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The title, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life may sound a bit dramatic, and she’s been teased time and again for her rather rapturous tweets, but Ruth Reichl delivers on her premise. After the abrupt close of Gourmet, Reichl found solace and strength in the kitchen—every recipe proceeds a moment in her life that led to that exact dish—and she makes clear that the right recipe has the power to heal, revive, and reinvigorate. I felt it too: on a chilly night after a frustrating day, her silky, bright Avgolemono soup and garlicky broccoli rabe bruschetta comforted and fortified me.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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The book is organized by season (Reichl gets particularly excited by whatever is good and fresh). Her recipe style is relaxed, even soothing. Instead of a formal ingredient list, items are grouped as either staples or shopping list grabs. Instead of numbered steps, she instructs in warm, friendly paragraphs—a call to peel apples for a crisp reads, “peel a few different kinds of apples, enjoying the way they shrug reluctantly out of their skins.” And, perhaps in a nose thumbing to online critics, each anecdote is set off by one of her infamous tweets.
If you tend to roll your eyes at the overly earnest, read My Kitchen Year for the recipes, and cook many of them. You’ll be deeply satisfied, maybe even moved.
More Books for Cooks:
The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Ruth Reichl
While the Internet archivists have preserved Ruth Reichl’s first-ever tweet in all its fumbling glory (“trying to figure out Twitter. Watching Superbowl”), the one she remembers most vividly still has a rawness to it six years later: “Gourmet’s over. What now?”
The closure of Condé Nast’s flagship food magazine has become convenient shorthand for publishing wonks bemoaning the death of print, but Reichl recalls the wreckage from the inside: the self-doubt about why the country’s oldest food publication was folding on her watch the guilt about 60 staffers losing their jobs overnight and the ‘holy crap’ moment of feeling suddenly rudderless at 61.
As it turns out, a lot happened next. Reichl published a novel (Delicious!) and added to her streak of best-selling memoirs she launched and shuttered the longform-oriented Gilt Taste, where she learned about the ruthlessness of web media (“You have a year to make it, or not, and then they move on”) and she settled effortlessly into your de facto role as the grande-dame of food writing𠅊 bridge between the bygone world of luminaries like James Beard and Julia Child (whom she knew personally), and the current era of off-the-cuff blog posts and 140-character missives about breakfast (hers happen to paradigms of the form).
For her deeply personal new cookbook, though, she returns to those dark post-Gourmet days to explore how cooking𠅊nd Twitterme her salvation when questions like “What should we do with this $30,000 Thanksgiving-spread budget?” gave way to “What should I do with my life?” Punctuated by her famously evocative tweets, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life—out September 29ਏrom Random House—is as much soul-bearing memoir as instructional manual, revealing how Reichl regained her bearings by making meals for herself and her family, and discovered a new community of online food obsessives to replace the cadre she left behindਊt Condé Nast.
“It’s almost an accidental book,” she said over the phone from her home in upstate New York. “I find writing difficult and often unpleasant. This wasn’t. This was just, ‘Okay, I’m going use the tweets and talk about what I was cooking and the backstory, and maybe it will be useful to people [to know] that this is one way to really heal yourself.”
Of course, the recipes from that therapeutic cooking frenzyਊre just a drop in the well of culinary memories from a life where every moment𠅏rom leaving her husband for another lover, to igniting her first major controversy as the New York Times restaurant critic—is animated by her infectious passion for food. Here, Reichl walks us through the dishes𠅊nd arguments with David Foster Wallace—that still define her approach to cooking, chronicling, and thinking about food.
The title of this book appealed to me when I left China (sooner than I hoped) to return to the USA. I especially liked the subtitle, so much that I kept calling it "Recipes That Saved My Life" and was then unable to find it in bookstores. I don't think my life needed saving, but I was grieving the end of my life in China and cooking helped ease the pain of repatriation. If I could no longer live in China then I would at least recreate the flavors of the country in my kitchen. Although Ruth Reichl's book only has three Chinese recipes, I figured that her approach to cooking during her time of grief over the premature closure of Gourmet magazine could help me find ways to work through my own grief of leaving China.
