Friday, July 17, 2020

Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

This past weekend found me sitting in a tiny collapsible REI Flexlite chair by Loon Lake in the Desolation Wilderness, catching up on my reading.  First I plowed through three months of Wine Spectators.  Then my backlog of Food & Wine.  What a culture shock to read these glossy mags while avoiding COVID in the beauty of the wilderness.  The magazines were published both before we were ordered to shelter in place and after we were reeling from the changes the virus has foisted on all of us.  The older magazines were filled with alluring photos of travel, restaurants and posh wine and food events in major tourist destinations.   The more current issues were discussing how COVID was changing the hospitality industry and how we are managing our day-to-day activities. 

Escaping to the wilderness was heavenly.  Being in the great outdoors, breathing clean pine-scented air while taking in sweeping vistas recharged me.  It allowed me to forget about the very real issue of the resurgence of COVID back home.  Thank goodness! 

Reading food and wine magazines while car camping was also a juxtaposition.  Warming bratwurst on a stick is fun and delicious, when you are camping.  Looking at tempting desserts made by world class chefs was downright awful.  I'd love to have a chocolate mousse right there while reading my magazines, but had to settle for a s'more.  That is what camping does for you--brings you back to the things that matter, and forces you to enjoy the big picture and the little things too.

While camping I also was able to finish Ruth Reichl's book, Garlic and Sapphires.  I have thoroughly enjoyed her other books; Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples.  Ruth has a great way of talking about her lifetime relationship with food with a healthy dash of recipes and a good helping of humor and humility.  Garlic and Sapphires recounts Ruth's time as the restaurant critic for The New York Times.  During her tenure there she was reviewing many world renowned restaurants, both at their nascent stage and also ones that had become New York institutions.  She became a mistress of disguise, putting on different characters to dine incognito at restaurants that were on the lookout for The Times critic.  Her tales of the personas she adopted, her friends' and family's reaction to these new women and the descriptions of the meals she had are hilarious. 

Garlic and Sapphires was published in 2005.  Reading her stories is still as current as ever, but there are some glaring historical incidents that have occurred since the book was written.  Ruth does occasionally reference the World Trade Center bombing.  She is referring to the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing.  This comes to light when she recounts her visiting Windows on the World in the World Trade Center.  Windows on the World was a destination restaurant for many wine lovers.  The wine director there, Kevin Zraly, taught many people about wine in his Windows of the World Wine School.  Reading about Windows on the World and the wines that Ruth drank there made me yearn for that restaurant, even if her final review was only one star. 

To read Garlic and Sapphires in this new, historically-significant era was both comforting and thought provoking.  Food and wine will always bring people together.  Right now we can't be together.  But we shall overcome our current viral pandemic, and get to enjoy food, wine, libations, family and friends again, together, in the near future.  And yes, I'll still be camping as often as possible.

Garlic and Sapphires:  ****  (four stars!)

Ironically, while reading Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth was also profiled in Food & Wine.  It was fun to get her current comments about her career and the culinary world.

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