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January 5, 2012

Melissa Clark on HOME COOKING

Posted by Katherine

Melissa Clark is a James Beard Foundation Award winner and writes about cuisine, wine, and travel for numerous publications, including the New York Times, where she writes the enormously popular “A Good Appetite” Dining Section column; Bon Appétit; Food & Wine; Martha Stewart; and the website Gilt Taste. Clark was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she now lives with her husband and daughter. Here she talks about a great cookbook she once received as a gift.

Sometime in the late eighties, I received the book HOME COOKING by Laurie Colwin as a Hanukkah gift from my then-boyfriend.  I fell in love with it immediately.  The book was full of real cooking and domestic adventures, but was also novelistic and relatable.  Relatable, as in, I could do this. Write like this. Laurie Colwin’s writing made me want to see a path for combining my love of food with my love of writing. Sure, I’d read MFK Fisher and already knew about literary food writing. But HOME COOKING taught me that good writing about food could be not only erudite and elegant but also candid and genuinely funny.  More of a memoir or an essay collection than a cookbook, the author’s descriptions of her friends, her family, and her life were endearing and engaging.  I was drawn in by the anecdotes much more than the recipes themselves.  Colwin writes about her fumbles and triumphs with humor and heart, and as I devoured her book I started to feel as though she were a friend.  Her writing was about the here and now and she communicated the moment with wit and grace.  Two decades later, I still find Colwin’s self-deprecating commentaries about the joys of a really bad dinner, or the brutality involved in making jam, utterly hilarious and truthful.  HOME COOKING taught me the beauty in finding one’s truest voice as an author.  I can’t help but include one of my most favorite quotes of hers that I find totally reverent but not at all sentimental:  “No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”  Exactly.