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My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times

Written by Suzan ColonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Suzan Colon


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: November 03, 2009
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-385-53258-7
Published by : Anchor Knopf

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When Suzan Colón was laid off from her dream job at a national magazine, she needed to cut her budget, and fast. That meant dusting off her grandmother Matilda’s old recipe folder and learning how to cook cheaply and simply. But Suzan found more than just amazing recipes—she found a new appreciation for the strong women in her family and the key to their survival through hard times.  
Full of heart, Cherries in Winter is an irresistible gem of a book. It makes you want to cook, it makes you want to know your own family's stories, and, above all, it makes you feel rich no matter what.



Suzan's Rigatoni Disoccupati
[Pasta of the Unemployed]

1/2 lb. pasta
1 small jar prepared spaghetti sauce

Heat a large pot of water until boiling and add half a box of rigatoni or whatever pasta you have. Take lid off jar of sauce and microwave for a few minutes, stirring after each minute to check temperature. Test pasta frequently so it doesn't get overcooked because you're a little distracted. Drain. Put large, comforting amounts on plates. Top just-this-side-of-mushy pasta with nuclear-hot spaghetti sauce. Serve with Italian bread and an explanation of why you're home so early.



"I got laid off today," I tell Nathan.

"Oh," he says, looking to me for a sign of how he should react—How bad is this?

"It's fine," I say. "I'm fine. We're going to be fine."

After all, it's not as though I didn't see this coming. I've written for magazines for twenty-four years now, and there have been two recessions during that time. When the economy starts tanking, people cut back, and if they have to make a choice between food and a magazine, I go from being employed full-time to starting another stint as a freelance writer.

So, months before I got the call from Human Resources at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon (a meeting, I guessed on my way downstairs, that was probably not about a raise and a promotion; I was right), I had begun economizing. I kept a record of my expenses and was surprised to find that I was spending upward of ten dollars a day on lunch—nearly twenty if it was a bad day and I treated myself to sushi.

I stopped eating in the fancy company cafeteria and started brown-bagging it. My lunches were simple: tuna sandwiches, salads, last night's chicken. I asked Nathan what he spent on food in a week. The amount was so startling it led me not only to make his lunches but to bake muffins and put coffee in a thermos for him to take to work as well.

Every morning, once I got from New Jersey to New York, I skipped the subway and walked the remaining mile to the office, weaving through crowds of European tourists buying Levi's jeans and tickets to The Lion King. The summer went by quickly, and the walk became easier when the hordes in Times Square thinned out; as markets all over the world fell with ours, I heard fewer exotic accents.

The closer I got to the glass tower where I worked, the faster I walked, like a woman hurrying to an affair so good she knows it can't last. Oh, did I love that job, and everything that went with it. I loved saying good morning to the dignified security guards who wore not uniforms but suits and ties, and I got a thrill from going up the long escalator that was built into an indoor waterfall. I'd give myself a once-over in the mirrored elevator before stepping out onto my floor, wanting to look good when I walked past the fashion editors at their morning meeting in the conference room. I felt important as I settled down in my office—my own office, with my name on the door and a partial view: a chunk of Central Park and a sliver of East River. In between going to meetings with my bosses and editing features, I'd write about subjects that our readers, and I, found rich and meaningful. I'd always hoped to do this kind of work, and I was proud to be a part of this prestigious team. (Both staff and content were of such high caliber that a friend nicknamed the magazine "Harvard.") My job was so busy and exciting I'd almost forget about the plastic-wrapped sandwich in my bag, and why I'd felt the need to bring one instead of getting the chef's plat du jour in the cafeteria.

Between the two of us, Nathan and I saved about a hundred bucks a week, and I lost around five pounds with those mile sprints. I even wrote an article about my lunch savings for the magazine. (When it was published, the tuna sandwiches and leftover chicken I'd described were accompanied by recipes for Pan Bagnat and Brown Rice Salad with Salmon.) I baked on Sundays and ate a little less at night, the better to have enough for lunch the next day. At work, one of the company chiefs held a special meeting to assure us that there were no plans for salary freezes or layoffs. I kept baking.

Every little bit I did, every dollar I saved, helped me stay calm, as did rehearsing on the walk to work what I would and would not say the day the layoff came. And when it did, I was able to take the news gracefully, accept a hug from a boss relieved that I wasn't throwing a stapler at her, and pack my personal effects quickly.


Normally, eating two bowls of pasta would put me in a carb-induced coma. Tonight, after getting a six-figure pay cut, it's calmed me down enough so that I can begin to take stock.

My family's history of rainy days gave me more than enough incentive to put part of each paycheck into a savings account. It also made me frugal-to a fault, in my mother's eyes. "You need this coat," she said when we were in a department store one afternoon.

