Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.
To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.
Praise for Tender at the Bone
“While all good food writers are humorous . . . few are so riotously, effortlessly entertaining as Ruth Reichl.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A poignant, yet hilarious, collection of stories about people [Reichl] has known and loved, and who, knowingly or unknowingly, steered her on the path to fulfill her destiny as one of the world’s leading food writers.”—Chicago Sun-Times
Praise for Comfort Me with Apples
“The book’s charm emerges through Reichl’s writing, her observations and her amazing ability to capture people in a few memorable sentences. . . . You just have to read it.”—USA Today
“Reads not like life described but like life lived . . . Each story affirms [Reichl’s] desire to get beyond the surface, even as she celebrates its unlikely depths.”—The New York Times
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Ruth Reichl is the bestselling author of Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples. She was editor in chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years. She lives in New York City with her husband, son, and two cats.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:January 16, 1948
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., University of Michigan, 1968; M.A., University of Michigan, 1970
Read an Excerpt
Eleven Years Later
When Jake Newberry asked me to cook for him, I froze.
“Something wrong?” He swept a strand of silver hair out of his eyes and gave me his famous cool blue stare.
“I’m not applying for a position in the test kitchen.” I tried to keep the disappointment from my voice; the job had sounded so perfect. “I thought you were looking for a new executive assistant.”
“I am.” Then he added, “Didn’t anybody tell you I ask every candidate to cook for me?”
How had I missed that?
Jake reached down and patted the big yellow dog at his feet; the dog wriggled with pleasure, and I found that oddly reassuring. “Look, Billie.” Jake offered an encouraging smile. “You seem like a good fit for Delicious! You worked on The Daily Cal. It sounds like you know your way around a kitchen. And you’re even willing to leave school to take the job. I like that; it shows how much you want it.”
I’d spent hours working on an explanation for dropping out; it had never crossed my mind that he’d consider it a plus. “You’ve said all the right things.” He looked down at the pile of manuscripts on his desk, and when he looked up again, his smile was crooked. “You Googled me, right?”
“Would you want an assistant who didn’t?”
“Good answer. But that just proves my point. I don’t find interviews all that revealing.”
Every article I’d read about Jake mentioned that he was a non-corporate guy, which was one of the reasons I’d applied for the job. Working at Delicious! sounded like joining a club, entering a little world of its own, and that’s exactly what I wanted. Needed. I’d spent hours preparing for this interview, studying Jake, chasing down every detail. Now it appeared that hadn’t been enough.
“What’s wrong with interviews?” I was playing for time. I really didn’t want to cook.
“Isn’t it obvious?” He was truly great-looking; the photographs captured his all-American looks, but they didn’t catch the humorous way his lips turned up or the watchful intelligence in his eyes. “You tell me you love the book, but, then, you’re hardly going to say you hate it.”
He’d lost me. Book? I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Ha! Another piece of the puzzle slides into place. You don’t know much about magazines, do you? In this business, magazines are always called ‘books.’ I don’t know why. What I do know is that every writer who comes for an interview is madly in love with this book. Then I ask what they’re reading, and they serve up the usual suspects: The New Yorker, and the most challenging bestseller on the current list.”
He pointed an ebony letter opener at me. “I have to admit, throwing Brillat-Savarin into the mix was a clever move on your part; nobody’s ever come up with that before.”
Not all that clever: It hadn’t taken much to find out he’d written his college honors thesis on the great French gastronome.
Jake was studying me, and I couldn’t help wondering if he’d be easier on me if I were one of the pretty girls, or at least a bit more stylish. Aunt Melba had insisted that I buy a black skirt and a white shirt, but I hadn’t bothered trying them on and the skirt was a little too short; now I tugged at it, trying to edge it closer to my knees. But it turned out Jake wasn’t concerned with the way I looked. “I’m trying to figure out if you knew I’d ask what you had for dinner last night.”
It had been a lucky guess, but if I were the editor of a food magazine, that’s a question I’d be asking. So I Googled around and discovered that Jake had a passion for Japanese food. Then I found some obscure new place in the East Village specializing in Kitakata ramen and went in for a big bowl of clear fragrant broth filled with broad, chewy noodles.
