Thursday, June 4, 2009

Open Letter to Luisa Perkins, Author of Comfortably Yum: Food for Body and Spirit

Dear Luisa,

Once upon a time, when I was first married (and still in the knight-in-shining-armor phase of our relationship) I truly viewed my husband as a future King (okay, I still do) and believed with all my heart he should eat like one. I had been the unofficial cook in my family for years, but still had an arsenal of very few recipes that were fit for a king. So late at night, while he was shooting footage for film school, I was up reading cookbooks. Studying the way ingredients were combined and herbs were used. Drooling over the ones that sounded truly delicious. Experimenting on a daily basis. And expanding my repertoire exponentially.

I haven't done that for years...

Until last night. Your new cookbook, Comfortably Yum: Food for Body and Spirit arrived in the mail, and I sat down and read the entire book, cover to cover. I couldn't put it down, despite the deadlines that are gripping my psyche, and the dustbunnies that are not only multiplying but rapidly becoming ferocious dragons all over the house.

I read. I laughed. I nodded in agreement. I found a soulmate. I was inspired.

This made me laugh:
Elga called it a dessert when she gave me the little handwritten index card, but I know she must have been kidding, because, um, see, Elga, it doesn't have any chocolate in it. But it makes a fantastic breakfast item...
This spoke to me in words I hadn't yet found to describe:
Cooking well is an art and a joy and a way to nurture yourself and your household all at the same time.
In this aspect, and many others, you are my twin separated at birth (although I am quite possibly not "as far down the food obsession continuum" as you are.):
We don't just savor delicious things; we are transported, practically Meg-Ryan-in-When Harry-Met-Sally-style.
(I would add here that Brillig just sent me a hilarious laughing-out-loud email busting me for using the word orgasmic in reference to the restaurant where we ate last night. My sister-in-law literally let out a rhapsodic squeal over the layer-upon-layer-of-chocolate dessert, as if she had just won not only the Showcase, but also the new Corvette...and I countered to the waiter, "I'll have what she's having.")
Our food addiction was enabled for many years by the fact that we lived in New York City, which is pretty much Mecca for restaurant goers. We never could bear to repeat-visit places because there was always something new to try.
Substitute Pasadena for New York City, and I could have written the west coast version of this paragraph, verbatim.

I read the excerpts from your travel journal and think about the way Jeff and I ate our way through Italy, and sixteen years later we still remember where we ate the best risotto, the best gelato, and the truly transcendent ribollita (which set Jeff on a quest to find the perfect recipes so I could duplicate it all at home. When we returned we invited our friends over...not for a slideshow or a travelogue, but an authentic Italian dinner.). I can't wait to try Patrick's pasta sauce.

I read about the way you're training your children to love good food, and thought of one of our family mottos: "Parkins aren't picky". (We're just very, very choosy.) I read about your son wondering aloud why he's the only one of his friends who doesn't like school cafeteria food, and it reminded me of this classic:

We took our youngest to preview several preschools when he was three, one of which actually had its own lunchroom. Mr. Cool saw a poster on the wall showing the food pyramid, pointed to it and said, "Mmm. Yummy fish!" The woman guiding our tour said proudly, "Yes. We have our own lunch room. Do you like fish sticks?" Mr Cool gave her a blank stare. "Actually," I explained, "he's never had fish sticks." "Oh," she said, recovering nicely,"but I bet you like tater tots!" Again, a blank stare. "I don't think he's ever had tater tots either" I explained. "Well, what do YOU like to eat?" she asked him directly, and without missing a beat he responded, "Salmon and couscous." Just like that. I pray we haven't ruined our children.

Even now, as I read...
  • I am thinking of all my wonderful food snob friends with whom I've shared many excellent meals and cherished recipes, and would now like to share this book.
  • I am wondering how you manage to stay so impossibly thin while eating so much bacon and cheese and potatoes and heavy cream.
  • I am reveling in the commentary, delighted by the way you were able to put so much of yourself on every page, in every recipe.
  • I am loving that you quote Laura Ingalls Wilder, J.R. R. Tolkien, Broadway musicals, and name a dip after Lynard Skynard.
  • Most important, I am reminded why I love to cook. How the alchemy of the kitchen, the flavors and aromas, has such power over me. I am reminded that I LOVE to nurture my family through good food.

I longed to tell you that when I made a local restaurant recommendation to our wonderful Kimberly during her writers' conference weekend, I noted: "I'm positive Luisa would LOVE Pizzeria 712 (sustainable, organic, gourmet wood-fired pizzas)"...so I guess I wanted to let you know, I get it. I might not always do it, but I get it.

