Ruth Reichl: A New Book And The End Of 'Gourmet'
The editor in chief of Gourmet joins Terry Gross to discuss the surprise announcement that the venerable magazine will publish its final edition in November. Along with recipes and regrets, she'll talk about her new recipe book, Gourmet Today.
Other segments from the episode on October 14, 2009
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. After years of wearing disguises in restaurants so she could review them for the New York Times without being recognized, Ruth Reichl left her position as the Times restaurant critic to become the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine. That was in 1999. As you've probably heard, the publisher, Conde Nast, recently announced it was folding Gourmet.
While editing the final edition of the magazine, just two years shy of what would have been the magazine's 70th anniversary, Reichl also published her new cookbook, "Gourmet Today." It features 1,000 recipes that were published in Gourmet over the last 10 years. And she has a new public television food series called "Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth," in which she travels around the world visiting cooking schools. It premieres Saturday.
We invited Ruth Reichl to talk about the end of Gourmet, some of her favorite recipes and her recent memoir about her mother called "Not Becoming My Mother." Ruth Reichl, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
Ms. RUTH REICHL (Editor-In-Chief, Gourmet Magazine; Author, "Not Becoming My Mother"): It's always great talking to you.
GROSS: I'm so sorry to hear about your magazine. I just want to say, you know, I have a copy of your new book "Gourmet Today" sitting right next to me, and I just noticed that there's a little sticker on it saying: Bonus, a subscription to Gourmet Magazine is included with the purchase of this book. See back flap for offer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Oh, how sad.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. REICHL: I know, it's very - there have been many ironies in this entire affair, one being that I was in the middle of a book tour for "Gourmet Today," which is a wonderful cookbook and didn't deserve to have this happen to it, when, you know, I found out that the magazine was being closed.
GROSS: How did you find out? Who made the call?
Ms. REICHL: Si Newhouse, who owns all of Advance Publications, told me that they had decided to cease publication immediately.
GROSS: And did you have to tell your staff?
Ms. REICHL: Yes, I did. And you know, and the corporate - you know, other people came down to tell the staff, too, but I told them before, and everybody was stunned. It - we - none of us saw this coming. You know, we knew that ads were bad. They have been - it's been a hard time industry-wide, and, you know, there was no arguing that the ad picture was really - had been really dismal. But I still thought that, you know, this is a magazine that had a circulation of almost a million and - devoted, devoted readers, and, you know, it has been an icon.
I mean, this is a magazine that's been around since 1941 and is a very different animal than most of the - than any of the other epicurean magazines out there. But I just couldn't imagine that the magazine itself would go away.
GROSS: What did you think separated Gourmet from other food magazines?
Ms. REICHL: This is really not a magazine that is just about recipes. It has always been a magazine that covers food as culture. It is the only one of the big epicurean magazines that covers politics and science and, you know, takes food as a whole world unto itself and takes it very seriously. And, you know, we did a lot of serious journalism and a lot of, you know, really great writing.
And, you know, for instance, a couple years ago, we did a Latino issue that, you know, had wonderful pieces by people like Junot Diaz in it, and I just don't think that any of the other epicureans would seriously cover something like that in a way that transcended just recipes. I mean, we had lots of great recipes, but we also had, you know, wonderful writers. And oddly, one of the responses to that issue was people writing in and saying don't put your politics into your magazine. And I realized that the whole immigration issue is such a hot button for people that, I mean, it's a proof that food actually is political.
You know, we also did a piece just this past year on tomato workers in Florida who were virtual slaves, and as a result of that article, the situation changed. You know, you wouldn't see the other epicurean magazines doing that kind of thing.
GROSS: Was an emphasis on food politics and sustainability issues something that you brought to the magazine?
Ms. REICHL: Yes, definitely. I mean, it's an interest of mine. I wanted to broaden what an epicurean magazine could be. I have always felt that food is one prism for looking at the world, and I wanted to take it all. And in my first year, one of the first things we did was a whole issue about farms. And we did land trusts and, you know, what it's like to be a farmer in America today, and that was definitely - that was new territory for the magazine, but the culture was not.
