Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table is a biography of a poor little rich girl, one who was sent off to boarding school and sailed off to Europe. It is also the story of a hippie living freely in the 1970s, shocking society with her blindness to skin color and normal conventions. It is the story of a child dealing with a parent with mental illness. It is the story of a girl learning to cook first at home (disastrous), then at her father's first wife's mother's house (yes, you read that convoluted relationship correctly). It is also the story of a food writer in the making.
While Reichl came from some degree of wealth, her tone is never pretentious. Instead, she writes candidly about her life in New York City and about her mother's madness, which colored every day of her life. She forgoes some of the privilege she enjoyed as a child in order to escape for periods of time: to the University of Michigan for college, to Europe as a newlywed, to Berkeley as a commune-living chef.
Reichl's relationship with food is a constant in her life, from the molded hors d'oeuvres her mother serves at parties to the wine she tastes in Europe on a buying trip with her local wine seller. Food is more than just food to Reichl; instead, it is a part of her life she can control, one that she can depend on. It is perhaps the thing she relies on the most, the ability of food to please and to comfort as long as one uses fresh ingredients and treats them well.
Often foodie memoirs are not noted for their literary merit, but Reichl manages to both write about her life and food and to do it extremely well. The pages of Tender at the Bone are sprinkled with well-tested recipes, but Reichl's true ability is in her impeccable word choice, her ability to write prose about food and make it sound like poetry.
THE SWALLOW'S PORK AND TOMATILLO STEW
1/4 c vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 lbs lean pork, cut in cubes
1 bottle dark beer
12 oz orange juice
1 lb tomatillos, quartered
1 lb Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 14-oz can black beans
Juice of 1 lime
1 c sour cream
Heat oil in large casserole. Add garlic cloves. Add pork, in batches so as not to crowd, and brown on all sides. Remove pork as the pieces get brown and add salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, put beer and OJ in another pot. Add tomatillos and tomatoes, bring to a boil, lower heat, and cooke about 20min or until tomatillos are soft. Set aside.
When all pork is browned, pour off all but about a tablespoon of the oil in the pan. Add coarsely chopped onions and cook about 8min, or until soft. Stir, scraping up bits of meat. Add chopped cilantro and pepper and salt to taste.
Put pork pack into pan. Add tomatillo mixture and chopped jalapenos. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover partially and cook about 2 hours.
Taste for seasoning. Add black beans and cook 10min more.
Stir lime juice into sour cream.
Serve chili with rice, with sour-cream/lime juice mixture on side as a topping.
-- Ruth Reichl, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table (p.230)
This post is part of the Beth Fish Reads weekly series, Weekend Cooking. BFR describes Weekend Cooking as a place for "anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs." To read more food-related posts from the past week, visit this week's Weekend Cooking post.