My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life

Comfort food! My Kitchen Year reminds me of a delectable word salad of arugula and vine-ripened tomatoes, a delicious beef stew simmered all day in a savory bath of cabernet, a delicate lemon pudding cake (just like my mother used to bake, a desert I haven’t tasted for years). It is far too trite to say that every page of Ruth Reichl’s unique cookbook made my mouth water, but it’s true that every page reminded me of all the happy hours I’ve spent in the kitchen and all the triumphs and disasters that any serious cook has created, relished, and occasionally thrown away.

For ten years, Reichl was Editor-in Chief of Gourmet, until its parent company, Conde Nast, shockingly shut the magazine down. Grieving, Reichl retreated to the place she loves best, her kitchen, where she immersed herself in creativity. Testing new recipes, trying variations of old favorites, and replicating food pairings she’d eaten elsewhere, she essentially cooked her way back to contentment. My Kitchen Year follows Reichl through four seasons while she narrates what turns out to be both a memoir and a cookbook. The combination is scrumptious, an incredible sojourn of farmers’ markets and restaurants and recovery.

Even though she remains sad about Gourmet’s demise, Reichl soon learns to relish her new-found freedom, the time to explore fresh tastes and the leisure to attempt whatever pleases her at the moment. As a cook, “you’re a traveler, following your own path, seeking adventure. I wanted to write about the fun of cooking,” she explains, to “encourage people to take risks. Alone in the kitchen you are simply a cook, free to do anything you want.” That’s the charm of My Kitchen Year, the joy of cooking joyfully expressed. My copy of the book is already marked with sticky tabs, enticing me to conduct my own experiments.

I do consider myself a fairly serious cook, but I learned many tricks and even some new tastes. Rather than dictate a series of steps for each of the 136 recipes, Reichl walks the reader through her own cooking experiences. I was reminded of sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, watching her mince and dice, saute and steam, hearing her explain what she was doing and why this fricassee needed to cook a bit longer or that plum pudding called out for another dollop of brandied hard sauce. So My Kitchen Year is unique among cookbooks, a blend of an endearing personality and an enthusiasm for good food.

Unique, too, are Mikkel Vang’s colorful photographs. They accompany Reichl, not just in her kitchen but everywhere—watching snow fall, walking down a city street, or even when she is snuggling alongside a purring feline companion. There are pictures of food, too, not just the finished products but steps along the way—amassing raw ingredients, slicing, shredding, sliding a pan of chicken into an oven, cutting through a savory wedge of pie. I realize I’d rather be cooking and eating than sitting here writing this review! Comfort food, a comfortable experience, to join Ruth Reichl in her kitchen for a year. Also a book to be shared with others, at Christmas time, perhaps, or Valentine’s Day. A delectable gift for anyone who loves to cook. – Ann Ronald

Also available by Ruth Reichl: Delicious!; Comfort Me with Apples and Tender at the Bone; For You Mom, Finally; History in a Glass; Garlic and Sapphires; Bȕk #15, The Queen of Mold; Comfort Me with Apples; New York City Restaurants; Tender at the Bone;Remembrance of Things Paris; Not Becoming My Mother; Mmmmmm.

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