Laurie Colwin

Swimming with Words

One of my favourite things to do when I'm browsing through a food blog is to look for a post where the blogger talks about her (or his) favourite cookbooks. I guess it's the same instinct that drives people to watch 'what's in my bag' videos on youtube. I've also been noticing lately that the first thing that most people do when they walk into my room is head to my bookshelf and scan my cookbook collection. Which is why I thought it might be fun to do a post on which books I would take with me to a desert island (provided this desert island has great food, because nobody wants to look at pictures of food when they're hungry). 


A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

A food-centric memoir by Molly Wizenberg, this book single-handedly made me fall in love with food writing. The prose is vivid and luscious and MOST importantly, showed me that it is possible to talk about your lunch without resorting to words like 'tad', 'redolent' and 'moist'.  And 'crunchy'. What is up with food writers and 'crunchy'? The book walks you through the various chapters of Wizenberg's life, stopping to pay homage to the food that played a pivotal role in each phase with loving detail. If you're looking for a funny, tender, beautifully-written book to remind you how closely food and memories are tied together, I cannot recommend this book enough. 


Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi's & Sami Tamimi

Sometimes I think this blog needs to be renamed as the Malabar Ottolenghi Tea Room, because half the recipes on here are inspired by his cooking. As I've already sung his praises here, I'm going to keep this short and only say that if there is a cookbook that has changed the way I look at ingredient pairing and inventive cooking, it is Jerusalem. 


Ripe by Nigel Slater

I'll be honest with you- I've made exactly one recipe from the entire book. Actually, half a recipe because although I started with a recipe from the book, I then proceeded to adapt the heck out of it. However, it is, without a doubt, one of my favourite books, food-related or otherwise. Slater is one of Britain's most renowned food celebrities, but I think he is still very much under-appreciated as a writer. In Ripe, there is a paragraph where he describes the leaves in his garden, the way they change colour with the seasons; and even though it's just about a pile of leaves, he describes it so evocatively that you can almost see the scene unfolding before your eyes. The book is divided into sections, with each section focusing on a fruit that grows in his kitchen-garden. It contains information on how to grow the fruit in your own backyard, the different varieties available, what ingredients the fruits pairs well with, and recipes to put the fruit to it's best possible use. 

The book is illustrated with photographs by Jonathink Lovekin who is a rockstar in the photography world. The photos are beautifully textured and have a quiet grace to them that I love. If I've spent the day reading and writing, and my head is swimming with words, leafing through the pictures is a great way to unwind. Undoubtedly a work of art, at the end of a long and tiring day, a few minutes spent holding this brick of a book that is 591 pages long counts as both therapy and an arm work-out, all rolled into one. 


Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen & More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Home Cooking and its sequel, More Home Cooking contain a series of essays on topics ranging from coffee to soup to the virtues of a food mill. This is the sort of book that, should you find yourself reading it on your commute to work, will elicit strange looks from co-passengers because you can't stop giggling. Written in the '70s, much of what Colwin writes about is still surprisingly relevant today. She stresses on the importance of slow cooking; eating local, organic food and avoiding store-bought mayonnaise  at all costs. Irreverent, hilarious and whip-smart is how I would describe this writer in the kitchen. 


The Suriani Kitchen by Lathika George

The Suriani Christian community of Kerala has some of the best food in this part of the world (apart from the Mapilah Muslims of course. duh). This book is a cross between a cookbook and a travelogue, painting a vivid picture of a culturally rich people, and their traditions and customs. A treasure trove of information, she even describes what a traditional Suriani kitchen looks like and what vessels you are likely to find in such a kitchen! If you'd like to understand a community through its food practices, or you're simply looking for some good lunch recipes (my favourite kind!), this is a book you want to own. 


The Edible Atlas by Mina Holland

I'm reading this book presently- at a snail's pace, I might add, since I want to savour it as much as I can- and I already know that it's going to be a book I reach for time and again.  As the name suggests, the books is an over-view of 39 of the world's most distinctive cuisine. It tells you about the ingredients that form the building blocks of the cuisine, the way geography and cuisine intersect in each culture, providing a few recipes to boot. In the introduction, Holland writes that her aim in writing The Edible Atlas was to create a book that is equally at home on a bedside table as it in a kitchen, and to that end, Holland has succeeded beautifully. 


What are your favourite cookbooks? Let me know in a comment below!