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Poor Man's Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking [Kindle Edition]

Elissa Altman
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From James Beard Award-winning writer Elissa Altman comes a story that marries wit to warmth, and flavor to passion. Born and raised in New York to a food-phobic mother and food-fanatical father, Elissa was trained early on that fancy is always best. After a childhood spent dining everywhere from Le Pavillion to La Grenouille, she devoted her life to all things gastronomical, from the rare game birds she served at elaborate dinner parties in an apartment so tiny that guests couldn't turn around to the eight timbale molds she bought while working at Dean & DeLuca, just so she could make tall food.

But love does strange things to people, and when Elissa met Susan — a small-town Connecticut Yankee with parsimonious tendencies and a devotion to simple living — it would change Elissa's relationship with food, and the people who taught her about it, forever. With tender and often hilarious honesty (and 27 delicious recipes), Poor Man's Feast is a universal tale of finding sustenance and peace in a world of excess and inauthenticity, and shows us how all our stories are inextricably bound up with what, and how, we feed ourselves and those we love.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Q&A with Elissa Altman

Q. How did you decide to start your blog, Poor Man's Feast, back in 2008?

A. I had just come off many years as a food writer for magazines, a stint as a restaurant critic, and a frequent food radio guest host, and I realized that there was very little public discourse about food as sustenance; instead, our public discussion about food was tied to food as fuel, food as health, food as entertainment. So when I started Poor Man's Feast in 2008, it was my goal to create a narrative about the way we feed ourselves and others in our homes, in our lives, in our collective past. I wanted to talk about simple food as the thing that brings us together as people, rather than divides us.

Q. You've been a cookbook editor, a columnist, a personal chef, and a caterer. How does blogging compare to your previous food careers?

A. It's very gratifying; for one thing, it provides an almost instantaneous connection to the public. For another, my readers can tell me what they like, what they expect, what they want with great immediacy. They keep me engaged and connected, and I've learned more about food and the way we eat in this country than I did when I was doing any of those other jobs. I'm still a cookbook editor, though, and I love that job because, quite simply, I adore the art and practice of making books. I'm a total bibliophile; it's an embarrassing addiction.

Q. Do you think your writing or the blog has evolved over the past five years? How so?

A. Gosh, I certainly hope so. When I started writing the blog, it tended to be very sly and sometimes even a bit attitudinal, and back then, that was okay. But what I think has happened --- at least what my readers have told me has happened --- is that it's become far more narratively driven instead of recipe driven; I'm telling more stories that revolve explicitly around food and family and life. Today I seem to be writing a lot more about what it means to be living and cooking in 2013 America while holding down a job (or three), commuting, finding a few more gray hairs in the morning, but always thinking about what's cooking at the end of the day.

Q. How was working on the book different than working on the blog? Were there any specific challenges to writing a book that you don't encounter on the blog?

A. Because my blog is narratively driven, when I sit down to write it I often don't know where I'm going to wind up (and consequently, I have a lot of bits and pieces of things in my drafts folder that have never come to fruition). The book, which took 16 months or so to write, was also an evolutionary process involving the recesses of my memory and often stark realizations that I grew up thinking of food the way I did because of my parents' polar opposite relationships with it. Once I started writing though and I really became entrenched in the process and the story, the book essentially wrote itself. I like to think, though, that my dear father, who I lost in 2002, was sitting on my shoulder, guiding me through the dark. He was a night fighter pilot in the Second World War, so that kind of makes sense.

Q. Who are some of your favorite food writers? Favorite food blogs?

A. There are so many folks whose work means so much to me: Laurie Colwin, MFK Fisher, John Thorne, Jim Harrison are my absolute favorites. The blogging world continues to just astound me--there's so much talent out there. But I find myself coming back over and over again to Sarah Searle (Yellow House) and Molly Wizenberg (Orangette) because I love longer-form narrative; they may be food writers, but they're also just really wonderful writers in the broader sense.

Q. Do you have any advice for someone thinking about starting a food blog or getting into food writing?

A. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, and then read some more. Be generous with others and with yourself. And enjoy the process!