“Sounds great!” he said, when I described the tiny restaurant and the eccentric chef who ran it. “I’ve never heard about that place, and I can’t wait to try it. Thanks. The thing is . . .” He stopped for a moment to let a noisy truck go by. Delicious! occupied a grand old mansion, and on this hot September morning Jake had all the windows open. I looked around, noting what a mess the place was; there were so many stacks of manuscripts, it had been hard to find a place to sit down. “Here’s what I’ve learned about you: You do your homework. That’s good. But all it really tells me is that you’re smart and you want the job. We could talk all day and I’d still have no idea if you’re right for Delicious! But cooking’s different; it doesn’t lie. Is this a problem? Just humor me, okay.”
There was no question mark on the end of that last sentence. If I wanted to work for Jake Newberry, I was going to have to cook.
Why hadn’t I anticipated this? Because there was a problem: These days, simply thinking about cooking could bring on a panic attack.
Already I felt the clammy sweat popping out all over my body. Not now! I thought, willing myself to stand up, reminding myself to breathe. “Anticipatory panic is the worst part,” the therapist had said, and anxiety was pouring over me, making me woozy, as I followed Jake out of his office.
I tried to concentrate on the dog, who was running before us, jauntily waving his tail. In that moment I would have given anything to be him, to be so carefree. Go away! I pleaded with the panic, but now it entered me, expanding like a huge balloon, filling my body with agitation. My hands were shaking and the nausea was coming on, but Jake didn’t seem to notice. “I’m always eager to find out what people will make for me.”
“Gin” I began, grateful to be talking. It might help. But Jake waved me quiet.
“No, no, don’t tell me. I like to be surprised.”
I followed him up the stairs, so focused on the panic that I barely registered the graceful carved oak banisters and soft wooden floors. Concentrate on the recipe, I told myself, trying to repeat the ingredients in my head: oranges, cardamom, pepper, sour cream. The words were slightly soothing; maybe it would be okay. But then we were at the kitchen and Jake was opening the door. The scent of sugar, flour, and butter wafted toward me, and it was so familiar that I felt the blood rush from my face as the dizziness claimed me. The panic was inside, choking me, and outside too, a great wave crashing over me.
“You okay?” Jake’s hand was on my arm. I knew I’d gone white.
“Fine. I’m fine.” I put my hand out and grabbed the counter, trying to steady myself. From somewhere far away I heard Jake say, “Okay, then. This is Maggie, our executive food editor. She’ll make sure you’ve got everything you need.” Then he was gone.
All I wanted was to lie down on the cool floor, but I glanced up, trying to focus on the woman in front of me. She was old and painfully thin, with a straight nose and short black hair that looked as if she’d chopped it off with a carving knife. She glared at me and muttered, just loud enough for me to hear, “Why’s Jake wasting my time? He’ll never hire her.”
Her unexpected meanness was like an electric shock, and it jerked me backward, jolting me into the moment. The effect was so immediate and so strong that the dizziness receded. It was like a miracle; I almost laughed. What was the worst thing that could happen? I’d faint? Scream? Make some kind of fool of myself? I straightened up, looked her in the eye, told her I’d need ginger, eggs, and oranges, and began ticking off the spices. She silently pointed to the refrigerator, the cupboard, the spice cabinetstaccato little jerks, as if she begrudged me every motion. The blood began to return to my head, and now I could feel the sweat drip down my face. I swiped at it with a paper towel when Maggie’s back was turned. Then I opened the refrigerator and reached in, grateful for the rush of cold as I grabbed the eggs. The nausea was still there, but it was bearable now, and the departing panic had left relief in its wake, so strong it felt almost like elation. I’d have a terrible headache later on, but I was going to get through this.
Maggie stomped off to the next counter, where a tall, older cook was rolling out pasta. The room was crowdedat least eight other cooks were in thereand the scent of baking cakes, roasting meats, and caramelizing onions filled the air. I gathered my ingredients and began to relax into the rhythm of the kitchen, slowly slipping into that flow where I was all alone. I grated orange peel, concentrating on the way the cool oil felt on my fingertips. I picked up a knob of ginger, losing myself to the rain-forest fragrance as I slowly shredded it with my knife. The scents swirled around me: cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and clove.
Captured by the cooking, I picked up the pace, my spoon ringing against the bowl, my body vibrating to the familiar moves. I was so into sifting flour, greasing pans, and pouring batter that I didn’t even realize I was talking as the cake went in the oven.
“ ‘No earthquakes now’?” Maggie’s voice was belligerent. “What the hell does that mean?”
“It’s a California thing.”
She sniffed derisively and stuck out her sharp chin. She seemed to be searching for a cutting remark when someone shouted, “Taste!”
