Sunday, May 18, 2014

Delicious Ruth

Today I checked off number 23 on my ever-growing
 bucket list,
"Hear Ruth Reichl speak."

Actually, I still hope to hear her lecture one day.
Or how amazing would it be if she gave some sort of workshop?!
But today was amazing in its own right.

I went to Chino Farms and had her sign my copy of her novel, Delicious.

She got up at one point and told a story:  how back in the '70's Chino Farms was unique, and she wanted to thank them.
The farm-to-table idea was a novelty then.  The Slow Food Movement hadn't happened yet. Sustainability wasn't a buzz word.
But fresh, local, seasonal produce needed cheerleaders.
The decades of transporting unripened fruit to market left people believing fruits and vegetables were supposed to taste like cardboard.
Chino Farms helped remind people of the true bounty of the harvest, demonstrating how sun-ripened produce is bursting with juice, fragrance, flavor.

Ms. Reichl wanted to learn more about the farm and write about it, but the Chinos said, "we don't talk to the media".
Not giving up, and hoping to get in the back door, Reichl called Alice Waters, asking if she could tag along with her on a trip to get supplies for Chez Panisse.

They spent two glorious days on the farm, learning about the methods, and participating in a tasting/rating of 40 tomatoes.
On the flight back to San Francisco,  they each carried a flat of strawberries on their laps (back when you could do things like that.  I carried a box of coral on my lap after a trip to Jamaica), destined to evolve into dessert at the restaurant.
These berries weren't the tasteless monstrosities so often in stores (even at that time), but juicy and fragrant--so fragrant the entire plane was perfumed, and repeatedly, passengers started coming up begging for a taste.

I love the way Reichl describes smells and sights.
I've read all of her culinary memoirs, and especially loved Garlic and Sapphires, stories of her stint as a food critic for the Los Angeles Times, then the New York Times, before tackling the role of editor-in-chief at Gourmet Magazine.
Ah, Gourmet.
Conde Nast really screwed up when they decided to ditch Gourmet in favor of just having Bon Appetit, as if the latter were good enough to placate food fans.
Not even close.
But I digress.
I am still sad Gourmet Magazine closed along with its brilliant television series on PBS, Diary of a Foodie.
That series completely transformed how I think about food quality and source.

Today, while we waited for Reichl to sign our books, we were given fresh squeezed juice or infused water, and strawberry shortcake.

In addition to the regular farm stand, they had beautiful things for sale.
I bought rainbow eggs, a baguette, and some squash.

Everything is so perfectly beautiful.  I love the assortment of edible flowers.
Reichl described how she was in Seattle in 2009, on a book tour promoting Gourmet's cookbook, when her boss called to ask her to come back to New York.
Um, what?
She and her staff were informed the magazine was shutting its doors.
As co-workers packed up and moved on to look for other jobs, she was still under contract to finish the book tour.
It was an odd time, she said, understandably.
She came back to an empty space, broken chairs, items looted, photographs in the trash, the kitchen filled with spoiled food...and a whole lot of sadness.

She had locked the library before resuming the tour, so it was safely undisturbed.
She went inside and came across a file of letters from readers.
She said they were mostly insignificant--complaints, recipe requests, etcetera.
But in a moment of inspiration, she sat down and wrote the letters from Lulu that appear in this current novel.
The letters she wished she had found.
The letters she wished someone had written.
It was the first spark that would become Delicious.


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