Monday, December 31, 2007

Book 20 of 52: Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl

It's New Year's Eve. Since December 23, I have done nothing but eat, and most of the food I've consumed does not have my 'healthy meal plan' stamp of approval. On top of all those calories, I turned my ankle over a week ago and haven't been able to run since. For a four-times-a-week runner, this is disaster. Not only have I gone without my usual runner's high, but I can feel those sugar, fat and cream calories packing around my mid-section. And tonight's New Year's Eve party, the theme of which is wine and fondue, does not promise to be a change in my eating habits.

So what do I read? A book about food.

In my defense, I'm working on an essay about food literature, so Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table is up my working alley. I read Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, which you could argue is the prequel for Comfort Me with Apples years ago, and it made me want to cook. I feel that way every time I read a food-related book, or watch America's Test Kitchen. These books also make me want to eat with abandon -- no more asking for everything to be broiled instead of fried, no more saying no to dessert, no more gulping water to fill my stomach and prevent me from reaching for the for-the-table appetizer. No more worrying about fitting into the size 2 pants and making sure my abs are still taut. These food books make me want to live in stretch leggins while learning how to properly saute onions, mash garlic without a press, and make my own beef stock.

(I haven't become an at-home chef yet, but I did get a new pots and pans plus two America's Test Kitchen cookbooks for Christmas, and I've learned how to make a few dishes built around whatever's fresh at the Collingswood Farmer's Market.)

You don't need to read Tender at the Bone to get into the story of Comfort Me with Apples, though it helps. It lays the family background that brought Reichl to Berkley from New York City, and tells the story of her pairing with her first husband, Doug. But she sprinkles in enough context that you can pick up on the story line, and not be completely shocked by the rotation of affairs undertaken by both parties of that marriage.

It's a biography told around food, which I think makes it more readable than if it were just "here's what happened to me." To be unwitty, the food ads spice, and the gaps of the book that do not involve food fall flat.

But those gaps aren't long, and worth muddling through to get to the food. Reichl is a superb food writer, and I do love beautiful writing that doesn't take too long to make a point: "Each forkful was like biting off a piece of the sun." No adverbs or adjectives required. It's all about word choice.

I would also like to point out that I picked up my copy of Comfort Me with Apples for $1 at the Haddonfield Library Book Sale, the same book sale where I had a book reviewer crisis. I wanted to read this book since I'd finished Tender at the Bone, but knew that I couldn't turn it into a sell-able review since it wasn't a new book. I almost didn't buy it, but I figured I could spare the $1. The result? I'm writing about it anyway, but instead of for a review, for an assigned essay. And isn't that a nice way to cap off the year? Well, a fast, good run would be perfect right about now, but I'll have to be patient at least in that portion of my life.

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