Author’s life recipe: Eat, cook, love

Jacqueline Cutler | For The Star-Ledger By Jacqueline Cutler | For The Star-Ledger

 December 21, 2014 at 7:00 AM, updated December 22, 2014 at 11:22 AM

“Sweet Survival: Tales of Cooking & Coping”

By Laura Zinn Fromm

(Greenpoint Press, 300 pp., $19.95)
I come by my dreadful cooking honestly. My mother’s salmon croquettes could put someone off food permanently. My paternal grandmother made leftover cold spaghetti sandwiches to take to the beach. My uncle, as a toddler, wandered to strangers’ blankets, asking for food.

It’s not an excuse, not at this stage of my life – when AARP is courting me – just an explanation. Happily, I married a wonderful cook. Still, I am sometimes forced into the kitchen. I used to serve my children vegetables, rock frozen, and tell them to suck out the nutrients. I would then hand them the globe and instruct them to locate countries in which people did not have freezers, where I swore the food I gave them would be considered a delicacy.

So for me to be so moved by Laura Zinn Fromm’s absolutely delightful memoir and cookbook, to actually want to venture into the kitchen to do something besides brew another pot of coffee, speaks legions to her abilities. In fact, as I write this, my husband is grocery shopping and I requested several items because I am going to try her recipes.

The delight is not limited to the recipes, though she should be lauded because they are comprehensible, even to someone like me who always has to look up what sauté means. The delight is in her very personal essays.

Her writing is open and, as with memoirs with recipes, she combines moments of her life with certain foods. It’s fun, and my sole complaint is that because these pieces originally ran in different publications, there’s too much repetition about her family, a very interesting collection of people. Different anecdotes are great, but explaining them as if she’s introducing them each time is not.

There are wonderful insights into food and she credits those who have taught her, in their kitchens, in classes and in books. Admittedly, Fromm had me at the table of contents because of the chapter on existential tuna. How do you not love a book with that as a chapter?

Fromm grew up in Short Hills, where she now lives, and is keenly aware of how privileged she was, with a live-in maid, a fancy mom and a dad who drove expensive cars. She attended private school and always had a full closet of good clothing. Her mother cooked intricate meals served on fine china, meals that were created in a decked-out kitchen that – though more common today – was unheard of then. She’s upfront about her family, which could have seemed idyllic, if one were going on appearances alone.

“My parents were not happy, my father’s mood swings erratic.”

1) SweetSurvival_LauraZinnFromm_Large .jpgSweet Survival offers practical advice about food and recipes that are easily understood, woven into a memoir.

Over the course of book, Fromm details her parents’ divorce, her father’s suicide attempts and she introduces a wide assortment of other relatives, including a Nobel Prize recipient.

Fromm writes about returning to the suburb of her childhood, now as a married mother, about not writing and feeling exiled in the world of manicured lawns and perfect appearances.

Her years as a journalist, training as a cook and her warmth give this an easy tone.

Fromm advises roasting at least one vegetable with every dinner. Roasted vegetables need not be overdone, mushy messes best slurped through a straw after dental surgery.

She writes:

“Real friends don’t let friends eat badly.”

Her instructions seem simple enough: rinse, dry, chop and throw on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Lightly coat vegetables with a veneer of oil and use a bit of salt. Roast at 400 degrees until brown.

“Whatever veggie you roast, it should come out of the oven and be eaten immediately – hot and crispy.”

Fromm’s essays are all heartfelt, but she hits the deepest cord when writing about her grandfather. Grandpa Sam was the sort of loving, smart presence we all wish we had in our lives.

The chapter about crash dieting with her son, as he tries to shed a few pounds to make weight for a team, is very sweet. Incidentally, any woman who puts her weight in print gets shocked applause from me.

By the end, as we learn about her father’s cousins who were on the lam for decades because the mom kidnapped a baby, I realize there isn’t a dull essay here. Fromm is a fun writer, an accomplished cook and a bit of a miracle worker if I am going to venture into the kitchen.

Jacqueline Cutler:


The Suburbs in Wall Street’s Shadow



I’m not much of a reader of mommy blogs, but I started reading Laura Zinn Fromm’s blog, P-Rant, when she included the link in an application she submitted to teach a writing class in the same program where I teach. Her blog is what convinced me that we should offer her a class (evidence that smart blogging can get you a job). A former business journalist, she defines her blog as a place to “chronicle her life as a flawed middle-aged mother.”

Lately, she has been writing about how Wall Street’s unraveling has affected her suburban New Jersey town, where her husband and many of the other town’s residents make their living in some part of the financial sector. According to her latest post, four members of her extended family work for Merrill Lynch or Lehman and most of her husband’s friends also work (worked?) for the two banks. On Monday, the day Lehman’s bankruptcy was announced, she wrote a funny and poignant post about what she is trying to do to stay sane in a period when her inclination is to check her BlackBerry every 15 minutes for the latest installment of bad financial news. Here are some of her ideas:

“Kiss my kids and not yell at them for not fully understanding that there is a serious financial meltdown going down in this country.”

“Read something other than The Wall Street Journal and business section of The New York Times.”

“Purchase a new bottle of Scotch for my husband.”

As she was going about her workaday errands around town, Ms. Zinn Fromm says she ran into a woman at her nail salon who is married to a man who works at one of the banks in distress. Ms. Zinn Fromm observes: “She was getting her hair done and reading a magazine. It occurred to me that vanity is only three letters away from sanity. I smiled at the back of her head.”

 Source The New York Times