The first thing I liked about the book is that it is divided into the four seasons, an important element of cooking and buying ingredients, but reminding us that time and nature continues on, regardless of our suffering. Ruth's home base is in New York, a region that experiences four very distinct seasons with extreme weather at both ends. I believe that no matter what your seasons are like, paying attention to dishes that match the climate is part of what makes food comforting. Baking bread and eating hot oatmeal bring warmth to the house and your bones in the depths of winter. Cold gazpacho soup and tangy Vietnamese Caramelized Pork lighten up a humid summer day. The book does not provide a day-by-day or even a monthly guide to what to cook over the course of a year, rather it's a loose association of recipes that are suited to the seasons in the American Northeast.
Jim Lahey's No-knead Bread baked in a dutch oven
Compared to a typical cookbook, My Kitchen Year is disorganized. There is no table of contents listing all the recipes. They are not sorted into groups of appetizers and main courses or by vegetables, meats, and desserts. The recipes are introduced chronologically in the order Ruth made them in the year after Gourmet closed its doors. This book is primarily a memoir of a specific period in time and, secondarily, is a cookbook. Yes, there are 136 recipes in this book but as with Ruth's life, the writing comes first and the subject just happens to be about her passion of cooking. Furthermore, the recipes are written in more of a prose style, similar to authors she admires such as Elizabeth David and [simple french cooking person]. It can be challenging to follow a recipe without numbered steps or explicit details and so this book is not for the novice home cook. Yet that's what I enjoy about this book. As Ruth says in the preface, she wrote this book as if you were standing side-by-side with her in the kitchen and she were telling you how to make a dish--as friends.
Gazpacho soup sweetened with watermelon
Another interesting feature of the book is the way she integrated it with her Twitter posts. Ruth looked back at her tweets from that year and featured them throughout, even referencing them in her prose, writing out recipes for the dishes she tweeted about. Along with the beautiful food photography by Mikkel Vang, abstract landscapes help capture the mood and the weather for each of the seasons, drawing you into the kitchen with Ruth, especially during winter and the cold isolation of a snow-bound power outage in upstate New York.
The recipes themselves cover an amazing variety of world cuisines, showing Ruth's breadth of global experience in her decades of writing about food. She shares Chinese recipes she learned in China, Thai recipes that remind her of her trips there, a borscht recipe transformed into a salad and many other American and European classics. The recipes are not only what she wants to cook or eat in the moment but connections to her past and friends and family. As many cookbook authors do, she shares family history in My Grandmother's Cabbage but also expert knowledge from other well-known names in the industry: Jim Lahey's No-knead Bread, James Beard's "Onion Rings," and Stuffed Tomatoes from Elizabeth David. There is no shortage of choice in this book, although it's heavy on the dessert and sweets side, which is likely due to the book's focus on cooking to relieve grief, or as it says in the subtitle, "Recipes that Saved my Life."
I found comfort in the recipes but especially in the arc of the story, although I'm only at the beginning of my own time of grief in leaving China. As I read how Ruth gathered with the Gourmet staff--her family--to stage their own farewell dinners, I had just come home from one of my own with the staff of the language school where I studied Chinese for 2 years. As she tired of being on the road for a book tour, I was spending 3 weeks in a hotel after our belongings were packed and shipped across the Pacific, with another month in the USA looming ahead of me. When she woke up with dread because she ". looked at [her] calendar, knowing there was nothing on it," I recalled the first few months with nothing planned in Shanghai and started to prepare for the upcoming emptiness of life in a new city. As much as I am enjoying cooking some of the dishes she shared, I am also following her recipe for recovery after loss, adding my own flavors and ingredients to taste.
My Kitchen Year
Ruth Reichl: My Kitchen Year was reviewed by Ann Ronald in Bookin’ with Sunny in 2016. Ann’s review set the stage for my own. Ann wrote about why and how Reichl came to write the book. My review, on the other hand, is of several of the 136 recipes cooked in the year following the closure of Gourmet Magazine. My Kitchen Year is more memoir than cookbook. Along with recipes, Reichl’s short poems and observations are noted throughout the book, including pictures of her at home.
Ruth Reichl: My Kitchen Year follows the seasons starting with winter, and many of the recipes feature seasonal fruits and vegetables. The first recipe I tried was the Apple Crisp that calls for five types of heirloom apples. The topping is a simple crumble made with flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Reichl serves it with fresh cream while still warm. A good Vanilla ice cream is also good. This is an easy recipe that lets the apples shine through. The apples are firm, sweet and juicy, and the topping provides crunch without being too sweet.
