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Poor Man's Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking Hardcover – March 5, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1452107599
  • ISBN-13: 978-1452107592
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #835,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Elissa Altman was possibly starved in utero by an ultra-thin model mother who was paranoid about gaining weight. (Elissa was born at 4 lbs, because Mom was on a diet during pregnancy.) Did that, and her mother's constant nagging form her deep interest in food? And of course her father was completely opposite, sneaking her off to the best restaurants of New York City (Lutece, La Grenouille) as well as the famous dives in Hell's Kitchen and Little Italy. There they feasted, in defiance of Mom--and the cardiologist. This backdrop of a troubled, wealthy Jewish family in New York and Altman's path to becoming, not a great chef but a noted food writer is amazing reading.

Altman's writing reminds me of Laurie Colwin, also New Yorker and food writer and gone way too soon (she wrote for the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine and she passed away in her forties of an undiagnosed heart condition.) Colwin and Altman share the same dry sense of humor, the same warped way of looking at crazy New York life and the same deep love of the essential and the elemental in good food, whether it's Polish stuffed cabbage or artisanal goat cheese.

While Altman's writing is less spare than M. F. K. Fisher, there is plenty of the introspection as well as opinionated holding forth on what works and what doesn't in food. And Altman has the same ability to laugh at youthful foibles.

There's also a love story in this memoir--Altman is gay and she finds a long-term relationship with Susan, who has a similar love of good food but comes from as different a background (New England working-class Catholic) as you could hope to find.
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