On Laurie Colwin
I’ve been trying to lean into solitude. Recently I googled 'hobbies to pick up in quarantine.’ As Parul Sehgal has written, some people have loads of time and some people have none. There are many different ways to box with time. I’ve never found the right ratio of presence to yearning. Since a kid I’ve heard versions of “slow down,” such as my fifth-grade Bible teacher telling me, “Remember joy is a fruit of the spirit!” Clearly I learned how to be misanthropic at a young age.
Somehow the solitude I’m face with now feels different than that of childhood. Reading all day was punctuated by awful teachers, loneliness, and the occasional glimmer of friendship. Now there are no structured guardrails moving me through the week. The week is a strange land full of waiting and confusion.
So I asked the internet what to do and she provided. Obviously. She said try crochet, puzzles, crosswords, exercise, meditation, journaling, wine tasting, painting, and so on. My roommate told me I needed to get a younger hobby. So crosswords were out.
At the ENT a few weeks ago, they vacuumed my ears. It was a strange feeling. I spent my time in the waiting room reading Laurie Colwin discuss gingerbread, easy bread-baking, bad meals in England, and the comforts of mushy food. Chicken salad, Colwin says, never goes out of style, like a chic black dress. Whether or not you agree, or at least laugh, may determine how much you would like reading Colwin.
Colwin was a novelist and essayist who wrote frequently for Gourmet Magazine during the 80s and 90s. Her writing is astute, relatable, and goes down like honey. I recommend her whole-heartedly for people who want to enjoy food. (I have certainly had my fair share of times where I have not enjoyed it.) Food writing and media can often feel like a mine-field. Food is so intimate, linked to childhood, kindness, and politics. But Colwin, overall, talks about food with a gentle humor that beckons the reader in with a wild smile. Ever eat a bag of a red peppers on your way home from work? she asks.
Dinner-parties comprise Colwin’s social life and she writes with the joyful, neurotic precision of someone like Nora Ephron. Colwin’s no-frills, no-guilt approach to food is wonderful. She frequently dispenses the joy of strange food combinations or economically being driven to eat the same food over and over again (for her: eggplant).
In the introduction of Home Cooking, Colwin discusses loving to stay at home, cook, write, and read. I don’t know if I can think of a better description for my January. I’m not going on as many long meandering walks as I did over the summer, nor am I as social. I read Jane Eyre in less than a week, which depending on who you ask can be classified as either a low or high point of how to spend one’s solitary time.
Colwin offers something very simple. Leaning into the things one likes. This is incredibly simple on paper, but in practice letting yourself do the things you love and not feeling guilty about them is incredibly difficult under capitalism. I admit, cooking and baking are skills. Maybe they don’t fully qualify as a hobby. But I’m not so concerned with the quality of what comes out of the oven. Just that they are edible.
And so I have given in to the world of cooking and baking. I have begun watching The Great British Baking Show and listening to Samin Nosrat’s podcast. I made Mary Berry’s banana bread recipe and tried to make slow-cooked chicken from an Ottolenghi cookbook called Simple. Ottolenghi’s recipe, however, was not. I even made a truly, surprisingly perfect white bread and then a fairly decent honey wheat bread. I know I’m very late to the bread baking party.
I hope whatever you do this week, you enjoy it.