Back in 2009, I had only been blogging a few months when Gourmet magazine was abruptly shut down by its parent company. I’d been a longtime reader of Gourmet and was so very sad – it was truly the end of an era. Ruth Reichl, who had been the Editor in Chief for the previous ten years felt this more than anyone. All of a sudden, after an fêted career in food she was faced with uncertainty. As Reichl started coming to terms with the news (whilst simultaneously continuing to promote books and products that had already been committed to pre-shutdown), she retreated to one place she knew could find peace. “I did what I always do when I’m confused, lonely, or frightened,” she writes. “I disappeared into the kitchen.”
My Kitchen Year documents what happened in that year following Gourmet’s demise. Through the course of the book, we follow along as Reichl slowly heals herself through cooking – re-discovering the simple pleasure of really taking the time to appreciate food all over again. As the busy Editor in Chief, Reichl admitted that her family’s meals were quite often “thrown together” (in sharp contrast to what many people might imagine) but in that year following the shuttering of the magazine, she was able to renew her love affair with food and remember why she loves cooking so much.
This book itself is not like a regular cookbook as Reichl wanted to “talk about cooking differently”. Organised, not unsurprisingly, according to seasons, it’s a wonderful introduction to seasonal cooking as the stories intertwined with the food give it some context and really make you think about the “why” behind food choices. When it comes to the recipes themselves, Reichl doesn’t believe they should simply be a list of ingredients and a method, so if you’re used to the standard layout of recipes (i.e. ingredients listed in the order in which you use them), you might find it a bit of a learning curve to work from this book. Ingredients are listed according to what’s a pantry “staple” and what should be on your shopping list for the recipe. I do think that everyone’s “staples” vary wildly so this recipe style requires a little more pre-reading and planning than others. In her “Note on the Recipes” she explains her thoughts on recipe writing and justifies her less than conventional choice of format, going on to list what she considers “Refrigerator Staples”, “Pantry Staples”, Vegetable Staples”, “Unusual Staples” and “Freezer Staples”. I do have to say that if your kitchen was stocked with these foods, you’d be all set to cook some really great meals!
Be aware that the book reads much more like a memoir than a cookbook (though the 136 recipes contained in there would suggest otherwise!) and goes a long way to showing us the person behind the “Ruth Reichl” the “famous food personality”. But it’s not just recipes and memories - these are punctuated with Reichl’s tweets from the course of that year. Twitter acted kind of like a diary for her that year, keeping track of her activity in and out of the kitchen but also, and perhaps more importantly, helping to reconnect her to people just like you and me – your average home cook – and she embraced the community she found there. This really is the story of Reichl getting back in touch with what’s important – family and community, all gathering together around food.
One thing I really like about My Kitchen Year is that it acknowledges that most people do not really follow recipes to the letter and Reichl wanted to write recipes that spoke to this way of cooking. Once you get used to the way the recipes are written it might be very freeing for you. Reichl gives you the licence to be creative and to make things work for you according to what you like or have available/ on hand, which is totally what she believes cooking should be about.
With evocative names and intriguing back stories, the recipes form part of the narrative in this book. Names like The Cake that Cures Everything, My Grandmother’s Cabbage and The Diva of Grilled Cheese draw you in, then you’ll stay because Reichl just has a way of making dishes seem both do-able and desirable. If nothing else, the recipes in My Kitchen Year will make you want to get back in the kitchen and cook, just as I imagine Reichl hopes they will.
Excerpted from My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl. Copyright © 2015 Ruth Reichl. Photography copyright © 2015 Mikkel Vang. Excerpted by permission of Appetite by Random House, a division of Random House of Canada Limited., a Penguin Random House company. All rights reserved.
The Diva of Grilled Cheese
I can’t think of a single other simple dish that equals the everyday opulence of a grilled cheese sandwich. Rich, crisp, and chewy, a great grilled cheese requires no more than a few minutes. Michael and I sat staring out the window, hoping for the return of the moose, thinking how fine it was to be holding on to something so warm, so soft, so utterly delicious.
SHOPPING L IST
¼ pound cheddar cheese
2 slices sturdy sourdough bread
1 onion (any color)
1 clove garlic
(minced) butter mayonnaise
Makes 1 sandwich
Gather a group of shallots, leeks, scallions, and an onion red, yellow, or white—as many members of the allium family as you have on hand—and chop them into a small heap. Add a minced clove of garlic. Grate a few generous handfuls of the best ched- dar you can afford (Montgomery is particularly appealing), set a little aside, and gently combine the rest with the onion mixture.
Butter one side of thickly sliced bread and heap as much of the mixture as possible between the slices. Spread a thin layer
of mayonnaise on the outside of the bread (this will keep it
from scorching on the griddle). Press the reserved grated cheese to the outside of the bread, where it will create a wonderfully crisp and shaggy crust, giving your sandwich an entirely new dimension.
Fry on a heated griddle or in a skillet about 4 minutes a side, until the cheese is softly melted.
My Kitchen Year – a giveaway!
Thanks to Appetite by Random House Canada we have one copy of My Kitchen Year to give away to a Canadian reader!
To enter, add a comment below telling us your all-time favourite healing recipe.
For a second entry, tweet the following message:
I entered to win a copy of Ruth Reichl’s #MyKitchenYear from @RecipeGeekMag + @RandomHouseCA ! Details:http://bit.ly/1UR6Rok
Then come back to let us know you did in a second comment!
Contest will run from Tuesday June 14 to Tuesday July 5th
Winner will be chosen by random.org and announced or emailed after July 5th
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and the author of eat. live. travel. write - a blog focusing on culinary adventures near and far. She has lived and worked as a teacher in Australia, Hong Kong, England, France and now calls Toronto home. She has spent nearly every summer over the past decade in France, honing her cooking and baking skills, touring different wine producing regions and in 2014 she and her husband purchased an historic home in South West France which they operate as a vacation rental property. As part of her job, she runs a cooking class twice a week for 7-14 year-old boys, Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics. Mardi is a Food Revolution Ambassador for Canada, a contributor to JamieOliver.Com and in her spare time teaches cooking and baking classes around Toronto.