Amy’s Kitchen Year – Thank you Ruth Reichl
The other day I found myself telling a friend she needed to read Ruth Reichl’s book My Kitchen Year. While my friend loves to cook and eat, that wasn’t why I suggested she read it.
One fall morning last year I was lying in bed listening to the radio. I love to do that in the morning. I actually set my alarm for earlier than I need to so that I can listen to Matt Galloway and the Metro Morning crew. There is something so present and intimate about radio…but I digress. Anyway, Matt talked about a new book he had read. It was a cookbook, but not a cookbook. The author, Ruth Reichl wrote a book filled with stories, thoughts, and recipes after losing her job – she was the editor and chief of Gourmet Magazine and they shut down the whole operation in 2009. Something in the way he talked about it made me realize that I needed to read this book and I needed to read it right then.
Only a few month prior I had left a full time job. Leaving that job was very hard for me. While leaving was in many ways my choice, the motivation for that choice was self-preservation, and strangely I didn’t feel I had a choice at all. I needed to put myself first, to put myself in an environment where I could thrive. Problem was, I hadn’t found or created that environment yet. So, I found myself out of the frying pan and into…I don’t know what. It was this sentiment that I thought I would find expressed in Ruth Reichl’s book. The feeling of “so, now what?”
In the past few years I have learned a lot about how I think and problem solve. When I am faced with a big puzzle or conundrum that I can’t sort out immediately, I have to move to something else and let quieter parts of my brain work away at it. Cooking and baking have always been a great activity for this. Being in the kitchen is tactile and visceral. You are using all of your senses. Instinct pushes intellect to the side and in time you are left with clarity. I am amazed by the number of problems I have solved while in the kitchen. I don’t know that I could have put this into words so clearly without having read My Kitchen Year.
The book also addresses longing and loss, but not in the way you’d expect. This is about loss of identity and loss of purpose, of meaning, of legacy, of one’s place in the world. The company I worked for had been a part of my life – a big part – for 15 years. It was the longest adult relationship I’d ever had, and while there were ups and downs in that relationship, it was a part of me and losing that part felt strange.
What I think Ruth found, and what I have found, is that the kitchen is consoling, comforting, and inspiring. In the kitchen you can feel excited, proud, afraid, confident, nervous, joyful, enraged. You are alive in the kitchen. You see, you smell, you taste. Your hands are encountering new textures and you have to make decisions based on this. There is purpose in the kitchen. There is meaning. And I want the kitchen to help me find my place in the world, to help me make an impact. Ruth finished her kitchen year. I’m still in the middle of mine.
This month is proving to be thought provoking and challenging. Once a year Thom and I do a detox where we cut out certain foods and sadly – wine. It’s a challenge at the beginning but we always feel great mid-way through and are pleased we have done it at the end of the month. Usually when I am in the kitchen I am creating dishes that are rich, decadent, maybe not so good for me, but are wonderfully delicious. While I cook a lot of healthy foods (lots of fish and leafy greens!), I think butter is a key ingredient. But not this month. This month I have to look at food differently. I have to consider how the food I put in my body will make me feel, not just how it will taste. So, how to I want to feel? I want to feel vibrant, alive, energized, excited, and strong.
This mindset is causing me to think about what I am cooking in a way I never did before. I’m not just thinking about how I feel when I’m cooking, but also when I’m eating, and hours after that, and for the whole month. Beets, fish, brown rice, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beans…they can change how I feel.
Every time I put Ruth Reichl’s book back on the shelf, I find myself reaching for it again. It was the book I was meant to read at this time. I leafed through it the other night, not expecting to find any recipes I could make on my detox. The first page I opened to was page 118. Food cart curry chicken. I scanned the page. Everything in the recipe was on my detox and I had all the ingredients in the house. The next night, my house filled with the fragrant aroma of curry, I filled myself with a fantastic meal that made me feel vibrant, inspired, and happy. I will make this dish again. Every time I put this book back on the shelf, I find myself reaching for it again. It was the book I was meant to read at this time.
We all go through certain journeys in our lives and we read books to try to better understand the journey. I’ve read The Alchemist. I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve read Walt Whitman. I’ve thought a lot about the journey of my life. Once upon a time I thought I had to travel to understand my journey and I flew 6000 km to find myself. A week later I was miserable. I wound up getting sick, fainting on the Metro, and sitting in the emergency department with humourless French doctors. So, while I have learned new things about myself through travel, what I mainly learned is that I can’t travel to find myself. But in the kitchen…in the kitchen, I think there is a lot I can find.
Thank you Ruth Reichl for this book. The recipes are great, and it your journey in the kitchen that truly inspires me.