I didn’t know anything about Comfort Me With Apples when I saw it at the school library. It was simply an orange hardcover without any summary or critical praise. But I knew Ruth Reichl was important in food and its journalism, and I figured I could learn from her writing.
The book I picked, however, was more about her than I imagined. Lavish descriptions of food, I expected. Stories of foreign meals and incomparable ingredients, of course. But this was, above all, the story of her life. Food was obviously a large part, but more in a Philip Seymour Hoffman, best supporting actor sort of way than top billing in a blockbuster.
Comfort Me With Apples starts with Reichl landing a job as a restaurant critic. Young and overwhelmed by the glamour, she quickly assumes the persona she thinks she should have, even though it’s antithetical to the Berkeley commune lifestyle she otherwised lived. Before she realizes it, she’s in Paris having an affair with her extravagant boss. She stays with her husband until another affair several years later.
In between reflections on her complex love life are tales from famous kitchens. She befriends Alice Waters, visits her idol Mary Frances (MFK Fisher to the rest of us), and follows Wolfgang Puck around like it’s her job. Oh wait, it was. I found myself both jealous and inspired. I want to eat! I want to travel! I want to write!
Reichl’s life takes so many turns in the second half of the book, I refused to put it down. Smitten like Deb Perelman’s kitchen, I plowed through the last 162 pages last night after work. When I read the last sentence at 2:30 in the morning, I nearly cried. (Probably from exhaustion and relief as well as an emotional reaction to the prose.)
Had Reichl made the whole story up, I would have enjoyed the book but swallowed the perfect ending and forgotten about it. Knowing that this life, these characters are real…it just fascinates me to no end.
An appreciation for good food makes the book that much better, but it’s more something to amuse your bouche while you explore the mind and follow the impressive trajectory of the now editor of Gourmet Magazine.
I, in the meantime, have been once again reminded how much life there is ahead of me, and have renewed excitement about all its possibilities.