Review

"...one of the finest food memoirs of recent years." - Dawn Drzal, The New York Times

"Who wrote the book of love? Elissa Altman did. Poignant, funny and full of wisdom, every single page should be savored." - Tracey Ryder, founder and CEO of Edible Communities



"...a brave, generous story about family, food, and finding the way home." -Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life

"Poor Man's Feast is a wild ride with biting highs, withering lows, and tremendous wit and humor. But throughout, there is a great tenderness that is so consistently warm and moving that when the end came, as it was bound to, I found myself searching for even just a bit more, like picking up especially divine pastry crumbs with a moistened fingertip, before gently closing the covers. A beautiful story." - Deborah Madison, author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

"Poor Man's Feast is two overlapping love stories. It is a pleasure to get to live both at Altman's joyously, irreverently laid table." - Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal

"The author--a New York editor, cook, and award-winning blogger--artfully merges relationship narrative, personal history, and food memoir in this satisfying book. . . . luminous writing brings many stories small and large to feed the heart." - Publishers Weekly

Product Details

  • File Size: 2535 KB
  • Print Length: 289 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1452107599
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC (February 19, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AB12U9W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,815 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good read -- a few caveats March 12, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I do not follow Elissa Altman's blog, and I do not follow what's happening in the world of food. I'm not a foodie. I just happened to read an editorial review of this book a few days before its publication and I liked what I read, so I purchased it. I mostly read non-fiction only, and memoirs are a favorite genre.

Since this book centeres around food, I'll use a food analogy: If this book was a dinner at a restaurant, I'd say that I enjoyed it overall, and that I left the restaurant satisfied, but there were some parts of the experience that I didn't like -- perhpas the appetitizer was too bitter or the wine too astringent.

First, the parts I liked. Altman writes beautifully. She writes in a way that really touches one's heart. I felt that she was coming from an honest place, and I imagine that writing this book made her feel very vulnerable, very raw. The honesty of her language sometimes made me feel uncomfortable, but I think that's an indication of how real and immediate her voice was.

The relationship she had with her father is more precious than gold, and is the main dish that made me forget the unfortunate appetizer. The warm glow of the love between Altman and her father is what stayed with me most vividly after finishing this book. She grew to love food because her father loved it, because she loved it with him, and because she loved him. It is a beautiful, unconditional love story between a father and a daughter.

Now on to the parts I didn't like so much. Altman's sense of humor is very, very dry. Dry to the point that felt acidic to me, beyond sarcastic. Case in point: her description of her first meeting with the family and relatives of her then-partner (now-spouse).
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a league with MFK Fisher March 8, 2013
Format:Hardcover
W.H. Auden once said of legendary food writer MFK Fisher "I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose."

This is how I feel about Elissa Altman.

I am far from the first to say so. Altman was once described as "The illegitimate love child of David Sedaris and MFK Fisher," which is also quite fitting, since she approaches her craft the way she does her life, with humor and love, and not without some occasional sarcasm.

She wields a sharp wit and an even sharper eye for detail in her new memoir, Poor Man's Feast - A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking (Chronicle, 2013). Based on her James Beard Award-winning blog of the same name, which by the way is a must read for anyone who is serious about food, the book takes us on a meandering journey through the last couple of decades of Altman's food-obsessed life, centered on discovering love and rediscovering simplicity.

It's not that the stories she relates are new or particularly revelatory. It's in how she tells the tales - the instantly relatable language that draws a reader in and makes her your best friend. Altman's prose transports you through time ands space and makes you immediately familiar with times and places and dishes you may never have seen.

The reader does not need to know firsthand the SoHo neighborhood of New York to be instantly transported there in the 1980s, "Each street decorated with art illegally painted on city property in the middle of the night, showcasing a frustrated, apoplectic Reagan under the words `Silence=Death.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of love and food, what more could you want? March 11, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Poor Man's Feast arrived in the mail just a few days ago... as soon as I opened my copy and started reading Elissa's deliciously funny writing, I couldn't put the book down!

As someone who lived in NYC during the late 80s and early 90s I particularly loved how Elissa so perfectly transported us to that time of Dean and Deluca decadence. Following her culinary adventures through the decades and finally to her current place of love and contentment with Susan was a ride I enjoyed every step of the way.

