The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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January 14, 2019

Books with food

I write novels and I cook dinner, and some days the edges blur. Like me, my characters know their way around a kitchen, and like my family, they are good eaters. Increasingly, my plots thicken in restaurants, as waiters hover, and increasingly readers ask, 'What's with the food in your books?'
      My answer is, doesn't everybody characterize people by what they eat? Isn't it another descriptive tool, like a story's furniture or its clothes? ...
      Characters have to eat, don't they? Mine simply do it while you're watching. They make reservations, study menus, talk and cook, talk and eat, refill their wineglasses, linger over decaf. I'm at peace with this predilection because I find that every interaction with the stove, refrigerator, plate and fork provides an opportunity to mine the telling detail, to make abstract notions complex in a way I hope is a kind of shorthand.
from I Can't Complain:  (All too) personal essays, by Elinor Lipman

      I first discovered this recipe before I was married,in a long ago Gourmet magazine. I ripped it out and took it with me for a week with my parents and assorted relatives in a rented house at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island. There, in the hot, outdated 1970s-era Formica-linoleum-avocado green kitchen, I made loads of tomato pies, maybe even dozens. The recipe got splattered with tomato guts and mayonnaise -- yes, there's mayonnaise, too, but only a third of a cup -- the words smearing in spots. But it didn't matter, because by the end of the week I had made so many tomato pies, I knew the recipe by heart. The first layer of biscuit crust is covered with sliced fresh tomatoes, then sprinkled with chopped basil ad topped with shredded cheddar cheese. A mixture of mayonnaise and lemon juice is then poured over the filling, which is covered with the second crust and baked until it's browned and bubbly. The smells of that pie on a hot summer day make you feel dizzy, so intoxicating are they.
      No one in my family knew just how important that tomato pie was to me. Not just because it used the freshest ingredients at their prime deliciousness. Not just because eating tomato pie is something akin to reaching nirvana. Not just because eating tomato pie made me popular and made me look incredibly talented. No, this tomato pie was important to me because it wasn't just anybody's recipe, it was Laurie Colwin's recipe.
from Kitchen Yarns:  notes on life, love and food, by Ann Hood

I've had this post sitting in draft since New Year's, and right now the nicest thing I could do for you is to stop trying to write something about these two books and just recommend with all my heart that you read both of them.

One of them is by a writer whose books I always read and almost always love, and reading her essays made me even fonder of her.  They're not all about food (one chapter is) -- they touch on her family, and what it's like to be a writer and an ordinary person, or have one of her novels turned into a movie, and heartbreakingly, her long marriage and her husband's early death from a rare form of dementia. The best part of reading this book was to read it as an audiobook narrated by the author, and I'm very grateful to JoAnn for telling us about it.

The other is by an author I've certainly heard of but have never read.  I confess that I was drawn to it by its pretty cover and its foodiness, but I'm glad I was. The chapters (with a recipe or two in each) move from growing up in a tight-knit family in Rhode Island to love affairs and several marriages (with a final happy one), to raising her family, to becoming a writer, and even when she's writing about something that made her unhappy there's a sense that she's someone who will get through it. The chapter about Laurie Colwin's tomato pie is also a chapter about Colwin's books, and how when Hood was an aspiring young writer, Colwin may have smiled at her for a moment at a book reading.  It was completely captivating.  I loved Hood's description of Colwin as 'a kind of Manhattan Jane Austen,' and I'm definitely going to make the tomato pie next summer and read this chapter again. :)

I Can't Complain:  (All too) personal essays, by Elinor Lipman
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2013
Audiobook, read by the author, borrowed from the library

Kitchen Yarns:  notes on life, love and food,  by Ann Hood
W.W. Norton and Company, 2018
Borrowed from the library


Lisa said...

I loved the essays in I Can't Complain, I think it may be my favorite of her books how. And while I need to look for Ann Hood's book now, you've also reminded me that I have the second of Laurie Colwin's food books still on the TBR! But I'm not sold on the idea of tomato pie...

JoAnn said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed I Can't Complain... the more I think about it, the more I love it! Kitchen Yarns is a new-to-me title, but it's now on my library hold list.

Thank you for visiting!

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