.) We would drive down to Salt Lake City, four hours away, every now and then, to shop and to hit a few excellent independent bookstores. At one of these bookstores, I was completely surprised and delighted to find a paperback copy of More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. This was in the dark ages B.I. (Before Internet) when it was a lot harder to find out about new releases and what a writer was up to, so I had no idea the book was out there.

I got a bad feeling when I opened up the book and the copyright page said "the Estate of Laurie Colwin." I flipped to the back and saw that she had passed away the year before, in her late forties, of a heart attack.

Since then, I've read several other people's descriptions of finding out about her death, and it made me feel perversely better to know I wasn't the only reader out there feeling bereft. So this book, although also a joy to read, was tinged with melancholy, reading Colwin's loving descriptions of her small daughter, and knowing how little time she had with her.

Ever since I found that first book, I have been trying to find a food essayist who hits the same notes as Colwin, and I have yet to find one. The last couple of years have seen an explosion of food- and cooking-related memoirs, and I was looking through a few at the bookstore today, and I had my usual thought--they're just not as good as Laurie. I can't describe what it is I love about her writing. I wonder if part of the pleasure I find is just remembering the places and times where I read her books for the first time: on the bed in my tiny dorm room in Ohio, in the front seat of my Nissan Pathfinder in Utah.

Anyway, if you're drawn to any sort of foodie writing, Colwin is the momma of it all, and you should check her out.