Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl picked through a box of notes and letters her mother wrote throughout life as fodder for her new memoir, Not Becoming My Mother, out this week. Like many in her generation of middle-class American women, Reichl’s mother, Miriam, was “Smart, educated, and bored.” You won’t find any good recipes, though. Reichl calls Miriam “the world’s worst cook; I learned to cook in self-defense. One of the reasons I stopped being a restaurant critic was so I could start cooking again.” You can read about some of her favorite recipes to prepare — when not hunting for ethnic street eats or poaching eclectic mouthfuls from the Gourmet test kitchen — in this week’s New York Diet.
Saturday, April 18
On Saturday I was in L.A. For lunch, first I drove over to Yuca’s, this taco stand I love, and had a bean and cheese burrito and a cochinita pibil taco. Cochinita pibil is this Yucatecan way of cooking pork where it’s marinated in orange and achiote, and wrapped in banana leaves. It’s sort of a Mexican version of pulled pork; really good.
I took a walk around Rancho Park with a friend, and around two we went to this new restaurant called Huckleberry with a group of friends. We got this whole heap of food. They do all kinds of amazing baked goods: a croissant with bacon that was great, and really good doughnuts. I had an egg sandwich. You order your food and they bring it to your table. I think we pretty much ordered everything. I had fresh-squeezed orange juice and a cappuccino with an extra shot of coffee in it.
I was in L.A. for a fund-raiser for the Chez Panisse Foundation. Scott Peacock had come from Atlanta to cook, and it was the most amazing meal, spectacularly wonderful. It was all Southern food. He started with deep-fried Jerusalem artichokes, sesame wafers with a crab paste on top, and little pimento-cheese sandwiches. He did this amazing seven-layer salad with all kinds of vegetables. The main course was the single best fried chicken I’ve ever had cooked in a mixture of lard and butter with fresh peas cooked in pork stock, dumplings, incredible biscuits, and buttery carrots. This was at the home of a great wine collector and he was serving the most extraordinary wines. The amazing one was an ‘82 Le Pin, a legendary wine I’ve never tasted before. They only produce 800 cases. It was such a treat. I didn’t eat the desserts, I have to admit. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and I just kept eating chicken. I thought, I’ll just have another chicken leg — who needs dessert?
Sunday, April 19
My flight was at noon, so I went to the Beverly Hills farmers’ market and stocked up on food for the flight. I got homemade soft pretzels, bacon and cheese [bread sticks] with a croissant dough, dried apricots, a big bag of Satsuma tangerines, and spinach and feta turnovers. I got a box of strawberries that I just ate standing because I couldn’t resist them and I knew they wouldn’t travel well. I also got a bottle of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. I drank that there, too.
It was late by the time I got home at 11, but I was hungry and there was nobody else home. I made spaghetti Carbonara and a salad with lettuce and watercress in a vinaigrette. I had some white wine.
Monday, April 20
I had a budget meeting first thing in the morning, so I needed to eat breakfast. I had some frozen pork and chive dumpling from Super Taste in Chinatown, so I cooked up a bunch for myself. I had really good artisanal Japanese soy sauce with that. Of course I had coffee. I take milk and sugar. I know I shouldn’t admit that, but it’s true. I brew Shapiro’s at home. I grew up on 10th Street and I used to pass Shapiro’s every day on my way to school and they moved. I discovered that they still roast their coffee upstate, so I bring it back from my place upstate. I love their Viennese roast.
After my meeting I went down to the test kitchen. Paul was testing brown-butter scrambled eggs, so I had some of those. And Tina was testing chocolate cake, so I had some of that. It was a deep, dark chocolate cake with light chocolate frosting.
I worked for a while, then it was time for lunch, so I went down to the Halal Curry Chicken on 43rd and Sixth. I always get the chicken with white rice, all the vegetables, extra red sauce, and no white sauce. I really like spicy food.
