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Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

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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.

282 pages, Paperback

First published February 17, 1998

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About the author

Ruth Reichl

64 books2,028 followers
Ruth Reichl is an American food writer, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and culinary editor for the Modern Library.
Born to parents Ernst and Miriam (née Brudno), she was raised in New York City and spent time at a boarding school in Montreal. She attended the University of Michigan, where she met her first husband, the artist Douglas Hollis. She graduated in 1970 with a M.A. in art history.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,775 reviews
Profile Image for Idarah.
464 reviews52 followers
June 5, 2017
I wuv you, Ruthie! The wannabe Bohemian in me avoids national bestsellers. I refuse to be classified as a lemming! I've come to find out that most the time, if a lot of people agree that something is worth reading...it usually is! Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table is one of these books.

It was a delectible read, so much so that I greedily scarfed each chapter on my rail commutes to and from work..and then unabashedly licked my fingers afterwards. I had to force myself not to read anything at home, and I still finished it in less than a week!

Reichl is a great storyteller—that's the barebones truth. I would forget that I was reading a memoir. She lovingly kneads childhood and adolescent anecdotes and then ties them all back to a favorite dish, complete with a detailed recipe. Genius! It doesn't stop there, she takes her audience all over the world in the process, especially when she relates her college years and early married life.

Did I mention that she is incredibly funny?! I'd find myself quietly laughing at some of the interesting people she came across and the hilarious situations she would get herself into. It was counter balanced with some sad truths here and there. Whose life isn't, right? But when life hands you lemons, do the Ruthie thing...and make an amazing lemon souffle! Although I'm not much of a baker (cooking is muuuuch more in my line of expertise), I am determined to try my hand at some of the French and Moroccan pastries she shares.

It wasn't until the very end when I realized that she is the famous New York Times food critic. Follow up reading about her personal life "around the table" include Comfort Me with Apples and Garlic and Sapphires, which chronicles some of her best restaurant critic adventures. I intend to read both during the course of the summer. There's a French food idiom that encompasses her writing for me: Être comme un coq en pâte. I'm sure you'll agree after you finish reading this book!
Profile Image for Robyn.
1,745 reviews
May 27, 2012
The culinary memoirs I've read prior to this one have been written by a different sort of chef. Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Marcus Samuelsson. With that kind of background, it's probably not too surprising that I feel let down by Reichl's first memoir. The beginnings (of both the book and her life) were pretty good. Interesting, fun, funny, and one anecdote seemed to lead to the next easily. The stories of Alice and Aunt Birdie were the best parts of the book. My main complaint with the early years was a pet peeve of mine: authors who insist on peppering their English writing with non-English conversations that can only be guessed at. Agatha Christie was a big offender in this way with her Poirot novels, but at least the context made it clear what Poirot was saying for those of us who don't speak French. Reichl did not do the reader that favour, and I ended up using the Google Translate app in order to truly understand Reichl's time in Montreal. Otherwise, I found the first part of the book to be enjoyable.

Then Reichl returned from Montreal and, frankly, became someone I wouldn't want to know. Throughout the rest of the book she seemed so self-satisfied and arrogant. She also seemed to feel that it was important that she constantly remind the reader that this was the 1960s and while everyone around her was racist, SHE just was NOT! ~rolls eyes~ After all, SHE had a black best friend, and a black close friend who was nearly a boyfriend, and a black family that she welcomed into her house as their social worker, and she visited all sorts of Puerto Rican establishments and and and...blech. Just too proud of herself and not seemingly aware at all of her massive privilege. She grew up in a family that summered in a different home than they wintered. She was sent, impulsively, to a boarding school in another country. She was taken, again impulsively, to Europe. She knew she was headed to college as a matter of course, and was able to do so out-of-state. She vacationed in North Africa. She was able to live in her parents' New York apartment because they lived elsewhere. With that background, a lot of her talk of drunk partying, bohemian lifestyles, and stopping in at filthy neighborhood fishmongers felt like she was slumming self-congratulatorily.

I did get a kick out of some of the New York neighborhood bits, in that I recently watched an episode of some Food Network show that visited culinarily-historic NYC businesses, and several of those were places Reichl mentioned. It was funny to read her 1960s memories of those places compared to the public 2012 face of the same spots.

I had hopes that the NorCal section would make up for the negative Ann Arbor and post-Masters-degree NYC years, since I'm a Bay Area girl born and raised and Berkeley is a part of me. But no. She seemed to be both full of pride in her crunchy-hippie lifestyle and full of judgment for the crunchy-hippies she lived with.

