Tag Archives: food

#19: Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

Memoir.  Food.  Mental illness.

I liked this book before I even started reading it.

Reichl tells her life story through recopies and food, and it’s a great way to do it.   Everyone remembers a great meal and everyone really remembers a horrible one.

Reichl opens with her mother’s kitchen – disorganized,  chaotic, unsafe, and probably going to make someone sick.  Turns out her mom’s head is the same.  It’s in and around 1960 and Lithium hasn’t entered into the Reichl household yet.  Reichl and her father live around Miriam’s moods and whims.

But this book is about more than mom.  Reichl recreates important moments in her life and how they all trace back to food.  School, college, travels, love, work… they all wind up with a recipe and often a painful life lesson.

She describes food in the most loving and sensual ways.   I’m a vegetarian and skipped over most of the recipes but I still enjoyed her descriptions of food because she was so delighted with those first tastes.  My favorite part was the first time she had real French food at a friend’s house in Montreal.  (Reichl  mentioned that she wished she spoke French to keep her mom’s good mood going at a meal one night.  Her mom shipped her off to boarding school a few months later thinking that was what she wanted.)  As she sits through a decadent meal, her friend’s father is delighted that she loves to eat and that she appreciates gourmet food.  He continues to feed her and she describes these first tastes vividly.  These are the types of descriptions that make ordinary writers grow increasingly frustrated as they desperately try to find the right words.  I wouldn’t have eaten any of it, but I enjoyed how much she enjoyed it.

As Reichl gets older she cooks because she loves it and because her friends want her to.  Her parents leave her on her own and she has no other skill to fall back on.  As she navigates the universal fun of growing up and figuring out life, she’s always in the kitchen and food always gets her to the next phase.

Like most memoirs, there were parts where I wanted to shake her because I wanted her to make better decisions.  And then I wanted to shake myself because I know I would have done the exact same thing.  I love relating to a book this strongly, fiction or not.  Her mother especially infuriated me because she used her mental illness to control and manipulate the family.  I had to keep reminding myself of the time period.

I will definitely be reading her other books, especially the ones where she explores her relationship with her mom and learns more about who she was.