Garlic and Sapphires in the Boonies

I just finished reading Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir by Ruth Reichl.

(In case that title looks a bit familiar to you, Ms. Reichl borrowed the phrase from a poem by T. S. Eliot called Burnt Norton. The phrase goes: “Garlic and sapphires in the mud/Clot the bedded axle-tree./The trilling wire in the blood/Sings below inveterate scars/Appeasing long forgotten wars.” I spent an hour this morning trying to read something else that would help me understand this, and after my (sort of extensive) research, I can report that no one who thinks they know what it means,  seems to agree with anyone else who thinks they know what it means. Therefore, I’m going to go with: “It’s a striking and surprising piece of imagery, that is probably too deep for me, but I like it anyway.”)

Garlic and Sapphires is the third book of memoirs that Ruth Reichl has written.  I have had the pleasure of reading all three.The earlier two were, respectively, Tender at the Bone,  and Comfort Me with Apples.

Ruth Reichl is a fascinating woman. She was a chef in the Berkeley, California area during the era when the American food revolution took off. Talk about being in the right place, at the right time!  She has been the restaurant critic for both the LA Times and the New York Times. And, she used to be the editor-in-chief for the now defunct but much mourned (by me, at least) Gourmet magazine. Condé Nast decided to jettson Gourmet a couple of years ago as the economy was tanking, and when advertisers started buying fewer ads. More’s the pity, since the magazine was just reaching its zenith, and its subscription rate had never been higher.  Anyway, Miss Reichl is an amazing writer, and she gives fabulous recipes in all her books, so I’m pretty much a fan of most things that she’s been involved with, up to this point.

In this book, Ms. Reichl tells the story of how she left the LA Times, and came to the NY Times, and about her career there. On her flight from LA into NY to take the new job, she learned from the woman seated beside her on the airplane (who happened to work in a NY restaurant), that the nicer restaurants in town were already on the lookout for her. Restaurant managers circulated her picture amongst their staff, and told them to be watching for her, so that they might offer her the very best service, in hopes of securing a glowing review. Good reviews from the Times meant big bucks to the reviewed restaurants, of course. So, Ms. Reichl decided to go to these restaurants in disguise. She began purchasing wigs and clothing and making up imaginary life stories in regard to the characters she was portraying. And in the process of trying on the identities of other people, she learned a great deal about herself.

I’ll give away no more of the story, apart from saying it was a wonderful,  insightful read. Ms. Reichl is a wordsmith to her core, and her descriptions of food delight and inspire me. I know many of my blogging friends take great joy in savoring an elegant turn of phrase. I urge you to check out this book, and her other two memoirs as well They are first rate reads for the refined taste of the discerning reader, or those of us who fancy ourselves as having gourmand proclivities.


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