I mean, there had always been great writers in this magazine. You know, I'm very proud of the piece we published by David Foster Wallace that, you know, shocked people. It was a piece about lobsters and what they feel when they go into the pot, but something that, you know, any serious cook thinks about. I mean, you put that lobster into the pot, and there is that moment when you realize you have a living creature in your hand. And I wasn't sure how Gourmet readers would respond to that, but, you know, it was overwhelmingly positive, and I thought oh, good, bioethics. This is an interesting subject to cover.
GROSS: So November is the last issue of Gourmet, which means it's coming out in a few days, basically.
Ms. REICHL: That's right. Yes.
GROSS: Did you know that was the last issue when you were putting it together?
Ms. REICHL: No. Oh, no. If I had known that, we would have done things quite differently. You know, that's...
GROSS: That must be heartbreaking, that you didn't get a chance to do a last issue that knew it was that.
Ms. REICHL: Yes. Yes, it is. It's very hard to think that, you know, that one is the last, and I just would have done things so much differently had I known. But it's still - you know, it's still an issue I'm very proud of, but, you know, I would have written a different editor's letter.
GROSS: What do you think you would have said?
Ms. REICHL: I think I would have said how proud I was of this magazine and how proud I was of this group of people. I mean, it - working there, it was the best job I've ever had. You know, one of the great things about Conde Nast is that they really, when they trust you, they let you do - well, at least they used to. You know, they completely let me do the magazine I wanted to do and hire the people I wanted to hire.
There was no second-guessing anything that I did for 10 years, and it was an extraordinary kind of freedom. And it was a wonderful group of people that I was working with, very - it was a very collaborative process.
GROSS: Since your new book is a collection of recipes from "Gourmet Today," let's talk a little bit about food and recipes. I'm kind of dreading winter because I just, like, I prefer to be warm than cold. So I want you to suggest, like, a wonderful winter dish to look forward to in winter.
Ms. REICHL: How about garlic-roasted pork shoulder?
GROSS: Hm. It wasn't what I was thinking, but it sounds good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: How would you prepare it?
Ms. REICHL: It's actually very simple. I mean, the thing that's wonderful about this is now you can get pork that really has fat in it, and you marinate it...
GROSS: That's a good thing in a world where we're told eat low-fat, cut off the fat. Fatty pork is what we want?
Ms. REICHL: Yeah, well, heritage pork had fat, and all the flavor in meat is in the fat, and so this new lean pork doesn't have a lot of flavor. But if you get, you know, a real piece of a real pig, and you marinate it for a day in garlic, and it's very simple, and pork shoulder is an inexpensive cut. And basically, you just throw it in the oven and it comes out with this crackly skin and this delicious, garlicky meat.
But if that doesn't appeal to you, one of my favorite fall dishes is a - you take a whole pumpkin and you hollow it out, and you fill it with slices of good bread and grated cheese, and then you make a mixture of half-and-half and chicken stock. And you fill it up, and you put the whole thing in the oven. And so when it comes out, it's got its own tureen. It's this gorgeous pumpkin, and it's so delicious.
GROSS: So, whoa, it's weird. It's like a cream of chicken bread soup in a pumpkin?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. REICHL: But the pumpkin is part of it. When you serve it, you scoop it all out. So you get these big hunks of pumpkin with this nice, gooey melted cheese.
GROSS: Oh, that actually sounds delicious - weird, but delicious.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. REICHL: It's not weird. It's really delicious, and it's - you know, it's a beautiful, sassy dish.
GROSS: Now that there's such concern about over-fishing in the oceans and also concern about fishes that have mercury or other toxins, what fish do you eat? How do you decide what fish to buy?
Ms. REICHL: It's a really good question, and it's one of the things we deal with a lot in "Gourmet Today." The first thing you do is you go to one of the Web sites like the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Blue Ocean Institute, and you look for what's sustainable now.
The odd thing about fish is that they go in and out of sustainability. So something that is okay to eat today may not be three weeks from now. So the first thing is just to go there and look. And the second thing is to go to your fish market and ask a lot of questions. Where was this caught? How was it caught? And I think it's really important for us all to be very vigilant about doing this.