Much of the book was a denouncement of her bi-polar mother, and yeah, life with an undiagnosed "manic-depressive" (as it was still being called at the time) parent is not a picnic. But all sympathy that was built up on that score was lost when Reichl wrote that if her mother had been normal, she (Ruth) wouldn't have been present for the 100th birthday celebration of one of her favourite people. She wrote that her mother's illness was the dysfunctional glue that held them all together. If that's true, and with a "normal" mother she would have just walked away from her family and ignored all holidays, events, etc., then it doesn't say much for Reichl. Even as a married woman of 29 she was presenting herself as a spoiled child, grumpy and snotty when she wasn't getting attention but her husband was, shouting at people who suggested she help her mother, ignoring her father's pleas for assistance, and metaphorically stomping her feet about not getting to just do what she wanted and instead having to go straighten out the mess of a loved one's special day.

An impulsive wine-tasting trip to France with a near-stranger was a story that seemed shoehorned in, and the dumpster-diving politically-correct vegetarian bohemian suddenly eating shark's fin soup and sea turtles was a jarring ending. If I didn't know there was a second volume I'd have been very confused at the abrupt finish.

Because I enjoyed the beginning of this one, and because I already have it, I'm giving Comfort Me With Apples a try. Here's hoping that she relaxed about herself a bit in the 3 years between writing the two books.
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 20 books2,148 followers
August 20, 2023
Makes me think maybe I should go back to cooking more often. Enjoyable memoir.
Profile Image for Sarah.
174 reviews43 followers
February 14, 2008
Having thoroughly enjoyed Garlic and Sapphires, I was thrilled to find this first of Reichl's memoirs on the 2-for-3 table at Barnes & Noble.

In the preface, Reichl admits to modifying certain stories for dramatic effect. But unless she's made entire years out of whole cloth, she's lived one hell of an interesting life. Throughout it all, the power of a meal -- sometimes spectacular, sometimes spectacularly bad -- has been a constant.

And to be honest, I don't care if the tale's been embroidered, and I don't really care about Reichl's ultimate success as a critic. Growing up in Greenwich Village in the fifties with her loving, but distracted father, her manic-depressive mother, and her not-blood-but-close-enough grandmothers; her wanderings around the Bowery on the edges of the early seventies art scene; her accidental creation of a commune in Berkeley -- it's an entertaining, slow-unfolding story, accentuated by the recipes she encounters along the way.
Profile Image for Lorna.
719 reviews417 followers
March 20, 2021
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table was a beautiful memoir by Ruth Reichl who we all may know as a New York food critic and later the editor of Gourmet Magazine for over ten years. I anxiously awaited my copy each month and enjoying all of the rich commentary and lovely recipes, probably few that I actually tried, but oh how I loved to savor the recipe, someday right?

This memoir was delightful as Ruth Reichl regaled us with her raucous and often unconventional childhood but where food was the locus that brought everyone together. For starters, she had three grandmothers and none of them could cook, but what a wonderful tribute to family and caring. Ruth's mother was bipolar so the adventures were abundant such as a dead birch tree transported up to the eleventh-story of their walk-up apartment in New York City. But as a 6-year old child, she aspired to cook for the family, a latch-key child who managed to thrive with the help of the servants like Mrs. Peavey.

As Ruth Reichl goes to Canada and a Catholic boarding school, we see her blossom in her appreciation of food. This is only accelerated as she later goes to Europe and later to California, living in a commune and working in a cooperative restaurant, The Swallow. While in California, she met James Beard and many others who would shepherd her career in writing and in the culinary arts.

