My Kitchen Year – Ruth Reichl

I certainly didn’t intend for Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year to be the first book I blog about in the new year. I had really hoped, after seeing my dad devour it over Christmas, to start the year off with Stephen King’s Revival. I think starting the year off with the right book is, for me, as important as going to the gym and starting diets is for others. But, as seems to be the case ever since moving to Toledo, fate has had other plans, and I haven’t been able to get to a bookstore or library yet. I couldn’t just dive into any fiction, though, so I was delighted to discover the cookbook I received for Christmas is basically a memoir, with recipes included.

I am not particularly fascinated by cooking. Oh, I read food blogs for recipe ideas and I like good food – I’m no longer the girl who will wax poetic about a sandwich from subway – but generally speaking I am happier if someone else is willing to prepare meals for me. For years Sam was the primary cook in our house while I tackled the grocery shopping, but since his job keeps him out so many nights I’ve had to assume the majority of the cooking duties, and by now even I am bored with my handful of chicken, pasta and seafood dishes. In thinking about the new year, while I am mostly avoiding resolutions this go-around and instead sticking to a few key words to keep in mind, I did realize I wanted to become fearless in the kitchen. I don’t particularly need to be known for my cooking – it’s not an ego thing – but I would like to feed my family and myself better.

My Kitchen Year was a great place to start. While I am never going to be the type of person to write haikus about eggplant, Reichl’s book really spoke to me. Born from notes and recipes she began cooking after “Gourmet” magazine – she was its editor in chief – was abruptly discontinued, Reichl takes us through her year of recovery as she tries to figure out what to do next with her life. While I didn’t lose my job back in Pittsburgh, I continuously struggled with feeling successful in my career and now that I am currently without a job, I find myself still struggling with the aftermath of what I can only think of as that particular failure of mine, even though it wasn’t exactly that. I’ve always liked the length of a year as a frame for nonfiction, and Reichl’s book does a beautiful job of demonstrating how long – and how short – a year really is.

Her recipes alternate between the straight forward and the exotic, and there are a few I can’t even imagine trying – tomatoes and cream, for one. But enough of them spoke to me that I know I’ll be trying them this month, if not this week, including her recipe for one of my favorite meals, polla alla diavola – and I am pretty sure I am going to serve her giant chocolate cake the same night.

I loved Reichl’s voice in this book – it is always interesting to learn from people who have followed their passion from a young age, I think – and she discusses her recovery really forced me to examine my own life.

For too long I’d been waiting for the wonderful. But there is so much joy in everyday occurrences: a butterfly in the sun, the first crisp bite of an apple, the rich aroma of roasting meat. Maybe I had to break my foot to open my eyes, but I finally understood why cooking means so much to me. In a world filled with no, it is my yes.

This passage echoes one of the sermons my minister gave at East Liberty Presbyterian Church last year before I moved…something along the lines of carrying and raising Jesus despite the hardships, prejudices and hate was Mary’s yes to God. Ever since that sermon I’ve been contemplating what my “yes” to God should be and coming up without any answers, but as I’ve perused job openings in my field I’ve realized a couple of things: 1. My children are one of my “yes”s to God, and 2. the best thing I can do is return to my roots, to what I did for decades until I had my babies – reading, writing, maybe a little bit of theater. More on the career later – I am nearly ending my thirty minutes in this space for the day – but before I leae I will share this: last night I roasted a leg of lamb for the first time, using my favorite Mark Bittman recipe. In the past I always waited for Sam or his dad to make me this dish but last night I made it all by myself and served it, and it was wonderful. I didn’t find anything sublime or therapeutic about getting the spice rub all over my hands – frankly that was a little disgusting – but I did it. I fed myself, fed my family and took a tiny step toward being my own kind of fearless.

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