Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table

Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table

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by Ruth Reichl

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BONUS: This edition contains a Comfort Me with Apples discussion guide and an excerpt from Ruth Reichl's Delicious!

In this delightful sequel to her bestseller Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl returns with more tales of love, life, and marvelous meals. Comfort Me with Apples picks up Reichl’s story in 1978, when she puts down her…  See more details below


BONUS: This edition contains a Comfort Me with Apples discussion guide and an excerpt from Ruth Reichl's Delicious!

In this delightful sequel to her bestseller Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl returns with more tales of love, life, and marvelous meals. Comfort Me with Apples picks up Reichl’s story in 1978, when she puts down her chef’s toque and embarks on a career as a restaurant critic. Her pursuit of good food and good company leads her to New York and China, France and Los Angeles, and her stories of cooking and dining with world-famous chefs range from the madcap to the sublime. Through it all, Reichl makes each and every course a hilarious and instructive occasion for novices and experts alike. She shares some of her favorite recipes while also sharing the intimacies of her personal life in a style so honest and warm that readers will feel they are enjoying a conversation over a meal with a friend.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
When Ruth Reichl got her first job as a restaurant critic, she was elated. Her parents, however, wanted her to do something worthwhile with her life (this wasn't it); her husband, Doug, thought she should write a novel; and her colleagues at the communal house in Berkeley where she lived were frankly disappointed. "Let me get this straight," said one of them. "You're going to spend your life telling spoiled rich people where to eat too much obscene food."

Reichl, who chronicled her earlier years and encounters with food in the very popular Tender at the Bone, tackles her coming-of-age as a food writer in a touching, involving, often humorous, memoir that reads like a novel. We follow breathlessly as Reichl's first critic's job at a California magazine makes her an eyewitness to a culinary revolution; the pivotal years when California began to trump Europe in food and wine (a period well chronicled in Patric Kuh's The Last Days of Haute Cuisine). She covers the opening of Michael's in Santa Monica, enjoys lunch with her hero M.F.K. Fisher, reports on Alice Waters's garlic festival, and hangs out behind the scenes as Wolfgang Puck opens up Chinois.

With these successes behind her, Reichl becomes the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times just as Food (yes, with a capital "F") and the '80s converged, which produced a crowd of food groupies who considered every trip to a four-star restaurant as a new notch in their belt. Her unorthodox style -- writing reviews that read like short stories and introducing the Reluctant Gourmet as a presence in the reviews, for example -- elicits both praise and criticism, but led to later positions as restaurant critic of The New York Times and then editor-in-chief of Gourmet.

Not only does Reichl chronicle her apprenticeship as a critic (including travels to France, China, and Thailand); she also covers the major personal events in her life: the long, slow dissolution of her first marriage; the affair with her food editor boss; the death of her father; and the electrically charged meeting with the man who would become her second husband. Some of these moments are so personal you may feel like an unwitting voyeur. Most heartbreaking is the story of the baby that Reichl and her second husband adopt -- only to have the natural parents show up before the final papers are signed and take her back.

As final proof that food cannot be separated from life, Reichl ends each chapter with one or two recipes from that time in her life, like the dacquoise she ate in Paris, the mushroom soup she made for her mother, the appetizer Wolfgang Puck served at the White House in 1983, and Danny Kaye's lemon pasta. (Ginger Curwen)

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The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite.
— A.J. Liebling

Easy for him to say: He was independently wealthy. Personally, I found the primary requisite for writing about food to be a credit card.

And that was a problem. I pictured myself sweeping into fabulous restaurants to dine upon caviar and champagne. Maître d’s would cower before the great Restaurant Critic. Chefs would stand behind the kitchen door, trembling. “What is she saying?” they would whisper to my waiter. “Does she like it?” I would not betray, by word or gesture, my opinion of the meal. And when it was all over, I would throw down my card and cry “Charge it please!,” then gather my retinue and float regally out the door.

Unfortunately, the first time I tried this I hit a few snags.

In 1978, San Francisco’s fanciest French restaurant belonged to a chef who had cooked for the Kennedys. The valet stared at my beat-up Volvo and shook his head. He could not, he insisted, accept a car that used a screwdriver in place of a key. The maître d’hôtel was equally overjoyed by my arrival; he looked me up and down, took in my thrift-store clothing, and led me straight to the worst table, the one that shook each time a waiter came out the kitchen door. The sommelier appeared worried when I ordered the ’61 Lascombes. He had, he was sorry to inform me, sold the last bottle. He was certain that a nice little Beaujolais would make me very happy. And when the captain announced that the special of the evening was freshly made terrine de foie gras, he pointedly told me the price.

