Comfort Me with Apples: Chow Bella Book Club Meeting, Now In Session

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Jennifer Woods
Come grab a seat, you've just arrived at the third meeting of the Chow Bella Book Club! We've gathered to discuss Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl.

As you probably already know, apples don't really make much of an appearance in this book. It's really more of a feeling Reichl wanted to convey. No, this book was filled with so much more than just apples, taking place from 1978 to 1993, it was filled with love, sex, tears, work, leisure, luxurious flights to far away places, fine dining, simple foods, babies and a wonderful peek into the beginnings of the foodie craze in America.

Before we dive into it, a little housekeeping. Don't fret if you haven't finished the book or if you read this book when it first was published in 2011, jump right on in, we're eager to read about your insights. If you're wondering what Reichl is doing these days, we shared her list of holiday gift picks at Gilt Taste. If you still would like a copy of the book, quickly head on over to the Changing Hands Bookstore/Chow Bella Book Club site for a link to a 20% off discount, before we announce next month's selection.

The meeting begins right after the jump. Spoiler alert!

It's been a while since I read Tender to the Bone, 5 years at least. So, I wondered if I'd needed a little refresher before starting in on her second memoir, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table. I didn't. Immediately, I remembered leaving off in her Berkeley commune and her beau Doug, her manic depressive, party loving, food torturing mother and her time at boarding school where she learned to speak French and was introduced to culinary delights such as the perfect soufflé.

I had a bit of apprehension in reading this since I knew it would take us through the world of restaurant critics and the fanatical fine dining culture. It's a world that I had worked in for years, through the back door selling things such as fountain cola, famously branded coffee and the rest of the equipment and tabletop items found in fine dining establishments. I've since become a mother and have nestled into home cooking and enjoy it more than going out, usually. Don't get me wrong, I love the theater of food, just not the pretension. I was afraid I might be rolling my eyes a bit at the idea of reading about the world of food sport and one-upping each other over obscure foods. I just want to enjoy eating with others and am curious about about people, and history and how all three are connected. Relieved, I learned that Reichl is quite the same. What I pleasantly found (as I did with Tender to the Bone) was an honest book about a person who truly lives for food (not necessarily someone who has a checklist), for adventure and for words. Much of her passionate living got her into quite a bit of trouble with her relationships. Her affairs that ultimately led to the demise of her long-time marriage to Doug and other adventures, were something out of a fiction novel. Skinny dipping at M.F.K. Fisher's retreat, flying all over the country and around the world in search of fabulous food stories, and becoming besties with Danny Kaye.

What I noticed is that while Reichl worked hard at her career, she loved hard, too. She deeply loved all the men (Doug, Colman and Michael), the baby she had to give up (my heart was broken when she had to give Gavi back), and the baby she tried so hard to conceive. I loved the way that she had to "sell herself" to each of the pregnant mothers (and the baby she'd hoped to care for one day) through what food might sound most desirable. No, Ruth eating Chilean Sea Bass wouldn't cut it, barbequed chicken was just right. Aren't you glad she didn't change her name to Tammy?

It was fun to read about her rise to stardom as a food writer, the opening of Wolfgang Puck's Chinois and his eccentric wife and her wild imagination that made her question (more than once) if she was in a dream or if what she'd just experienced had really happened.

I can't wait to make Danny's Lemon Pasta, and mushroom soup will never be the same for me, I'll always think of when Reichl and her dear Doug parted ways.

Those are just a few of my initial thoughts about the book - I'm finally ready to start Garlic and Sapphires. But I want to know what you think of Comfort Me with Apples?

Below you'll see a spot for comments. The meeting takes place right there. Share an insight, ask a question, like someone else's comment, give an opposing opinion, we'd like to know what you thought.

If you need a little direction, here are some questions to consider:

What do you think about Reichl's descriptions of food? Are her metaphors for food (eggs that taste like sunshine) perfect descriptions, or a bit too much?

Early in the book, one of her roommates responds to her new food critic job by saying "you're going to spend your life telling soiled, rich people where to eat too much obscene food?" That was back in the late 70s, do you think that still holds true today or do you think the food scene has changed?

Who'd like to go first?

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