If they're selling something that shouldn't be there, like Chilean sea bass, which is really endangered, ask them: Why are you selling this? You shouldn't be selling this. I mean, do you want to be the person who sells the last piece of Chilean sea bass on the face of the earth?
And, you know, it's something that - it behooves us to be really careful about this, because if we want our children to have fish, we'd better leave some for them.
GROSS: There's a type of tilapia that's farmed, but it's farmed in a sustainable way. So if you can get your hands on good, sustainable tilapia, do you have a good suggestion of how to make it tasty?
Ms. REICHL: I have to admit that tilapia is not my favorite fish, but there's a very simple recipe that we do, that we just steam it with ginger and scallions. It's a very light preparation, and it works with any firm fish. It's a kind of - you can do one of two things. You can put it in a steamer, or you can actually wrap it up in a piece of parchment paper so it has its own little steam case, and, you know, just ginger and scallions, a little bit of soy sauce if you want, really simple. And it makes any fish taste good.
GROSS: My guest is Ruth Reichl. She's been the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine for the last 10 years. The November edition is the magazine's final one. Reichl's new book features a thousand recipes from the last 10 years of Gourmet. It's called "Gourmet Today." We'll talk about her memoir, "Not Becoming My Mother," after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Ruth, you have a memoir that you published recently. It's really about your mother's life, not your own, although you figure into it, and it's called "Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way." And for people who've been following your writing over the years, they know that your mother was bipolar, that your mother was what you call food-blind, that she would serve the most horrible combinations of food, like chocolate over meat, with the meat gone bad. And she couldn't tell the difference between, you know, tasty food and horrible food or food that was good and food that was moldy.
But your new book is a real change in direction. Your new book is really your mother's story from papers that she wrote, you know, letters, journals. So I just want to start with this question. The title is "Not Becoming My Mother." Now, your mother had bipolar, so, obviously, you wouldn't want to become that aspect of her, but that title resonates. I think there are so many women who, if they were writing a memoir, could have used this title, "Not Becoming My Mother." Why do you think that that is an expression that so many people will relate to?
Ms. REICHL: Well, I think that there are so many of us whose mothers had very sad lives. And, you know, what I discovered with my mother was that she was thwarted in every possible way, and her - what she wanted for me was not to become her. She wanted more for me, and I think that there are many, many women whose mothers dreamt that their daughters would have better lives and pushed them towards that. And, you know, this book came out of a speech that I gave, and when I looked up, there were people all over the room crying and saying that's my mother you talked about. You know, my mother was smart, educated and bored to death, and...
GROSS: You write in your book that you're grateful not to be any of the women of your mother's generation, who were unlucky enough to have been born in what seems to me to have been the worst possible time to have been a middle-class woman. When was your mother born, so we can get a sense of what her generation was?
Ms. REICHL: She was born in 1908.
GROSS: And why do you think that was the worst possible time to have been a middle-class woman?
Ms. REICHL: Well, you have to remember what happened during my mother's lifetime. Women got the vote. Women were supposedly emancipated, but there was nobody to tell them what that meant or how to do it. I mean, it was a very fast transition from women being essentially the chattel of their husbands to being independent creatures, and so many of them were educated for the first time. It was, you know, really the first generation of women who became doctors and lawyers, or at least had the promise of becoming doctors and lawyers.
But the changes were very slow in coming, and so I just can't imagine anything more frustrating than sort of having this dangling out there, this promise of you can fulfill yourself, you can go out there and do great things, and then being held back.
And on top of that, you had what happened after World War II, where, you know, women went into the workforce and proved to be really competent and then were told to go home and tie on their aprons and give the jobs back to the guys.
GROSS: I think one of the things that I find most interesting about your book "Not Becoming My Mother" is that you had always assumed, understandably, that your mother's sadness - and there were months when she'd hardly get out of bed - had to do with the fact that she had bipolar disorder, and her depressions were extreme and disabling. But you found a lot of sadness that had to do with life experiences and with the confined roles of women, as opposed to just, you know, as opposed to being about mental illness. So it seems to me that that must have been a real revelation to you.
