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.

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