Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tender at the Bone

by Ruth Reichl

In her memoir Spoon Fed, Kim Severson describes Ruth Reichl as the intimidating popular girl of the food writing world. And I can't claim to really love food writing without having read any Ruth Reichl. So I thought I'd start at the beginning, with Reichl's first book, Tender at the Bone. It hasn't created the same stir as Sapphires and Garlic, but it is a wonderfully detailed account of the coming-of-age of this iconic food writer.

As Reichl explains in the introduction to the book, she is first and foremost a storyteller. And she has great stories to tell, starting with her mother, "the queen of mold." Reading about Reichl mother, I wonder how she made it out of her house alive, let a lone without a debilitating case of food poisoning. I suppose it's really no surprise, then, that Reichl went on to master the kitchen. She gives due credit to the important food mentors in her life, including her Grandmother and her Grandmother's cook, in addition to Marion Cunningham.

The book does, however, lose steam in its final two chapters. Reichl's writing is consciously composed, without feeling overworked. But the last two chapters are not as fully-fleshed out as the rest of the book. They seem out of place and almost an afterthought. I don't think the book necessarily needed the feel-good wrap-up. That could have been left off for the next book.

Reichl has lived a life that is hard for me to imagine (my mother is fairly even-keeled and I don't have a communal-living temperament), but her writing makes me want to live it. My favorite chapter has to be "Eyesight for the Blind" about her and her husband's shoestring European honeymoon. It seems that wherever Reichl finds herself (New York City, Greece, Italy, Canada, California, etc), she finds a family in food. Reichl's life hasn't been without struggle or disappointment, but it's food that seems to hold her together in the toughest of times.

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