Ms. REICHL: It was a huge revelation, and she was - I mean, what I discovered was this young girl who was vibrant and, you know, who was extraordinarily intelligent and was not unhappy, and this bipolar illness happened much later.
GROSS: You found something your mother wrote, in which she said: I hope Ruthie - meaning you - I hope Ruthie won't rush into marriage the way I did that first time. Your mother was married twice. I felt so desperate, and I wanted someone to lean on. My parents thought that I needed to be married, but was that really true? What if I had never married? Would my life have been better?
Did you have any idea before you read this that your mother had thought that maybe she shouldn't have married?
Ms. REICHL: None. None. I mean, my parents actually had a very good marriage, and I know she loved my father, and I was shocked when I found that. But I understood that she really thought that if she hadn't been married, she would've had to support herself, and she would have fulfilled herself in some way that she never could.
GROSS: And then she wrote about the time between her first and second marriages, her first marriage and then her marriage to your father. She wrote: I finally found myself in New York, and I actually began to like myself a little. And for the first time in my life, men liked me, too.
So there seemed to be that period where she felt independent and good and then got married again and didn't feel so good, I guess.
Ms. REICHL: And then, after my father died, she was very, very depressed for a few years, and then she really found herself, and as a very old lady, as an independent person, let herself be everything she'd ever wanted to be. And it was so touching to me to discover this final happiness of my mother's and, you know, to see that she stopped caring.
Well, as she said, she got her own mother out of her head. I know for me, there was that moment where she writes: My mother has been dead for 25 years. Why am I still letting her tell me what to do? And she just exorcised her mother and let herself be herself. And part of it was she believed that we were put on this earth to help each other, and she wanted to be useful. And she did become useful.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Ruth Reichl. After serving as The New York Times restaurant critic, she became editor in chief of Gourmet magazine in 1999. The magazine is now folding. Reichl has a new cookbook called "Gourmet Today."
When we left off, we were talking about her latest memoir, "Not Becoming My Mother." In her previous memoirs, she wrote kind of comically about her mother's inedible cooking, which was related to her bipolar disorder. In Reichl's new book, she reconsiders her late mother's life and the reasons for her depression, based on her mother's journals and letters, which Reichl recently discovered. One of the things she learned was that her mother had problems with her own mother.
I think with a lot of daughters it's impossible to see your mother cry without becoming overwhelmed by sadness yourself or maybe crying yourself, because even during periods when you're not getting along with your mother, there's this kind of connection, this like emotional connection that I think a lot of us have felt, where you just - like if your mother's crying - like you can't - you are too.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: It's like impossible not to. Did you go through that? And reading, like reading this book, did it make you like so sad to see how sad your mother sometimes was - because of social things, because of her confined roles, because of her insecurities about who she was?
Ms. REICHL: Writing this book was the hardest thing I've ever done. Reading through these papers was excruciating, and I cried every day. I mean there were days when I would just go storming out of my studio saying, I can't do this. It's just too hard. It's - she's too sad.
And there's always that feeling as a child that somehow you ought to be able to fix your mother, that if you did the right thing she wouldn't be so sad. And I felt it even in retrospect, that you know, somehow I should have been able to make her feel better. And of course what I'm reading, as I'm going through her papers, is how generous she was to me, how protective she was of me, how much she didn't want me to go through what she went through.
GROSS: Let me just read an example of what you're talking about. Your mother had been told as a teenager that she was too homely to be successful and then she writes: How could I feel good about myself when the self-image my mother gave me was that I was sloppy, inefficient, homely, ungraceful, and ungracious? I carried that person around for so many years. I want to protect Ruthie -that's you - I want to protect Ruthie from that. It's so hard to watch Ruthie going through this because I know exactly what she's feeling. I wish I could send her to the hairdresser, have her nose fixed, or buy a dress that will make her graceful. I know that none of that will work. All I can offer her is hope. It's one thing my parents didn't do for me.
