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Four-course reading

Interesting and evocative food memoirs


Four-course reading
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Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl: Reichl was the restaurant critic at The New York Times before becoming editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine in the late 1990s. The magazine at that time had become stodgy and boring, but its rich history hinted at possibilities. Reichl had never edited a magazine, but she brought creativity and a love of food to the task. Here she describes the excitement of reimagining the magazine and putting together a team to do it. She puts the story in its historical context: Publisher Condé Nast had a deep pocketed owner, S.I. Newhouse, and Manhattan was flowing in money. That would soon change. Reichl’s engaging account of the rebirth and death of Gourmet comes with recipes—and a few obscenities.


Frontier Follies by Ree Drummond: Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, is a Food Network star and cookbook writer. Here she writes about everyday life on the Oklahoma ranch where she lives with her husband. Her stories span 25 years, so her four children, now mostly grown, also figure prominently. Drummond’s breezy, informal style and her lists, charts, and recipes make this a fast read. Fans will enjoy the backstage view of her life—mess-ups as well as successes. She writes about marriage, childbirth, parenting, homeschooling, and teaching children at her Presbyterian church. She also writes about subjects peculiar to ranch life: skunks, the odd UPS delivery, and bull calf castration, along with jokes about “calf nuts” and the unwelcome bits that end up in the laundry afterward.


Flat Broke With Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha: The Great Recession upended the lives of Jennifer McGaha and her accountant husband. They already had debts, but the recession damaged his part-time real estate and accounting businesses. Then came the big discovery: He had failed to pay income taxes for several years. No longer able to afford the mortgage on their house outside Asheville, they let it go into foreclosure and moved to an old cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina. This book describes how they overcame broken trust while adjusting to a challenging rural life with its snakes, goats, and frequent setbacks. McGaha mixes some New Agey meditations, recipes, and occasional foul language with her vivid descriptions of life in rural Appalachia.


Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin: Martin had a hard early life: Her father abandoned the family, her mother lost custody of her two children, and Sasha and her brother ended up in a foster family. Her brother committed suicide. Sasha lived with the foster family in Europe, acted out, and moved back to the United States. She graduated college and attended cooking school. An internship brought her to Tulsa, Okla., where she fell in love and embarked on a project: cooking a meal from every country in the world. The project led to this engaging memoir with recipes. In it Martin depicts the joy and chaos of her early life. She shows the power of food to break down barriers, arouse an appetite for adventure, cultivate community, and fix up a fractured family.


Susan Olasky

Susan is a book reviewer, story coach, feature writer, and editor for WORLD. She has authored eight historical novels for children and teaches twice a year at World Journalism Institute. Susan resides with her husband, Marvin, in Austin, Texas.

@susanolasky

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