Friday, June 14, 2019

10 Questions, 1 Guilty Pleasure: Ruth Reichl with answers and a recipe for Blue Cheese to Drape on Spring Greens

Ruth Reichl at Ben Gable Savories, Chatham NY. Photo: Mary A. Nelen

Lunch with Ruth
Mary A. Nelen

Ruth Reichl’s most recent memoir, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, reached the top ten on the New York Times Bestseller List the week it came out. At that time, she was on a six-week book tour. 
“It was grueling,” said Reichl over lunch in the sun at Ben Gable Savories in Chatham last week. The author of five memoirs, numerous cookbooks, a novel (and a contract for two more books with Random House), she knows what it takes to sell a book. But even her stamina was strained under traveling conditions that contrasted greatly with her first-class status as editor of Gourmet Magazine.
In her decade in the velvet folds of Condé Nast, no expense was spared. In the beginning. Reichl had an office the size of a city block, a car and driver, a clothing allowance and a budget for hiring the best writers and photographers. But there was a learning curve; she'd never been in corporate management or edited anything but her own work. And, on her watch, magazine publishing began to lose advertising accounts to the internet. Reichl hung in there, enduring publisher after publisher, each with his or her own advertiser relationships. She was out of town on a video shoot when she was summoned back to New York, where she and her staff were convened by Si Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast Publications. To find out what he said, pick up a copy of the book, which offers a wild ride on the roller coaster that is high stakes print publishing in its final days, with the bonus of culinary excess portrayed in loving detail.  
Last week, upon her return from the book tour, Reichl joined neighbors at the Chatham Bookstore where she read from her tale of almost a decade at the helm of Gourmet. A week later, she joined Rural Intelligence for lunch just a few miles from her home overlooking the Taconic Mountain Range. It's where Ruth wrote Save Me the Plums, and My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life.
Reichl and family has been in the region for 25 years. When her son was young, the family came up to a cabin from NYC on weekends. Later, when the Condé Nast money came in, she had a house built.
“You get view lust when you’re here in the country,” she said, flashing a grin.  
A Q&A follows from the lunch, along with a recipe inspired by Reichl's trip to the farmers market early last Saturday morning. 
1. Are you a country or city mouse?
I love it here but I’m New York City through and through. I get more exercise in New York because I walk everywhere. My idea of a vacation is to wander a city, not to go hiking.
2. What food do you have to have when you get to NYC?
Papaya King hot dog. There’s one right in my neighborhood.
3. What’s it like to be famous?
I love it. Most people don’t recognize me and the ones who do are very nice. The other day in Guido’s a woman recognized me and asked me to give her some advice on preparing a cabbage she was holding.
4. Do you think kale is overrated?
I love kale. We get into these crazy phases. Kale was big for a while now it’s cauliflower. Kale got big when they introduced lacinato kale to the market with easy-to-remove ribs.
5. Who would you have play you in the movie version of your life?
Anne Hathaway. [She bought the rights to Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl's 2005 memoir about reviewing restaurants for The New York Times.]
6. What do you do when you are reviewing a restaurant and have nothing good to say?
Just say it, what ever it is, especially if it is a big established place. You want to tell them, “Come on, you guys can do better than that!”
7. What do you think of online cooking instruction where they show a single fry pan with prepped items being thrown in and the dish coming together in an instant?
Brilliant. I don’t like it when Julia Child takes you by the hand.
8. What is your guilty pleasure?
Onion rings.
9. Have you ever been to the Columbia County Fair?
Yes, we went every year with our son Nick when he was young. He stood right next to the blacksmith booth.
10. Should kids learn to cook early the way you did?
Absolutely. Most people don’t cook because they’re intimidated. But if you’re a kid you don’t know that you can make a mistake. People think everything you do is so adorable so it doesn’t occur to you to fail. Then kids think, “This is what I can do for applause!’

Ruth Reichl's Blue Cheese Dressing

One good thing about this cool spring is that it’s been kind to lettuces. Now is the time to get them; the ones in the market this week have been especially lovely. I like to gather a mix of red and green lettuces, some arugula and frisee, toss in a few sliced radishes and perhaps some spring onions (the tiny little scallions have also been very lovely). Then I make this simple dressing, which is substantial enough to turn the salad into a very satisfying meal. (Should you be a fan of iceberg lettuce, this dressing is also very good splashed across a crisp wedge.)
Directions: Smash a bit of garlic into the bottom of a bowl, sprinkle in some good salt and a few grindings of pepper. Add a handful of blue cheese — about a quarter cup — and smash that about until it’s become a paste and absorbed all the garlic and salt. Pour in a few tablespoons of good olive oil and some of the fantastic (and slightly sweet) apple cider vinegar from Carr’s Cider House.
I’ve never found another vinegar that works as well with this dressing, although you can certainly use any apple cider, rice wine, or white wine vinegar. The one thing you can’t use is red wine vinegar; it fights with the blue cheese.
Keep tasting and adding oil and vinegar until you’ve got a dressing that pleases you.