This is food writing done right. My copy already has butter stains on the pages.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attention cooks and wannabes! April 6, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It helps if you love the culinary arts, of course, and Elissa Altman goes into great detail on how she procured the ingredients and then prepared the meals. Being a vegetarian, I would have loved more veg discussions, but the recipes at the end of each chapter are a real treat,whether you plan to make the dish or not. The discussion surrounding her private life were also interesting and enjoyable.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars lovely food-focused memoir March 9, 2013
By alight
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved the way each chapter blended the past and present, and find it something of a relief that even with the author's love of "fancy" food, the recipes are generally simple, along the lines of sandwiches or braised meats.
Mainly, though, it makes me feel like I do when I watch two friends fall in love with each other--a little sentimental, a lot hopeful, a tiny bit of fingers-crossed-it-works-out-but-what-if-it-doesn't. What an appealing book this was; I look forward to more in this vein from the author.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Better then the blog. . .
Wow! Better than expected. I have read her blog for years and this was perfect to read before thanksgiving.
Published 1 month ago by Lora Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars And the recipes look wonderful.
A very personal story. Engaging and forthright. And the recipes look wonderful.
Published 2 months ago by C.W. S.
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Delightful.
Published 2 months ago by sharron prosser
3.0 out of 5 stars A food-driven life
Enjoyable, quick read but somewhat glib at times.
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A good read.... Some laugh out loud moments... And just an enjoyable book about love, food and relationships.
Published 3 months ago by TamSwen
5.0 out of 5 stars Kudos for Elissa...
I did not have insight or expectations about the book or the author going in...the blurb seemed interesting enough. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Bruce Bay
5.0 out of 5 stars delightful read!
This was a delightful read and well written! Enjoyed the format and recipes. Must read for food folks. Bravo Elissa!
Published 3 months ago by Ruth Mossok Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book!
I don't write a ton of reviews, but I am surprised I haven't heard more about this book! I loved, loved, loved it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by brooklynchick
5.0 out of 5 stars Starving for a feast? This is one food writer not to miss
Elissa Altman was possibly starved in utero by an ultra-thin model mother who was paranoid about gaining weight. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Joanna Daneman
4.0 out of 5 stars Food Is A Constant In Our Lives
An easy, enjoyable read. It's amazing to see how large a role food plays in our lives and the memories it evokes. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Love2read
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More About the Author

"Named after her James Beard Award-winning blog, "Poor Man's Feast" is Altman's smart yet tender tale of her gastronomical and spiritual evolution.... Sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious, this is one of the finest food memoirs of recent years." - New York Times Book Review

"The author--a New York editor, cook, and award-winning blogger--artfully merges relationship narrative, personal history, and food memoir in this satisfying book....Luminous writing brings many stories small and large to feed the heart." - Publisher's Weekly

"Smart, funny, and unflinchingly real, Elissa Altman writes like no one else. Poor Man's Feast is a reminder of the richness in simplicity, an invitation to a table set with wine and warm tomato sandwiches - a brave, generous story about family, food, and finding the way home." Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life and Orangette

"Poor Man's Feast is two overlapping love stories. It is a pleasure to get to live both at Altman's joyously, irreverently laid table." - Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal

"Poor Man's Feast is a wild ride with biting highs, withering lows, and tremendous wit and humor. But throughout, there is a great tenderness that is so consistently warm and moving that when the end came, as it was bound to, I found myself searching for even just a bit more, like picking up especially divine pastry crumbs with a moistened fingertip, before gently closing the covers. A beautiful story." - Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Literacy and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

"Who wrote the book of love? Elissa Altman did. Poignant, funny, and full of wisdom, every single page should be savored." - Tracey Ryder, founder and CEO of Edible Communities Publications


The 2012 James Beard Award-winner for her blog, PoorMansFeast.com, Elissa Altman is author of the critically-acclaimed 2013 memoir, Poor Man's Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking. A longtime food writer and editor who has been described as "the lovechild of David Sedaris and M.F.K. Fisher," Altman, in everything she writes, explores the intersection of food, family, and culture in all its outrageous eccentricity; her work has appeared everywhere from Saveur to Zester, the New York Times, Prevention, Spencer Magazine, and elsewhere. She appears regularly on National Public Radio, and attributes her affinity for the table to her mother, singer Rita Ellis Hammer, who, every single time she prepared lamb chops for Altman, set them ablaze.

Altman lives in Newtown Connecticut with her partner, book designer Susan Turner.

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