I have not read any of Reichl’s books, of which there are quite a few, but I have heard several reviews on the podcasts I follow, and have thought that I might enjoy her writing. When this book came out, it had everything I love in a book. (It seems that I am quite a fan of memoir, if I look back at the number of books I have read in that category.) Reichl grew up in New York, one of my favorite places, so there promised to be a lot about the the city I ❤️. She was something of a hippie, with a laid back attitude, untameable hair, and a disregard for fashion. She loved food! She was a food critic for the New York Times so she dined at some memorable places on both sides of the approval spectrum. And the pièce de résistance, she was the last editor of Gourmet Magazine, a periodical I devoured monthly in the 80’s and 90’s. I made my first standing rack of lamb using a Gourmet recipe, and years later decided to forego a Bermuda vacation in order to buy bone flatware for a scary Halloween dinner that was featured in an October issue. And there are recipes! I really enjoyed the book and the writing and the insider look into the world of magazine publishing in its heyday. I still miss Gourmet.
THE BEAUTY: My favorite chapter was called Severine. Gourmet had decided to do an entire issue on Paris, and sent the editors to scout out interesting things for its readers to see, do and eat. Ruth passed a dress shop, and on an uncharacteristic impulse, she went in. The sales person was very helpful, showing Ruth a little black dress that made her feel beautiful. It was a 1959 vintage St. Laurent with a price tag equivalent to $6500.00! The tag at the neckline read “Severine.” When Ruth passed on the dress, the salesperson cautioned her that she would regret walking away. Ruth thought about that darned dress all day, and couldn’t decide if she really wanted to walk away or take the plunge and buy it. She thought back to when she had visited Paris as a 17 year-old. She had desperately wanted to eat at Caviar Kaspia, and saved up her money to do just that. When she got to the maitre d’ station to be seated, Yves St. Laurent walked past, she lost her nerve and left. All these years later, she decided to treat herself and think about the dress during a fabulous meal. She ordered the lobster bisque, and relished it as she usually did with fine food, eating slowly and deliberately and savoring every morsel. An older gentleman seated at the table next to her, excused himself to comment on how much he had enjoyed watching her eat. He said that Ruth reminded him of his late wife, and reminisced about his wife’s quirky and mysterious ways. He offered Ruth some of his caviar and a glass of Krug ’66 champagne, which he said was the perfect wine for caviar. They ended up spending a companionable evening together, and when they parted company, he thanked Ruth for allowing him to recapture a bit of his vibrant youth by talking about his past. Ruth asked what his wife’s name is. You guessed it: Severine. You’ll have to read the book to find out if Ruth bought the dress.
The Reichl’s were not rich, but they managed to dine at Luchow’s, which was in their neighborhood, once a week. Ruth and her father were adventurous eaters, eventually sampling everything on the Luchow’s menu, but Ruth’s mother always ordered the same thing every week.
Husband-tested, he declared them outstanding. Here’s one sans flambé and maple syrup.
German Apple Pancakes
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
½ stick (4 T) unsalted butter
¼ C brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
small grating of nutmeg
¾ C flour,
pinch of salt
1 T sugar
1 C milk
sugar for sprinkling
Rum or cognac (optional)
Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Shower them with about 2 T of lemon juice.
Melt half the butter (2 T) in a medium skillet and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the apple slices and cook over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, until they’ve become quite darkly caramelized and smell impossibly delicious. Remove them from the heat.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs, add the milk, gently whisking, then add flour, salt, and sugar, whisking until blended. The batter should be thin.
Melt a couple of tsp of butter in an 8 inch frying pan to coat bottom. When hot, pour in a third of a cup of batter, turning the pan to make the batter spread to form large, thin, flat pancake.
Cook until just set, about 2 minutes. Evenly distribute a third of the apples over the crepe, pour another third of a cup of batter over the apples, then turn the pancake (this is easier if you have two pancake turners) and allow the bottom to brown. Turn out onto a large plate, sprinkle generously with sugar, and roll the pancake up like a jelly roll. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar, and, if you like, a splash of lemon juice.
Repeat this until you have three plump rolled pancakes. If you want to flame the pancakes, lightly warm a few tablespoons of rum or cognac for each pancake in pan, add the pancakes, spoon the liquor over the top, and set the pancakes on fire.