Panna Cotta is a lovely, silky Italian dessert and very poplar now in restaurants. This Lemon Panna Cotta recipe does not include gelatin, which is a typical ingredient, so I was curious to see how this would work. The top half did firm up with a nice silky texture, but the bottom half did not firm up. I always use gelatin when making Panna Cotta. Reichl’s flavor was deliciously lemony, but I will try this again with the addition of gelatin so all that scrumptious liquid will be firm.
I tried most of the recipes long before the COVID-19 crisis. However, here are two recipes that are perfect for staying in place (SIP). Ruth acknowledges Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread then modifies it for her recipe. If you have trouble with sourdough starter, this recipe is for you. The only ingredients are flour, yeast, salt, and water. It makes a sticky dough that sits for 18 hours or until doubled in size. The dough is punched down and left to rise again and repeated two more times before the final rise. Baking the bread dough in an iron Dutch oven with the lid on creates a very crisp, chewy crust with a slight tang of sourdough. This recipe takes two days to make, but it is worth the time and effort, the scent of bread baking is good for the soul.
My second choice for a SIP recipe is the Three-Day Short Ribs. As the title implies, this is a three-day process starting with marinating the meat in red wine on day one. Day two, cook the meat with vegetables and aromatics, cool, and refrigerate. Day three, skim fat and reheat until meat is heated through, then boil the liquid down to make a sauce. Marinating the meat in red wine before cooking gives the meat an extraordinarily rich, savory flavor. I served the ribs with polenta and a big green salad and invited two friends to join me for dinner. We finished every bite with rave reviews and requests for the recipe.
One of the many dishes that intrigued me was the Eggplant & Arugula Sandwiches. On buttered ficelles (baguettes are a good substitute) layer grilled Japanese eggplant marinated with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and arugula. Flavors pop on the tongue, the combination of sweetness from the vinegar, earthy eggplant, and peppery arugula made my mouth sing!
Another intriguing recipe is her Borscht Salad with beets, apples, red onion, and red cabbage. Toss the ingredients together then dress with balsamic vinegar, orange juice, and olive oil. The bright magenta color is perfect for an early spring meal, and a drizzle of sour cream is a reminiscence of a good bowl of Borscht.
My Kitchen Year includes Thai, Korean, Chinese, European recipes. There are recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including desserts. I am looking forward to making The Cake That Cures Everything (serves 20-25) for a large group. This is a rich chocolate cake that made my mouth water just reading the ingredients. I also want to try the Bacon and Marmalade Sandwich and the Cider Braised Pork Roast, just to name a few.
While we shelter in place and wonder what to cook tonight, this is the book for you. Ruth Reichl: My Kitchen Year was written in a time of personal crisis, but during the year, with the help of food and cooking, she renewed her joy of ordinary things. During this time of crisis, I hope her book will remind you to appreciate the small things in life and inspires your creativity with food and cooking as it did for me. — Marj Cordova
Also available by Ruth Reichl: Tender at the Bone Save Me the Plums Garlic and Sapphires Comfort Me with Apples Delicious Not Becoming My Mother The Queen of Mold.
Bookin’ with Sunny enthusiastically supports your Independent Bookstores and Public Libraries.
Ruth Reichl Recharges in the Kitchen
SPENCERTOWN, N.Y. — Ruth Reichl was in the kitchen she designed as both command center and comfort station, making a salami sandwich for her husband, Michael Singer, 75, a former CBS News producer who has been recovering from back surgery.
“He has this thing from his childhood about salami,” she said, smearing a slice of ciabatta bread with Dijon mustard.
“It’s not a Freudian issue,” he shouted from the Danish-modern kitchen table, where his head was buried in his laptop. “I just like salami.”
This, now, is life for Ms. Reichl. At 67, she is softer, less anxious and, her friends say, a happier version of the cautious workaholic who was the food editor at The Los Angeles Times, the restaurant critic at The New York Times, a best-selling memoirist and, for a decade, the editor of Gourmet, the oldest food and wine magazine in America.