And the best part of this memoir were all the delightful recipes that I have to savor and hopefully someday try, such as Lemon Soufflé, Milton's Pate, Con Queso Rice, and my favorite, Boeuf A La Bourguignonne.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,537 followers
July 29, 2015
Charming and amusing account of how food critic Reichl got tuned into cooking through her family experiences and explorations in her young adult period. Her manic depressive mother was hopeless as a cook, even dangerous, as when she wasn’t using canned ingredients, she used bargain foods dangerously past their expiration dates. Instead, her inspiration came from an elderly aunt and her maid. What she learned at an early age she used to great advantage in her teen years to draw a good social crowd around food. Experience with French cuisine from a sojourn at a boarding school and with Caribbean food from a college room-mate put her on a path that led to working in an upscale vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco while essentially living in commune with her husband. The book is fun because she places recipes in the context of her life when they had a big impact, from simple potato salad and deviled eggs to Beef Bougoinon. The approach is homey and soothing, although not as exciting as the way sensual dishes are placed in the fictional “Like Water for Chocolate” or as entertaining as the accounts of challenging preparations for Child dishes in the memoir “Julie and Julia”.
Profile Image for Negin.
629 reviews150 followers
November 27, 2022
This was a beautiful memoir, and recipes were included! I’ve been meaning to read a Ruth Reichl book for the longest while, and I’m happy that I finally did so. She writes impeccably. This book, the first among a few, covers her childhood to her young adult years. I smiled when she mentioned walking down 168th Street to Broadway, since that’s where I lived while in graduate school at Columbia. As with all books that include recipes, I tried out her brownie recipe and the family loved it.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

A Guest is a Guest - I have never ironed my sheets. I like the idea, but that's just not happening.
“Once Mrs. Peavey insisted on ironing the sheets when my grandmother came to visit. ‘But we don’t iron our sheets!’ my mother protested. ‘Just because we live like animals,’ Mrs. Peavey replied, implacably moving the iron across the smooth white cotton, ‘is no reason for us to impose our habits on others. A guest is a guest!’

The Rich – I have found this to be true
“The richer the customer, the more they like free things.”

Profile Image for Chloe.
350 reviews552 followers
April 3, 2010
I’m not normally a big fan of books about food. They always leave me cursing my limited culinary abilities and hungry for foods that are far outside of my price range, not to mention excluded by various personal dietary choices. I likely never would have picked up anything by Ruth Reichl had I not found myself uncharacteristically bookless while lounging in the park this past weekend and in need of diversion. Fortunately a friend had a copy of this deep in the bottom of her bag and I was able to while away an afternoon in my preferred manner.

A book that is part biography, part paean to the glory of the kitchen, and part cookbook, Tender At The Bone is one of the quickest reads I’ve had all year. Ruth Reichl is editor of Gourmet magazine and her long years in the magazine industry are evident in her writing style. Chapters are short and to the point (no frippery for her) and punctuated by a recipe of whatever delicious creation she has been reminiscing about. These vignettes follow Ruth and her lifelong relationship with food- from her mother’s inability to tell when food has spoiled to her first gig waitressing to her membership in a Berkeley restaurant collective to a delicious and educational trip through French wine country. Initially I was put off by the early scenes of her learning to cook from her family’s servants (scenarios of privilege such as these always tend to fan the flames of my class resentment) but I can get over the fact that, trite though they are, this is life as this woman has experienced it. On the whole the story is better off when Ruth allows herself to be overcome with the delight she feels in food, several descriptions had me salivating like some Pavlovian pooch and wishing I knew people who could cook these fantastic confections for me.

Like I said, it is a quick read that won’t stick with you long (though the recipes may), but enjoyable in a pinch. I doubt I’ll rush out and buy the rest of her books, but should one fall into my hands on a plane ride or another sunny day, I wouldn’t complain.
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,159 reviews210 followers
July 14, 2020
Of all the Ruth Reichl books I have read, this is my favorite so far!

It is full of delightful stories about why she is who she is and who is to blame, or what happened to cause it, or discoveries made while all on her lonesome. Her writing is riddled throughout with humor and her life stories, all with a tie to food. I first read her books as a book club choice, but they didn't hit me as deeply as this one. In our book club discussions I expressed this and basically said I was probably not going to read any more of her work as I am just not a "foodie." There was one friend who kept saying, ". . .but there is another one, her first I think, I liked best. . ." She couldn't remember the name, and I forgot and moved on. This last holiday season a friend gave me a copy of J. Mustich's book of 1000 books to read before you die, and there, right under the "R"s you will find this book listed. I finally found it, have now read it, and yes. I agree - best of all her books!

Stocked with yummy recipes, we've started going through them, the ones that apply to us (we are not big meat eaters . . .although the first we tried was Claritha's Fried Chicken recipe and it was a big hit! Devil's food cake is on this week's list.

