I’ve been revisiting some old favourites and experimenting with first drafts over the last few weeks in the realm of both recipes and my scholarly pursuits. New to my recipe roster are oatmeal & apple muffins made with quinoa and almond butter, and a spinach & mushroom quiche complete with a buttery quinoa crust and a generous helping of cheese – recipes coming soon!
I have also been taking the time to immerse myself in the plethora of intriguing podcasts available on CBC Radio and BBC Food. This morning I was delighted to discover a 2006 interview with Ruth Reichl, author of some of the most readable, yet complex, food memoirs I’ve had the pleasure to devour. Recorded in Montreal with Eleanor Wachtel for CBC Radio’s Writers & Company, the interview addresses themes and events running through Reichl’s books Tender at the Bone, Comfort me with Apples, and Garlic & Sapphires.
You can listen to the podcast here at Writers & Company. And, in the spirit of revisiting, remembering, and rewriting, I thought I would (re)share my thoughts on Reichl’s memoirs. This post was originally published on Cooklore in October 2012. I hope you enjoy Ruth’s work (and conversations) as much as I do …
I often read good books more than once. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read books like Lisa Moore’s Alligator and Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero. By the time I come to a book’s closing pages I usually know whether I will read it again, but I don’t usually start re-reading it immediately.
Unless I am reading Ruth Reichl.
Reichl’s memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples made me want to eat more than any other food memoir I’ve read. The more I read, the more I wanted to eat. As I greedily ate my way through New York, Berkley, Los Angeles, Montreal, and parts of France, Africa and China with Ruth, I found myself wishing that I had been a more adventurous eater in the days when there was nothing that I could not eat.
At my grandmother’s table, visibly disgruntled before the meal even begins!
(picture taken by my father)
What makes Ruth’s writing standout is her ability to capture the pleasures of the table alongside the tensions that conviviality can bring.
Tender at the Bone begins with Ruth’s childhood in New York and illustrates the importance of good food through its absence. A terrible home cook, Ruth’s mother lacks not only the ability to understand basic flavour combinations, but also the ability to follow expiration dates and even her nose! Worried that her mother’s cooking will sicken friends and family, Ruth endeavours to protect guests from the threat of food poisoning by directing them to safer dishes and eventually stepping into the kitchen herself. Under the careful tutelage of her loving Aunt Birdie and her loyal housekeeper, Ruth delights in daily visits to fruit and vegetable stands, butchers and fishmongers. Eventually sent to boarding school in Montreal to learn to speak French, Ruth spends her weekends alone with nothing but the warmth of smoked meat sandwiches and bakery delights to keep her company.
So begins the life of a talented home cook, restaurant owner, writer and editor. As restaurant critic for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the editor of Gourmet Magazine, Ruth has shared her love of good food with readers near and far.
Reichl and her mother
(picture featured on the cover of Reichl’s book Not Becoming My Mother)
Not only did I voraciously consume Ruth’s descriptions of the food she ate and the meals she shared, I also raced through her writing eager to learn what was to become of the people she loved and sometimes lost. Ruth brings readers into her tumultuous relationship with her mother who experiences bipolar depression, her unravelling friendship with her college roommate, and the dissolution of her first marriage. She writes passionately about her family’s incredulity that she is truly happy cooking and writing about food, and tackles her mixed feelings about the popular misconception that gastronomy and social change are mutually exclusive.
Comfort Me with Apples highlights these tensions thoughtfully and demonstrates food’s storied, material and political complexity against the backdrop of a life lived with gusto. Ruth reminds us that to create dishes worth eating and lives worth living we need to make a bit of a mess from time to time. We can and will make mistakes.
You can listen to an interview with Ruth about her book Not Becoming My Mother and read an excerpt from the first chapter here on NPR.
As always, Julia (& Julie?)