She makes her husband three meals a day when she is not traveling. She writes in a little cabin set a few dozen paces behind the sleek house with glass walls that the couple built 11 years ago here on a shale plateau between the Hudson River and the Berkshires. And she cooks for just about anyone who walks in the door.
“At this point in your life,” she said, “you have to have as much fun as you can because you don’t know what’s coming down the road.”
In 2009, while she was in Seattle promoting a Gourmet cookbook, her horse was shot out from under her. Without warning, Condé Nast closed Gourmet, after 69 years, on her watch.
(She said she still doesn’t know why, although luxury advertising was in a slump and not all readers responded favorably to articles in which writers like David Foster Wallace were given 7,500 words to explore the moral implications of killing lobsters. Her memoir about her years at Condé Nast is in the works.)
In as much time as it takes to peel a peach, she went from the top of the heap into free fall. No more Condé Nast salary, black cars at her beckoning and $30,000 budgets to shoot a Thanksgiving spread. Her carefully curated team of writers, designers and cooks, many of them close friends, were gone, off to find work elsewhere with varying degrees of success.
Ms. Reichl, who often invokes her hippie bona fides, said she always knew she was a visitor in that world. It didn’t take her long to remember that one can get by just fine without those trappings. But getting dumped at 61?
“It’s really scary when you’re old because who the hell is going to hire you?” she said.
Their son, Nick, was in college at Wesleyan University. People were scheduled to live in the couple’s New York apartment that winter. Mr. Singer was happily ensconced upstate. So a woman who calls herself relentlessly urban moved to the country, defeated. And she began to cook.
Her new book, “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life,” which will be released by Random House on Sept. 29, is the baby conceived in that first painful post-Gourmet year. It is also her first solo cookbook since 1971, when she wrote “Mmmmm: A Feastiary.”
Ms. Reichl has long embraced a certain amount of what Stephen Colbert may call truthiness or what she calls “embroidering” in her nonfiction work. “Everything here is true,” she wrote in her first memoir, “Tender at the Bone,” “but it may not be entirely factual.”
Her new cookbook, she said, is as close to an authentic and unvarnished accounting of her life as she has produced.
The book was an accident, really. She had not yet secured contracts for her memoir and “Delicious!,” her first novel. The couple worried that they might not have enough money to keep both places. And then there was the question of who she was if she wasn’t someone’s full-time employee.
“I didn’t know where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing,” she said. “If I hadn’t had cooking, I honestly don’t know what I would have done.”
That year, she kept what amounted to an emotional cooking journal, a season-by-season accounting of her recovery. It began to look like a book. She added the best of her haiku-like food posts on Twitter, which have long been fodder for parody among those who have never sipped the Reichl Kool-Aid. (“Power still out. Storm raging. Running out of food. What can I cook with this sad cabbage?”)
An editor helped her nudge it into a full-fledged cookbook. Ms. Reichl spent another year recreating what she had done the first year, this time during visits from the photographer Mikkel Vang, who captured her tossing leaves in the air, trudging to her writing cabin in the snow and cooking the book’s recipes.
All of them are immediately appealing, written with lyrical notes that are both reassuring and exacting. She encourages cooks to approach peeling chickpeas for hummus as meditation and to notice the way banana leaves intended to wrap a pork shoulder quickly turn shiny as they cross a gas flame.
There is congee, apricot pie and an easy version of sausage Bolognese that she cooked after the grim day that friends from Los Angeles helped her pack her office at Gourmet. She broke out of a bout of self-pity and grief by making a giant two-layer chocolate cake with whipped cream cheese in the frosting.
She offers a precise accounting of both a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the recipe for the chef Eric Ripert’s sea urchin pasta, the dish she fantasized about most when she spent two months away from the stove recovering from a broken foot.
After decades as an editor who encouraged readers to apply elaborate cooking methods to the Thanksgiving turkey, Ms. Reichl breaks free from the tyranny of innovation and admits that simply shoving an unseasoned bird into a 450-degree oven is the best way to go.
Six years have passed since she began cooking the recipes in the book, and she has moved on to new dishes. Notably, she is perfecting a pork and Chinese noodle dish that is her husband’s current favorite.
