I love everything that Ruth Reichl writes, and her cookbook My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life is no exception. I was introduced to Reichel by reading her wonderful memoirs about growing up with a mother who had no interest in food. Reichel went on to become the New York Times restaurant critic and then the editor of Gourmet magazine. This cookbook was written right after Gourmet was shut down, and she found herself suddenly out of a job.
It’s a unique cookbook. I have read novels and memoirs (including Reichl’s) that include some recipes. I have also read cookbooks that have well-written introductions to each recipe. But this really is a combination memoir and cookbook. It’s written as a journal of the year immediately after the demise of Gourmet, where she had worked for ten years. Arranged by seasons, the diary and the recipes are basically interwoven, and many of the recipes are stories in their own right.
The recipes are also written up in a totally unique way. She lists the ingredients as either “pantry staples,” which she defines in the introduction of the book or “special ingredients.” And the recipes are written more in a narrative style than step by step. The overall effect is to make you feel like you are cooking along with her in her kitchen.
My only caveat about this book is that I don’t know how many of the recipes I will make. She cooks with very few, high quality ingredients. The recipes aren’t complex, but they can be time-consuming. She tends to go to the farmer’s market to find something seasonal that suits her mood, and then cook that ingredient in a very simple way. I would love to cook like this all of the time, but I can’t go to a farmer’s market every day. I would probably also find different ingredients than she does.
All of that being said, I completely recommend this book. Even just reading about how she copes after she loses her job is fascinating. Also read all of her other great memoirs (and the novel which she talks about in this book). I can’t wait to read her latest, Save Me the Plums.