Laurie Colwin

One of the joys – and distractions – of unpacking my books is finding the ones I had forgotten about, forgotten as “What the heck IS this and when and why did it end up with me?” and forgotten as in, “Well, Hellooo again Old Friend it’s been tooooo long. Let’s catch up”

The vagabonds have been packed up and sent to more appropriate homes, some to friends, some to work, some to Savers. But the Old Friends…some have proved to be the sort of friends that are about a time and place that is no more, that you do lose over time, so after a little visit, when it apparent we have nothing left to say to each other, they, too, will leave with no forwarding address, all on amiable terms and scarce a backward glance.

But the true Old Friends, the friends that are friends from the very first moment, the kindred spirits, the friends that you pick up right where you left off last, like it’s only been an hour even when it’s been forever and a day since you’ve seen each other and then, caught up, you keep going into your tomorrows….on these friends I spend a little more time and attention.

Laurie Colwin is one of those friends.

lauriecolwinNYT

She had a column in Gourmet, which I used to read fairly regularly. Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, which includes some of her Gourmet writing, came out in 1988. I received my copy in 1991 as a housewarming present from a friend who also read her column and knew Laurie was a kindred spirit.

Laurie had a second volume of essays, More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen that came out in 1993, shortly after she died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 48.  My copy is dated 2001. I think I got it on markdown from the amazing and now gone Jessica’s Biscuit. Both volumes are dog-eared and splattered.

laurie-colwin

In re-reading I realize how she articulated so many vague kitchen related topics for me, from “Why I Love Cookbooks” to “Bread Baking without Agony” as well as Red Peppers, Chocolate, Tomatoes and Coffee. It was in her coffee essay that I first learned of Bach’s Coffee Cantata.

There was a broccoli sauce for pasta recipe in some magazine last month, quick and easy way to get more veg in your diet, where you cooked the broccoli while the pasta was cooking, puréed the broccoli with some olive oil and maybe some lemon juice and perhaps some hot pepper at least that’s the way I’d do it…..did do it…..

At this point in the recipe I realize I used to do this. Quite a bit. Like maybe weekly. For years. Not just with broccoli, but spinach and kale and then butternut squash. Any chopped frozen veg. One box. While the macaroni is cooking, microwave one box frozen (preferably chopped) veg. In a pan heat some oil with garlic or shallot or onions or celery, also chopped. Add the cooked veg and stir around. Add some chopped parsley or basil or mint or not. Drain the macaroni and save some of the water to thin the sauce if needed. Put the macaroni back in the pot. Add some lemon or orange or chopped vinegar peppers to the pan veg to zing things up. Add this pan sauce to the macaroni; use the water to thin and spread around. Top with cheese, hot pepper flakes or the jarred hot chopped peppers. Or not. Or chopped olives. Whatever.

antonios chopped hots

One of my pantry staples

I can’t vouch for what the magazine recipe actually said, because they made it look more complicated, like they just INVENTED green sauce. And where did I get it from oh, so many years ago??????

Right. Laurie Colwin.

“Now to broccoli. How some people hate it! However, it turns into a sleek, rich pasta sauce. First you steam it. Then you sauté it in dark green olive oil with two cloves of garlic until the garlic is soft. Then you toss it all in the blender with pepper, a pinch of salt, the juice of half a lemon, more olive oil and serve it on penne or ziti or fusilli with lots of grated cheese, and no one will suspect of what is being served.”

 

Laurie Colwin. Home Cooking. Alfred A. Knopf. NY. 1988. p. 60.

Bingbingbingbingbing.

Since it was raining and close to 40 when I went to bed last night, and there was no snow in the forecast (I’m not entirely sure there was rain in the forecast, come to think of it) I assumed there would probably be ice on the streets in the morning. Sure enough, I woke to the sound of a car not quite getting traction at the stop sign at the slight incline just outside my kitchen. When I looked out the window, it looked like SNOW. While I was making the coffee, yep, it was certainly snow snowing. More snow. Fairly thick flurries through the second cup of coffee. Enough to add snow removal to the list of things to do today.

Which is as good as an excuse as any to make brownies later.

If I make them tonight I can bring some in to work tomorrow and not be forced to eat the whole pan by myself.