She drives around the Hudson Valley in the Lexus she got to keep as part of her Condé Nast severance package, which also included enough money to knock down the note on the house. The car has 100,000 miles on it. Ms. Reichl, who has a deeply entrenched thrift gene, intends to add another 100,000. “She’d buy a three-legged card table if she could get a deal,” Mr. Singer said.
She raises money for her favorite charity, New York’s Rural & Migrant Ministry, and has invested in a favorite local butcher shop. She regularly kibitzes with other writers and food people who make the Hudson Valley home, the cheesemonger Matthew Rubiner among them. She has discovered really good local cream and discusses potatoes and corn with the family that runs her favorite farm stand.
“That wandering-around-and-picking-stuff-up kind of cooking, I really hadn’t been able to do that since I left Berkeley,” she said.
And she spends a lot of time engaged with the couple’s cats, two Russian Blues she got from a shelter named Cielo and ZaZa, who look exactly like what would arrive if you called central casting and ordered up cats for Ruth Reichl.
Still, she is afraid to stop working. Despite a few brutal reviews for her first work of fiction, she is plowing ahead with another novel — this one about a group of friends who are aging.
She finds it disconcerting when people tell her they have been reading her work since they were young, or marvel that she knew James Beard, Julia Child and M. F. K. Fisher. “I don’t feel that old,” she said. Still, Ms. Reichl is learning to enjoy the kind of emeritus status that comes with age and experience. She has a cadre of young friends, and was on the cover of the “girl crush” issue of Cherry Bombe, the indie magazine about women and food.
Like her good friend Alice Waters, the baker Dorie Greenspan and Paula Wolfert, the cook with Alzheimer’s disease whose work is being turned into a cookbook thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, Ms. Reichl is a revered icon among younger cooks.
“We were present at the revolution,” she said by way of explanation. “There was that moment when there weren’t greenmarkets, and the only stuff you could get was in the supermarket. People are really fascinated by the notion that we witnessed the transformation.”
Younger food enthusiasts are drawn to less artifice and showmanship in cooking, which has led to an appreciation for old-fashioned cooks in a playing field that has been dominated by professional, celebrity-seeking chefs, she said.
“I am of a group that just learned by cooking,” she said. “You did it and you got better as you got older because you learned by doing, not by going to the C.I.A.” — the Culinary Institute of America.
That means she still messes up dishes, and her knife skills are ridiculously bad. “It’s like if you teach yourself to swim and you do it the wrong way,” she said. “I don’t swim right either, but I swim.”
But here in her U-shaped kitchen in the country late in the afternoon, neither the future nor the past seems to matter much. Mr. Singer walks by and hugs her around the waist. The cats sneak onto the counter. Pâté made from the livers of local pastured chickens is set out next to cold salmon roe that will be folded into butter-soaked buckwheat blinis she is cooking on a pan that is nearly black from use.
A collection of writers and friends sit at her counter, drinking wine and watching her cook. Behind them, tall windows frame the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains.
October 2018 Cookbook of the Month: MY KITCHEN YEAR by Ruth Reichl
Happy fall to everyone in our Cookbook of the Month community! Let's celebrate the harvest together as we cook from our October Cookbook of the Month, MY KITCHEN YEAR: 136 RECIPES THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Ruth Reichl.
This is our master thread for the book. While we're cooking together this month, this thread will be a place for us to share our thoughts and inspiration, ask questions, chat about ingredients, consider our favorites from the book, and form conclusions as we wrap up the month. Please share any links to online recipes from the book, too, so that more of us can cook together.
Please use the threads below to report on recipes:
*FALL (p. 1-77):
To read our nomination thread for this month, look here: https://www.chowhound.com/post/octobe.
and the voting thread is here: https://www.chowhound.com/post/octobe.
Peruse our initial discussion of the book on the announcement thread here: https://www.chowhound.com/post/octobe.
Take a spin through all of our prior Cookbook of the Month winners here:
Finally, I would like to extend a special welcome to anyone new to Cookbook of the Month (COTM) or returning after a break. This is an inclusive community for home cooks of all levels, even if you're brand new to cooking! We learn a lot as we cook together, and we are thrilled when newcomers join us for the camaraderie of COTM. If you're new, all you have to do is cook a recipe from the book and post your report on the corresponding thread, with a photo if you wish. Happy cooking to all!
