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My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life Hardcover – September 29, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of October 2015: When Gourmet magazine shut its doors in 2009, longtime editor in chief Ruth Reichl was as blindsided by the news as the rest of us. In times of upheaval and uncertainty we are reflexively drawn to what comforts us and for Reichl that means cooking. My Kitchen Year is four seasons of intimate anecdotes and recipes chronicling the first year of Reichl’s post-Gourmet life. It is a cookbook with diary-style entries reflecting on the day and what led to the next recipe. The photography, like the rest of the book, is beautifully produced and never fussy—the perfect pairing for dishes inspired by tears, laughter, love, and a need to feel grounded when life has gone careening off the rails. My Kitchen Year is astonishingly personal and Ruth Reichl’s willingness to share not only her cherished recipes but also her thoughts and feelings during a year of transition make My Kitchen Year a very special volume. -- Seira Wilson
“Ruth is one of our greatest storytellers today, which you will feel from the moment you open this book and begin to read: No one writes as warmly and engagingly about the all-important intersection of food, life, love, and loss. This book is a lyrical and deeply intimate journey told through recipes, as only Ruth can do.”—Alice Waters
“What will send this book to the top of bestseller lists is the lovely way Reichl describes how dishes come together, like the Greek chicken soup with lemon and egg known as avgolemono, and her talent for assembling a collection of recipes her legions of former Gourmet fans will want to make themselves.”—The Washington Post
“The recipes make for lovely reading, full of Reichl’s elemental wisdom. . . . In the best way possible, My Kitchen Year is cozy, the reading equivalent of curling up next to a fire with a glass of red wine and perhaps the scent of bread in the oven wafting over.”—Vogue
“If anyone can convince us that a dessert, plus two more fabulous dishes, can turn a crummy day around, it’s culinary writer Ruth Reichl, who knows firsthand just how powerful food can be.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“The voice is pure Reichl in a way that makes the reader yearn for a house in the country with a pantry full of staples. . . . And as she finds solace through cooking, we find comfort too.”—Eater (Fall 2015’s Best Cookbooks)
“The dishes are clearly fun and uplifting for Reichl, and the unexpected shift from culinary guru to happy home cook chases her blues away. Reichl reminds readers that getting lost in a recipe can be excellent therapy.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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I happen to cook a lot and to also cook dishes that are similar to the ones that Ruth Reichl celebrates here. . . although she manages to insert special little touches that I hadn't thought of before. For example, combining chopped shallots and onions to finest grated cheddar cheese before making a grilled sourdough cheese sandwich. Or, her best fried chicken brined in salt, then soaked in buttermilk and ONION before frying in coconut oil and butter.
Above and beyond the visual and culinary treats that this book offers, it also contains anecdotes that are poignant to Ruth Reichl - one of a woman offering to treat her to a sandwich while she's waiting in an airport after the sudden demise of Gourmet magazine. Or the memory evoked during a fried chicken picnic at Tanglewood of a youthful trip to Israel, forced on her by her parents where she met another young woman who happened to be Carole King - who, along with James Taylor and Yo Yo Ma, provided the program for that Tanglewood fried-chicken picnic evening.
This all makes me feel that Ruth Reichl has lived a blessed life despite the very public humiliation of the closing of her Gourmet magazine after ten years as its editor. She's married to Michael who is 75 who happily eats her blinis with sour cream and salmon roe in her videos, she also has a son whom she adores. Best of all, she's moved from New York City to a low slung contemporary house in New York State that was built overlooking beautiful countryside with nearby farms and other provisioners of vegetables, cheeses and other organic goodies. It almost seems like the whole demise-cum-survival scenario was "meant to be" as the next chapters of her and her family's life. She just didn't know it at the time.
I've always liked Ruth Reichl through years of reading cookery magazines and cookbooks. The graphics of those Gourmet magazines under her stewardship were unbelievably rich and beautiful if you might recall. I've saved all my copies of Gourmet from those times because they were such a feast for the eyes as well as for the kitchen. And with these few rainy days, I'm looking forward to pulling them out and looking at them once again.
