Inside Ruth Reichl’s Post-Gourmet Blues Cookbook

With a fine new book in tow, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, the once and forever food critic, Gourmet editor, and arbiter of good taste is coming to Portland. Here’s what you need to know.

By Karen Brooks October 7, 2015

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“Mysterious misty morning. Crows
Wheeling, cawing. Storm is on the way.
Coffee black. Eggs fried. Toast burnt.
Gourmet’s over. What now?”

Ruth Reichl is America’s most trusted food voice. She’s also its most poetic food tweeter, sending forth weather reports on her state of mind while chronicling daily meals in rhythmic meter to 365,000 followers. Thus, the opening lob in her ninth book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life (Random House) begins—and ends—with a revealing tweet. Reichl’s communiques run throughout this 308-page journey, serving as touchstones and narrative glue. 

The story begins in October 2009, when Reichl, in Seattle for an interview on Gourmet Today, the company’s landmark cookbook, gets the call: drop everything; return to New York. It’s like Jack Bauer getting called back to CTU. It can’t be good news. With this, we’re plunged into the abrupt, shock-and-awe closing of legendary Gourmet magazine, where she ruled the roost as editor-in-chief for a decade. The book details Gourmet’s swift fall from glory and Reichl’s retreat to her home kitchen. From lonely meals salvaged from fridge leftovers to Babette-like feasts for friends, her stories are intimate and hard-won; every recipe a little treasure. In one inspired moment, she tweets: “On the first day of my new life I work, alone, to frosted windows in NY City.” Then she makes an uncompromising ma po tofu “blistered with chiles; warrior food.” 

It’s a food book for the times, part Twitter feed, part emotional memoir and comfort food anthem, delivered with bitter pills, soul searching, and the realization that in the cold dark of night, nothing soothes like a hot fudge sundae. My Kitchen Year testifies to the comfort that cooking can bestow on us, in the best and the worst of times.  

On Saturday, Reichl will swing through Portland on her current book tour (see details below). In preparation, we jotted down five delicious gems from My Kitchen Year to whet your appetite:

  1. THE RECIPES Reichl is a classicist who lives to create the best version of every comfort dish we want to eat—pure and simple—with insider tips and easy steps. Her mood swings make room for textbook versions of French toast, pancakes, “real fried chicken,” spicy wilted kale with bread crumbs, James Beard tomato pie, sumptuous galettes, and, not least, an enormous chocolate cake, aka “The Cake That Cures Everything.”
  1. THE DIRECTIONS Reichl is a prolific writer and observer—even when giving instruction. To prepare her apple crisp, she implores us to slice and look: “Peel a few different kinds of apples, enjoying the way they shrug reluctantly out of their skins.” 
  1. ON PORTLAND In the book’s spring chapter, Reichl arrives in Portland to promote her speech at the International Association of Food Professional’s conference. “I climbed off the plane to find my escort holding out a bag of just-picked hazelnuts.” Yes, that was me, assigned to be her “culinary ambassador”—the best job title I ever had. The book pays homage to the trip and her favorite meals: Le Pigeon (she calls chef Gabriel Rucker “bold and uncompromising,” and she attempts to recreate his duck Carpaccio) and Nong’s downtown food cart. A tweet accompanies the recipes: “Dreamed rainstorms. Woke to sunshine in Portland and sharp, spicy memory of the food at the khao man gai cart.”
  1. SECRET TO A GREAT GRILLED CHEESE Reichl is devoted to the subject. Among her tips: gather as many members of the allium family as you have (shallots, scallions, onions in any color); use the best cheddar you can afford; and finally, this revelation: press mayo and grated cheese on the outside of the bread for a “wonderfully crisp and shaggy crust.”
  1. BEST CAT EULOGY “Today I will stop mourning my Epicurean Cat … An elegant portly fellow, he lived to eat. Favorite foods: turkey, tuna, anything smoked, RIP.A full-page poem follows, reminding animals everywhere: “You never know what will land on the ground.” 

Join Ruth Reichl at 1 pm this Saturday, Oct 10 for a talk, Q&A, and book signing at Beaverton’s Powell’s Books (3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd). Then, at 7:30, she joins Live Wire, in conversation with host Luke Burbank, at Revolution Hall (1300 SE Stark St). Portland writer Cheryl Strayed is also on the bill. Tickets available here.

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