I thank my friend Muriel for introducing me to the seductive food writing of Ruth Reichl a few years ago. (Where had I been?! Foodie readers in America may be well versed in Reichl's work as Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine and before that restaurant critic for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times).
For me, reading Reichl's memoir Tender at the Bone - Growing up at the Table it was love at first read. Reichl's love of cooking and bringing people together to share food was born almost out of both necessity and opposition to her mother Miriam's mental illness and inability to cook. It was in fact more than an inability to cook, in Reichl's words Miriam's cooking was akin to 'poison' hence the title given to her mother - 'The Queen of Mold'. Tender at the Bone has been described as a coming of age story and I agree; there are many layers to this engaging story that contains recipes interspersed throughout the chapters. Food is the thread that stitches together the stories of Reichl's childhood growing up in Greenwich Village New York, to living in a commune, to starting a collectively owned restaurant in Berkeley California.
So yesterday when I stumbled across Reichl's blog I was thrilled because I thought I'd read every book she'd written (Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table and Garlic and Saphire's: The Secret Life of a Restaurant Critic in Disguise), now I have her fresh blog words to savour but I'm also excited to share her writing with you and to find she has written a fourth book in her memoir series, For you Mom, Finally.
For those familiar with Reichl's work, did you love every book? For those yet to discover her, I found her books at my local library so perhaps they'll be at yours too.
What charms me about Reichl's writing is her (seemingly) effortless way of noticing and describing the details, intricacies and nuances of food and family with great warmth, humour and most of all originality.
If the words restaurant critic put you off, don't be. Reichl defies any stereotype of elitist restaurant critic, at heart she is an original Wholefood Mama as the extract below from Comfort Me With Apples illustrates. In the extract Reichl has just landed her first restaurant critic position and she is working out how to tell the people in her life she loves and who know her as someone with grassroots values:
“I’ve just gotten the best job in the world!” As I heard myself say the words, I knew they wouldn’t do. They would be fine in San Francisco or New York, but this was the People’s Republic of Berkeley. This was the heart of the counterculture. Every single person I knew was going to disapprove.
I walked into the hallway of the peeling Victorian house I shared with my husband and five other people and waited for their reactions.
Nick, our household patriarch, was sitting in the shabby, crowded living room. He stroked the bushy beard that gave him the air of a prophet and said, “Let me get this straight.” He plunked himself into one of the tattered armchairs we had found at the flea market and began pushing the stuffing back into the arm. “You’re going to spend your life telling spoiled, rich people where to eat too much obscene food?”
“Something like that,” I murmured, too embarrassed to defend myself.
He shook his head in disappointment. A devotee of millet and Dr. Bronner’s balanced mineral bouillon, Nick had done his Berkeley best to turn our household into a model of politically correct consumption. We had, at various times, been ovolactovegetarians and vegans, and we were, at all times, vigilant about the excesses of agribusiness. For a long while we grew our own food, and we even, for a short while, depended upon dumpsters for our raw ingredients. Nick had valiantly tried to overlook my forays into the world of fancy food, but this was going too far. For the first time in the many years I had known him, he became speechless.
Hungry for more? Seek out Reichl's books and blog.