Spring is in the air and that can only mean one thing. Love. Well, and also food, farmer’s markets, the first ramps and garlic shoots. Flowers. Sunshine. Holding hands and walking in the park. Go ahead, call me a romantic. I am hopeless.
FOOD FOR MARRIAGE is not your daily rag. We do not provide the “weekend listings” or review the latest Gone Girl. We love old movies and dog-eared books – contributions to the cultural dialogue that you may have missed but we believe will make you smile. To this list I would like to nominate Laurie Colwin and call your attention to her iconic tome, HAPPY ALL THE TIME.
Ms. Colwin was a gifted food writer long before the unfortunate word “foodie” was invented. She contributed a series of simple and delicious columns to that most beautiful of lost food magazines, GOURMET. She also wrote a handful of novels that might have inspired the trend towards books about people and relationships that were really about food.
Here is an excerpt from the back cover blurb from my original 1978 paperback edition of HAPPY ALL THE TIME.
“This delightful comedy of manners and morals is about romantic friendship, romantic marriage and romantic love – about four people who are goodhearted and sane, lucky and gifted, and who find one another.”
Spoiler alert. The four characters at hand – Guido and Holly, Vincent and Misty – neither disappear, stage a murder, have a threesome, or swipe anything whatsoever to find one another. They cook, they eat, they make love on crisp cottony sheets. They awake together surprised and read their morning paper over coffee and take turns with the Sunday puzzle. They also ache and obsess and angst over love. And somehow Laurie Colwin makes their story ours, especially if you were born and dating before Al Gore invented the Internet.
A good book leaves you with an indelible image of something. I have never gotten past Holly’s love of lavendar. I can still smell Guido’s cigar smoke and picture Holly’s kitchen with every spice lined up as precisely as a yarn shop display. And their counterparts, Vincent and Misty, were equally rife with the paraphernalia of opposites who attract. You cannot help but root for these couples who wrestle with the same emotions we have bottled up in our present-day haste to quantify every last character trait as a measurable data point.
If you are a writer of novels today, there is an expectation to create driving action and corridors of plot – a heaving pitchfork of dangerous conflagrations waiting to ignite. Here are Guido’s waking thoughts upon the first time he sleeps with Holly.
“It was better than a daydream, better than those highly ornate night dreams that leave behind a sweet taste of inexplicable happiness in the morning. Guido turned to Holly and touched her dark, shining hair. She was wearing coral earrings the size of tuxedo studs and nothing else. It was a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon in late March and Guido felt quite wiped out by sensation. Everything seemed uncommonly rich to him: the print on the sheets, the pattern on the quilt, Holly’s gleaming hair and earrings. Her shoulders did smell of jasmine. When Guido turned to look at her, he saw on her face the look he had known he would see – a look so private and impenetrable and unclear that it rendered anything he thought of to say inappropriate.”
That’s the driver in chapter one, eight pages in, and suffice it to say, when Guido leaves Holly after that first memorable night, he does not race home and Google her. We are left to wrestle with all the inexplicable plot points of two ordinary souls searching for love and meaning.
Fans of Ms. Colwin will know that she died unexpectedly young of a heart attack. In her food writing and recipes, she never spared the butter. While you are perusing your favorite used bookstore for HAPPY ALL THE TIME, be sure to snap up HOME COOKING as well, if you can find it.
Laurie Colwin put the plotline in food and invented a generation of culinary storytellers. She wed detail to actions that left you turning the pages late into the night. It is a trend that even in the age of Instagram, when properly dished out, is as satisfying as a well-cooked meal.