- 1/2 c. quality extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1/4 c. fresh basil (or as much as you like)
- 1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 lb. spaghetti
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place olive oil in a large serving bowl. Slice the garlic and shred a handful of basil leaves into it.Cut the tomatoes in half. Add to the olive oil mixture and let set at room temperature for an hour.
- Cook the spaghetti according to directions. When it’s al dente, drain and toss it with the olive oil mixture in the serving bowl. Add cheese and toss until its melted. Salt and pepper to taste.
I was so excited I got to use fresh basil from the garden. I used a mixture of Asian, large leaf, and variegated basils.
This is a versatile dish and in my opinion it’s certainly more than servings for three. (Four or five in our household.) I am sure that if I could have found real mozzarella di bufala this would have been more delicious. We did enjoy it but I might use goat cheese next time. I like the bruschetta feel to this pasta.
It’s a great summer dish. I can’t wait to use home grown tomatoes! (The leftovers are just as good cold as a summer salad.)
I certainly will be making that Lemon Pudding Cake as well. Perhaps, I will invite her over for coffee and to discuss world events.
From My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
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- Categories: Pies, tarts & pastries Dessert Cooking ahead Fall / autumn Thanksgiving Italian
- Ingredients: pecans cranberries oranges apricot preserves butter sugar all-purpose flour lemons
A Year Well Spent
When Gourmet magazine suddenly shut down in November of 2009, Ruth Reichl became a captain without a ship. Initially sent into a spiral of terrifying unknowns (what to do next, how to pay bills, etc.), the former editor in chief soon found the best place to find joy and comfort was in her Hudson Valley kitchen&mdashand on Twitter, where she sent countless tweets that border on poetry.
In her latest cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, each recipe is printed alongside a tweet from the day she made it. "The tweets were the thing that jogged my memory," she explains. But Twitter was more than just her 21st-century version of a diary. In a seemingly paradox move, Reichl managed to use a space created for 140 characters or less to craft a 300-plus-page cookbook.
She also found support on Twitter through interacting with followers, even picking up cooking tips from her invisible swarm of new friends. When a power outage thwarted plans to bake a loaf of Jim Lahey's famous no-knead bread, she used her remaining phone battery in the best way possible: to send a Twitter blast asking for advice. General consent was to "just keep punching the dough down." So for three days, that's what she did. Turns out the dough was more than salvageable&mdashthis trick is now her go-to method, as well as one of the recipes in the book.
In another recipe, Reichl casually instructs us to let vegetables "tumble into tenderness" when making butternut squash soup. She goes on to urge us to seek out the "strongest, meanest" marmalade we can find for a bacon-and-jam sandwich and use only "as many onions as you feel like chopping" for beef stew.
Reichl also takes the formality out of ingredient organization, sometimes forgoing an itemized list altogether (see an excerpt here). She wants readers to loosen up and feel encouraged to improvise in the kitchen, rather than be bound by a straightjacket of recipe etiquette. Fittingly, the 136 recipes are organized by season, rather than course, tracing her cathartic arc that begins with the disappointing news she received that fall and ends with revitalizing cold summer soups.
The book is an ode to comfort: what to do when you've lost it, where to seek it and how good it can taste. As for her ultimate comfort food, Reichl chooses matzo brei without hesitation, saying that it reminds her of her childhood: "It was one of the few things my mother made well." Plus, it smells great as it's cooking&mdashan important quality, as a deep inhale is always the first step in feeling better.
Excerpted from My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, by Ruth Reichl
Matzo brei is basically Jewish French toast, with the matzo standing in for the traditional leavened bread. The difference is that you use water in place of milk as the soaking liquid&mdashand you smash the matzo into pieces and scramble like crazy.
Begin by breaking a matzo into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the crumbs. Remove the strainer from the bowl and run it under the tap, soaking the broken crackers. Drain them well, turn them into the bowl, and beat in an egg.
Melt as much butter as you can bring yourself to use in a skillet, wait for the foam to subside, toss in the eggy matzos, and scramble for a few minutes until some of the bits are crisp little nubbins and others are as soft as clouds. Salt to taste. This dish has a simple goodness that always makes me feel better.
Copyright © 2015 by Ruth Reichl, reprinted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved.
'My Kitchen Year' follows Ruth Reichl through a difficult year eased by favorite foods
When she lost her job, Ruth Reichl retreated to her hilltop glass house in upstate New York and cooked.
