Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

9781400069620_p0_v3_s260x420Having laughed through Ruth Reichl’s adventures as the food critic for the New York Times in Garlic and Sapphires and empathized with her Not Becoming My Mother and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way, I looked forward to this foodie’s first book of fiction. With the taste of Italy still fresh on my palate, Reichl’s Delicious ! was the perfect combination of food, mystery, and romance – topped off with a recipe at the end of the book.

Using her experiences as editor of Gourmet magazine, including the sad demise of that publication, Reichl created a story around Billie, who quits Berkeley in her senior year to take a job as assistant to the editor of Delicious magazine in New York City, with hopes of becoming a writer. Surrounded by a crew of Reichl’s food-loving characters, including “Mr. Complainer,” the handsome regular customer at the Italian deli where Billie moonlights on weekends, Billie explores a mystery involving letters from James Beard before he became the famous chef.  Reichl uses the quest, with secret passages and coded letters, and Billie’s aversion to cooking, to add purpose to the rambling adventure.

Reichl includes the recipe for Billie’s mother’s gingerbread cake at the end of the book. Like my own mother, Billie’s mother refused to reveal the secrets of her baking. Billie and her sister guess at the ingredients and the cake is the catalyst to their successful Cake Sisters bakery. The recipe works; I tried it, changing it a little “to make it my own,” as James Beard suggests.

Like a Sophie Kinsella book for food-lovers, Delicious! is a delight and the perfect digestif after my week of sumptuous Italian eating. Bon appetit!

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Chocolate and Zucchini

At first glance, Clotilde Dusoulier’s recipes in Chocolate and Zucchini seem to be easier to read than to make.  As a Parisian who relocated to San Francisco and then back again to France, Dusoulier offers  recipes that will make you want to be a gourmet.  She includes lovely menu listings – both in French and in English.  Each recipe has a story and mouth-watering pictures, and like Julia Child, she carefully explains each step simply and clearly.

The introduction is too long and repetitive, but the heart of the book is divided into three sections of recipes and stories.  The first section – “Simplicity” – includes four recipes for each of the topics: salads, sandwiches, savory tarts, soups, eggs.  Some are not so simple, but all look delicious – the kind of food you’d order in a bistro.

The second section – “Entertaining” – raises the level with food for dinner parties and buffets.  The Boulette D’agneaux aux Pruneaux (lamb and prune meatballs) is only one of many that had me thinking I’d look for it the next time I found a good French restaurant – not so sure I’d try making it though.

Finally, the last section – my favorite – “Sweet Things” – offers a mix of easy and glamorous cakes, tarts, and desserts, starting with an easy recipe for the chocolate and zucchini cake from the title and escalating to chocolate hibiscus crème brûlée and blancmange with basil or raspberry coulis.  The lemon butter cookies caught my eye – lusciously lemony – access the recipe by clicking here.

The stories accompanying each recipe demonstrate Dusoulier’s love affair with food and she has her own blog Chocolate and Zucchini to check out for more ideas.

Not Becoming My Mother

If you haven’t read  Ruth Reichl’s Tender is the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, or Garlic and Sapphires, treat yourself to one or all.  Reichl was the food editor for the NY Times.   Her hilarious disguises (Garlic and Sapphires) while she was reviewing restaurants will have you laughing while you drool over the entrees. She makes work sound like fun, and she is clearly enjoying herself.

When Conde Nast decided to discontinue publication of Gourmet magazine in October, Reichl, editor-in-chief, was on a tour for Gourmet Today, a compilation of recipes from the years that the magazine successfully lured would-be cooks and foodies to its pages.  Her latest book is a short read – possible to read it all during a football game (I did) –  titled Not Becoming My Mother.  In her usual humorous style, Reichl begins with a hilarious tale of how “Mim” created a last-minute snack for her Brownie troop that somehow did not poison the girls. Her mother was not the cook in the family.

She quickly segways into a serious analysis of her mother’s life. Understandably, she dared not attempt to write about her while her mother was alive; who would? A box of letters conveniently chronicling relationships, disappointments, and missed opportunities becomes the basis for getting to know her mother. Predictably, her mother is not the person she thought she knew.  Like all mothers, she had a life before becoming a mother, and Reichl convincingly attacks the nuances of her mother’s ups and downs with compassion and a gratitude for lessons learned.

Reading this short book can’t help but make you wonder what you don’t know about your own mother, or, if you are a mother, what your children got wrong about you.

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