The biggest humiliation, however, was yet to come. “Your credit card, madam,” said the maître d’hôtel frostily, “has been rejected.” He stood over me looking more smug than sorrowful; clearly he had been expecting this all along.

“It couldn’t be!” I insisted. “I just got it yesterday.”

“It says, madam,” the maître d’hôtel went on, “that you are over your limit.” He leaned down and hissed menacingly. “Do you know what your limit is?”

Unfortunately, I did. After years of righteous poverty I was prepared to sacrifice my principles and leap back into middle-class life. The middle class, however, had its doubts about me. Although I was now a bona fide restaurant critic, the banks were not impressed. Where, they wanted to know, were my debts? How had I managed to live thirty years without owing anything to anyone? Were there no college loans, no car payments, no mortgages, no revolving lines of credit? How could I possibly be trusted with a credit card?

In desperation I had put on my very best dress and arranged for an appointment with the bank manager. After making me wait a suitable length of time, he graciously permitted me to show him the masthead of New West magazine. I was hoping that my association with New York magazine’s West Coast sibling would impress this man, that he would recognize it as Northern California’s most important regional publication. But the manager merely looked bored. As he unhurriedly put on his half-glasses, I wished that I had tamed my hair out of its usual wildness. I patted, vainly, at it and tried pulling the most excitable curls behind my ears. They popped willfully forward. He snorted.

He scanned the list of contributing editors. He noted my name. He grunted. “Meaningless,” he said at last. “What we are looking for is something to show that you will pay your bills. Can you show me a pay stub?”

“I’m freelance,” I stammered. “I don’t get a paycheck. They pay me by the article.”

He drew visibly back from me. He looked sorrowful. “Unreliable,” he sighed at last, staring at my ringless fingers. “It says here,” he said, peering skeptically at the papers in his hand, “that you are married? To a Mr. Douglas Hollis?” The tone of his voice implied that he wondered what someone who looked like me might be doing with someone who sounded like that.

“Yes,” I replied. “I am.”

“And what does Mr. Hollis do for a living?” he inquired. “His income does not seem to be represented here.” I considered giving him my feminist line, but one look at his sour face decided me against it.

“He’s an artist,” I said. “He does site sculpture. He actually hasn’t had much income in the past couple of years, but that’s about to change—”

“I understand,” he said firmly, and made a mark on the paper. Despite his name, Mr. Hollis was clearly no more trustworthy than myself.

After months of pleading, the bank was finally persuaded to part with a Visa card. If I proved conscientious and faithful in my payments, the manager suggested, I might, in due time, be permitted a bit more credit. We would have to see. In the meantime, he was prepared to go out on a $250 limb.

It was not enough. I was not surprised. I had known from the start that this job would be trouble. I had been writing short magazine articles for a couple of years, but nobody I knew took them seriously. They were considered, like my restaurant job, just a sideline to support my real work as a novelist. Fixing the money part turned out to be easy; I wrote the fancy French restaurant a check and asked my editor for an advance. The rest would be more complicated.

On the day I became a restaurant critic, my primary emotion was fear. As I drove home from the magazine, I practiced breaking the news to the people I loved best. I found the prospect so terrifying that I forgot to be frightened of the bridge and I reached the far side of the Bay before realizing that I had crossed the entire span without my usual panic. I turned off the freeway, and as my ancient car bumped through the Berkeley flatlands, past the small old cottages with their softly fading paint, I tried to find the perfect way to put it.

“I’ve just gotten the best job in the world!” As I heard myself say the words, I knew they wouldn’t do. They would be fine in San Francisco or New York, but this was the People’s Republic of Berkeley. This was the heart of the counterculture. Every single person I knew was going to disapprove.

I walked into the hallway of the peeling Victorian house I shared with my husband and five other people and waited for their reactions.

Nick, our household patriarch, was sitting in the shabby, crowded living room. He stroked the bushy beard that gave him the air of a prophet and said, “Let me get this straight.” He plunked himself into one of the tattered armchairs we had found at the flea market and began pushing the stuffing back into the arm. “You’re going to spend your life telling spoiled, rich people where to eat too much obscene food?”

“Something like that,” I murmured, too embarrassed to defend myself.

He shook his head in disappointment. A devotee of millet and Dr. Bronner’s balanced mineral bouillon, Nick had done his Berkeley best to turn our household into a model of politically correct consumption. We had, at various times, been ovolactovegetarians and vegans, and we were, at all times, vigilant about the excesses of agribusiness. For a long while we grew our own food, and we even, for a short while, depended upon dumpsters for our raw ingredients. Nick had valiantly tried to overlook my forays into the world of fancy food, but this was going too far. For the first time in the many years I had known him, he became speechless.

