My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl – book review

by Edith Cody-Rice

My Kitchen Year 001Ruth Reichl is a foodie’s foodie. The former editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine which was closed by its owner Condé Nast in 2009, she has a deeply sensual relationship with food. She loves the feel of egg whites as they dribble through your fingers while you are separating eggs and the sharp tangy smell of fresh meat. And she can convey that sensuality in her writing about food. While reading her you feel enveloped in the warmth of a country kitchen with its smells of baking, fresh bread and simmering stews. She appears to be equally an excellent cook and appreciator of food and a very good writer.

This book,  an autobiography detailing her year after the closing of the magazine, with recipes to match, is a gift to the cook book reader. Many of us who cook sparingly can think of nothing better than to curl up with a good cook book and read the recipes imagining the steps and the finished product. Ms. Reichl satisfies that side of us with her stories of her depression and guilt at the failure of Gourmet and her remedy for it during that fateful first year….cooking. As she notes in the book she had not had to personally pay for a restaurant meal since 1978, having relied on expense accounts in her various jobs, so a year of cooking seemed both a return to basics and a respite.

The book is divided into the seasons in upstate New York (and in Canada) – fall (the magazine closed in October of 2009), winter, spring and summer. Each chapter reflects her mood and her increasing appreciation of the simple things in life, beauty in nature, friendly upstate neighbours and food suppliers, good friends and former colleagues, her husband and son, her cats – and of course, the food that she cooks. Ms. Reichl cooked her way back to happiness.

And it is chocked with 136 recipes for comfort food. She introduces each dish with the reason for cooking it at the time and almost every recipe, from Asian cuisine to the simple grilled cheese sandwich is a comforting dish. She recreates food she has loved such as the simple pumpernickel, marmalade and bacon sandwich from Prune’s New York restaurant to American thai noodles, Asian congee and spice rubbed pork in banana leaves. She replicates food truck food that she adores. Ms Reichl  includes many traditions – European, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Asian. There is no theme to the book other than the seasons, the narrative and the defining delicious comfort of the dishes she recommends.

The book is easy to handle – in an 81/2 X 11 inch format, the illustrations beautiful  in practical matte rather than  glossy format. Her narratives are short and evocative. My one caveat is that this book is for a cook with some experience. She assumes some knowledge.  My one quibble would be that the hard back binding of the book makes it difficult to hold in a recipe book stand while cooking. I tried several of the recipes with good results. I couldn’t try a great many or this review would not have been published until next spring. This is quite a gorgeous publication – a worthy Christmas gift.

My Kitchen Year is published by appetite by Random House