A Letter to Ruth Reichl

Dear Ruth,

Thank you, Ruth Reichl, for returning to writing your memoirs.  Although I enjoyed your novel, Delicious! and tried the recipe in the back of the book for gingerbread cake, I missed your real life.  I laughed so hard at your disguises in Garlic and Sapphires and felt so nostalgic when reading Comfort Me with Apples.  I missed your life commentary with funny asides and endearing messy foibles.

9781400069996  Now you are back with Save Me the Plums – just when I need motivation to read again.  I look forward to your tale about your adventures with one of my favorite defunct magazines – Gourmet (I miss reading it too.)

Kate Betts teased me with her review yesterday in the Sunday New York Times, calling it “a poignant and hilarious account.”   She mentions recipes – oh joy!  I may have to eat chocolate cake while reading.

I am off to find your book….

Related Review:  Delicious!

 

Happy Mother’s Day

Thinking back on books about mothers, my favorite was Ruth Reichl’s Not Becoming My Mother.  The title evokes a prayer most daughters silently breathe when younger, and then realize when older.

Here is an excerpt from my 2010 post:

“In her usual humorous style, Reichl begins with a hilarious tale of how “Mim” creating 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.”

 

My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl

9781400069989_p0_v4_s192x300Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year reads like a diary – which it originally was – with recipes smattered throughout the text.  I like Ruth Reichl and have read all her hilarious memoirs  from Comfort Me With Apples to Garlic Sapphires to her recent attempt at fiction, Delicious!  My Kitchen Year is not like her others.  The book has some nostalgia, some philosophy, some suggestions, and – of course – some recipes.

The book follows Reichl through the seasons of the year after the demise of Gourmet magazine.  Reichl has written essays on the end of Gourmet, but here she finally makes peace with its effect on her own life.  It takes time to digest how happenings out of our control (and isn’t everything?) affect our lives; coping is personal and Reichl turned to cooking.

“My kitchen year started in a time of trouble, but it taught me a great deal. When I went back to cooking I rediscovered simple pleasures, and I began to appreciate the world around me, I learned the secret to life is finding joy in ordinary things.”

Comfort food is not surprisingly the first order of business, as she begins her year in the wake of a major life change.  Recipes for buttermilk pancakes with brown butter and shirred eggs with potato puree are guaranteed to help anyone through a crisis.  But then, she moves on, and tackles Thanksgiving and its aftermath (turkey hash).  Winter is hard, but there is Longchamps rice pudding with raisins to make and Thai American noodles to infuse a longing for warmer climes.  Bread recipes are great anytime but a warm oven seems appropriate when it’s cold, and Reichl has bread recipes and Mrs. Lincoln’s Genuine Sponge Cake to ward off the cold.

Life improves in Spring, along with recipes for lemon pudding cake, rhubarb sundaes, and apricot pie.  Summer finally offers freedom and a new hopeful mood:

“I found my eyes were open wider than they normally were, making me see things I normally overlook.”

A menu of a perfect summer day with a breakfast of lemon-scented peach cobbler with a buttermilk crust, James Beard’s tomato pie, and a final “Quick, Easy Do-Ahead for Two People: A Ten Minute Meal”  – ends the book on a practical note and her advice to forego the restaurant and do some home-cooking for yourself – and your peace of mind.

Because I revere Ruth Reichl, I studiously ploughed through the book, but others who are looking for a traditional cookbook may find it hard to follow.  Nothing about Ruth Reichl has ever been traditional, and if you are looking for recipes, you might want to go straight to her “recipe index” at the back of the book.  But if you are willing to hear her story and if you enjoy the simple pleasure of cooking, you might want to follow the narrative, and value the plums – of both wisdom and cooking.

Related ReviewDelicious!

 

 

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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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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