Did she offer you hope?
Ms. REICHL: She really did. I mean she, she told me that when I found myself, I would be beautiful. And she gave me this idea of beauty as something that reflects your self-confidence and your knowledge in yourself, and she just kept promising me, I know - I mean I was really a horror as a teenager. I think, you know, probably most of us are. But she just kept assuring me over and over again, I promise you, you will be beautiful.
And she told me this fairy tale of this time between her marriages, when she became happy, found herself, and looked in the mirror one day and realized she wasn't that homely creature her parents had told her she was.
GROSS: When you read the part that says I wish I could have her nose fixed, did you think, oh my god, she thought I needed a nose job?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. REICHL: It didn't surprise me. I do have a rather large nose.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: So she told you that when you found yourself, you'd be beautiful. But when you found yourself, you became a feminist, you were running a collective restaurant in Berkeley. Was that her idea of how you should find yourself? Did she object to the things that were actually enabling you to feel good about yourself and to live the life that led to the life you live now, as one of the best-known food writers and editors in America?
Ms. REICHL: You know, she totally objected. She was horrified by what she had wrought. I mean I did everything that she had sort of given me permission not to do. I got married really young and she, you know, kept saying, why are you getting married? You don't have to get married. And then I went off and lived this alternative life and, you know, I was running a restaurant. She said, is this what we sent you to graduate school for? I mean, she was horrified. And then I think also something that I think many mothers struggle with, with their daughters, I think she was a little jealous that I had a kind of freedom she had never had. And that...
GROSS: Did you feel that, that she was jealous?
Ms. REICHL: Yeah. I did.
GROSS: What gave you that sense?
Ms. REICHL: I don't know. I just felt it. You know, I felt that she was so unhappy after I left home and so nasty after I left home that, you know, it was clear that she just thought it wasn't fair. I mean how could get to do what I wanted to do when she had never been able to do that?
GROSS: Now, I want to read something that really kills me that your mother wrote, and this is something you referred to a little earlier. In her late 70s she wrote: My mother is dead. It's time I stop letting her tell me how to live. Why should I care what she thinks? I have so little time.
It's like your mother was realizing in her own way that she was about not becoming her mother.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: You know? Like the title of - like your mother had gone through something like what you went through. Was that a revelation?
Ms. REICHL: That was a complete revelation. I mean that's what I saw, was that she finally realized that her mother had expected her to live out her mother's dreams, and it was what she tried not to do for me. She tried to let me have my own dreams and I did not know that she had had this incredible struggle with her mother, both spoken and silent.
GROSS: I just want to say, you know, she wanted you to have your own dreams, but then she objected to you actually living out what was your dream.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: That's the kind of contradiction I guess is familiar to a lot of people.
Ms. REICHL: Yeah. I mean, you know, these relationships with - between mothers and daughters are very complicated and I think they're especially complicated for my generation, because we do have this great disparity of opportunity between the two generations.
GROSS: Right. Right. Like your mother felt that marriage was what she needed to do and she gave up other things that she maybe preferred to do, whereas you really had a choice. So...
Ms. REICHL: I mean she really wanted to be a doctor and they said absolutely not, and that just wouldn't have happened to someone of my generation.
GROSS: Who's the "they"?
Ms. REICHL: Her parents.
Ms. REICHL: Her parents wouldn't hear of it. I mean it's just - it's completely out of the question.
GROSS: When you read your mother saying, you know, that she wanted to stop letting her mother tell her how to live, because your mother was already in her 70s, her own mother was long dead, was that liberating? Because it meant that you - she was giving you the right to silence her negative voice when you needed to.
Ms. REICHL: Oh yeah. I mean all of this - all of these revelations about my mother were liberating. But I have to say that the most liberating part was just discovering how happy she figured out how to make herself at the very end, and when she finally comes to the realization that you are the only one who can make yourself happy, and that's the real liberation there, that, you know, there's just no point in trying to make anyone else happy. You know, it's - and your happiness is just - is going to come from within.
