Recipe of the Day Categories:
Tranquil Breezes II
Buy at AllPosters.com
Screened Porch with Potted Plants
Buy at AllPosters.com
More Home Cooking:
A Writer Returns to
patronage of our affiliate
partners supports this web site.
We thank you! In other words, please shop at LBC
Screened in Porch with Garden
Buy at AllPosters.com
La Belle Cuisine
How to Avoid
A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin, 1988, HarperCollins
(Reissued March 2000)
“Unlike most citizens of these United
States of America, I do not grill. There is no hibachi in my garden or
anything else like it. When I moved into my garden apartment I was given a
fancy barbecue, and as far as I know it is
still in the cellar collecting
dust and mold spores.
Grilling is like sunbathing. Everyone knows it is bad for you but no one
ever stops doing it. Since I do not like the taste of lighter fluid, I do
not have to worry that a grilled steak is the equivalent of seven hundred
Of course this implies that I do not like to eat al fresco. No sane person
does, I feel. When it is nice enough for people to eat outside, it is also
enough for mosquitoes, horse and deer flies, as well as wasps and yellow- jackets. I don’t much like sand in my food and thus while I will
I never look forward to them.
My idea of bliss is a screened-in porch from which you can watch the
go down, or come up. You can sit in temperate shade and not fry your
while you eat. You are protected from flying critters, sandstorms
and you can still enjoy a nice cool breeze.
One year my husband and I rented a lake cottage – a rustic cabin set in a
pine grove just a stroll from a weed-choked lake. With this cottage came
war canoe and a screened-in porch. The motto of the owners seemed
been, ‘It’s broken! Let’s take it to the lake!’
The dining room table was on a definite slant and the plates were vintage
1950s Melmac. The stove was lit by one of those gizmos that ignite a spark
next to one of the burners and was of great fascination to me. [Me, too. My
German ex-mother-in-law, operated daily with such a stove as late as the
1980s.] Near the corner cupboard lived an army of mice who left evidence
their existence all over the cups and saucers. Anything left around was
carried away – quite a tidy little ecosystem. One evening we were visited
a dog who howled constantly as he sound of mouse rattling drove him
Nevertheless, we ate on the screened-in-porch all the time and with great
success. Friends with beautiful houses came to our broken-down lake cot-
to eat on that crummy porch and watch the sun set over the lake. All around
us were grills: we could smell them, but we never so much as fin-
Having said this, I admit to loving grilled food – that is, something that
has been exposed to a flame. On a regular old stove this is called broiling.
lish stoves have a special rack (a salamander) with a separate flame
which you can grill a chop or brown the top of a gratin. There is no
way to cook fish, steak or chops.
I have avoided grilled by broiling, and I have never had to bother myself
about getting in a supply of mesquite or apple wood, and old thyme twigs.
For a brief period of my life I thought to us the fireplace as a cooking sur-
face. Years of ingesting gasoline at the barbecues of others led me to
wonder if I could do it better. I decided to grill steaks on a rack in my
by a stroke of fortune was given some apple and cherry to
burn. The results were marred by nervousness, a syndrome that goes with the
territory of the wood fire: constant cutting to see how far along your steak
has come. I did
not taste the merest breath of apple or cherry although I
have been told that you have not lived until you have tasted swordfish
grilled over mesquite.
This ay be true, but as Abraham Lincoln is said to
have said: ‘For people
who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of
thing they will like.’
But what to do on a clear summer evening? The sky is pink. The air is
It is dinnertime and you are surrounded by hungry people who
spent their day either swimming or gardening, or have just gotten
car or train or bus and found themselves in the country listening to
Everywhere in America people are lighting their grills. They begin in
on the first balmy evening. I happen to live across the street from a
theo- logical seminary whose students come from all over. I know it is spring
by the first robin but by the first barbecue across the street on the
lawn. That first whiff of lighter fluid and smoke is my herald, and
of my friends to ask, ‘What is it about Episcopalians, do you think?
Is it in
their genes to barbecue?’
It is not in the genes but it is in the American character to grill, a
from pioneer days, from Indian days, from the Old West. I have been
to buck this trend with Lebanon bologna sandwiches or mustard
[or perhaps Laurie's infamous
Lebanon bologna is not from the Middle East but from Lebanon, Pennsylvania,
in Lancaster County. It is a spicy, slightly tart salami-like
cold cut with the limpness of bologna. I have never had the courage to ask
what it is made of but I am sure it cannot be good for anyone. The way to
serve it is on whole-wheat bread spread with cream cheese into which you
have mashed chives, thyme, tarragon – whatever you or your friends have
the garden. Spread the cream cheese liberally but use only one (two if
sliced very thin) slice of Lebanon bologna. Make an enormous pile of these
sandwiches cut in half and serve with
cole slaw, or a big green salad. In the summer a large plate of sliced
tomatoes is a salad in itself with nothing added.
If you feel you must make something more grill-like, spare ribs are al-
nice, especially if you have marinated them for a couple of days.
Some people like a tomato-based barbecue sauce, but I do not. [This guy
I used to know said that anyone who even THINKS of putting ketchup
tomato stuff in barbecue sauce should be shot.] Besides,
baked in the oven, not barbecued. I like them in what is
variation on teriyaki sauce.
For one side of ribs you need
one cup of olive oil
one half cup tamari sauce
about 4 tablespoons of honey
the juice of one lemon
fresh ground black pepper
and lots and lots and lots of garlic peeled
and cut in half.
Let the ribs sit in this marinade as long as possible – overnight in the
refrigerator is the least, two days is the best. Then put the ribs in a
ing pan (you can either cut them into riblets or leave them in one
and cut before serving) and put them in a slow oven – about 300
F – and leave them there, pouring off the fat from time to time, for
to four hours. What is left, as a friend of mine says, has no name.
both crisp and tender, salty, sweet, oily but not greasy and
gnaw on them and then throw the bones on the platter.
A finger bowl is actually appropriate here, if you want to be
fancy, and so
is the kind of heated washcloth you get in a Japanese
restaurant. Plain old
wet paper towels will do as well.
You can cook these ribs in the morning and eat them in the evening. They
should not be cold (although a leftover rib for breakfast is considered
heavenly be some people) but are fine lukewarm, and can be kept in a
oven with no ill effects.
And as the sky becomes overcast and the clouds get darker, and the fumes
charcoal starter drift in your direction, you can sit down to your already
cooked dinner in a safe place with the satisfaction of not having had to
a single match or get your hands all gritty with those nasty, smeary
little charcoal briquettes. Furthermore, you will never in your life have to
the grill, one of the most loathsome of kitchen chores.
Instead you are indoors while being out of doors. You dinner is taken care
of and you can concentrate on eating, which, after a long summer day, is
anybody really wants.”
Amen, Sister Laurie! And happy summer holidays to all!
More from Laurie Colwin:
Featured Archive Recipes:
Lazy Texas Brisket
Mock Porchetta (Zuni Cafe)
Texas Smoky Short Ribs
Nigella's Lomo de Orza
Index - Main Dish Recipe Archives
Index - Summer Holiday Recipes
Daily Recipe Index
Recipe Archives Index