Over the course of COVID-19, home cooking took on a performative quality in some quarters: There were the people who assiduously baked (and photographed) sourdough. Others tended their hydroponic gardens like small pets. Some people huddled around newly bought Solo Stoves to toast dinner like travelers on the Oregon Trail.
That’s why Susan Spungen’s new cooking newsletter, Susanality, is so refreshing. Here’s an authentic culinary star — the food stylist behind gastronomic films like “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Julie & Julia” as well as a founding food editor for Martha Stewart — who shares recipes like she’s talking to a friend. Sometimes she even sends follow-up emails if her recipes are a little bit off or if she forgot a link, just like a real human, not an influencer.
But pop culture hounds might recognize her last name. Yes, she is the sister of Nancy Spungen, who was murdered by Sex Pistols star Sid Vicious at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978. Movies were made about her troubled life. Her mom, Deborah Spungen, wrote a book about it in which Susan played a role as the younger, bewildered sibling growing up outside Philadelphia under Nancy’s doomed shadow. It’s nice to know that she grew into such a successful career — she even reflects on making chocolate chunk pecan cookies for Nancy as a small way to bridge the enormous gulf between the heroin-addled punk rock scene and suburbia.
Newsletters come out every Friday morning. They have some preamble, but it’s always applicable to the recipe at hand, no self-indulgent meanderings about the philosophy of radishes. She weaves in honest personal history with cooking tips, ranging from an aside about unusual cookbooks (“Dinner With Jackson Pollock”) to tips on how to cook dry beans (not always easy) to reflections on her grandmother’s Bauhaus apartment building in Philadelphia (the famous Hopkinson House on Washington Square), where she went for Sunday dinners.
There is no food-shaming or proselytizing about fancy shopping. Ingredients are largely accessible — in one dispatch, she hailed the pleasures of frozen peas — and she peppers each missive with adaptations if you need to improvise. Dishes are just this side of special: strawberry tart, quick seafood stew.
“Wanna know what else I like about this stew? You can make the tomato base ahead of time if you want, an hour (or four) before dinner, and then cook the seafood in LESS THAN TEN MINUTES!” she writes with a candor that she might not have learned from Martha. Subscribe at susanality.substack.com.