Twenty five guests were coming to my place. On the eve of the Chinese New Year dinner party, I went shopping at the grocers nearby for additional sets of spoons and forks. There are three grocery stores within less than fifteen minutes drive from where I reside. Amongst the limited selections at these grocery stores, I had to make a snap decision. When I was at one of the stores, as I skimmed through quickly the section where the cutleries were displayed, a young boy around eleven years old stood in front of the section where ice cream scoops were placed and he turned to his parents who were with him.
“What’s the matter?” asked the mother of the boy.
“ It is so hard to scoop the ice cream with a spoon . We should get one of these.”
“ Don’t eat then,” his mother responded.
At home , after taking the ice cream tub out from the freezer, I usually leave the ice cream out for a few minutes. Not only it makes it easier to scoop out chunks of ice cream, I find that I can taste its flavour and texture better. I wonder if the mother would subsequently explain to the child that if you leave the ice cream out for a little while, it would be easier to dish out the ice cream.
Years ago, when I first read Garlic and Sapphires, I enjoyed Ruth Reichl’s food writing so much that I had to get Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples. When I read that Reichl was going to try her hand at fiction, I awaited the publication with much anticipation and when I eventually got hold of the novel, Delicious, I was delighted. I then realized that I have bought too many books that I wanted to get through so I was no longer enthusiastic about stories which centre around food. I enjoy reading memoirs and that is probably the primary reason that I find Ruth’s earlier books engaging and delightfully delicious.
Reichl’s debut novel is a fiction about Billie Breslin who has traveled to New York to take up a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York but the publication is abruptly shut down soon after she has started working. While the colourful staff at Delicious have to move on to other jobs, Billie has been retained to uphold the “Delicious Guarantee” – a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries. When she stays behind in the magazine’s deserted downtown mansion office, she stumbles upon a secret room hidden in the magazine’s library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a twelve year old who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. When she first interviews for the position at the food magazine, she is asked to cook for the editor and that sends her into a full- blown panic attack. She then makes a real impression with her amazing gingerbread, its recipe is provided by Ruth Reichl at the end of the novel. Billy is one of those gifted foodie who is described to have the perfect palate but due to some issues of her own, she has lost her urge to cook.
“ Taste this.” Thursday thrust a large wooden spoon into my mouth. Her eyes watches closely as I swallowed. She has fed me a fluffy cloud, no more than pure texture, but as it evaporated it left a trail of flavor in its wake.
“ Lemon peel,” I said, “Parmesan, saffron, spinach.” She held out another spoonful, and this time, at the very end, I tasted just a touch …something lemony but neither lemon or verbena. It had a faint cinnamon tinge . “ Curry leaf!”
“ I’m impressed.” Her hands were on her slim hips and her voice was – what? Sarcastic? “ But I didn’t mean it as a test. I just wanted to see if I’m getting anywhere with this new gnocchi.”
“That’s an amazing combination. The saffron’s brilliant – it gives it such a sunny flavor. But what made you use curry leaf ? I never would have thought of that .”
“ It kind of came to me at the last minute. So you think it works?”
“ Yes ! But maybe you should use a little more?”
Through her prose, Reichl once again conveys the pleasure and comforts of food and how in the face of darkness and loss, food can make life endlessly delicious even when the going gets tough. Is that why there are so many food reality television shows going on that makes food seem like such a complicated subject? Delicious is a food novel that depicts food adventure as magical and it tells a story about how food can connect people and help Billie and Lulu heal their pains and confront their past. Ruth Reichl’s passion for food is infectious.