The word reverberated through the room, galvanizing the cooks. They all dropped what they were doing and went charging toward the sound, forks held out before them, like knights heading into a joust. They descended on a roast one of the cooks had just pulled from the oven, each jockeying for the first forkful. There was a moment of silence as they stood chewing, then a sudden rush of words as they deconstructed the dish.
“Needs more salt.”
“Reminds me of that Paula Wolfert dish, the one with warka.”
“Why’d you use achiote?”
Ten minutes later, they were still talking. I opened my oven door, and as the carnival scent of gingerbread came spilling out, they all looked toward me before resuming the conversation.
I turned the cake out of the pan and let it cool for a few minutes. I had just finished glazing it when Maggie stalked over. “How long do you let it cool?”
“I like to eat it while it’s still a little warm.”
“Taste!” she bellowed. I jumped back as the outstretched forks came rushing toward me.
“It smells incredible,” said one of the cooks.
Maggie, a practiced jouster, shoved his fork aside. “I’ll take the first bite,” she said, lopping off a chunk. She put it in her mouth and her lips twisted, as if she’d swallowed a mouthful of vinegar. For a minute I thought she hated it. But then she said, reluctantly, “Oh, God, this is fantastic. Jake’s going to love it.”
It was the gingerbread, of course; when Jake tasted it, he said anyone who could turn the world’s most banal cake into something so compellinghe actually used that wordbelonged at Delicious! He said he had to hire me if only to get the recipe.
As if I’d give it to him!
Everything’s happened so fast. Two weeks ago I was heading back for senior year, and now I’ve got a job in New York, an apartment, a whole new life. If I let myself think about it, I get terrified, so it’s a good thing I’ll be busy: Jake said I’ll sometimes have to work till after midnight. And the pay’s so low. Dad says he’ll cover my first year’s rent, which is pretty serious, considering how much he hates me dropping out of school. And how much he’s going to miss me. Aunt Melba keeps texting me, reminding me to call him. She thinks he’s going to take this hard, but, then, she’s always worrying about Dad.
I found the most incredible place, a fifth-floor walk-up on the Lower East Side. It’s like the place I’ve always dreamed of, so perfect I sometimes think I must have conjured it from my imagination. It’s tiny, but there’s tons of light, and it’s in a great old neighborhood. If I keep the windows open, I can hear people’s voices as they walk down the sidewalk, and if they’re loud enough I catch intriguing little snatches of conversation. It goes on all day and all night; there’s always something happening on Rivington. I love that.
My first night here, I went out at midnightmidnight!to grab a bite at the little Chinese place on the corner. Then I went to the bookshop. Even that late at night, it was filled with people who looked like they led interesting lives.
I just wish you were here to share this. I feel so lonely. And then there’s the question of clothes. I’m heading off to my first day of work, and I’m hopeless. All those mornings I watched you getting dressedif only I’d paid attention.
Stately, gracious, old, the Timbers Mansion seemed to soak up all the sunshine on the street. I walked slowly up the soft stone steps, taking in the worn bricks and faded marble columns. A hundred years ago, in 1910, when Delicious! magazine moved in, Greenwich Village must have been full of houses just like this, but now the mansion was the last one standing on this narrow tree-lined street.
Inside, the high-ceilinged lobby was dark and cool. The guard at the antique desk glanced up. “First day, right?” He waved me toward the staircase. “Jake’s expecting you. Second floor.”
The day of my interview, I’d been too nervous to notice much, but now I looked around, taking in the details. How amazing to be working in this gorgeous old house, surrounded by marble, carved oak, and chandeliers. There must be a fireplace in every room, and ancient windows with wavy handblown panes captured the sun and drew it inside.
Jake was waiting on the second floor beneath a silver chandelier. His dog was there too, leaping ecstatically to greet me as if I were his favorite person in the world. I reached down to pat him, but he jumped up, put his paws on my chest, and tried to lick my face. I laughed.
“Good thing you like dogs.” Jake pulled him down. “That temp they sent was terrified of Sherman.” He tugged gently on the dog’s silky ears. “But you didn’t think much of her either, did you, boy? The woman was a disaster. Poor Billie’s got no idea what a mess she’s walking into.”
Reading Group Guide
1. Billie eventually writes about Sal's as if it's "a way of life." Do you have a favorite establishment that you would describe similarly? What is it like, and how does it make you feel?
2. Mrs. Cloverly’s disastrous concoctions are even funnier because she’s unfazed by failure. She seems to keep trudging forward, turning ever-less-palatable dishes out of her kitchen. Have you encountered such a cook? What is the most astonishingly—and hilariously—unappetizing dish you’ve ever been served?