GROSS: I think this is the final thing that she wrote, and this was after your father died. She wrote: I am not going to lower my sights. I'm going to live up to the best in myself, even if it means some painful changes. I am no longer afraid.
How old was she when she wrote that?
Ms. REICHL: Seventy-eight, I think.
Ms. REICHL: I mean I...
GROSS: How old was she when she died?
Ms. REICHL: Eighty-four, I think.
GROSS: So did she live out that promise to herself?
Ms. REICHL: She really did. She became the most outrageously wonderful old lady. I mean, she took people in. And after the book came out, I started hearing from some of these people who she took into her house. I mean she'd go out in the street and meet, you know, strangers in the park and bring them home for dinner, and took in - filled her house with young people - nurtured them, took care of ailing friends, traveled...
GROSS: When you say young people, do you mean young homeless people who she found or...
Ms. REICHL: No. Not - no. You know, she - I grew up in the Village so she was, you know, near NYU.
Ms. REICHL: And she rented out part of the apartment to students and sort of became surrogate parent...
GROSS: I see.
Ms. REICHL: ...to these people, but was, you know, was very nurturing. I mean, you know, someone wrote me and said, you know, your mother made me like myself for the first time, you know, told me not to listen to any - to anybody else and that I, you know, needed to listen to myself, and she was the most wonderful person I ever met in my life. And this is a completely different vision of my mother than I'd ever had.
GROSS: Right. You didn't think of her as particularly nurturing.
Ms. REICHL: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: But you also write that when your mother found out that you and your brother could not keep from treating her like the old mom she used to be, she simply cut us loose. What does that mean that she cut you loose?
Ms. REICHL: Well, she just, she had been very clingy and dependent on us, and at the end of her life she just sort of went her own way. I mean she just decided to live her own life and she didn't come and visit all the time as she had done in the past or ask us to visit her all the time. She became an independent person and it wasn't that she, you know, had nothing to do with us anymore, but she sort of moved on to take care of herself and she didn't need our vision of her in front of her. And so - I mean, it was a huge relief. I mean she'd been so dependent for such a long time after my father died and then suddenly she just went off and lived her life.
GROSS: My guest is Ruth Reichl. Her latest memoir is called "Not Becoming My Mother." She also has a new cookbook called "Gourmet Today."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Ruth Reichl. We're talking about her memoir "Not Becoming My Mother." She also has a new cookbook called "Gourmet Today." She's been the editor in chief of Gourmet magazine for the past 10 years. Its final edition is the November issue.
In previous books, your mother was not as sympathetic a figure as she is in this one. Do you regret anything that you'd written in the previous books?
Ms. REICHL: I do sometimes. On the other hand, you know, that's all true, and you know, she was a wonderful character. But there are times when I wish I had not exposed her quite so much in the other books.
GROSS: Was she alive when you wrote any of those books?
Ms. REICHL: No, no, no. I could not have written any of those books if she'd been alive.
GROSS: Now, do you ever worry that your son - let me preface this by reminding our listeners the title of your book about your mother is "Not Becoming My Mother." Do you ever worry that your son might be capable of writing a memoir, "Not Becoming My Parents"?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. REICHL: Oh, I'm sure he is - and you know, I mean I think like all parents, I'm very curious to know his side of the story. I think our relationship is quite different than my relationship with my parents. But I'm sure it's not as rosy as I imagine it is.
GROSS: I remember that when you left the New York Times to take the job as editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine, one of the reasons why you did it was that you wanted to be home for dinner with your son. You wanted to be able to prepare meals for him as opposed to eating out at restaurants every night. So looking back on that period of his life - he's in college now and doesn't live at home. Do I have that right?
Ms. REICHL: That's right.
GROSS: So looking back on the period of life when you were able to make dinner for your son and maybe for you husband too, was that good?
Ms. REICHL: It was the best period of my life, I think. I mean it was - cooking dinner every night for my family was, it just - it felt so great. And you know, I realized that I should have done it earlier, that family dinner was hugely important for all three of us. I think, you know, Nick would tell you that...
GROSS: That's your son.
