Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Foodie memoirs

Last Christmas, I picked up a copy of Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires, and didn't put it down until it was finished.
I gave it as a gift, and she loved it too. Now my friend's husband is reading it.
It's that kind of goodness.

Ruth Reichl used to be a food critic for both the Los Angeles Times newspaper and the New York Times.
Now she is the editor of Gourmet Magazine.
And boy can she tell a story.

Garlic and Sapphires is actually the third part edition of stories of her life.
I went back to part one and her childhood, in Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table.
She grew up with an eccentric mother and several encounters with exotic foods and locations, all of which prepared her and influenced her for writing about the journey.

Alice would have snickered derisively at the notion, but she was the first person I ever met who understood the power of cooking. She was a great cook, but she cooked more for herself than for other people, not because she was hungry, but because she was comforted by the rituals of the kitchen. It never occurred to her that others might feel differently, and I was grown before I realized that not every six-year-old would consider it a treat to spend entire afternoons in the kitchen. (page 26)

I dipped my own (spoon) into the thick liquid and brought it to my mouth. With the first sip I knew that I had never really eaten before. The initial taste was pure carrot, followed by cream, butter, a bit of nutmeg. Then I swallowed and my whole mouth and throat filled with the echo of a rich chicken stock. I took another bite and it began all over again. I ate as if in a dream.
The butler set a roast before Beatrice's father, while the maid removed our empty bowls. Slowly the roast was carved and then the butler moved majestically around the table serving the meat.
It was just a filet of beef. But I had never tasted anything like this sauce, a mixture of red wine, marrow, butter, herbs, and mushrooms. It was like autumn distilled in a spoon. A shiver went down my back. "This sauce!" I exclaimed involuntarily. The sound echoed through the polite conversation at the table and I put my hand to my mouth. Monsieur du Croix laughed.
(page 65, 66)

Slowly, proudly, Marielle began teaching me everything she had learned in hotel school. She taught me to bone fish, make omelets, and serve with a spoon and fork and one hand behind my back. She made me taste salad dressings over and over until I could pour out the precise ratio of olive oil to vinegar without looking at what I was doing. "It's like typing," she said, "you have to know it in the fingers so that you do not think about it with the head. You will need this later." (page 144)

Unknowingly, I had started sorting people by their tastes. Like a hearing child born to deaf parents, I was shaped by my mother's handicap, discovering that food could be a way of making sense of the world.
At first I paid attention only to taste, storing away the knowledge that my father preferred salt to sugar and my mother had a sweet tooth. Later I also began to note how people ate, and where. My brother liked fancy food in fine surroundings, my father only cared about the company, and Mom would eat anything so long as the location was exotic. I was slowly discovering that if you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.
Then I began listening to the way people talked about food, looking for clues to their personalities
. (page 6)

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