I find myself wanting to have long conversations with you regarding...food. Debating, for example, the merits of sea salt over kosher salt. Sharing recipes and philosophies. Breaking bread. I especially want to tell you that my grandmother made those very same beloved salmon patties, but no one's quite been able to reverse-engineer the recipe, so I'm grateful for yours.

And, while I'm certain that house next door to you is WAY out of my price range, and would make for a long and tiresome commute for my hubby, I'm finding it very, very tempting.

Thank you for this wonderful book. The title is perfect. (And, after reading, I have to concede that the subtitle is even more fitting than my own clever half*).

Well done, my friend!

Affectionately,

Charrette

*Backstory: I won a copy of Comfortably Yum: Food for Body and Spirit in a contest a few months ago, in which Luisa challenged her readers to come up with a title for her new cookbook. There ended up being two winners, one for the Comfortably Yum (me) and another for the subtitle (Deb Barshafsky). Said copy arrived yesterday.

20 comments:

Luisa Perkins said...

Well, now I'm literally crying. You always make me cry! Thank you so, so much.

We do, indeed, have much to discuss, starting with the fact that I use kosher salt quite a bit...just not for any of the recipes in CY. Maybe in the sequel, for which I am already mentally compiling recipes....

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, and I ADORE the "salmon and couscous" story. Priceless!

Kristina P. said...

Charette, I loved this post! And this book sounds fabulous!

Brillig said...

I love my husband. I like to think of him as a future King too. The poor man has NEVER eaten like one. (This is not ENTIRELY my fault, for the record.)

But hey, thanks to Luisa's new book, I just might make him (and myself, and our children) feel slightly royal!

Great post! I hope everyone runs out and buys the book now! I know that I CHERISH my own copy of it!

Melanie J said...

So....when we do figure out how to get together, you'll cook something from Luisa's cookbook, right?

I peeked at mine but it came the day after my husband and I started a month long rededication to Weight Watchers and I knew the first thing I had to do was hide her book from myself until July.

But I am counting down the days until I pull it out again.

Kimberly said...

What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman!

Debbie said...

The book does sound great. You should write the blurbs for books.

Miss Brecken said...

My sister was recently visiting, and apologized for eating us out of house and home. She reminded me that it used to be impossible to do, as I always had something cooking, or planned. That, and this post make me think I need to learn how to use my space and start cooking again... and then I'll be ready to read the book. :)

L.T. Elliot said...

Charrette, this post is just delicious. I'd already planned to buy Luisa's book but now I don't have any choice! Delicioso!

Sandy M. said...

Congratulations - 'Comfortably Yum' is a great name for a cook book! Makes me think of my grandmother....

LisAway said...

What a fabulous review. I mean letter. I love the snippets from the book and the snippets from your own life. I really, really need to get this book.

Jessica said...

mmmmm, you make me want to go buy the book! And I would love to hear more of your thoughts on food and cooking! Seriously, you are a great food writer! . . . I love to cook, and I always tell myself that I need to dig into better/healthier cooking, but I never get very far . . . I'd love to hear some of your favorite dishes and cookbooks!

Heather of the EO said...

HOW COOL. Great title, lady. Of course, cause you're the most creative of the creativitiest :)

And I want to eat your food. Bring it on over, wouldya?

charrette said...

We made the Buttermilk Pancakes today. Every single one turned out a miraculous golden-brown orb of deliciousness. Jeremiah exclaimed, "Mom, how did you make these so YUM?!" (his words) I replied, "It's the magic cookbook." He was a tad skeptical, but insisted on pouring the next round of batter onto the griddle all by himself. If there's magic going on in the kitchen, what kid wouldn't want to be a part of it?

JustRandi said...

What a fantastic book! (and post!)
I love the quotes you gave...
Makes me really really want this book!

Kazzy said...

Great salmon and couscous! I love food and I admit it freely. I am not one of those girls that eats to live.

Tammy Lorna said...

I love the name - Comfortably Yum... makes me hungry!

:)

xo Tammy

charrette said...

Today I made the Lasagna. Wow. I'm pretty sure it's the best lasagna we've ever eaten. It was Italian-restaurant good.

Mrs4444 said...

All this talk of cooking makes me hungry. And all your talk of cooking makes me feel inadequate. Oh well; it's nothing a little chocolate can't cure. This was a terrific review!

InkMom said...

I need it!