Alice Hoffman’s Potato Soup and a review of The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook

Today is Part II (sort of) of the Dec/Jan edition of Cook the Books.  Yesterday I posted a recipe and review of Eat Joy.  Today I’m posting a recipe and review for The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook.  Both are extremely well done and edited by Natalie Garrett.

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) had chosen Eat Joy for the CTB book pic.  I mistakenly picked up The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook instead.   Imagine my embarrassment and shock as I sat down to write my CTB post.  At least I caught my mistake and now I have two great companion books.

Here’s my review of The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook that I originally had scheduled for yesterday as my official CTB post.  Now it  will serve as a sequel.

Be aware, The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook is not so much a cookbook as an excellent compilation of personal essays, fiction and poetry. It includes works by well-known (at least to me) authors like Anthony Doerr, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Alice Hoffman, James Franco, Jane Smiley, Ruth Reichl, Nikki Giovanni, and T. C. Boyle. It presented many more authors that I want to be familiar with. I found myself googling a lot of the artists to see their works after reading the short bios at the end of each essay/recipe.

That’s not saying that some of the recipes might be outstanding like Soup Joumou, Ba Minh’s Pho, Potato Soup (ala Alice Hoffman), Yucatan Black Beans (from Reichl), Grilled Skirt Steak Berbere, and Mango-Blueberry Pie. There’s also recipes one would never try like Baked Stuffed Camel and perhaps the spam and beans one.

A recurring theme of nostalgia runs throughout the book, but that is not surprising. Food and memories go hand in hand. Sometimes there’s mention of regret but most of the selections deal with memory or making memories: “…you only get so many summers in your life, so why not be out beneath the sky, amongst the trees, stuffing your mouth with something sweet?” (from Doerr’s “Huckleberry Muffins a.k.a Happiness”). Other recipes/selections deal with rituals, “defiance of grief” (19), luxury of scrambled eggs (21), oatmeal as an object of desire (29), and love. There’s also a couple of different authors that include a Wal-Mart slam. (I found that interesting.)

This book was a joy to read (even though I was supposed to be reading Eat Joy).   I’m anxious to cook more from it. The recipe reading is as good as or better in some cases as the actual essay.  The illustrations were clever, too.

Here’s some highlights and insights:

  • Doerr’s Huckleberry Muffins “smelling like cinnamon, butter and benevolence” (13)
  • Meloy’s Anti-Inflammatory Muffins (which actually sound delicious).  I loved reading the recipe as much as her humorous essay.
  • Oates’ vignette–“a recipe in defiance of grief is one of those gestures thrilling in poetry but unrealizable in life because in life we are often not strong enough to execute the wishes we have set for ourselves though these are laudable wishes”(19).
  • Li’s luxury of scrambled eggs.
  • Robinson’s oatmeal (as an object of desire)
  • Powell’s Gumbo:  The recipe is as good or better than the essay.
  • Bender’s “Another Stone Soup” puts a twist on nostalgia.
  • Garnett’s “Piss & Vinegar” essay was interesting.  I had no idea this saying was traceable to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  My family has always used this phrase to describe an eccentric yet still viable elderly person.
  • Gornik’s Dandelions:  She’s become that old woman out foraging.  The one we all watch “with horror and fascination.  Was she a witch, or just eccentric?  Who in their right mind would eat dandelions?” (50).
  • Christensen’s Daydreamer’s Salad.  Instead of the salad, I want that dreamlike “carefully curated picnic”: roasted rosemary and lemon chicken, vinegary German potato salad, sourdough rolls, brie, aged Gouda, mixed olives, salami, cornichons, sliced cucumbers, red peppers, radishes, celery and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône (53).
  • Wallace’s Eggplant Sandwich.  “Never woo a woman with an eggplant: I think it was Shakespeare or Margaret Thatcher who said that”(58).
  • Siena’s Pizza Dough—a reflection of one of those dishes we remember fondly but doesn’t live up to our hyped memory.
  • Chast’s graphic piece reminded me of pandemic eating (121).
  • Jacobs’ sugar-on-snow made me remember my own childhood and our family’s “Snow Ice Cream.”
  • Moore’s ode to butter and his tendency to make gardening decisions “upon how well the vegetables complement my favorite cheeses and smoked meats” (160).
  • Finally, Garrett (the editor) ends the book with a truly “Disgustingly Good Cookie.”  (The cookie is fine, just don’t eat the raw dough.)

The recipe I decided to highlight was Hoffman’s Potato Soup (43).

Potato Soup

Based on Alice Hoffman’s “My Grandmother’s Recipe for Life”


  • 4 – 6 slices bacon
  • 3-4 roasted garlic cloves, mashed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks sliced thin
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 c. Chardonnay
  • 3 c. chicken stock
  • 1 c. milk
  • salt and pepper
  • chives (optional)


  1. Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove to a paper towel to drain. When cooled, crumble. Reserve at least 2 tablespoons and up to 1/4 c. bacon drippings.
  2. Sauté onions and leeks in the drippings until translucent.
  3. Add the potatoes and the garlic and sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the stock, wine and milk. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes. You may puree the mixture or serve as is. “Hope for the best.”

Yield: 4

I added the bacon and the milk to this recipe.

Hoffman’s prose poem, “My Grandmother’s Recipe for Life” (42-43),  is simply lovely.

Don’t forget potatoes.  They got you through the forest, through the sea voyage, through the tent on the dock.  Now they can be sued to make a soup that is surprisingly delicious.  Call it whatever you like.  Call it the Recipe for Life.  Don’t forget to write it down for your daughter.  You never know who will need it next. (43)

If you want to continue waxing poetic and embracing nostalgia, then I would send you over to my own family’s potato soup recipe: Okie Peasant Potato Soup.

Am I glad I made the mistake and picked up The Artists’ and Writer’s Cookbook?  Most definitely.

Another confession is that I did enjoy it more than Eat Joy.  

I’m linking up with Foodies Read and Souper Sundays.

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