Unless I let them cool and wrap them individually and put them in the freezer and take them out to eat them one by one. My Aunt Anne could do that, a diabetic with a sweet tooth. But I know they only take 10 or 15 minutes to be chewable (not the same point as edible) and that with a microwave, you can have a hot brownie in under a minute…..

I realized yesterday that my freezer has no shelf. When it was totally empty, I couldn’t quite figure out why it was so BIG, and kept telling myself it’s because it’s empty. But now that there’s 10 pounds of squash and a few other frozen veg and some nuts and Cuban coffee….I went to put an ice cube tray in and THAT’S when I realized – no shelf.

Back to brownies.

Laurie Colwin on brownies:

“There are as many brownie recipes as there are flowers in the meadow. Some are fancy, some are plain. Some have nuts, which I consider a bad idea, because children seem to hate them and end up picking them out and getting brownie crumbs all over everything. I also have several friends with fatal nut allergies, and so I leave the nuts out. I have been served brownies with chocolate chips and brownies with raisins, but what most people want is plain old brownies. Some people like their brownies on the cakey side and some feel they should be more like fudge. I myself like brownies that are what I called ‘slumped’ and the English call ‘squidgy’ which means slightly undercooked and not quite runny in the center.”

Laurie Colwin. More Home Cooking, HarperCollins, 1993, 95, 2000. p. 75.

I wholeheartedly agree with her brownie assessment. If you want cakey brownies, you really want cake, so just make cake and move on.

Brownies…..brownies are the place between fudge and cake.

Since in my youth, the center was the part of the brownie  went to the bake sale or the covered dish supper or whatever function the brownies were really for…. we usually had to share the edges or the brownie bones, which may be why I think of them as good coffee dunkers and really feel like I’ve won a blue ribbon when I get the squidgy part.

BROWNIES-NYT KH

New York Times version of Katharine Hepburn Brownies

The recipe Laurie gives is Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies, which she got from a friend who got it from a magazine. I remember that magazine article. I clipped the same recipe. I have made those brownies.

Katharine Hepburn  was the cover girl of August 1975 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal.

152817Beside the brownie recipe, the thing that stood out was that she had no door on her bathroom. She said she lived alone so that it wasn’t necessary, and she wasn’t about to look if someone else was there. Growing up in a house were the only one minute of privacy you ever got in a day was when you closed the bathroom door behind you, I just couldn’t imagine it. Now that I live by myself, I can see it….sorta. Old habits and comfort zones die hard.

In fact, I had pretty much made brownies with no nuts for years, but Katharine Hepburn persuaded me otherwise. It became my brownies with walnuts go-to recipe. Yes. I have more than one brownie recipe, because they really are like the flowers in the meadow…or more like the trees in the forest, changing with the season and some have nuts.

On the internet there is both a baker’s chocolate and a cocoa versions of this recipe. From a  letter that appeared in the New York Times (July 6, 2003) after Katharine Hepburn’s death, it seems that she made them both ways, depending on what she had on hand.

Both good.

KATHARINE HEPBURN’S BROWNIES

1 stick (8 Tbl) butter

2 squares unsweetened chocolate (or ½ cup baking cocoa)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup AP flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Melt butter and chocolate together and take saucepan off the heat (or melt butter and add cocoa )

  2. Stir in 1 cup sugar, add 2 eggs and ½ teaspoon vanilla and beat well.

  3. Stir in ¼ cup AP flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

  4. Bake brownies in a buttered and floured 8” square pan at 325 for 40 minutes. Cool completely and cut into squares.

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2 Comments

Filed under 1990's, Books, Influencers

2 responses to “Laurie Colwin

  1. omg. I have always used the KH Brownie recipe that’s in Mollie O’Neill’s New York Cookbook (LOVE that book) but since living in the UK have been stymied by the lack of unsweetened chocolate. For all the substitutes (plain “European” choocolate, also recently a rather successful combo of milk chocolate and cocoa powder, it never have occurred to me, duhhhhh, to just use 1/2 cup of cocoa. So thank you!!!!!!!!!! (Latest batch I used gluten free flour which worked just fine, and yes indeed to the word “squidgy.” ) x

  2. PS this is a beautiful homage to LC… made me want to find my copies of her books…

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