4 stars, bring your own napkins and silverware.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
466 reviews672 followers
May 13, 2013
I really enjoy reading about food and Ruth Reichl never disappoints. Though not so much about food as other books I have read, but more of a story of her life and how food played a role in it. I enjoyed the different recipes that she added to the book and have marked a few to make for my husband. I always find recipes interesting and enjoy them even more when there is a story that comes along with them. I loved Reichl's book Garlic and Sapphires and now might have to re-read it. Both a must read for any food lover.
April 5, 2021
I thought I had read this book before. I know I owned a copy. It was a Book of the Month Club selection (remember that? People said e-readers would kill print books. They didn't but they killed commercial book "clubs.")
I started reading it, anyway, and got distracted.
I should have finished it.
Reichl talks about how she developed her unique relationship with food, starting with her dysfunctional mother, going on to her college days living in cooperative housing and communes, working in restaurants, and ending with her beginnings at food writing.

Worth it for the recipes if nothing else!
Profile Image for Overbooked  ✎.
1,533 reviews
February 8, 2016
I like reading challenges because, every now and then, you get lucky and you stumble on something you would never read otherwise. This book is the perfect example, if you, like me, thought that food memoirs would be boring and uninspiring, try this book. It’s a delicious memoirs sprinkled with exquisite travel memories and a handful of recipes. What an unexpected delight! Recommended.
Profile Image for Елена Суббота.
211 reviews35 followers
October 7, 2021
Дочитала мемуары Рут Рейчл и убедилась в том, что она фантастическая женщина и вообще инопланетянка (с планеты New York). Половину книги я, конечно, завидовала, ведь моя жизнь и вполовину не такая бурная как у Рут. Я почти всегда была правильной девочкой, а вот она - хиппи и бунтарь. И если уж если бунтарь выходит из пубертата живым, то мир не остаётся прежним. По крайней мере, с Рут вышло именно так. Она стала талантливым поваром, писала статьи для крупных изданий, в т ч New York times, была редактором культового журнала "Гурмэ", издала несколько блестящих книг.
Дочитав последние страницы воспоминаний Рут, мне захотелось посмотреть на то, как она выглядит сейчас. Больше всего боялась увидеть в ней пафос и самодовольство состоявшегося человека, но Рут, к счастью, такая же искренняя, простая (в лучшем смысле этого слова) и весёлая, как в своих книгах. Истинное воплощение человека, который познал в этой жизни самое важное и ему уже не нужна внешняя мишура. А ещё я обязательно приготовлю брауни, паштет и "дьявольские яйца" по рецепту Рейчл, так как о рецептах она пишет ну очень заразительно.
Profile Image for Lisa (Harmonybites).
1,834 reviews341 followers
February 24, 2013
This is a memoir built around food--and as Reichl put it, she decided that instead of pictures she'd give recipes throughout to paint a picture of her relationships. The Author's Note tells us, "Everything here is true, but it may not be entirely factual. In some cases I have compressed events; in others I have made two people into one. I have occasionally embroidered." That sort of thing usually bugs the hell out of me. It didn't here. Maybe because Reichl was open about it from the beginning--maybe just because she's such an engaging writer and personality. She said she didn't want to get in the way of a good story, and she's a good enough storyteller and more that I forgive her. The book wasn't found in the biography section of my neighborhood bookstore, but rather in the cookbook section, in "food writing." So, you might expect you have to be a real foodie to love this--yet I'm not really and yet did love it.

Part of that is that this is a lot more than an ode to food. A lot more. It's about growing up in New York City's Washington Heights in the early 60s, and a boarding school in Montreal, and coming to adulthood in Michigan in late sixties and early seventies Berkeley California. It's about travels to Tunisia and Greece, Italy and France. It's about dealing with a crazy mother, the deterioration of a cherished friendship and love. It's tender, yes--in more than one sense. And often quite funny. I found myself very much amused at the picture of the very hippie era.

Oh, and there is the food. And she has a gift in describing it and connecting it to her life. Here's her description of her first taste of Brie: "I felt Monsieur du Croix watching as I ate the strong, slippery cheese. It was so powerful I felt the tips of my ears go pink." She gives us not just the taste, but the colors, the sensations.

This was just so fun to read on several different levels. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for La Crosse County Library.
571 reviews158 followers
May 4, 2022
Review originally published July 2005

What should I write about? Sometimes, it’s a bit overwhelming being surrounded by hundreds of books while trying to choose one. While searching the shelves, I came across books on "book clubs." Since the La Crosse County Library has book clubs at the Holmen, Onalaska, and West Salem facilities, I figured it might be good to talk about one.

I discovered quickly that while these books might be a great tool for a book club leader, they were not something you want to read for enjoyment. However, I took a peek in the back of the book and found a list of suggested books to read. Now I was getting somewhere!