3. Diana and Sammy's friendships help the formerly-contained Billie become more confident. Has a friend ever given you the courage to be more fully yourself? What did you reveal?
4. Try to imagine a story that Sammy might have written for Delicious! Where in the world is he, and what is he writing about?
5. Lulu’s letters teach Billie about the relentless uncertainty endured by the people on the homefront during World War II. She learns that Lulu finds solace in cooking with Mrs. Cappuzzelli and for her mother. Can you remember a meal that helped get you through a particularly painful moment? Where were you? Who were you with? And what was the meal?
6. Rationing changed the way Americans ate. Lulu throws herself into this new food landscape, experimenting with unfamiliar vegetables like milkweed and pumpkin leaves. What would you make if you had no butter, meat, or dairy? What would you forage for?
7. If you had a victory garden, what would you grow?
8. Do you have friends or family who remember what it was like to eat during World War II? What stories have they shared with you?
9. Lulu writes: “When Mother, Mr. Jones and I were walking through those strange, crowded downtown streets, where people were sticking their hands into pickle barrels, pointing to smoked fish, and eating sliced herring, I saw the scene in a whole new way. They weren’t buying food: They were finding their way home.” What foods feel like home to you?
10. As the book closes, what does Billie discover she owes Genie?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is everything i want a book to be. Great characters whom i care about. Food. And a little mystery. I am halfway through and cannot put it down.
Billie Breslin is the kind of girl I'd befriend: hungry and bookish. Always agog and somewhat bumbling, this romantic comedy lead stumbles onto the foodie magazine scene in an enviable scenario (somewhat reminiscent of Reichl's own haphazard trajectory), where she endures bullying and a repeat caller who comically messes up the magazine's recipes. Hoping to prove her writing chops from the editor's assistant position, Billie's new job at Delicious! magazine still leaves wiggle room for a weekend job dishing Italian sides at a close-knit family shop, the fodder for Billie's first published article and an unsurprising romance. The book's unexpected turn comes when Billie unearths a series of letters between a teenaged girl and James Beard written during World War II and hidden in a secret room of the magazine's boarded-up library. As Billie follows the late librarian's clues to find the hidden letters, her search also leads to deepened friendships and self-discovery, and, naturally, a makeover. (I said romantic comedy, right? Totally a Drew Barrymore moment.) I've closely followed Reichl's writing for numerous reasons — okay, mainly the food writing with a large side of intrigue — and was excited to find her foray into fiction such a believable transition. Yes, there are several plot wrinkles that feel heavy-handed, but they're minor and, in my opinion, forgiveable. The characters, Billie in particular, are well-drawn and familiar, friendly people whom you want to like, making it easy to be drawn along with the story. But Reichl's imagined letters to James Beard are the real gems in this book, rich with history and curiosity.
I absolutely loved this book. I had read the story about her mother and knew something about her work, but just happened to pick this up. I absolutely loved it. Good story, good characters, liked the relationships, could enjoy food and not consume calories. Only bad thing about it? It ended! Hoping she writes another novel soon.
Recipes, libraries, letters, books, food, authentic Italian butcher and cheese shops, aromas you can smell through the pages, and marvelous characters. What more can a reader ask for? DELICIOUS is a reader's and a cook's paradise. DELICIOUS is one wonderful page of words after another. The magic never stopped as Ms. Reichl introduced the reader to her believable, lovable characters and to mouthwatering food. Billie and every single character will steal your heart. The characters just had something that pulled you in. When Billie finds letters in the library of a now defunct magazine company that were sent to a famous chef, Mr. Beard, from 13-year old Lulu during WWII, the book continues with the same mood of enjoying life, enjoying food, and discovering oneself. If you love old buildings from the 1800's, you will be in for another surprise. These letters became the basis of DELICIOUS and also created a mystery about who Lulu was. The letters were used by a librarian as a fun game of finding clues that were very cleverly hidden and ones that led to the next clue...was the game ever over? If Lulu were still alive, Billie knew what a wonderful treat it would be to meet her. If you want to be entertained and have your taste buds taken to the highest level, be sure to read DELICIOUS. You will also have the pleasure of learning how to face hidden fears in your life and share your life with those you should share it with. DELICIOUS is unlike any book I have read. It grabs hold of you and takes you along for a "delicious" adventure and a very pleasurable reading ride. My rating of DELICIOUS is a taste tempting, entertaining, and loving 5/5. Don't miss reading DELICIOUS. It is a beautiful, delightful book.¿ I received this book free of charge and without compensation from the publisher in return for an honest review.
