20 Books of Summer, #13–14: Ruth Reichl and Alice Steinbach

Just three weeks remain in this challenge. I’m reading another four books towards it, and have two more to pick up during our mini-break to Devon and Dorset this coming weekend. A few of my choices are long and/or slow-moving reads, though, so I have a feeling I’ll be reading right down to the wire…

Today I have another two memoirs linked by France and its cuisine.


Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl (1998)

(20 Books of Summer, #13) I’ve read Reichl’s memoirs out of order, starting with Garlic and Sapphires (2005), about her time as a New York Times food critic, and moving on to Comfort Me with Apples (2001), about her involvement in California foodie culture in the 1970s–80s. Whether because I’d been primed by the disclaimer in the author’s note (“I have occasionally embroidered. I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story”) or not, I sensed that certain characters and scenes were exaggerated here. Although I didn’t enjoy her memoir of her first 30 years as much as either of the other two I’d read, it was still worth reading.

The cover image is a genuine photograph taken by Reichl’s German immigrant father, book designer Ernst Reichl, in 1955. Early on, Reichl had to fend for herself in the kitchen: her bipolar mother hoarded discount food even it was moldy, so the family quickly learned to avoid her dishes made with ingredients that were well past their best. Like Eric Asimov and Anthony Bourdain, whose memoirs I’ve also reviewed this summer, Reichl got turned on to food by a top-notch meal in France. Food was a form of self-expression as well as an emotional crutch in many situations to come: during boarding school in Montreal, her rebellious high school years, and while living off of trendy grains and Dumpster finds at a co-op in Berkeley.

Reichl worked with food in many ways during her twenties. She was a waitress during college in Michigan, and a restaurant collective co-owner in California; she gave cooking lessons; she catered parties; and she finally embarked on a career as a restaurant critic. Her travels took her to France (summer camp counselor; later, wine aficionado), Morocco (with her college roommate), and Crete (a honeymoon visit to her favorite professor). Raised in New York City, she makes her way back there frequently, too. Overall, the book felt a bit scattered to me, with few if any recipes that I would choose to make, and the relationship with a mentally ill mother was so fraught that I will probably avoid Reichl’s two later books focusing on her mother.

Source: Awesomebooks.com

My rating:


Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach (2004)

(20 Books of Summer, #14) Steinbach makes a repeat appearance in my summer reading docket: her 2000 travel book Without Reservations was one of my 2018 selections. In that book, she took a sabbatical during her 50s to explore Paris, England, and Italy. Here she continues her efforts at lifelong learning by taking up some sort of lessons everywhere she goes. The long first section sees her back in Paris, enrolling at the Hotel Ritz’s Escoffier École de Gastronomie Française. She’s self-conscious about having joined late, being older than the other students and having to rely on the translator rather than the chef’s instructions, but she’s determined to keep up as the class makes omelettes, roast quail and desserts.

Full disclosure: I’ve only read the first chapter for now as it’s the only one directly relevant to food – in others she takes dance lessons in Japan, studies art in Cuba, trains Border collies in Scotland, etc. – but I was enjoying it and will go back to it before the end of the year.

Source: Free bookshop

19 responses

  1. Hmm. Given that I’m still not reading as much as I normally do in non-Covid times, I think these won’t make the cut. Thanks for helping me out here!


    1. I would recommend the other two Reichl memoirs I mention above rather than this one, and Steinbach’s previous book was a joy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OK, I’ll add them to the list. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hope you enjoy your mini-break! I don’t think food lit is a sub-genre I will be exploring, but glad to hear you liked these two.


    1. It’s weird how much I love reading ‘foodoirs’ (foodie memoirs) given that I don’t cook! Steinbach has a line about that if I can remember to quote it at the end of my summer challenge.

      How are you doing on your 20?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve read 15, currently reading #16-#18!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Both of Steinbach’s books sound like fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely! She’s very plucky, travelling alone and seeking out new experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well done on the challenge – I’m about to start my last book but still have four to review. Think I’ll make it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I thought I was doing OK but have got stalled by review books, which I haven’t counted. Might have to switch a big fat Persephone for a Dean Street Press!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There would be no problem with calling a review book one of the 20! I’ve done plenty of swaps so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve only read Reichl’s lates, Save Me the Plums and I really enjoyed hearing about her career, so I think I’m more likely to pick up her other recent books that you liked, rather than this memoir of her earlier life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good call. I’m keen to read her latest one, too.


  7. […] in several other books I’ve reviewed this summer: Kitchen Confidential, How to Love Wine and Tender at the Bone). After his mother’s death, the extended family relocates to London and then to provincial […]


  8. […] connections with my other summer reading: there are mentions of both Eric Asimov and Ruth Reichl visiting Babbo in their capacity as food critics for the New York […]


  9. I’ve not read either author but have vaguely considered Reichl and definitely want to read Without Reservations. Love that the photo on the cover of the Reichl book is for reals!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love discovering that what could be a stock photo is a real one. My library copy of Maid by Stephanie Land has a real picture of her daughter on the cover, for instance. Definitely try Reichl, but probably a different book. Garlic and Sapphires is good fun what with the disguises and other lengths she went to to not be noticed as a food critic at restaurants.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Reservations. Here she sets off on a journey of discovery and lifelong learning. I included the first essay, about enrolling in cooking lessons in Paris, in my foodie 20 Books of Summer 2020. In other […]


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