It was interesting to see what book clubs suggested for reading. I chose a most unusual book called, Tender at the Bone, a memoir by Ruth Reichl, a well-known food critic who is Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine and is also the restaurant critic of the New York Times.

Ruth Reichl was a stubborn girl in her younger years and grew into an extraordinary woman through her life experiences, which always involved food. Ruth discovered at an early age that food could be a way of making sense of the world. She discovered that if you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.

Ruth grew up with a manic-depressive mother and a father she admired, but didn’t know very well until much later when she married. It was through her husband, who developed a strong bond with her father, that she learned who her father really was.

Ruth’s mother was infamous for poisoning people that consumed her food, and was named “The Queen of Mold." One of the worst times was when she hosted an engagement party for her eldest son. Everyone panicked of course, and for good reason. All the guests ended up in the hospital with food poisoning.

Ruth’s mother believed in celebrating the holidays and would serve bananas with green sour cream in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. There was no green food coloring in the sour cream! Ruth’s parents entertained a great deal, and before Ruth was ten she had vowed to keep her mom from killing her dinner guests.

Ruth learned all about cooking from two elderly ladies in the family, Aunt Birdie who was an ex mother-in-law of her father’s, and Alice, a maid of Aunt Birdie’s. Ruth wanted to make all the foods that were served at Aunt Birdie’s wedding reception after a conversation about this event. Ruth loved to cook and loved to eat, and it was something all three of them had in common. Every day they looked forward to this event.

At the age of thirteen, Ruth was sent to France to attend school and learn the French language at her mother’s urging, who had a passion for France. Ruth hated it at first, but after a few months she became friends with the daughter of a Monsieur who took delight in watching Ruth eat foods she had never eaten. It was there that she tasted her first soufflé. Eating together as a family was rare, but when Ruth visited it became quite common.

I only touched on Ruth’s childhood and adolescent years, but as you keep reading you will be entertained by the rest of Ruth’s life’s endeavors. This book is full of humor, passion, and much more. It is a memoir, cookbook, history, and wine tasting lesson rolled into one book. Ruth really has a flair for storytelling, and makes the reader feel present during her adventures.

Tender at the Bone can be found under 921 (biographies) in the adult non-fiction area. She has also written Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise (921) and Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table (also 921).

Find these books and other titles within our catalog.
Profile Image for Amanda.
618 reviews430 followers
May 4, 2019
This was a really well written food memoir from a time when food memoirs weren’t really a thing. I felt it was a bit of a cross between “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel and “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel for the family antics mixed with recipes from the narration. I didn’t really know anything about the author, so I found the bits about her family or personally life more interesting than how she wound up in her career of food writer, but they are all tied together. The only recipe I might make is for the brownies :P Overall, I really enjoyed it.
June 5, 2021
Legendary food writer Ruth Reichl shares how food has shaped her life in this quirky memoir full of fascinating characters and adventures across the world. Tender at the Bone focuses largely on Reichl’s coming-of-age, her complicated relationship with her mother, and eventually the early years of her marriage and the idealistic food revolution in the Berkeley community. Excellent storytelling filled with humor and candor, Tender at the Bone dishes up delightful anecdotes of an unconventional childhood with plenty of recipes sprinkled throughout.

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
Profile Image for John Turner.
166 reviews11 followers
September 28, 2019
Thus book was an absolutely delightful read. The writing was gay and refreshing, humorous and sarcastic, subtle, but at times, brutally honest and critical. So many memoirs chronicle "I did this, then I did thus-and-such, then this happened" and are about as entertaining as a car mechanic narrating an engine tune-up. Boring!

Not "Tender at the Bone." Reichl is a magnificent storyteller, growing up around a household of storytellers: Alice, the black nanny and family cook who had a yarn to tell with every lovingly prepared meal; and Aunt Birdie who knew all the family secrets . . . and only reluctantly relinquished them to Ruth over time. And the irascible Mrs. Peavey who refuses to be fired, but never "follows the rules." Ruth would go on later to share some of these food and family stories as a syndicated columnist and restaurant critic for both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. As a long-time subscriber, that's where I "discovered" her, anxiously looking forward to reading her delightfully entertaining editorials in the front of the magazine each month. They prompted me to seek out her other writings, thus I had read a couple of her books before finding Tender at the Bone.

