Memoirs seldom take us into new territory. Ms. Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me with Apples is the happy exception. You will find your mouth watering, your skin coming alive, your ears perking up, and your heart breaking in this amazing story. She successfully mixes marriage, divorce, wild romances, great food, a new career, building a new life, meeting celebrities, travel, loss of a father and of a child she wants to adopt, pregnancy at 40, and recipes in this compelling book. You've never read its like, and will never forget it. Ms. Reichl is now the editor-in-chief of Gourmet, a former restaurant critic for both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as the former food editor at the Los Angeles Times. But don't let this establishment resume fool you, Ms. Reichl followed her own muse to get there.
Most people who experience life crises around 30-35 (almost everyone) tend to self-dramatize and feel sorry for themselves. Ms. Reichl treats life as an adventure to be embraced and tends to poke fun at herself. As a result, you cannot help but like her. She is also very down-to-earth, and is very candid about things that most people would downplay or try to keep secret.
She has a lot of courage. Whether it is ignoring the orders not to talk to people in China or offering her untutored opinions to great chefs, she just dives in with whatever fits her sense of the moment. You will probably admire her courage, if you are like me.
Ms. Reichl is extremely intelligent, and her imagination will stir yours. She has a great ability as a writer to help you enter into her world, and feel what she feels.
At the beginning of the book, she had just been surviving as a writer by keeping her expenses low and working as a cook. Her husband's art career had started to take off, and she gets a chance to become a restaurant reviewer. This opportunity is derided by her fellow commune mates in Berkeley, and couldn't be more different than her experiences with eating macrobiotic food that she often prepared herself. She only had one dinner out a year before taking this new job.
Soon, she is reviewing (after misadventures like having her credit card rejected at the first restaurant she reviews and reporting that a robbery had occurred in the parking lot of another restaurant without checking the facts) and starting a tempestuous affair with her editor at New West. The affair fizzles out when he marries another editor at the magazine. Ms. Reichl soon falls for a man who she cannot stand at first, and they also have a torrid relationship that ends happily in marriage.
Some of the best parts of the book involve the difficulties of opening new restaurants. You will get most of the gory details on two, including Wolfgang Puck's Chinois. The book is filled with other restaurant celebrities, and you will enjoy what you learn about them. They are most engaging when away from the harried moments in the kitchen.
The book also is filled with recipes. Now, most recipes in books are long on ingredients and short on instructions. Ms. Reichl is just the opposite. These are almost all simple recipes with oodles of details concerning preparation. For example, asparagus in balsamic vinegar has two pages of directions. Also, the dishes come from many cultures so they can allow you to have some adventure with your meals.
One of the many clever devices she uses in the book is to describe meals at Chez Panisse in Berkeley as a kind of measuring stick for her connection to the world of food. She nicely uses her mother's experiences with the restaurant in the same way. I was very impressed by this method.
After you finish reading this marvelous book, I suggest that you think about where you need to try more things. Ms. Reichl's life would have clearly been much less if she had not taken great strides to try things she had never done before. Where should you do the same?