Ms. REICHL: That's my son - would tell you that, you know, our life as a family changed enormously when we started staying home for dinner. And, you know, I would come home from work, and, you know, he'd come into the kitchen and help me chop. And, you know, Michael would stand there, and it was a wonderful time. And we had these dinners that when, you know, not that they were fancy dinners, but we would sit there talking for hours, long after the food was gone. And, you know, it's when we all sort of really entered each other's lives in a really profound way. Because, you know, when your kid comes home from school and you say, what did you do in school today? What you usually get is, nothing. But if you're sitting at the table and you talk about what your day at work was like and then suddenly he starts telling you stories about what his day is like.
GROSS: So, how were you able to get home in time for dinner as editor in chief of Gourmet? I mean, that's a pretty demanding job.
Ms. REICHL: It is. But, you know, I walked out the door, you know, not - I didn't come home to make big fancy dinners. I often didn't get home till 7:00 or 7:30 but I still, you know, got dinner on the table very quickly. You know, the thing about cooking and it's the big - I think the big misapprehension that people have is that cooking is time consuming. The shopping part is the time consuming. I mean, the part where you're sitting around saying what are we going to have for dinner tonight is very time consuming. I mean, if it's 4 o'clock and you're in your office and you haven't figured out what you're having for dinner tonight, the battle's half lost. So, what I would do was on the weekends I would take, you know, a couple of hours on Sunday, to figure out what we were doing that week and I'd shop for it. So, when I got home I knew what I was going to cook and everything that I needed cook was there.
GROSS: Give us an example or two of a dish that both your husband and your son would want to eat, and that you'd want to eat, too, that was easy to prepare and quick to prepare after coming home from work at 7:00 or 7:30.
Ms. REICHL: Okay. Actually, there's a recipe in "Gourmet Today" that's called spiced chicken and it's - you basically take chicken pieces, you can use breasts if you want. I tend to use legs and thighs. And you make a mixture of, I call it the four Cs - it's chili, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon. And you mix it with a little oil and you put it on and pat it all over the chicken and you pan sear it. And then you put half a cup of water and you throw it in the oven for 20 minutes or so. And, I mean, so this takes maybe eight minutes of active time. It's really delicious. It's nutritious. It's low fat. You make that. You make a little bit of rice. You make a salad. You've got dinner on the table in under half an hour. And it's delicious.
GROSS: Does the house smell good after it?
Ms. REICHL: And the house smells great because you got all those spices in there. And it's no work.
GROSS: Give us like one more example of a good, easy-to-cook family dinner when you get home late.
Ms. REICHL: Well, this is actually not in "Gourmet Today." This is my favorite go-to meal and I actually have the recipe in "Garlic and Sapphires," spaghetti carbonara, you know, it's just in the time that the spaghetti is cooking it's done. I mean, it's basically, bacon, eggs, parmesan cheese and spaghetti. And it's wonderful, satisfying, delicious. I had a little girl come up to me at a book signing recently and ask me to sign that page. She was 8 years old and she said, this is my favorite dish on the planet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: So, how do you prepare the bacon and the cheese, you know, while the spaghetti...
Ms. REICHL: You just - you cut up the bacon, you chop it up into little pieces. You put it in a pan till it gets crisp. I put a garlic clove in there just to flavor it a little, take that out. When the spaghetti is cooked, you, depending on how much pasta there is, you break an egg or two into it, the egg cooks on the - when it hits the hot pasta, you throw the bacon on top of it. You grate some parmesan cheese on - bingo.
GROSS: It sounds really good.
Ms. REICHL: It's really good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. REICHL: It's really good. It's basically, you know, bacon and eggs, Italian style.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Ruth Reichl, it's been great just to talk with you. Thank you so much.
Ms. REICHL: Thank you. It's always great to talk to you.