After that, I went down to the kitchen a couple of times. We were testing some food from Susan Feniger’s new restaurant in L.A. This tapioca fry thing that she does is gooey and crispy. It’s got garlic and peanuts and all these amazing textures. It was very controversial: Half of us loved it and half of us loathed it. I was definitely on the love side. The other thing I had was an avocado crème brûlée that was off-the-charts amazing.
I was speaking at the Y, so right before I went on I had a banana.
After I spoke, this woman came up while I was signing books and gave me some coconut macaroons in all different flavors from her business, Biscoche. They were lovely.
When I finished, my husband and I went to Elio’s, the night of the incredible storm. I had baked clams to start, a chopped Caesar salad, and veal piccata and spinach. We had a bottle of Arneis.
Tuesday, April 21
For breakfast I had some of the dried apricots I brought back from California, coffee, and a sesame bagel from Zabar’s with cream cheese and Nova Scotia salmon.
For lunch, I went to Minar, a little Indian cafeteria. I had a Mysore masala dosa covered with red pepper. It’s filled with a potato mixture and comes with a chutney on the side.
In the test kitchen, we’ve been shooting cookies all week, so after lunch I was munching around on cookies. And we were cooking tongue in the kitchen, which was great. I made myself a little sandwich. Paul was testing a pear clafoutis, so I had some of that.
I got back home Tuesday night and cooked a very straightforward dinner: a roast chicken with potatoes and onions and garlic thrown in the bottom of the pan. I take the fat off of the chicken and stuff it under the skin and coat it in olive oil with salt and pepper. If I have herbs I’ll use them, but I didn’t have any. And I made a watercress purée. It’s watercress briefly cooked with some potatoes and put in the food processor with butter and salt and pepper. Watercress is so much easier to wash than spinach. I usually dust a little Parmesan cheese on top, too. We had a bottle of Grüner Veltliner. Going against everything I’ve said about not having a sweet tooth, we actually had Häagen-Dazs passion-fruit ice cream. I have developed a passion for this ice cream.
Wednesday, April 22
I knew I was giving a speech, so I made matzo brei for myself and my husband. Matzo, eggs, butter; true, solid comfort food to me. I had fresh orange juice and coffee.
For lunch, I did this speech at the University Club. It was so sweet; they made the entire menu out of the May issue of Gourmet. They made this Italian salad that’s got fennel and tomatoes. They did a really good job with it. They made the tortilla chicken with potatoes and cilantro-lime mayonnaise. And they made walnut pie from the Périgord.
I came back to the test kitchen and they were making a wonderful Chinatown kind of tripe with sesame oil and parsley, and a brown-butter sugar cake. We’re testing a bunch of brown-butter recipes.
I had a couple of tangerines at my desk. New ones somebody gave me.
Last night, we went to dinner at Pearl Oyster Bar. I had my classic meal: a bucket of steamers, half a Caesar salad, steamed lobster, corn pudding, and a praline sundae. There’s something so satisfying about pulling a lobster apart, you eat every little tiny leg and chew on everything so when you’re done there’s nothing but empty shell. I like the tomalley and all the little knuckle-y parts. I usually end up taking the claws and the tail home to make something the next night, like lobster fried rice or lobster omelets in the morning. They open a few bottles of white wine every night and I just said "bring me the driest thing you’re pouring."
Thursday, April 23
I didn’t eat breakfast. I had coffee and orange juice. I just went down into the kitchen and ate the most delicious tongue tacos with guajillo salsa. I am going out to lunch with my former publisher, who has a surprise planned. He’s taking me to 46th and Tenth. He said “You haven’t been here and I’m not telling you where we’re going.” I’ll let you know.
UPDATE: Reichl e-mailed this morning to reveal her lunch surprise. "We went to 44 & X; we had watercress, Asian pear, fig, and Brie salad in tamarind dressing. And fried chicken with waffles and collards. Then we went up to Dousoeur (652 Tenth Ave., at 46th St.; 646-596-3460), a sweet little bakery on 46th Street, and bought some gorgeous pastries."