Praise for Tender at the Bone --

"Reichl's style is open and funny, and her love of a good meal -- and a good story -- is evident." Library Journal

"While all good food writers are humorous . . . few are riotously, effortlessly entertaining as Ruth Reichl." The New York Time Book Review

Reichl takes on her journey and struggle through her mother's manic depression, bipolar attacks and prescription for lithium and later, chronicles her own later-in-life panic attacks. We meet her black friend and boarding school roommate, the exotic looking Serafina, as they adventure through Tunisia and North Africa, because "its cheap and no one else goes there." She is mentored by Kermit Lynch, a wine merchant in Berkeley, who takes her on a tour of the wine country in France. She introduces us to Jame Beard, The Who's Who of cooking, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse (Berkeley), and Marion "Fanny Farmer" Cunningham.

Ruth paints with words, as the masters of the craft dictate, "Show, don't tell." While discussing one of her students, she elaborated, "She stood there watching for so long that her makeup started melting off . . . By the time I had taught her how to cook pasta . . . her curls had gone straight and her mascara was running down her cheeks."

And this: "The night was very black and filled with stars and the air so brittle it felt as if it might shatter into icy shards around us."

"We passed through the bar on the way in; it was cold and dark, filled with ham-fisted men clutching tall glasses of frosty beer."

"We went to Dad's favorite restaurant, an ancient place with wooden floors worn to velvety grey . . . He liked to eat crab-stuffed shrimp and Key lime pie while waitresses in crepe-soled shoes teased him."

The Kirkus Review says, "A savory memoir of Reichl's apprentice years . . . A perfectly balanced screw of memories."

Added "bonus:" each chapter ends with one of Reichl's favored recipes. I'm anxious to try the recipe for Con Queso Rice, a savory dish with green chiles, jalapeños, black beans and Jack cheese.
Profile Image for Roberta.
933 reviews7 followers
April 24, 2012
Let me say first of all that this book made me realize (sadly) just how dull my own life has been. Ruth Reichl has certainly had an interesting and rather bohemian lifestyle, picking up and traveling here and there without much deliberation and tasting all manner of exotic dishes. There's a real sense of joy in that. The freedom! The unconventionality!

Since cooking is most definitely NOT my thing, the recipes were incidental to me. It was Ruth's lifestyle and relationships that interested me much more than her recipes. And she had a way dropping names that was not offensive.
Profile Image for The Dusty Jacket.
288 reviews26 followers
September 6, 2022
I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story.

Ruth Reichl knows how to tell a good story and her storytelling skills are likely the product of having parents who could transform the most mundane event into an exotic adventure. Her cooking skills however, were born from sheer survival judging from the title of her first chapter: “The Queen of Mold”. Most mothers teach their daughters to be wary of strangers or always carry enough money to cover a taxi ride home. In Miriam Reichl’s case, she taught her daughter that food could be dangerous.

Tender at the Bone delights readers with Ruth Reichl’s memories of growing up in a New York City apartment, spending summers in Connecticut, going to college, working in a collectively-owned restaurant, and living in a commune. She talks about interracial friendships during the 60s, marriage, trying to please an impossible-to-please mother, and her journey to becoming a food critic. Most of all, Reichl teases us with stories about food, food, and more food. The only (small) complaint I had with her book was that she failed to provide any details about her wedding whereas she is very open about other details in her life. Although she included three photos of her nuptials at the end of her book, I was left with many questions: where and how did Doug propose, who cooked on her special day, what was served, and—most importantly—did her mother poison anyone? Although this omission was disappointing, Reichl more than made up for it by sharing such recipes as Claritha’s Fried Chicken, Coconut Bread, Oléro Berry Tart, and Artpark Brownies. I forgive you, Ruth.

Near the end of her book, Reichl wrote about meeting renowned chef, author, and TV host James Beard. Their brief encounter was far from memorable (at least for Beard) and even Reichl admitted that she was clearly out of her depth, but little did she know that she and Beard were more alike than she realized. Beard once wrote, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” Food is remarkable in that it can manage to overcome religious, cultural, or political differences while forming a bridge that connects us through aroma, flavor, and texture. Food welcomes and comforts and unites us. Our memories are often formed around food and it is food that we seek in times of mourning, celebration, friendship, and love. With that, I’ll end this review with the Reichl customary toast as I raise an imaginary glass to Ernst, Miriam, and Ruth and say, “Cheerio and have a nice day.”
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,658 followers
August 11, 2020
(3.5) I’ve read Reichl’s memoirs out of order, starting with Garlic and Sapphires, about her time as a New York Times food critic, and moving on to Comfort Me with Apples, 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.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all).
2,018 reviews186 followers
August 19, 2023
I'm sorry I couldn't enjoy this book more. The writing is good, with flashes of brilliance. The recipes sound luscious, though so calorie-laden (and in some cases so expensive) that I'd never think of preparing them. The title phrase "tender at the bone" is never incorporated into any of the cooking anecdotes that are interwoven into the memoir, but that's just by the way. I was expecting a warm, tender memoir on how food had shaped her life, and in part that's what it is, so that's not the problem.

