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Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table [Paperback]

Ruth Reichl
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 25 2010 Random House Reader's Circle

At an early age, Ruth Reichl discovered that "food could be a way of making sense of the world. . . . If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were." Her deliciously crafted memoir, Tender at the Bone, is the story of a life determined, enhanced, and defined in equal measure by a passion for food, unforgettable people, and the love of tales well told.  Beginning with Reichl's mother, the notorious food-poisoner known as the Queen of Mold, Reichl introduces us to the fascinating characters who shaped her world and her tastes, from the gourmand Monsieur du Croix, who served Reichl her first soufflé, to those at her politically correct table in Berkeley who championed the organic food revolution in the 1970s.  Spiced with Reichl's infectious humor and sprinkled with her favorite recipes, Tender at the Bone is a witty and compelling chronicle of a culinary sensualist's coming-of-age.

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From Amazon

New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl shares lessons learned at the hands (and kitchen counters) of family members and friends throughout her life, from growing up with her taste-blind mother to the comfort of cream puffs while away at boarding school on "Mars" (Montreal seemed just as far away) to her most memorable meal, taken on a mountainside in Greece.

Her stories shine with the voices and recipes of those she has encountered on the way, such as her Aunt Birdie's maid and companion, Alice, who first taught Reichl both the power of cooking and how to make perfect apple dumplings; the family's mysterious patrician housekeeper, Mrs. Peavey, who always remembered to make extra pastry for the beef Wellington; Serafina, the college roommate with whom Reichl explored a time of protest and political and personal discovery; and, finally, cookbook author Marion Cunningham, who, after tales of her midlife struggles and transformation, gave Reichl the strength to overcome her own anxieties.

