Category Archives: New York City

Recipes from My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl: Cookbook Club #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

Something I’ve always thought would be fun would be a cookbook club where everyone would try a recipe from a cookbook, bring it to the meeting, and the group would talk about the good and bad of the cookbook, the recipes we tried, and the recipes we still wanted to try.

So I got the Good Taste Cookbook Club started at my library last September, and it’s going strong! Except for meeting every other month instead of monthly, it’s just like any other library book club, except that the books we read are cookbooks. Oh, and we also eat extremely well at every meeting!

book coverMy Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl was the January selection. It’s a combination memoir/cookbook that the longtime restaurant critic ended up writing after Gourmet – the magazine she had edited for ten years – was suddenly shut down, with everyone on staff laid off. Its format, design, and recipe layout are unusual for a cookbook (e.g. loose, conversational-style, sometimes inexact, instructions; ingredient lists divided into “Shopping List” and “Staples”; personal notes woven into the recipe directions) which some of the group didn’t care for, but others enjoyed.

“For the past six months, cooking had been my lifeline, and I was grateful for everything I had learned in the kitchen. Most cookbooks, I thought as I reached for an orange and began to squeeze it for juice, are in search of perfection, an attempt to constantly re-create the same good dishes. But you’re not a chef in your own kitchen, trying to please paying guests. You’re a traveler, following your own path, seeking adventure. I wanted to write about the fun of cooking, encourage people to take risks. Alone in the kitchen you are simply a cook, free to do anything you want. If it doesn’t work out – well, there’s always another meal” – My Kitchen Year

I made Lemon Panna Cotta for my contribution to the meeting, which was a very simple recipe from My Kitchen Year, having just three ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, and three lemons. As an example of the inexact directions, the recipe calls for the juice and zest of three lemons, but doesn’t tell you approximately how much juice and zest you should end up with. So I wondered if I had it right as I mixed the lemon juice and zest together and plopped it all into the hot cream, but the recipe worked – simple as it was! Even people who don’t particularly care for lemon desserts raved about it.

I put the Lemon Panna Cotta into plastic shot glasses for individual servings, with the remaining amount filling two ramekins. During the meeting, we discovered that it would probably be best kept refrigerated right up until serving time, because it got a little soupy in the bottom of the shot glasses. (The thinner layers in the ramekins seemed to stay firm, though.)

Lemon Panna Cotta in shot glass-sized servings
Lemon Panna Cotta just after being poured into the ramekin

I also wanted to try the recipe for Food Cart Curry Chicken before the cookbook club met, but didn’t have time, so my personal chef (aka Mr. BaystateRA) kindly made it for me. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was delicious! Mr. B. complained about grinding spices when we had ground spices in the spice cabinet already, but I think the extra work – his, that is – was definitely worth it, for the flavor explosion.)

served in the pans

I’ve read many of Ruth Reichl’s other books, including the novel she also worked on during this year of unemployment (Delicious!). My Kitchen Year is divided into seasons – Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer – and chronicles her time spent in two residences, a New York City apartment and a country home, upstate.

My Kitchen Year happened to resonate with me, personally, because I had an unexpected six months of unemployment starting in the late fall of last year, which caused me to reevaluate my career and how I spent my time. Like Ruth Reichl, who found so much comfort in the kitchen during her year at home while looking for new employment, I did more cooking than usual during those months and also found it soothing. Although, unlike Ruth Reichl, I didn’t write a book (much less a cookbook AND a novel) during my time of unemployment, I discovered that preparing healthful meals can be as relaxing as baking, and got a lot more creative with salads, so I count that as an overall plus.

Now, settled happily into my new job, I’ve been finding less time to cook and had also been going to the gym less often, but thanks to New Year’s resolutions and the encouragement of Joy Weese Moll’s Readers’ Workouts, I’m getting back into a gym routine and have now finally gotten back to Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads!