No, my problem is with the enormous bitterness that threads the narrative. OK, her mother was bipolar, and for many years undiagnosed and untreated. I've lived with a bipolar person, and I know it can be hell on earth. Even after they get treatment, you can't be sure they'll take their medication: when they're in a depressive phase, they can honestly forget, and when they go manic, they're convinced that "they don't need that stuff."

But why use the cooking memoir as an excuse to air one's family issues and repeatedly castigate the "guilty" one over 200 pages? (As if bipolar people do it in purpose just to hassle ya. I'm sure that's what it felt like before diagnosis, but after, perhaps her daughter should have got some therapy to deal with her own issues.) If it helps, I guess...but it made for painful reading. So her mother was a rotten cook--literally, as she often tried to feed her family and guests spoiled food. Dressing that up with "humour" about how the authoress "saved" others is revealing. So it led to Ms Reichl's lifelong love affair with food (particularly the heavy, calorie-rich comforting kind)--but apparently it also led to an adolescent drinking problem that she refers to as...what? Certainly not as what it was. But honey, if you're drinking up your parents' supply of liquor while still in highschool, and you think that filling the bottles up with water will keep them from noticing? You've got a problem.

I have no quarrel with cooking memoirs, nor with the cooking-centred parts of this book. In fact I enjoyed the parts where Riechl focuses on her own life, her own adventures such as working at a French summer camp, going to boarding school in Canada, working at the "collective" restaurant, and dealing with the cafe stalker. However, I do have a quarrel with publishing a book as payback or blame-assigning, and that's how huge chunks of this text read. It's common these days, or maybe I'm just picking up the wrong "memoirs."

The authoress' issues come to a head toward the end of the book as she repeatedly flees the entire east coast (when not overjoyed to find an apartment in a neighbourhood that is "so dangerous her mother would never visit") to put as much space between them as possible. Hey, I can relate, I changed continents to get away from the various forms of craziness in my own family. But I also got some professional help to deal with my personal issues, traumas and scars, and I avoided the temptation of published payback. We are led to believe, however, that Ms Reichl was simply "cured" of her growing phobias and panic attacks by one conversation in which a friend did most of the talking, and one meal in a very exclusive restaurant halfway through the final anecdote.

Well, I certainly hope so, though I doubt it.

I wish Ms Reichl well, but I doubt I'll be reading For You Mom, Finally even though I was offered it by the same person who lent me this one.

PS: And I'm sorry, I don't care in which decade she had her wonderful, exclusive Chinese restaurant meal with the ivory and sterling silver tipped chopsticks. Using ivory to eat sea turtle, and enthusing over shark's fin soup...how many endangered species can you cram into a single meal?
Profile Image for Kats.
692 reviews44 followers
August 3, 2016
This is a truly wonderful food memoir I got to enjoy during my weeks of "detoxing". As I wasn't allowed to eat sugar, wheat, fish, meat, or dairy, I ate vicariously through Ruth Reichl's delicious sounding recipes that she used to take us through the various decades and destinations of her rich life to date. I so enjoyed "getting to know" her, her friends, her mild-mannered father, her highly strung (to put it mildly) mother, and her husband.

I am full of admiration for this talented woman; someone who clearly is not only an amazing cook, but also a gifted writer, a brilliant organiser, a loyal, kind friend and a supportive wife and daughter. I can't wait to read another one of her books, but I especially can't wait to try out her recipe for the Lemon Soufflé now that my detox diet is over. :-)
Profile Image for Khrystyna P. ♥.
263 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2022
"I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story."

Як і планувала, опісля "Save me the Plums" повернулася до найперших мемуарів Рут. В цій книжці вона більше розповідає про дитинство, юні роки, вихідки своєї матері, час у Франції (ця частина мені особливо сподобалася), расову дискримінацію та студентські протести, життя в "комуні" і різноманітно творчих друзів у часи існування "Фабрики" Енді Воргола.

