Wednesday, November 25, 2015

book review: My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life

The basics:  "In the fall of 2009, the food world was rocked when Gourmet magazine was abruptly shuttered by its parent company. No one was more stunned by this unexpected turn of events than its beloved editor in chief, Ruth Reichl, who suddenly faced an uncertain professional future. As she struggled to process what had seemed unthinkable, Reichl turned to the one place that had always provided sanctuary. “I did what I always do when I’m confused, lonely, or frightened,” she writes. “I disappeared into the kitchen.”"--publisher

My thoughts: I am not typically someone who reads cookbooks. I may skim through and read recipes, but I have never before read a cookbook cover to cover. Admittedly, My Kitchen Year is not a typical cookbook. It is filled with recipes, but there are also lots of other things in it: breathtaking photographs (of food, nature and city), memoir vignettes, and Tweets (yes, Reich's actual tweets.) It feels like more of a memoir than a cookbook, but with 136 recipes, it's hard to argue.

I suppose if you're looking for just a memoir, this one might be a little thin, but I adored the chronological journey with Reichl. I felt as though I started it at the perfect time: autumn, when the book begins. The day before I ventured into Reichl's autumn, Des Moines got its first snow of the year, and it suddenly felt like winter. When I reached spring, I was tempted to stop reading and wait for spring, but I was enjoying myself too much. Part of the fun for me was knowing Recihl's country house is where Mr. Nomadreader grew up. The familiar faces and sights were an extra special delight to see in this book.

Reichl cooks the way I like to cook, except she has a lot more time and patience for it than I do. We both value local, seasonal and fresh ingredients. We share very similar kitchen staples. Most of the recipes in this cookbook wouldn't require me to go to the store. Yet as much as I liked the kind of food, I was most enchanted with how Reichl writes recipes. They're in paragraph form, and I learned so much from them. She carefully (and succinctly) explains the why in each recipe. This book made me enjoy reading recipes because they weren't merely lists of instructions. Perhaps most importantly, Reichl often offers multiple suggestions for igredients in a single recipe. These recipes aren't rigid--they're about highlighting superb seasonal ingredients and taking ownership of your home kitchen:
"Most cookbooks, I though as I reached for an orange and began to squeeze it for juice, are in search of perfection, an attempt to constantly re-create the same good dishes. But you're not a chef in your own kitchen, trying to please paying guests. You're a traveler, following your own path, seeking adventure. I wanted to write about the fun of cooking, encourage people to take risks. Alone in the kitchen you are simply a cook, free to do anything you want." 
That description might strike fear in the hearts of some. It energized me. My Kitchen Year is filled with delicious recipes, but it's also a cookbook to make your own. I've never been a big fan of baking, and I realize as I continue to find my voice, that I don't like the science of it. I like the uncertainty of cooking without recipes or cooking from recipes you're modifying even though it's the first time. Not every meal at our house is a success, but the joy when one is is worth any mediocre bites.

The verdict: My Kitchen Year is unlike any cookbook I've read. I loved the recipes, and I read each one. I loved the candor Reichl uses to talk about a difficult professional situation. I loved the pictures in the book, both of the recipes and nature. And I even loved the tweets placed in the same chronological timeline as the recipes. My Kitchen Year might be a cookbook, but it reads like a food magazine, and I'll definitely be asking for my own copy for Christmas.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: September 29, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Ruth Reichl's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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