Reichl's wry and gentle humor pervades the book, and makes readers feel as if they're right at the table, laughing at one great story after another (and delighting in a gourmet meal at the same time, of course). Reichl's narrative of a life lived and remembered through the palate will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Reichl discovered early on that since she wasn't "pretty or funny or sexy," she could attract friends with food instead. But that initiative isn't likely to secure her an audience for her chaotic, self-satisfied memoirs, although her restaurant reviews in the New York Times are popular. Reichl's knack for describing food gives one a new appreciation for the pleasures of the table, as when she writes here: "There were eggplants the color of amethysts and plates of sliced salami and bresaola that looked like stacks of rose petals left to dry." But when she is recalling her life, she seems unable to judge what's interesting. Raised in Manhattan and Connecticut by a docile father who was a book designer and a mother who suffered from manic depression, Reichl enjoyed such middle-class perks as a Christmas in Paris when she was 13 and high school in Canada to learn French. But her mother was a blight, whom Reichl disdains to the discomfort of the reader who wonders if she exaggerates. The author studied at the University of Michigan, earned a graduate degree in art history, married a sculptor named Doug, lived in a loft in Manhattan's Bowery and then with friends bought a 17-room "cottage" in Berkeley, Calif., which turned into a commune so self-consciously offbeat that their Thanksgiving feast one year was prepared from throwaways found in a supermarket dumpster. Seasoning her memoir with recipes, Reichl takes us only through the 1970s, which seems like an arbitrary cutoff, and one hopes the years that followed were more engaging than the era recreated here.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
Ruth Reichl is one of the most influential figures in American culinary journalism today, as Editor in Chief of 'Gourmet' magazine for the last several years. Her influence may not be as great as that of Craig Claiborne, but that was probably a once and gone opportunity. The American culinary scene is too big for any one or two people to dominate it the way Claiborne and Beard did in the 1960's, 70's and 80's.
This book, 'Tender at the Bone' is the first of two memoirs by Reichl. Their charm will be eagerly anticipated by anyone who reads Reichl's monthly editor's column in 'Gourmet'. These two books are cut from the same primal stuff, with the additional spice of material too personal to warrant the pages of a national magazine.
Reichl grew up with a mother with habits which offer as compelling a motive to land in the food business as the very skillful cook / hospitality businesswoman who bore James Beard. In Reichl's case, her mother was just the opposite. She was quite capable of serving food so poorly preserved as to poison her guests. Reichl, as a little girl, had to become skillful in preparing food just to protect her own life and the lives of visitors to her family's house.
In many other regards, as one reads this tale of Ruth's life as a small girl in the early 1960s through her start in culinary journalism in San Francisco in 1977 just at the time when the zeitgeist was leading people such as Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower to create California Cuisine at Chez Panisse and other venues.
Two fascinating questions are raised in my mind by this book and its sequel 'Comfort Me with Apples'. The first is what it is about Reichl that compels her to reveal so many intimate details about her life and family.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A tasty treat March 28 2003
Why I like this book can be best summed up by the beginning of the second-to-last chapter: After reading Reichl's first restaurant review, her editor remarks that she was born to do this, and she replies softly, "No, but I was very well trained." Although she was gifted with an appreciative palate and a knack for cooking, Reichl acquired her knowledge of foods from a series of good teachers, ranging from the eccentric quilt-maker Mr. Izzy T to exacting French winegrowers and tart-makers. Her ease with a wide variety of people, and her willingness to learn, were as crucial to her success as her way with words. She's a good storyteller, but there's genuine warmth beneath the engaging (and sometimes scary) portraits of her friends, family, and mentors. (I was a graduate student at Berkeley during some of the time she lived there, and her picture of commune living and the restaurant business was dead on -- but, unlike many other writers who came out of the same milieu, she neither romanticizes the hippie lifestyle nor sneers at the political mind-set.) The book is like having lunch with a friend who's knowledgeable about food and wine, but not pretentious or smug, and I found it perfectly delightful.
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What if you could tell what kind of person someone was just by observing what, where and how they eat? In Ruth Reichl's, Tender at the Bone- Growing up at the Table, you will learn to do just this. Her book is a well-written and interesting look at life, food, and relationships.
Her descriptive details and life reflecting commentary give an instant understanding of the author's experiences. Which include living with a neglectful father and manic-depressive mother. The catchy dialogue between characters leads the reader deeper into the book. With each page more connections are made between people, what they eat and how food can dictate our emotions. Ruth suggests that good times and good food co-exist, while those experiences that are unpleasant involve less appetizing meals.
Growing up constantly shielding herself, and her friends, from her mother's food makes Ruth a very unique person. Ruth discusses how her mother's illness often drove her crazy and made her paranoid about having friends over or throwing parties. When she is old enough she leaves town; going to college and eventually living on her own. It is then that she meets her husbands, travels throughout Europe, and becomes a "food guru."
There are always interesting and slightly odd things occurring throughout the duration of this book. Ruth gets slightly crazy, eats rotten food, digs through garbage and does several other eccentric things.
From youth to adulthood and all the recipes in between, this book never falls short. Ruth Reichl's, Tender at the Bone- Growing Up at the Table, is an excellent read, and well worth the paper it is printed on.
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True to the memoir form, this is an intensely personal story. From the time she's a child, food shapes Reichl's mind and life. It's not easy going, either. Most children, raised in the same way, might have turned totally away from anything culinary.
Not Reichl. She just adapts. Her disfunctional mother, for example, is a not only a disinterested cook, she's an actively abusive one. "It was just the way she was. Which was taste-blind and unafraid of rot. 'Oh, it's just a little mold,' I can remember her saying on the many occasions she scraped the fuzzy blue stuff off some concoction before serving what was left for dinner."
Against this background Reichl chronicles her own development as gourmet and gourmand -- a remarkable and fascinating transition. She presents a delectable collection of stories about people and food (recipes included) as she works toward her destiny as a famous food writer.
I was deeply disturbed about her presentation of her mother as a manic depressive, frightening personality. I'd have been much more comfortable -- and might have even been amused by it -- if that villainy had been presented in the character of a grandmother or aunt. Mothers, I feel, deserve all the respect we can give them! I had to get over it to enjoy the book.
That faced, the scenes where she and her brother try to protect guests from their mother's food foibles lend a riotous humor to the story.
When she brings a special man to meet her family, "Mom cooked the steaks in her usual fashion, which was to put the meat in the broiler for about a minute, turn it, and announce that dinner was ready. 'It's raw,' Doug whispered, gulping. He ate six ears of corn and pushed his meat around on the plate."
Don't expect lovely, literary prose. Reichl is, after all, a journalist, which means the prose is as lean as a trimmed lamb chop. Do expect an amusing romp through growing-up adventures, friendships and food.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Tender at the bone
Great book for those who love food and good literature. Ruth Reichl writes about growing up with a mother who is bipolar, and describes an interesting, sometimes chaotic, life,... Read more
Published on April 5 2011 by Susanne Rosebrock
3.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing!
I found the authors travels more interesting than her descriptions of eating or cooking. Much of her cooking tales personally turned my stomach. Read more
Published on June 19 2004 by Sarah Sammis
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read
A memoir about a food writers coming of age through her experiences with food. Her descriptions of food are tantalizing and the recipes sprinkled throughout tempting. Read more
Published on April 10 2004 by J. Jacobs
4.0 out of 5 stars coming of age around the dinner table...
Overall, TENDER AT THE BONE is a lovely coming-of-age story with hilarious vignettes that could be woven into a heart-warming comedic drama. Read more
Published on Dec 22 2003 by JunkyardMessiah
5.0 out of 5 stars Ruth Reichl writes a perfect food-lovers tale
Funny family innuendos meets pleasant field trips on culinary excursions. A great little story about growing up and discovering the rewarding, sometimes almost sinful, pleasures of... Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2003 by Kirsten E. Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars even vegans can love this book.
i don't eat any animal products, and there are only two or three recipes in this book that i can even relate to, but despite this, i love this book. Read more
Published on April 11 2003 by Kim
4.0 out of 5 stars 4 1/2 stars. A tasty treat
Reading this book was a pleasure. Ms. Reichl is an amazingly sensual writer. Her stories are emotional, funny and very interesting. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2003 by Romantic Anna
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and yummy
Ruth Reichl can cook, she can edit, and she can write.
This is an engaging story of growing up with a bi-polar mother in the era before the condition had a name or treatment... Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2003 by Peggy Vincent
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it in one day.....
I just couldn't put this one down! Ruth Reichl has an obvious talent for engaging her readers. In Tender at the Bone, Ruth chronicles her early life as a "gourmand in... Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2003 by Chris Frost
5.0 out of 5 stars Even if you're not into food books per se
This book is simply a great memoir. I loved the story of dealing with a dysfuntional mom. Which of us hasn't had to deal with someone in our family whom we feel "lives to... Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2002 by Marsha Marks
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