The genre food writing I can't get enough of.
Something I’ve been enjoying reading this weekend is Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, a collection of essays about eating alone and cooking for one, our interior domestic lives when we’re left to our own devices with no one else’s attention. It has me comparing my life now (living with a partner) to my life five years ago when I was single and living alone, how my own approach to domestic effort has changed over the years. The book includes a wonderful range of solo-eating recipes, too—from scrambled eggs and toast to a chili with an ingredient list that takes up a page and a half! I love the question of, what does domestic indulgence and comfort look like when we are alone?
As always I'll plug my beloved Patience Gray: Honey from a Weed -- about running off and making various little homes with her sculptor all around the Mediterrenean. Cucina povera because they were.
I love Olia Hercules' books for their glimpses into modern Ukranian/Balkan/Caucasian cooking. Delicious food and crucial context about enduring yet endangered foodways. Also, Caroline Eden's series: Black Sea and Red Sands -- politics, history, culture and gorgeous food. And for learning to cook and feed yourself through heartbreak, not much beats Ella Risbridger's Midnight Chicken.
Was thinking of you Alicia when I had to go to Kentucky in mid-December to clear out my late mother's apartment. Got in late, nothing was open but fast food, went in search of a grocery store. Only option was a giant, cavernous Kroger, where there was no real food. So much processed stuff. 11pm, chaos, restocking, couldn't find dairy half and half without help, vegetables banished to a far corner, and I wound up with an Amy's frozen burrito because I needed something to eat that didn't seem terrible. Living as I do in a place where we have a lot of access to quality raw ingredients: even local vegetables these days -- I'd forgotten how dire the food landscape is for ordinary people.
You've already listed most of my favorites! I loved Bremzen's "My Soviet Kitchen," and I'm going to add Darra Goldstein to the list - her books are always so cozy and home-like. Cookbooks without good headnotes always feel so sterile and industrial. I think in this internet age where we can google away to find a specific recipe, food writing becomes even more important. I want to know the hows and whys of the recipes, what they mean to the author, how they're used, how they were developed, what inspired them, etc. I also want to know which recipes save on dishes, time, maximize flavor with minimal effort, because having hours to cook from scratch everyday is a privilege few of us have. I want down-to-earth practicality with my deliciousness, please.
Always reading Nigel Slater, as much for the mundane days where he describes throwing something together with a little help from the corner shop, and not a larder full of esoteric ingredients.
This articulates so many of my feelings about cooking and domesticity that I could never put into words. In addition to your newsletter, which I tend to read the moment it lands, I also love Lil Chef Mari’s, and Small Fires recently captivated me too. Rebecca May Johnson has a newsletter that I love called Dinner Document, and despite it being mainly about restaurants, I love when Ruth Reichl shares recipes and recommends Ingredients and tools in her newsletter, as it gives a glimpse into her home cooking habits.
I'm not familiar with the genre or specific books you mentioned (though I now want to check them out), so to me domestic writing is the chatty, personal preamble to food bloggers' recipe posts. Though it's become a meme at this point, and I guess is largely driven by SEO, I love the glimpses of real life and how that life intersects with the food they're writing about. She doesn't post many recipes online anymore but Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows was one of my favorites for this!
I love to cook. I cook for myself often as well as for others. As a teenager and in my early twenties I worked in the food industry as a cook, dishwasher, bus person, bartender, and server. I did the bulk of the cooking in the earlier years. This was LONG before restaurant cooks were stars: we just got the food out to the customers as smoothly and as tasty as possible. I realized during that time in restaurants that I love to cook and that I did not want to do it on that scale, EVER. There is something so intimate and loving about home cooking that restaurants can never quite get to for me. Something I remembered with much clarity during 2020 and 2021. I go to restaurants for the experience, not the food necessarily. And I guess I interact with much of food writing and the celebrity of the food industry for the entertainment and not so much for the substance. It has it's place but it can not replace home cooked comfort.
So thank you for helping us remember (because we do often forget) the value of those who continue to focus us on home.
Thank you for putting into words what I feel in my heart each time I cook or write about cooking. It’s especially meaningful-- I’ve just launched a reboot of Cook & Tell, a foodletter about cooking, family and life on a Maine island written and and illustrated by my late mother for 30 years. Excerpts and recipes eventually found their way into a cookbook by the same name and, all nepotism aside, it’s one of my favorites. Comfort food and writing.
From 2008 I ran a food blog in Australia with lots of guest posts, focusing on the practice and poltics of domestic cookery and feeding people. I gave up a few years later as food blogging turned into a race to be first to the latest restaurant with your fancy camera. Still some great stuff there - https://progressivedinnerparty.wordpress.com/
As a person who started cooking for myself in the early aughts, this piece made me realize how much of my domestic cooking was influenced by food media versus the tradition of the home cook. While I started with recipes from places like Smitten, it was also in the time of Bon Appétit's ascent and Top Chef mania so in retrospect, I think I internalized that home cooking should mirror restaurant cooking. Cue many years of inappropriately long project recipes on Wednesday nights, until the writers you mentioned, along with Julia Turshen brought me back out of the stratosphere and reminded me that there is so much inherent value in just making dinner, period.
Hi Alicia, Thank you for talking about and naming aspects of food no one is even looking at. I am always hungry to spend time in the kitchen with anyone and everyone when they cook. Because no matter the skill level, I invariably end up learning something new. here's a blog I wrote about my husband's cooking, a domestic cooking style very different from mine. I hope you enjoy it. https://chutneylover.blogspot.com/2022/11/what-i-learned-about-cooking-when-i.html
Just wanted to express that I really appreciate that you never link to amazon, thank you!
Please assure me, Alicia, that your upcoming book (publishing August 2023) is going to include a further reading list to die for!