Jules, the most sympathetic member of our household, tried to be optimistic. He poured himself a glass of wine from the gallon jug on the table and said, “Free meals!” He turned to Nick and said, “Think how our food bills will go down.”

Nick shook his head. “Not mine,” he said. “You couldn’t pay me to set foot in one of those decadent, bourgeois institutions. Have you told Doug?”

“Not yet,” I admitted, going out to the garage, where my husband was working on the band saw. He had sawdust in his straight brown hair, and he smiled when he saw me, as if just the sight of me had improved his day. He turned off the saw, leaned against it, shook a Camel out of the pack that was always in his shirt pocket and lit it.

“The magazine’s asked me to be their restaurant critic,” I blurted out.

“Of course they have,” he said, putting his arms around me. Doug was my biggest fan and greatest supporter. I buried my head in his faded blue work shirt and inhaled his scent, a mixture of clean laundry, cut wood, and tobacco. “Why wouldn’t they? You’re a great cook and a great writer. But you don’t have to say yes.”

I stood back so I could see him. He has one of those hand- some, all-American faces that get better as they age, and in our ten years together his cheeks had slimmed down, become angular. His youthful rosiness had disappeared, leaving him looking chiseled, intelligent, and kind. Now he said earnestly, “Why don’t you stop working? I’m making enough money now. You could quit the restaurant, give up magazine work, and stay home and write.”

“That would be great,” I hedged. “But you don’t understand. I really want to do this.”

“Why?” he asked. “You’re wasting your talent.”

“I don’t have to do it forever,” I replied. “But I think it will be good experience.”

“You’ll be stuck here!” he said with such vehemence that I understood there was something more on his mind. “Look, I’m getting commissions all over the country, and I thought you’d bring your typewriter and come with me. We’d be together.”

“I was never very good at playing the great artist’s wife, remember?” I reminded him. “After the third art patron chucks me under the chin and says condescendingly, ‘And what do you do, dear?’ I always get mad. Even if I didn’t have this new job, I probably wouldn’t come with you that often.”

“So don’t come,” he said in his soft, reasonable voice. “Stay here if you want. But you should be writing your novel, doing something important.”

“But don’t you see,” I said, surprising myself with my own passion, “writing about restaurants doesn’t have to be different from writing a novel. It can be important. The point is just to do it really well. I have this idea that I could write reviews that were like short stories—mysteries, romances, even science fiction.”

Doug did not seem convinced; in those days we all considered art and commerce to be in opposition, and Doug thought I was willfully choosing the wrong one.

“Just think about it before you say yes,” said Doug, turning on the band saw. I left the shop, got into my car, and went to see what my colleagues at The Swallow, the collectively owned restaurant where I cooked, would think about this new development. The reaction there was almost violent. “You’re giving up good honest work to be a parasite” was how one of my fellow workers put it. “I’ll be embarrassed to have known you.” He turned his back on me and said, “In fact, I’m embarrassed now.”

I had counted on my parents, at least, for a little support. But when I called New York to break the news, expecting jubilation over the fact that I was about to make more than the minimum wage, they were unenthusiastic.

“A restaurant critic?” said my father, repeating the words as if I had said “undertaker” or “garbage collector.” I imagined him standing by the cluttered table in the hall of their Greenwich Village apartment, folding his tall frame down until he could see himself in the mirror hanging above it, patting the long strand of hair over the bald spot at the top of his head. His German ac- cent became stronger when he was upset, and now, as he said, “You’re going to spend your time writing about food? When are you going to do something worthwhile with your life?” all the w’s turned into v’s.

“And what about children?” cried my mother. She was probably sitting on the bed, newspapers and books scattered around her as she ran chipped red fingernails through her short gray hair. “Now that Doug is finally making some money, you could move out of that ridiculous commune, settle down, and have a family.”

At any other time of my life I would have bowed to this pressure. To be honest, I was astonished that I did not. I had always been the ultimate good girl. I was thirty years old and I had spent my whole life pleasing other people. Although I lived in a commune, I was married to a man my parents loved, called my mother every day, and spent most of my time cooking the meals and cleaning the house. At The Swallow, I worked hard and never showed up late. I had never before faced universal disapproval.

But I had finally found my true calling, and I was not prepared to turn it down. “You were born to be a restaurant critic,” said the editor who gave me the job, and I felt that she was right. Food was my major passion; I had been feeding people since I was small. I had been a cook, a waitress, a kitchen manager; I had even written a cookbook. Now I understood that all along I had been training myself to be a restaurant critic.

