We’ve all sought consolation from disappointment in food. For Ruth Reichl, the act of cooking became a life saver of sorts. A glamorous career of writing for some of the country’s most distinguished food publications crashed without warning in October 2009, when Condé Nast pulled the plug on Gourmet. Reichl had been the magazine’s editor for 10 years, elevating the publication to cult status among its devoted readers.
Obligated nonetheless to a press tour to promote the then-new Gourmet Cookbook, a massive tome featuring more than 1,000 recipes, Reichl repeatedly answered the same questions from bereaved subscribers and curious reporters: How she was holding up?
Not very well, actually. It wasn’t until she got home that Reichl began to feel clarity about her circumstances.
“And so I did what I always do when I’m confused, lonely or frightened: I disappeared into the kitchen,” she writes in My Kitchen Life: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, her new cookbook and memoir. She allowed herself to rediscover and luxuriate in ingredients and techniques set aside during a demanding career. “When you pay attention,” she says, “cooking becomes a meditation.”
As demonstrated in previous memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, Reichl has one of the most engagingly familiar narrative voices in food. Post Gourmet, it has connected her with an adoring online community that thrills to her haiku-like daily tweets at @RuthReichl. And now, in a move uncommon for cookbooks, publisher Random House has even issued My Kitchen Life as an audiobook.
“We actually don’t do many cookbooks in audio format because it usually doesn’t lend itself well to being read aloud,” says Alex Chernin, her publicist. “We did Ruth’s because of the narrative aspect.”
While Reichl’s voice becomes an earworm as she shares her story of redemption through cooking, it’s equally appealing to hear how she describes each recipe. Instead of listing components, Reichl describes each conversationally in the audio version, as if she was standing by your side. You can practically sense an ingredient’s virtual ripeness and heady aroma, as well as hear the satisfying sizzle when it hits oil waiting on a hot skillet.
Recipes are collected by season, starting with the fall, because that’s when she learned that Gourmet would cease publication. Among the most appealing in this chapter is one that will be cooked today at 1 p.m. by Chef Colin Bedford of Fearrington House for a Cooks & Books luncheon, presented in collaboration with McIntyre’s Fine Books.
Below, find Reichl’s basic butternut squash recipe.
“Butternut squash is more than merely colorful. It cooks down into a wonderfully textured soup: soft, thick, almost creamy,” Reichl says, making it sound irresistibly luscious. “Requiring nothing more than water, it makes the luxurious vegan dish I know.”
Butternut Squash Soup
(From My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl Copyright © 2015 by Ruth Reichl. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc.)
1 stalk celery, 2 carrots, 1 pound butternut squash, 1/2 pound potatoes
Begin by coarsely chopping an onion, a stalk of celery and 2 carrots; you don’t have to be fussy about this since you’re going to end up pureeing everything. Slick the bottom of a casserole or Dutch oven with olive oil, add the vegetables and let them tumble into tenderness, which should take about ten minutes.
Peel a pound of butternut squash and cut it into 3/4 inch or so cubes. Peel half pound of waxy potatoes (Yukon Golds are good), and cut into chunks of the same size. Stir them into the vegetables in the casserole, add a couple teaspoons of sea salt and 2 1/2 cups of boiling water, cover and simmer until everything is very soft. This will take about half an hour.
Very carefully puree the soup in a blender, in small batches, making sure the top of the blender is secure (hot soup can be painful).
Taste for seasoning and serve drizzled with a few drops of olive oil and/or good balsamic vinegar. A crisp dice of apples on top makes this look lovely and adds a very pleasing note of sweetness. (Diced pickled walnuts also make a wonderful topping.)