GROSS: Ruth Reichl's latest memoir is called "Not Becoming My Mother." Her new cookbook is called "Gourmet Today." She's been the editor in chief of Gourmet magazine for the past 10 years; the final edition is the November issue. Reichl's new public TV series, "Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth" premieres Saturday. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Tad Friend is a staff writer for the New Yorker. But by birth, Friend is also the uneasy member of another kind of elite club: he's a purebred WASP. Friend's new memoir, "Cheerful Money," reflects on his WASP heritage. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN: F. Scott Fitzgerald was, of course, right. The rich are different from you and me, and not just because, as Hemingway said in his famous slapdown of that remark, they have more money. For me, the difference was clarified many years ago by a cocktail appetizer. I was teaching at a college on Philadelphia's WASPy Main Line and one evening, I was summoned to a cocktail reception for the college's visiting trustees. At least the food and drinks will be good, I thought. I was half right. The top-shelf liquor flowed freely, but the only food I remember was an appetizer consisting of a limp, glistening bacon strip, wrapped around a chestnut and secured with a toothpick. What was this? On the rare occasions that my blue collar family entertained, my mother anxiously served appetizers on celery stalks and saltines topped with American cheese slices. At least they were edible. But the difference was the manner in which these grotesque, bacon chestnut pellets were offered. As though all of us at the reception were above food and other pedestrian bodily necessities. As though, if need be, we could live for decades stoked only by clever remarks and gin fumes.
Like Fitzgerald, Tad Friend finds the ways of the rich, specifically the WASP rich, to be infinitely mysterious and romantic. Friend has a leg up on Fitzgerald, however, because he was born one of them, a purebred son of old money, someone whose birthright gave him entree to elite schools and summers at the family cottages in the Hamptons and Vermont, where in one, the mouseholes in a mattress were stuffed with back issues of Country Life magazine. Fortunately, for literature, if not for Friend personally, the piles of cash and cachet accumulated by his robber baron forefathers have largely evaporated, just as WASPs themselves have waned in power as the ruling class in this country.
Friend's memoir, called "Cheerful Money," is a droll, psychologically astute and sometimes nostalgic look backward at the WASP world that was. Friend does much more here than just crack exquisite, Bertie Wooster-ish jokes at the expense of his bloodlines. He takes readers on an anthropological journey deep into the consciousness of a class. And in so doing, mulls over the question of whether all those motley, ancestral genes have mattered more than he would like to think in shaping his life and identity. At the beginning of his memoir, Tad Friend supplies an extended family tree, full of androgynously named relatives, that allows him to structure his story in chapter-length visits backwards and forwards among members of the clan.
Friend's father, Dorie, served for a time as president of Swarthmore College. Friend describes him as sporting an Easter Island-size head, stuffed with knowledge. His mother, Elizabeth, known as Lib, came in second to Sylvia Plath in a poetry contest at Smith, judged by W.H. Auden. In retelling the story of that near-myth, she would demonstrate the brittle brio for which WASPs are noted, by saying: Just as well I didn't win, head in the oven and so forth. Throughout the memoir, Friend points to himself and his family to bolster the many crisp generalizations he makes about WASPs. For instance, in mulling over his early writing career and the WASP aversion to surrendering oneself completely, Friend says, I felt uncomfortable thinking of myself as a writer or an artist.
Serious art, rife with feeling and conflict, is not encouraged among WASPs. Andrew Wyeth's painting, "Christina's World," is about as near as we care to get to the abyss. But it's the WASP trait that Friend identifies as most defining, that is, his feelings of disconnection from his parents and his subsequent disconnection from the many women he dates, that compel him to spend all his lovely trust fund money in psychotherapy. As befits a WASP to the manner born, Friend tells his personal and familial tale without self-pity. Recognizing that it's his inherited duty to entertain and amuse his audience, even as he's occasionally serving up grisly confessions and nut-hard kernels of emotional truth.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor," by Tad Friend.
Singer Al Martino, who was born in Philadelphia and was a friend of Mario Lanza, died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 82. His most popular records included "Volare," "Cara Mia," and "Here in My Heart." But to many people, he was best known for playing the part of the Vegas entertainer, Johnny Fontane, in "The Godfather." We'll close with his performance in the film.
I'm Terry Gross.
Mr. AL MARTINO (Actor, Singer): (as Johnny Fontane) (Singing in foreign language)
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