But Liebling was wrong. Appetite is not enough. And knowledge is not sufficient. You can be a decent critic if you know about food, but to be a really good one you need to know about life. It took the next few years to teach me that.

You’ll see.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Comfort Me with Apples 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Memoirs seldom take us into new territory. Ms. Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me with Apples is the happy exception. You will find your mouth watering, your skin coming alive, your ears perking up, and your heart breaking in this amazing story. She successfully mixes marriage, divorce, wild romances, great food, a new career, building a new life, meeting celebrities, travel, loss of a father and of a child she wants to adopt, pregnancy at 40, and recipes in this compelling book. You've never read its like, and will never forget it. Ms. Reichl is now the editor-in-chief of Gourmet, a former restaurant critic for both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as the former food editor at the Los Angeles Times. But don't let this establishment resume fool you, Ms. Reichl followed her own muse to get there. Most people who experience life crises around 30-35 (almost everyone) tend to self-dramatize and feel sorry for themselves. Ms. Reichl treats life as an adventure to be embraced and tends to poke fun at herself. As a result, you cannot help but like her. She is also very down-to-earth, and is very candid about things that most people would downplay or try to keep secret. She has a lot of courage. Whether it is ignoring the orders not to talk to people in China or offering her untutored opinions to great chefs, she just dives in with whatever fits her sense of the moment. You will probably admire her courage, if you are like me. Ms. Reichl is extremely intelligent, and her imagination will stir yours. She has a great ability as a writer to help you enter into her world, and feel what she feels. At the beginning of the book, she had just been surviving as a writer by keeping her expenses low and working as a cook. Her husband's art career had started to take off, and she gets a chance to become a restaurant reviewer. This opportunity is derided by her fellow commune mates in Berkeley, and couldn't be more different than her experiences with eating macrobiotic food that she often prepared herself. She only had one dinner out a year before taking this new job. Soon, she is reviewing (after misadventures like having her credit card rejected at the first restaurant she reviews and reporting that a robbery had occurred in the parking lot of another restaurant without checking the facts) and starting a tempestuous affair with her editor at New West. The affair fizzles out when he marries another editor at the magazine. Ms. Reichl soon falls for a man who she cannot stand at first, and they also have a torrid relationship that ends happily in marriage. Some of the best parts of the book involve the difficulties of opening new restaurants. You will get most of the gory details on two, including Wolfgang Puck's Chinois. The book is filled with other restaurant celebrities, and you will enjoy what you learn about them. They are most engaging when away from the harried moments in the kitchen. The book also is filled with recipes. Now, most recipes in books are long on ingredients and short on instructions. Ms. Reichl is just the opposite. These are almost all simple recipes with oodles of details concerning preparation. For example, asparagus in balsamic vinegar has two pages of directions. Also, the dishes come from many cultures so they can allow you to have some adventure with your meals. One of the many clever devices she uses in the book is to describe meals at Chez Panisse in Berkeley as a kind of measuring stick for her connection to the world of food. She nicely uses her mother's experiences with the restaurant in the same way. I was very impressed by this method. After you finish reading this marvelous book, I suggest that you think about where you need to try more things. Ms. Reichl's life would have clearly been much less if she had not taken great strides to try things she had never done before. Where should you do the same? Seize life and experience it with full flavor! Donald Mitchel
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderful--reads like fiction, but it's better because its real. Any foodie, restaurant groupie, cook, or anyone who likes to eat will enjoy Ruth Reichl's zest for life and food.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book thoroughly enjoyable! The book included my passions for travel and gourmet cooking. I disagree with the reviewer who found it dull, in contrast I savored every moment and found myself inspired by Ruth Reichl's adventuresome approach to life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
COMFORT ME WITH APPLES is a yummy read. Ruth Reichl writes of her life as an up-and-coming food critic. She gives human spirit to food critics and chefs. I will never again read a restaurant review with disdain for the writer's 'snootiness' again. However, developing a taste for slugs and brains is not on my plate. As a bonus, the book has fabulous recipes that I will actually try. Bon appetit!
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading Tender at the Bone, I was looking forward to reading Ruth's next book. I was very disappointed that much more space was spent about her various affairs throughout her marriage than about the restaurants, chefs and cooking. I expected more from her.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I guess I expect too much...but I was hoping for lively, fresh. The tone was flat and the situations and conversation, contrived.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i enjoyed this book i do like to cook it was a good time some people have all luck they can enjoy food as there life. it was a good read.