I recently savored two books, both mash-ups of memoir and cookbook. The first was Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti, and then, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl.
Like so many young authors today, Cara Nicoletti’s career as an author began with her blog Yummy Books, an outlet for her passion for literature and food. In her debut collection of essays, Voracious, Nicoletti shares some of her favorite books and the impact they have had on her life, emotionally and gastronomically. Each essay pairs a book with a food from that book, and ends with a recipe. The writing is nostalgic and very personal and we learn a lot about Nicoletti as a precocious, imaginative child who treasures books and the worlds they open for her, and we get to know the adventurous adult with a passion for food.
I liked a lot about Voracious. I got excited when reading about the books that I, too, remember because of the food (Homer Price and the malfunctioning donut machine, as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s vivid descriptions of simple, homemade meals), and I liked the author’s sometimes strange sense of humor (the inclusion of The Silence of the Lambs with a recipe for Crostini with Fava Bean and Chicken Liver Mousses). But I especially liked the more touching essays such as the one for Where the Red Fern Grows in which she writes about having to look after a decrepit golden retriever while babysitting and the grief felt by the mother when the dog passes away. Another of my favorite essays has Nicoletti contemplating leaving the harshness of New York City, just as Joan Didion did with “Goodbye to All That” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, but unlike Didion, she decides to stay and celebrates by grilling summer peaches with friends on a rooftop overlooking Manhattan.
The writing is definitely the best thing about Voracious, but aesthetically it is also very nice with delicate, watercolor illustrations and quality, smooth, white paper that make this book a keepsake.
Ruth Reichl is a food critic, author, and the last editor of Gourmet magazine. In her new book, My Kitchen Year, she takes readers through the emotional year following the demise of Gourmet. The end of the iconic magazine was swift and unexpected, leaving Reichl unmoored and unsure what to do next. She spends the first weeks on an awkward book tour promoting a Gourmet cookbook, answering the same questions, “What Happened?” and “What are you going to do now?” Soon the tour is over and she finds herself with no job and no plans, so she does what she has always done when faced with uncertainty, retreats into the kitchen.
Reichl’s essays are short diary entries, each one prefaced by a haiku-like Tweet that she apparently posted on Twitter that year, and followed by a recipe, some for simple fare, but many for dishes fitting of a former editor of Gourmet. The book is filled with color photographs, mostly of delicious looking dishes, but also of the Berkshire Mountains and Reichl cooking or writing,
Voracious and My Kitchen Year are very similar in structure, and I would recommend both, but I found Voracious much more relatable and can see myself going back to it after a time to reread. I enjoyed reading about Reichl spending the winter in her home in the Berkshires and about her shopping trips to the market in New York City to pick up Asian eggplant or a ball of mozzarella di bufala, but I was taking pleasure from reading about something very removed from my life.
In the end, I found I enjoyed reading about a woman that escapes into books in Voracious and escaping into another world myself in My Kitchen Year.