"But Mom, it costs six hundred dollars . . ."

"And it looks like it cost a thousand! Buy it, or I'm buying it for you!"

Her rationale betrayed our humble background: "In order to make money," she said as I reluctantly handed over my credit card, "you have to look like you already have it."

Fortunately, I wasn't wearing that coat when I negotiated a freelance contract with my now former company. The monthly stipend won't be enough to retire on, but between that and my unemployment benefits, I can put my bag lady nightmares aside for a while. Another relief is that I'm not doing this alone anymore—now I have a husband who says things like "Don't worry. I've got my job. Have another cookie and relax." Together, we have enough to pay our rent and bills and to buy groceries (less expensive ones, anyway; I may need persuasion to buy fine clothes, but not fine food).

All in all, I feel relatively safe, especially when Mom tells me about what Nana went through during her childhood and the Depression. By those standards, I'm nowhere near trouble.
Suzan Colon

About Suzan Colon

Suzan Colon - Cherries in Winter

Suzan Colón has written for O, the Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, Jane, Rolling Stone, and other magazines. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Nathan. 



“Delicious. Delectable. Truthful, funny and poignant. . . . A treat to share with those you love.” —Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of Big Stone Gap

“Perfectly in sync with today’s tough times. . . . Cherries illustrates the difference between broke and poor, using recipes—simple, sturdy, inexpensive—as well as family wisdom to show that when poverty looms, your best weapon may be a well-nourished soul.” —People

“Colón’s warm, poignant, honest voice and down-home, mouth-watering recipes make me want to go over to her house for dinner immediately.” —Kate Christensen, author of PEN-Faulkner award-winning The Great Man
"I love this book. . . . One of the best reads I’ve had all year.” —Julie Morgenstern, bestselling author of Shed Your Stuff Change Your Life

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions for discussion and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Cherries in Winter, Suzan Colón's inspirational memoir about three generations of women who find solace in the comfort of their kitchens when hard times hit.

About the Guide

When Suzan Colón was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back, and that meant home cooking. Her mother suggested, “Why don’t you look in Nana’s recipe folder?” In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda’s commentary in the margins. Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes—she had found the key to her family’s survival through hard times.

Suzan began re-creating Matilda’s “sturdy food” recipes for baked pork chops and beef stew, and Aunt Nettie’s clam chowder made with clams dug up by Suzan’s grandfather Charlie in Long Island Sound. And she began uncovering the stories of her resilient family’s past. Taking inspiration from stylish, indomitable Matilda, who was the sole support of her family as a teenager during the Great Depression (and who always answered “How are you?” with “Fabulous, never better!”), and from dashing, twice-widowed Charlie, Suzan starts to approach her own crisis with a sense of wonder and gratitude. It turns out that the gift to survive and thrive through hard times was bred in her bones all along.

About the Author

Suzan Colón is a contributing writer and editor for O, The Oprah Magazine. Her articles have appeared in Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Details, and other magazines. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Nathan.

Discussion Guides

1. Do you remember your grandmother, mother, or another family member cooking for you? What was that person's signature dish? Is there one meal or dish that has been passed down through the generations in your family?

2. Suzan has strong emotional connections to food. What foods bring back pivotal moments in your life?

3. Suzan's family has a motto that describes how they get through difficult times—"Put up soup." Do you or your family have a similar motto? If so, does that saying have a different resonance for you today than it did when you were growing up?

4. How has your family handle adversity? What did that experience teach you about dealing with challenging issues and times?

5. What examples in the book show that good things can come from tough times? Have you found this to be true?

6. There are a lot of emotions tangled up in money. For example, do you think Matilde, Suzan's great-great-grandmother, was being irresponsible when she spent her family's food money on vases, or do you feel that sometimes it's okay to splurge on something meaningful, even if it means going without for a while? How does this relate to America's credit card crisis?

7. What foods traditionally served in your family help you trace your origins?

8. In what way do you pass your family's stories down to your children and grandchildren? Do you have photo albums, recipe books, or a written history? If you pass the stories down orally, would you want to tape record them or be videotaped so that your family's history could be preserved for future generations?

9. There are plenty of songs written about overcoming adversity. If Suzan's life and Cherries in Winter were to have a soundtrack—what songs would be appropriate to add to its track list?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Suggested Readings

Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie; Gesine Bullock-Prado, My Life From Scratch; Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking, More Home Cooking; Jason Epstein, Eating; Moira Hodgson, It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time; Andrea Israel, The Recipe Club; Julia Reed, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties; Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life

  • Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon
  • October 19, 2010
  • Self Help - Motivational
  • Anchor
  • $14.95
  • 9780307475930

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