Comfort Me with Banana Bread: An Evening with Ruth Reichl

Being obsessed with all things food-related, I pretty much leapt at the chance when my co-worker (who writes her own fabulous blog, Peaches to Apples) invited me to a talk being given by Ruth Reichl at the Upper West Side JCC. Ms. Reichl is, of course, the former Editor in Chief of the much-beloved and much-missed Gourmet magazine, which was shuttered by its parent company, Conde Nast, in 2008. This abrupt end to the 70 year old magazine, and the turbulent and emotional year that followed, is the subject of Ms. Reichl's new book, "My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life." I truly believe in the therapeutic power of food, and of the act of cooking, so I was eager to hear what she had to say.

Ruth_Cookbook

First things first: I don't know where it was coming from or what it was, but when we walked into the JCC we were practically knocked on our asses by the smell of melted chocolate. I have no idea what it was, but it was so irresistible and overwhelming that I thought for a minute of abandoning the lecture altogether in favor of hunting down the source. Resilient blogger that I am, however, I persevered and was rewarded for these trials with a promise of samples of Ruth's banana bread following the discussion.

I tried to take notes during the talk, but I have to admit, it was difficult at times because I found it so engrossing. I did manage to write down a few quotes, though:

  • "Cooking really saved my life... cooking for the people I loved got me back to a places of sanity."

  • "You can tell a lot about a person by the way they eat... I see the world food-first."

  • "Peanut Butter & Jelly is one of the truly great unsung American foods."

  • "I think the secret to life is finding joy in very simple things, and that's what my Twitter is about. I hope that's what the cookbook is about. There are a million reasons to be miserable every day, it's not hard to be in despair."

Ruth_Discussion

It really was a fascinating discussion, and a lot of what was said really resonated with me. Ms. Reichl managed to speak, far more eloquently than I ever could, to the emotional power of food, and of cooking. In our society, I think the stigmas around eating and around truly enjoying food have the power to be harmful, scarring even. So it was wonderful and refreshing to listen to someone speak about how food can also be a source of joy, and how the kitchen can be a place of healing. It was deeply comforting, to be quite honest. It also made me really hungry.

I enjoyed the discussion so much, in fact, that I broke one of my most steadfast rules (no audience participation, ever - don’t ask me to explain, I just really hate it) to ask a question during the Q&A at the end. I was curious to know about one of her favorite food memories. She shared a lovely story about her honeymoon on Crete, and going to a restaurant that was actually no more than a small stone cottage, where the food was prepared by a little old lady who pulled the vegetables straight from the ground, the fish right out of the water. I would in no way be able to do justice here, so I won't even try.

I rewarded myself for my bit of bravery with several slices of the aforementioned banana bread, and man oh man was it good. Then again, if you can't depend on Ruth Reichl to have a good banana bread recipe, I don't know what you can count on in this crazy crazy world. I also indulged by purchasing her cookbook, and getting it signed. I asked her to make it out to both me and my mother, in part because my mom shares Ruth's very emotional view of cooking and i'm weird and sentimental like that, but also because I have really limited shelf space in my apartment so this book might end up in my mother's kitchen at some point.

Ruth_Autograph