Once I read More Home Cooking, though, my attitude toward meal preparation began to shift. I still threw dinner parties, but they grew smaller and less elaborate; I took to heart Colwin’s idea that the perfect-food aspect was less important than the simple yet meaningful act of bringing people together to eat. In the first chapter of More Home Cooking, she writes: “We must march into the kitchen, en famille or with a friend, and find some easy, heartwarming things to make from scratch, and even if it is but once a week, we must gather at the table, alone or with friends or with lots of friends or with one friend, and eat a meal together. We know that without food we would die. Without fellowship life is not worth living.” Here, at last, were clear, simple orders I could follow.
The notion of fellowship struck a particular chord with me, partly because for most of my adult life, I’ve been living with an eating disorder that often compels me to eat a lot more food than actually feels good in my body, entirely alone. A major part of my recovery process has been learning to break that pattern and imbue food with socialization, spontaneity, and joy, and that’s exactly what Colwin urges her readers to do. Colwin freely admits that her ways aren’t for everyone—she made homemade yogurt and special ordered organic apple juice for her daughter long before it was cool, referring to herself as a “food crank”—but she simply will not budge on the idea that food should be relatively simple to prepare, reasonably affordable (except for the occasional indulgence), and, most importantly, experienced together. Is there any better lesson for an enthusiastic yet anxious home cook to learn?
These days, I’m no Michelin chef, or even a particularly advanced novice, but the way I approach the act of cooking—for myself and others—bears far more of a resemblance to Colwin’s relaxed, joyful mindset than it does to any trendy cookbook or fussy, three-page-long French recipe printed off of Google. If I want, say, roast chicken for dinner, I’ve internalized enough rudimentary food science to know that I can pull it off with little more than the bird itself, olive oil, salt, and lemon, and I no longer feel the need to dazzle a crowd with culinary pyrotechnics that would ultimately produce something impressive looking but wholly inedible. What’s more, if I want roast chicken but don’t want to cook, I give myself permission to hit up the supermarket for rotisserie or occasionally order takeout from somewhere nice so long as I make a point of cooking big meals with plenty of leftovers a few times a week. I think Laurie would approve of this method—and maybe even of my choice of cooking salt, though I don’t want to presume—and at this point, that’s good enough for me.