In this book, I am particularly looking forward to trying her New York cheesecake recipe with the chocolate wafer crust and sour cream glaze, and other homey recipes like shirred eggs with pureed potatoes for supper with a simple green salad.
Finally, she makes a big deal out of making turkey stock for gravy at Thanksgiving - and she's absolutely right that no matter how the roasted bird turns out, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes, with a deeply rich "made from scratch" turkey gravy, everybody will love whatever is on their plate. Not that Ruth Reichl's "other" offerings would be anything other than tasty and tender.
I've reached a time when I shouldn't be buying any more cookbooks. My cookery library started with Elizabeth David's Penguin editions and expanded through the years with books by M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Alice Waters, the River Cafe, Nigel Slater, the Conrans, Thomas Keller, Noma and Judy Rodgers. (We celebrated Christmas Eve with Judy Rodgers' roast chicken with bread salad two years ago when she died at the age of 57. It was out of this world and truly delicious!)
Still, I think that this new volume by Ruth Reichl will now be my favorite and will be a standby to look through for new things to try and to tweak classic recipes I've already made many times. It is a beautiful volume on so many levels.
In an interview published by the New York Times last week, Ruth Reichl was quoted as saying "You should have as much fun as you can because you don't know what's coming down the road." Well, it looks like she not only survived what she didn't see coming down the road, but with this memoir/cookbook, she's also managed to illustrate how she's landed on her feet, built a new home and produced what I think will become a true classic in the ever mushrooming world of cooking.
Good for her! - and good for us too!
It's hard to classify My Kitchen Year. In one way it's a cookbook, since it does have 136 recipes. But it's probably better to think of it as a set of eloquent essays from someone who lost her job -- and was heartbroken in doing so.
Suddenly, when Gourmet was shuttered, Reichl realized she had to re-invent herself, and she didn't really want to. So the stories follow her in a diary-like manner as she transitions from just-laid-off to, a year later, knowing what she wants to accomplish. Eventually each story brings us to a moment of food, or sensuous pleasure, or evocative experience. When she visits her old offices months after they layoff, for example, Reichl writes, "The entire city smells like curry. Passing the fourth halal chicken cart, I can't resist. Spicy, tangy, irresistible. The taste of now." And shortly thereafter she decides to try to duplicate the "food cart curry chicken" at home, with a recipe that's fast (after a marinade) and easy.
I enjoyed the essays. They were a fast read, and they made me appreciate the woman behind the professional identity. I've lost jobs, too, and these essays capture that sense of confusion and "NOW what do I do?"!
...But then I was done reading the journal, which leaves me with 136 recipes that are hard to categorize. They aren't "all-American" food and they sure aren't "my favorite ethnic recipes." About the only thing they have in common is that most of them are comfort food. That means a preponderance of sweets and high-carb items, which sound delicious but sadly are not on my diet. So as appealing as I find apple crisp, spicy Korean rice sticks with shrimp, and Longchamp's rice pudding with raisins... sigh. Maybe you can handle them; I can't.
That leaves a lot of yummy-sounding stuff, though. Ordinarily I wouldn't laud a recipe unless I've made it, but I trust Reichl. So I know that I'll soon make her pork and tomatillo stew (with plenty of orange juice and cilantro). I've bookmarked her chicken fricassee (no particularly unique ingredients, but the instructions give me confidence). And I may try her roasted tomato soup, when tomato season comes around again; it'd be a change from my "standard" recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I'm not sure there would be enough of these to justify the purchase at full-price, but I like to think so.
Ultimately, as Reichl writes in the prologue, "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 as I began to appreciate the world around me, I learned that the secret to life is finding joy in ordinary things."
This book might be a nice gift for someone who just lost a job or otherwise was ripped from a comfortable place in life. It's a heartwarming reminder that things change, but that isn't always bad. If nothing else, there's plenty of comfort food for the recipient to cook as she reinvents her career.