Latest Stories

Country Cooking

Alice doesn’t live here anymore–and how that made Calvin Trillin feel


ALICE and Calvin Trillin

My article on the Time-Life book collection “Foods of the World” and how I’m trying to complete my set had readers e-mailing me with suggestions on just what to do.

One taught me how to bid for the books on eBay, the Net’s digital shop, while others graciously offered me their own copies (thank you). I wrote then that I’ve been doing my own search in bargain book stalls.

The book hunt at bargain places is what I’ve introduced to chefs during our culinary competition judging in many parts of the country. There, second-hand reads can be had for a few pesos. It’s almost unbelievable that hardbound copies of recipes and food books can cost less than a hundred.

There were times when our hunt turned up copies of books currently sold in bookstores, but at a tenth of the price. But my greatest moments are when I discover a book that I never knew was printed, so that it completes a particular collection.


Prodigious talent

One book seemed to call out to me with its title “About Alice.” Then I saw the author’s name, Calvin Trillin, one of my favorite writers, who tackles eating and so many other subjects with a humorous point of view. A prolific writer, Trillin has a column in The Nation magazine called “Verse Columnist,” although the magazine would rather call him “deadline poet” because of his prodigious talent in reportage and commentary.

“About Alice” is Trillin’s memoir of his wife who died of heart failure due to lung cancer. The book became a New York Times bestseller, and I’m thrilled to have this treasure in my library, which already includes several Trillin books.

One of them, “American Stories,” has a chapter on the competitive tactics Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream employed to rattle its more conservative rival, Häagen-Dazs. Trillin’s three earlier food books were compiled in the volume “The Tummy Trilogy.” One of them is “Alice, Let’s Eat.”

Trillin’s penchant for teasing is evident in the first chapter, where he reveals that his wife “has a weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day.”

Main course

It was in another book, again discovered at a second-hand store, where Calvin and Alice Trillin were mentioned as guests at a lunch.

“The World in My Kitchen” by Colette Rossant relates how she always invited the Trillins to sample the new ingredients she discovered in New York’s Chinatown. Once, after a soup of cauliflower and blue cheese, Alice, who was expecting their first child, said they had to go because she felt she was having labor pains.

Colette and Jimmy Rossant

Calvin was hesitant and said: “But I don’t know what Colette is serving for the main course!”

Rossant’s main course was roasted quails with water spinach and sautéed water chestnuts, which she wrapped for the couple to take out. And then she mentioned how Calvin wrote about her in “Alice, Let’s Eat,” calling her one of his favorite New York cooks.

That made me open the Trillin book, and there Rossant was described as “the Scourge of Sullivan Street” because she insisted on having good fresh produce, and never hesitated to berate vendors who gave her anything less.

“She is so far above frozen food,” he wrote, “that I have always suspected she may not keep ice cubes.”

Before discovering this recent Rossant book, I already had two of her books in my collection, both bought at a regular book store. “Apricots on the Nile” is about growing up in Egypt with her father’s family. Rossant’s mother was French and it was in Paris where she spent her college years, which are recounted in “Return to Paris.”

Her early married years is what Rossant wrote about in “The World in my Kitchen”—how she settled with her American husband Jimmy in New York, and then built a family and career as a French-language teacher, cooking teacher and food writer. Each of those books featured recipes of the dishes she discussed or whipped up.

Book connection

I thought the book connection ended there. But Trillin also mentioned in the memoir the author Dick Francis, a favorite mystery writer of mine who, when his wife Mary died, wrote: “I don’t think I shall write again other than letters now… So much of my work was her.”

There were several Dick Francis novels I bought at those bargain book stalls, many at around P30—cheap thrills, really. Francis’ breezy writing and suspenseful plots made time fly, especially on long plane flights and at the waiting rooms of doctors.

Trillin said he understood that reluctance to write again because Francis must have been trying to impress only his wife with his work. But Trillin actually said it in the dedication of one of his novels. It reads: “I write this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice.”

E-mail the author at pinoyfood04@yahoo.com

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: About Alice , Books Lifestyle , Calvin Trillin , Food

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. World bids Gabriel Garcia Marquez ‘Adios’
  3. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  4. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  5. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  8. Garcia Marquez left unpublished manuscript
  9. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  10. Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  5. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. This is not just a farm
  8. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  9. Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  10. Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • What Went Before: Malacañang allies alleged involvement in pork scam
  • Timeline: Napoles tell-all
  • 12 senators on Napoles ‘pork’ list, says Lacson
  • Napoles surgery in Makati hospital successful
  • Save the queen? Aide takes fall for Enrile, Gigi Reyes
  • Sports

  • Mixers trim Aces; Painters repulse Bolts
  • Donaire junks Garcia as coach, taps father
  • ’Bye Ginebra: No heavy heart this time
  • UAAP board tackles new rules
  • Baguio climb to decide Le Tour de Filipinas
  • Lifestyle

  • The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  • Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  • Visiting chefs from Denmark get creative with ‘ube,’ ‘ buko,’ ‘calamansi,’ mangoes
  • Salted baked potatoes
  • A first in a mall: Authentic Greek yogurt–made fresh in front of diners
  • Entertainment

  • Return of ‘Ibong Adarna’
  • Practical Phytos plans his future
  • In love … with acting
  • From prison to the peak of success
  • ‘Asedillo’ location thrives
  • Business

  • This time, BIR goes after florists
  • Philippine Airlines to stop shipment of shark fins
  • PH banks not ready for Asean integration
  • Stocks down on profit-taking
  • Banks allowed to use ‘cloud’
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • PH seeks ‘clearer assurance’ from US
  • China and rivals sign naval pact to ease maritime tensions
  • What Went Before: Manila bus hostage crisis
  • Obama arrives in Tokyo, first stop of 4-nation tour
  • Believe it or not: Filipinos love US more than Yanks