At our meeting to talk about My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, we sampled:

  • Anchovy Bread
  • Tuscan Bean Soup
  • Perfect Pound Cake
  • Banana Bread
  • Applesauce
  • Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice)
  • Beef, Wine and Onion Stew
  • Gingered Applesauce Cake Glazed with Caramel
  • Lemon Panna Cotta
  • New York Cheesecake
  • Bison Chili
  • Fried Chicken
  • Chicken Pate
  • Potatoes au Gratin
  • Custard in a Crust (Quiche)
  • Pickled Red Onions

Click to enlarge the pictures:

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.My

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Social (Media) Climbing: Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford (Audio) @MacmillanAudio

Image of audiobook on CD Everybody RiseEverybody Rise, a first novel by Brooklyn journalist Stephanie Clifford, was the hot book this summer — seen on bestseller and Best Beach Reads lists – then quickly incurring the inevitable backlash to the hype — because no book is liked by everyone, no matter how popular it gets.

Set in New York City before the 2008 economic crash, 26-year-old Evelyn — desperately resisting her class-conscious, nouveau riche mother’s urging to marry up and do it quickly – leverages her prep school alumna status to dump her mediocre post-college textbook marketing job to shill for an exclusive social media start-up — People Like Us — aimed at the beautiful people who appear in the Times‘ society pages, e.g. debutantes, former debutantes, family scions, eligible bachelors, etc.

Narrated wonderfully by Katherine Kellgren, the audiobook hooked me immediately, and should probably have gone on my 2015 list of favorite literary fiction on audio. Katherine Kellgren does all of the characters’ voices so well, but especially:

  • Evelyn’s mother (social snob with an undercurrent of neediness);
  • Evelyn’s prep school friend, Preston (drawling son of old money, with a strong whiff of despair);
  • Evelyn’s best prep school friend, Charlotte (brisk and practical, but sympathetic to friends who aren’t as well-adjusted);
  • Evelyn herself (smart enough to recognize her envy of upper-class privilege but not strong enough to resist it).

Listen to a spoiler-free AudioFile review and a clip from the audiobook on SoundCloud.

Will you love or hate this tragicomic story ? Try this infographic to help you decide!

send email to lauriec@baystatera.com for complete text of infographic

Well? Should you skip it or try it? Everybody tell!

Everybody Rise
Clifford, Stephanie (auth.)
Kellgren, Katherine (narr.)
Macmillan Audio
August 2015
9781427265272
12.5 hrs/11 CDs

Disclosure: I received a free advance review copy of this audiobook at a library conference last May, or possibly won it as a prize through Armchair BEA last spring.

Other opinions on the audiobook:
AudioFile (“splendid”)
Literate Housewife (“pleasantly surprised”)
Publishers Weekly (“marvelous narration”)

 

Deserves All the Big Praise It’s Getting: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

cover imageI’ve been very selfish with my library copy of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and so I need to bring it back today.

A Little Life is my #1 favorite book so far this year, and I had so many pages marked with Post-its that I had hoped to write a review that would convey the power of this 700+-page novel that pulls you in and keeps you there.

But looking through the passages I have marked, I realize they’re too long – each sentence depends too much on what comes before and after and a single thought is continued over several paragraphs, so you can read an excerpt from the book on the publisher’s Web site instead.

Although written by a woman (the author of The People in the Trees, which I haven’t read yet), A Little Life is about the friendship of four men who roomed together at a Boston-area college (unnamed), then moved to New York City, where two of them were from, and hung out together in various configurations and apartments over the following decades.

They talk a LOT, so there is a lot of passionate, intellectual conversation – with each other, and also with other people who become important in their lives over time – about art and life. What may seem like youthful self-centeredness early in the book (which might be annoy readers who were annoyed by The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – another long, very New York City, novel) is tempered by the overall tone of sad retrospection.

There’s a great deal of humor in A Little Life, but the compelling main character, Jude, has a hidden past, so even as people who come into his orbit are inevitably drawn to him, he tries to keep them from getting too close, which gives the whole story its air of tragedy.

If you like to get absorbed in big novels with lots of deep/witty conversation and observations about the lives of friends, family, and strangers seen on the subway, this is the book of the year for you!

A Little Life was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and is a finalist for this year’s National Book Award. (Winner to be announced Nov. 17th). It doesn’t come out in trade paperback until January 26, 2016, so you’ll have to put the hardcover on your holiday gift wish list.

A Little Life
Yanagihara, Hanya
Doubleday, 2015
978-0-385-53925-8
720 pp.
$30.00, U.S.

Other bloggers’ opinions (all excellent):
As the Crowe Flies (and Reads)
Book Chatter

Lonesome Reader
River City Reading