Monday, July 3, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Ruth Reichl

Title: Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table
Author: Ruth Reichl

via Amazon

Comfort Me with Apples, memoir of food writer extraordinaire Ruth Reichl, starts in 1978 when she first left professional restaurant service to become a critic.  It ends about five (?) years later when she learned she was pregnant with her son.  Along the way, she got to be friends with nearly everyone in the American food world and survived several personal hardships to reach a point of apparent satisfaction.

Reichl is exceptionally generous in sharing the intimate, emotional details of her journey.  She leads us through affairs, divorce, remarriage and, most difficult of all, the quest to have a child.  Her florid language around the dining experience is enchanting but she never loses sight of the human context - for the preparers, the diners or herself.  I appreciate that.

I judge all food writers against M.F.K. Fisher and Calvin Trillin.  In the dinner party of my dreams, I would angle to sit between the two of them, eager to soak up their charm, wit and unwavering love for food.  I would not put Reichl in their category.  Her name-dropping, while impressive, was tiresome.  I also found her a bit self-centered, though perhaps that's inherent in the memoir form.  On the other hand, neither Fisher nor Trillin was ever a professional cook so Reichl provides a level of expertise the other two don't.  And to be fair, she paints colorful portraits of her famous friends.  The biggest name drop of all is actor Danny Kaye, apparently an expert amateur cook.  While predictably arrogant, he is also one of the warmest and most disarming characters in Reichl's story.  The author includes photos and one is of Kaye and herself at her wedding.  You can see genuine tenderness in his face as he speaks to her.  It's awfully sweet.

Comfort Me with Apples is an enjoyable, engaging read.  I doubt I'd seek out Reichl's work again but I wouldn't turn it away either.  I'm certainly pleased for her that she found true love and became a mother.

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