I wanted nothing to do with this book initially because it was not about serial killer or some other gripping mystery. I recognized where Billie was in the first third of the book and the rest was about putting her back together and processing her feelings. My dad died when I was about a third of the way through and this cast of characters kept me company for 125 pages that first night and then it took me two weeks to finish the rest of it. I'm so thankful I had this book to keep me company during that time that I will always remember that and Billie's healing helped me to process my feelings. Thank you to the author for all of that.
I loved this book . Started reading it and could not put it down.
This book is delicious. I love the story about Billie and the various people she comes in contact with while working for a food magazine in NYC. The story is charming and the description of the foods made my mouth water. The story line was charming and moved along at a nice pace. Loved all the characters, Sal, Rosalie, Maggie, Mitch and Thursday. And the best was that it takes place in New York City. I am from the city and moved several years ago. It brought back so many memories and reminds how much I miss the city. I have can't forget to mention the great letters from Lulu to James Beard. Very clever. Great read.
I'd give this less than a star if I could. I wish I liked it better, but I really get tired of Reichl's books replacing therapy. She needs to move on
I could not put this book down! I love to cook and greatly enjoyed how the world of food was immersed in this story. While some of the story was a bit predictable, I was not expecting the story to include life during WWII. That storyline was an added treat to an already interesting read.
This was one of the best books I've ever read. I didn't want it to end. I hope Ruth Reichl can write another one. Hard to top this. Loved the chaacters, mystery, and the food.
I absolutely enjoyed it
Another hit for Reichel. Her first work of fiction is a delight. Readers will love Billie and all of the characters in her world. Delicious is a fun glimpse into the foodie culture and publishing.
DELICIOUS is DELIGHTFUL! I was hooked on the book after the first page. The characters ( even Sherman) are wonderful and the sights, sounds, & smells of New York kept me reading page after page! I received this book from goodreads in exchange for a review
I don't like to cook and I'm not a foodie but a friend recommended this so highly I bought it anyway. What a waste of money and time. It reminds me a book written for pre-teens,very unsophisticated. Not much of a plot, nothing surprising or unpredictable or even interesting.
Quite interesting and an easy read !
I would love to spend time with the "characters" in this story. Major drawback: The descriptions of the food and drink. Hungry all the time.
Wonderful novel. Compelling story grabs you right away. I hope she writes more novels like this.
Such a lovely book, with such wonderful characters. I had a tuck in day yesterday with a nasty bout of bronchitis, and it was a great book to cuddle up with. A nice cozy mystery solved through clues in an old fashioned card catalog in a locked secret library. Historical building and renovations, a bit of foodie talk, a love story, more foodie talk, travel talk, table setting talk, what more could a girl ask for? And thank you, not peppered with recipes. And a marvelous back story, of food rationing during World War II and James Beard which supplied one of the mysteries. I hated to have it end. I need to learn more about James Beard.
Ruth Reichl is also a foodie, who once worked as a restaurant critic for both the New York Times and the L.A. Times. She also worked as an editor in chief at Gourmet Magazine, before the magazine closed in 2009. That’s quite a career – and even though I never read Gourmet, I have enjoyed her writing. This is not her first book, but it is her first works of fiction. Writing, like cooking, is a labor of love. Delicious is the name of a fictional magazine, that the main character works at. She’s from California, and fresh out of college leaves her home, to take this job in NYC. The city, like her home in California is a foodie’s paradise, and though it takes her a while to adjust to life away from home – she falls in love with the city, it’s people, and its food. The main character’s name is Billie, and there seems to be quite a bit of Ruth in the character. I think that’s okay – it makes Billie much more real, and her work at the magazine so much more familiar. She struggles at first at the magazine, she landed this great job at a food magazine – yet doesn’t even cook (yet is forced to cook something for the editor at the job interview)! She turns out to be a pretty good cook, and thrives at the magazine. There is a bit of history in the story, which I really loved. She’s connected to the magazine’s past when she discovers a series of letters written to a famous chef from a young girl named Lulu. These two exchanged letters during WWII, and Billie finds the letters just behind the magazine’s library. This was quite an experience for her, and seems to lift her out of her fog, since moving so far away from home – and the sister she very close to. At the end of the book there’s a great recipe for gingerbread that I can’t wait to try. Even though I consider tmyself to be an experienced baker, this will be a challenge! Having just finished this book, I’m now going to find some of her other books. Before writing this book, she had published a few memoirs – about food, life, and her mother. Those will now be on my TBR list!