Рут цікаво споглядати за людьми через призму їжі та тим, як вони її споживають. "It was Mac who first made me think about the way food brought people together — and kept them apart."
Також вона додає signature рецепт в кожний розділ, аби краще зрозуміти і пізнати тих людей, які траплялися впродовж її growing up at the table.

Одним словом, знову чудово про їжу. По суті, вона писала свої food memories, коли ще цього жанру як такого не існувало.
Profile Image for Pixelina.
382 reviews50 followers
December 19, 2012
Nice read about a food critic growing up with a bi-polar mom and how she came to love food. Interesting when she writes on living in Berkeley in the 70:ies. Might try and find some more of her books. Oh and I will try some of the recipes too!
Profile Image for Margaret.
278 reviews170 followers
September 12, 2014
This is the first of Reichl’s rightly acclaimed memoirs of her life as a foodie. I had long been encouraged to read these books by friends and most of all by both of my daughters. But I was reading other things, and it took years for me to finally get to this book. You should not make this same mistake.

The first chapter opens with these words: “This is a true story.” Reichl then proceeds to tell us of a time her mother woke up her father to come into the kitchen taste a spoonful of something. Ever agreeable, he did, but then spit the entire mouthful back into the sink. Her mother, feeling justified for having wakened her sleeping husband, said, “Just as I thought. Spoiled!” Reichl then proceeds to tell us that her family seemed to have an innate tolerance for spoiled foods that made other people sick and that her mother frequently cooked with what the rest of us would see as poison. (Thus the title of the first chapter: “Queen of Mold.”) Young Ruth decided it was her mission to save the lives and health of their many dinner guests by steering them away from foods containing questionable ingredients. Okay, not at all the beginning I expected, and I was hooked.

Despite being the daughter of a woman who was a lethal (yet joyous) cook, Ruth describes her growing up as a series of discrete episodes, all involving food. Even during the most ill-considered of escapades, Ruth always seem to land on her feet and discover both adventure and mentors everywhere. This book turned out to be as much of a page-turner as the best suspense stories; I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. The book is larded with recipes (as many recipes as there are chapters) learned from her various mentors, including her mother’s recipe for Corned Beef Ham. (Don’t ask.) If having a great story to tell and lots of recipes to share isn’t enough for you, just know that Reichl is one of the better memoir writers out there. Brighten your day: read and enjoy.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
892 reviews99 followers
February 13, 2017
I can't resist memoirs about foodies. I don't have to even know who they are - if they write about their life with key moments charmed by cooking and good food, I want to read it. Tender at the Bone is the memoir of New York Times food critic, Ruth Reichl.

I knew from the first few pages that I would love this book. She immediately relates a highly improbable story told by her father about her childhood, with the message that a good story is far more important than a true story. She confesses that she embellishes some of the stories in her book, and honestly, it's so entertaining I don't mind in the least.

You would think a food critic grew up either a) surrounded by great cooks or b) being served great dishes because their family was rich enough to care about food. But Reichl's case had neither. She admits her mother was a terrible cook, always throwing dinner parties with "bargain" foods that were more likely to poison her guests than leave them wanting more. But Reichl cared about food, and when any opportunity presented itself to learn about cooking, selecting or eating fine food, Ruth Reichl grabbed on with both hands.

Reichl has obviously lived a remarkable life (even sans embellishments), and that shines in this memoir. I highly recommend Tender at the Bone!
185 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2009
I liked this book but didn't love it. This is a memoir written by a NY Times food critic that manages to intermingle her relationship with food throughout different phases of her life and growing up with a manic-depressive mother. There were recipes interspersed throughout that were relevent to the experience she was talking about. (They were sometimes oddly thrown in, not quite at the right places, which was a little weird.) The book had a binding theme (food) that worked and was well-written.

I attribute my luke-warmness on this book as much to a phase I'm in as to the book itself. I guess I'm getting tired of memoirs. They are so self-centered and self-indulgent. (Duh! Isn't that the point?) Memoirs often show who the author thinks she is, but sometimes the audience sees a different person. For example, in this book so many of her mother's strange choices for her actually ended up working out quite well, whereas the author's own choices were often haphazard and short-sighted. I'm not sure that the author actually saw that about herself.

Enough rambling... it was a good book. Interesting recipes. Interesting to see how food touched so many aspects of her life. But, I don't think the author did enough soul-searching to make this a truly moving memoir.
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