When Gourmet magazine, America’s first and arguably most elegant epicurean magazine, was abruptly shut down in the fall of 2009, Ruth Reichl, its editor-in-chief for the last 10 of its 69 years, was devastated. She felt stung, and guilty that it had happened on her watch. At age 61, she also wondered who would hire her and how she would fill a future of “endless empty days.”
Reichl retreated with her husband from the bustle of Manhattan to their hilltop glass house in upstate New York, where she gradually re-discovered the restorative solace of cooking and the pleasures of a simpler life. To her surprise, she barely missed the fancy expense-account dining she had enjoyed since 1978 as a perk of her Gourmet job and her prior positions as restaurant critic for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
But Reichl is clearly not wired for the retiring life. This is a woman who needs a project. She found it when she decided to write a cookbook about her return to her home on the range. The result is My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, a book about resilience and the redemptive power of “finding joy in ordinary things” – and a welcome return to form after her recent, painfully schmaltzy novel, "Delicious!"
Like her bestsellers, "Tender at the Bone" and "Comfort Me With Apples," "My Kitchen Year" is a memoir infused with recipes, though this time the emphasis is on the recipes. (Another memoir, about her years at Gourmet, is reportedly in the works.) Yet what makes Reichl stand out among food writers isn’t the actual recipes but her appealing voice, at once confessional, informal, opinionated, and sentimental. For her, food and memory are as closely linked as in Proust.
Reichl’s recipes are more about comfort, satisfying cravings, and recreating yearned-for ethnic foods like Thai Kaho Man Gai, a chicken with rice dish more readily available in the city, than about inventing culinary novelties. Although many dishes require advanced planning for yeast to rise or meats to marinate, most are not elaborate and encourage variations. Reichl suggests that even labor-intensive tasks such as husking chick-peas for hummus lose their tedium when regarded as a labor of love or “a kind of meditation.”
Inheritance, fairness, and the billionaire class
With her predilection for lemons, splashes of Sriracha and other hot spices, and fistfuls of cilantro, it’s clear that Reichl likes assertive pick-me-up foods. Yet it’s her comforting cholesterol-and-calories-be-damned breakfasts, including pumpkin pancakes and peach cobbler, that are particularly appealing. About her “ethereal” yeast-raised waffles, a Fannie Farmer classic, she comments, “There are easier waffle recipes, but they’re little more than pancakes with dents.”
Forthright opinions like these add zest to Reichl’s book. Eating, she insists, “is an ethical act,” and “our food choices matter.” Despite her new budget constraints, Reichl repeatedly touts farmer’s market seasonal bounty and advises against “bedraggled” supermarket foods, including chicken livers for paté. She contrasts “the bland rubbery blob” of commercial mozzarella with the ecstasy of buffalo mozzarella, and advises you to skip her Painless Pasta for Three if you can’t get the good stuff. Similarly, gazpacho, “basically a liquid tomato salad,” is simply “not worth making with tepid pepper or sad tomatoes,” she writes.
On the other hand, who can resist James Beard’s Tomato Pie after reading this endorsement: “I would not want to write a cookbook that did not include this classic.” Stressed by entertaining? Here’s a tip: “When I’m expecting a lot of guests I always bake a simple pound cake. It’s the little black dress of the pastry world at night you can dress it up with ice cream, fruit, or sauce, while in the morning, toasted pound cake is a promising way to start the day.”
Organized by season, "My Kitchen Year" spans Reichl’s first 12 post-Gourmet months – including a difficult, frigid winter blighted by storms and power outages and exacerbated by a long recovery from surgery after she shattered her foot while on book tour in Los Angeles. Handwritten haiku-like bulletins scattered throughout capture the mood: “White world. Snow still falling. Even the hawks have flown away. Lemon soup, bright, soothing. Somewhere the sun is shining.” Mikkel Vang’s lovely photographs of plated foods, Reichl’s hands at work, snowy or verdant landscapes, and partial views of the roaming, dark-maned author add atmosphere to the mix.
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What it all adds up to is a heartening, tasty lesson in fortitude and a reminder that “Failure doesn’t last forever.” Reichl comments, “In a world filled with no, [cooking] is my yes.”