A Book Nerd Cooks with Ruth Reichl

Are you a book nerd?

Book nerds have multiple copies of the same book because the newer edition is just so cool. They wonder why anyone needs a “read 52 books in 52 weeks” challenge. Reading materials pile up everywhere, and “books” constitute an impressive slice of the budget pie graph. Should contact with an actual author occur, book nerd vital signs skyrocket stratospherically.

Authors, after all, are the magical people who produce cherished books, those intimate friends.

I am a bona fide book nerd.

Treat Yo Self, Book-Nerd Style

A friend hipped me to an upcoming show at Austin’s historic Paramount Theatre. When I realized the event fell on my birthday, I pounced on this special date night/Leah celebration combo treat.Judy_Screenshot 2016-02-25 14.15.44

The event mixed elements I find nearly irresistible: tasty food and drink, cookbooks, memoirs about magazine publishing, and the opportunity to dress up and go out. The VIP ticket also included mixing and mingling with the speaker, author Ruth Reichl. Gulp.

To heighten the anticipation, I purchased Reichl’s latest book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, the topic of her program. By showtime, I’d devoured half the book.

Years ago, I’d read Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, Reichl’s memoir covering her years as a noted newspaper food critic. Her revelations about the print business were engrossing (at that time, who knew I’d ever write for a magazine, much less become editor in chief). And her descriptions of dining in and writing about Los Angeles’ and New York City’s restaurants…sigh. Later, as a cook, I became reacquainted with Reichl as Gourmet magazine’s editor in chief, another plum position.

So when Reichl walked into the room, I geeked out. My pulse raced as I sidled closer to the tiny, black-clad author, My Kitchen Year clutched to my chest like a magic talisman. Sweat beaded gently; had someone turned up the thermostat, or was this an ill-timed hot flash?

I watched another attendee speak animatedly to Reichl, who listened attentively. The woman concluded the conversation and moved aside. Reichl then turned to me, whereupon my brain froze. What should I say to this stranger I knew intimately?

Leah Nyfeler Talking with Author Ruth Reichl
Me (left), gesturing toward my copy of Reichl’s book while we chat before her show. Credit: Maica Jordan, Paramount Theatre

While we shook hands, words spilled forth, something along the lines of “thank you for your book; it’s such a personal look at what must have been a difficult year,” a babbling about recipes, tweets, and layout. She responded in a self-depreciating manner; I heaped more praise. A photographer recorded the moment, though our exact exchange is a hazy blur. I experienced it all as an out of body phenomenon before floating back to my husband, who was enjoying his wine and watching bemusedly from the sideline.

Taking a Look at My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life

Geeky fandom aside, My Kitchen Year is a nice addition to any cookbook collection.

My KitchenYear Book Cover
I brought my copy of Reichl’s book to the show, complete with birthday card bookmark from my Aunt Betty.

Though Reichl had originally envisioned image-free text, the book’s visual layout is stunning. Mikkel Vang shot simple scenes — of preparing food, seasonal landscapes, fresh ingredients, Reichl’s home – without assistants or involved lighting. The plentiful illustrations are richly colored and sensual. Vang’s work introduces each of the book’s four sections with seasonal illustrations, usually with Reichl in silhouette. It is only after the final recipe that Reichl appears full face, smiling.

The Library of Congress files My Kitchen Year as “seasonal cooking,” but it’s a chronicling of Reichl’s post-Gourmet year. Think Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Like Kingsolver, Reichl weaves a narrative around the recipes presented but her content is more personally reflective than polemic.

In that personal vein, My Kitchen Year includes selections from Reichl’s Twitter account, which read like the hybrid offspring from mating haiku, travelogues, and the organic produce section. Here’s a recent tweet:

Ruth Reichl Tweet

Now, I recognize readers will find this delightful…or not. There’s probably not an ambivalent mid-ground. As someone who values thoughtful word choice and poetry’s minimalism, I relished these 140-character literary snapshots. Reichl’s tweets provided enhanced flavoring, an additional layer of information about the author’s restorative year in the kitchen.

Cooking with Ruth Reichl

My husband and I are good partners in the kitchen. Like Reichl, he finds cooking relaxing and therapeutic. I enjoy researching recipes and, after years of cooking family meals, prefer prep and cleanup duties to actual preparation.

We belong to a monthly supper club and, true to form, I pick out the dish while Hubby cooks. February’s theme was “man food,” and the chili recipe in My Kitchen Year was a perfect fit. As Reichl’s autographed her book after the show, my hubby asked questions about the recipe; she seemed genuinely pleased to discuss the merits of ground bison versus bison meat chunks (we went with ground bison, as given in the recipe).

Supper Club bison chili
Reichl’s bison chili recipe was a hit at Supper Club (and even better reheated the next day). Note: Be sure to turn on the stove vent when making the chili powder. Credit: Marla Briley

Tonight, as we prepared My Kitchen Year‘s final recipe (lamb chops with shaved Brussels sprouts), my husband remarked: “She writes like I like to cook.”

I think Reichl would consider that high praise. As she explained in the book’s introduction,

“To me, recipes are conversations, not lectures; they are a beginning, not an end. I hope you’ll add a bit more of this, a little less of that, perhaps introduce new spices or different herbs. What I really want is for my recipes to become your own…And so I’ve tried to write these recipes in a relaxed tone, as if we were standing in the kitchen, cooking together.”

Ah, yes. As any true book nerd recognizes, a good book is a treasure; its author, a close companion. I’m happy to cook with Ruth Reichl.


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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

0 thoughts on “A Book Nerd Cooks with Ruth Reichl

  1. Agreed!

    On the down side, it is almost too gorgeous. James was cooking the other night and mashed down on the spine to keep the book open. I audible gasped and yelled, \”Don\’t do that!\”

    It\’s going to get used a lot but I can\’t bring myself to mess it up. Right now,it stays on my nightstand and I bring it into the kitchen when we need it.

  2. My husband does all the cooking – I had to look up \”kishus\”. For him, recipes are truly a beginning. He rarely uses one intact – he is always playing with the ingredients and quantities to make something better, or truly special.

    1. I\’m a recipe follower, and my rule is the first time, I cook it as written. But all bets are off after that. My hubby…recipe\’s a guideline. Wonder if that is a guy thing?

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