Ruth Reichl has been a friend for many years, we are members of the Mutual Admiration Society. Ruth’s work as a food writer and editor/critic extraordinaire is well noted. Her latest effort is a cook book/memoir “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved my Life” – a narrative in cooking. When Gourmet magazine closed 5 years ago, she says, she was set adrift. The lauded food pub of the highest order was shuttered. She was not alone in feeling she had been ambushed and abandoned. There were tears. There was outrage. There was disbelief. How could this happen?? Publishing had changed and the internet was to blame.
However, while Gourmet closed up shop and the legendary Ruth Reichl found herself at a loss – two things were happening and she was in the cross hairs. The internet was changing magazine and newspaper publication. Even the New York Times was regrouping, organizing itself around a new format. Online subscription. At the same time, food itself was in flux. A new kind of ethos, the local food movement, around for decades but gaining ground in more and more places continued apace. Farmers markets in urban centers were proliferating. Cooking was on the rise and eating well was also experiencing a renaissance. Why then would a magazine as heralded for the best recipes and writing in the business quit? Ruth Reichl asked herself that question while she cooked. And Cooked. And cooked. Somewhere around then, maybe a bit earlier Ruth began acquiring my dishes. She started with eight cake plates and ended up with 24 place settings. She chose bright colors and dots. She gave me freedom to make for her what I was inspired to make. Her cooking ended up on my plates at her table and her friends started buying my plates.
This fall, Ruth published her first cookbook and my plates make up quite a few of the backdrops for the photographed food. In one photograph in particular, beet died deviled eggs are displayed on one of my turquoise plates, and pow! Food becomes a performance. Delicious and beautiful.
Ruth’s new cookbook is a revelation for many. A personal story, candid and authentic, peppered with recipes – but not just any recipes. Robin McKay (another neighbor) tested the recipes and (embarrassingly) noted one dish was so delicious she licked the plate. (see acknowledgements). The recipes in this book are fabulous. I have been trying them bit by bit and am stoked to begin incorporating some in my repertoire. The apple crisp and grilled cheese sandwich are two in particular have gotten a lot of mileage lately. The generosity of this book is worth note – both in Ruth’s ability to share her life with us all and in her capacity as a cook to make food sexy, delicious, poetic and beautiful. Delight comes to mind. Cooking takes effort – planning, preparation, time, and motivation. It is easy to buy prepared food, frozen or takeout. Ruth’s book challenges us to engage in cooking in a way that inspires even the most resistant wannabe chef to take up the knife – slice up some onions and make dinner!