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Comfort Me With Apples

2005-12-23 19:06:18.48452+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

There are books made for travel. Light paperbacks that you don't much care if you lose, and if you finish them during the trip you leave 'em in the seat pocket in front of you or pass 'em on to someone else (a few airports even have really good used book stores, I remember a really good one in either O'Hare or Mitchell). On Food And Cooking[Wiki] is not one of those, but nonetheless it's what I found myself lugging along on my recent Portland trip.

My sister, with a few month old child, saw me lugging that around and said "try this". This was Comfort Me With Apples[Wiki], by Ruth Reichl[Wiki]. Subtitled "Love, Adventure and a Passion for Cooking", it's the memoir of a woman living in a Berkeley commune in the 1970s, developing a career around being a food critic, and indulging in the bourgeois passions that her housemates claimed to loathe.

Good food is as much about context as it is about the flavors. It's about the memories of matzoh ball soup and thinly sliced tongue in my Oma's dining room, with juice out of the good glasses from the china cabinet, or the holiday dinners at the other grandparents, with the tables laid end-to-end out the entrance to the dining room and into the living room, on one particularly large gathering turning to form a large "L", or the lamb with mint jelly, lamb that our family had raised and butchered, served at a Passover Seder, with the raucous laughter of my parents' friends, especially a few of my dad's work buddies who told jokes I didn't understand but understood were slightly risqué...

Now my kitchen isn't the most consistent in the world. I've had some real disasters. With guests. But there are few restaurants that I'd rather go to for the food than when Charlene and I have taken time to get the ingredients right and nailed the flavors. When we go out, especially to a high end place, it's usually for the rest of the experience, for the sense of ritual that accompanies a meal.

At some level Reichl understands this, that's part of why she's telling the tales that accompany the recipes, but she tells the tales of love falling apart, of guilty trysts in Paris or LA, of personal upheaval, without the self-examination that would put into context why she's helping to deify chefs that even she acknowledges are succeeding not through food but through personality, and why she's unable to find her own center.

On the other hand, even as we witness the tribulations that eventually end up with her living in LA, there are some interesting tales, and even a few good recipes: It's a horribly 1970s thing, lots of meringue and buttercream, but I have got to try the Dacquoise...

A fun read, actually almost a perfect travel book, and I'm going to pass this along to Jeanne[Wiki], but much like a dessert that doesn't quite click it was good in the consumption and left me feeling somewhat hollow afterwards.

On other fronts, I got to see Powell's City of Books while I was up in Portland. In the era of the internet I never thought I'd be really excited by a bookstore again, but if you are, or have ever been, a book lover then it's almost worth going to Portland just for that store. And there's enough other cool stuff in Portland that it's worth putting it on your "to do" list. Why is this pertinent? The Powells.com interview with Ruth Reichl.

[ related topics: Books Food Bay Area Sociology Travel Net Culture ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-23 23:04:45.751758+00 by: Dori

I haven't read Comfort Me With Apples, but I have read Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, Reichl's stories of being food critic for the NY Times. I thought it was great.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-24 01:35:01.954451+00 by: ebradway

Bookstores: I was amazed when I visited some small towns in Colorado - much too small to warrant even a Waldenbooks - and managed to spend hours in a tiny book store. Small bookstores are amazing. I used to love to go to Atlanta to go to a giant book store and find the books I couldn't find in Chattanooga. But now, I've found that smaller bookstores are better - but it has to be owned by someone who has similar taste.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-12-29 16:59:22.717034+00 by: other_todd

To my mind, Tender At the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires are best read in order of chronology, but they are all three great (and, oddly, very different) books.

I have a bad habit of not recommending them because I just naturally assume that all my friends already know about them!