Save Me the Plums is Ruth Reichl’s memoir reflecting on her time as the Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine. She was the New York Times’ top food critic when the head honchos at Conde Nast lured her away looking to revamp Gourmet’s somewhat stodgy content with a fresh face and some new and less traditional ideas about food.
I listened to this on audio with Reichl, herself, as the narrator. I don’t always like authors as narrators but for memoirs it usually works and this one was no exception.
Reichl is a beautiful writer. I love her descriptions of the food and life as the Editor-in-Chief of such a foundational magazine in the food world. She was truly overwhelmed at even the thought of taking the job at Gourmet. She, in fact, turned the position down upon first offer. Why would they want her, she thought – a writer with almost no experience managing people or budgets – in the leadership role for a major magazine? Eventually the lure of the challenge won over and Reichl accepted the position.
In her time at Gourmet, Ruth Reichl spearheaded an amazing effort to revive the magazine, solidifying her role in a movement that has changed the way we think about food. She brought what many saw as expensive and unreachable cuisine into the realm of the attainable where real people have a place at the table.
This behind the scenes look at food writing and cooking truly kept me enthralled and hanging on her every word, but I was especially enamored with her description and perspective of being at the Gourmet offices in New York City during the 9/11 terror attacks.
I, myself, was in Washington, DC, working on Capitol Hill on 9/11. I vividly remember running down First Street as the Capitol police told everyone to get as far from the Capitol building as possible (there were still planes in the air). I saw the smoke just across the Potomac River at the Pentagon and later heard the blast as a part of it collapsed into rubble.
Tears filled my eyes during the sections of the book that told about the many volunteers who showed up at the Gourmet test kitchens and cooked chili and lasagna for the police and firefighters. They loaded the food in coolers and drove them in vans to Ground Zero. When barricaded streets hindered their movement in vehicles, they unloaded the coolers and walked them into the rubble that was their city. Food acted as a comforting and calming mechanism. It was a little piece of home in the midst of chaos and strife.
In another moving moment, Ruth comes in late from work and her son, a young boy at the time, begs her to make him a late-night snack. Laden with working-mom guilt (we have all been THERE), she whips up some really amazing-sounding Chinese spicy noodles for two, and she and her son share them side by side. As a mom of boys, I relished in this small moment – a mom and her son, sharing a midnight snack and bonding over food.
My mouth watered when I read her recipes – including a truly decadent chocolate cake and an interesting and very different recipe for turkey chili – but I opted to try and recreate the spicy Chinese noodles (pictured above and adapted recipe below). Where I live, authentic Asian ingredients can be difficult to come by. What I can’t find at the grocery store, I order on Amazon (which is what I did for this one). I also made a few other adjustments based on our individual tastes and what I had on hand at the time. This was my first time making this dish although I have had it at restaurants. It seems like a dish you can really play with and make your own, which I plan to do. One day I hope to be able to whip it up for a midnight snack to share with my boys as Reichl describes doing with her son. Perhaps we can even eat them while I tell my boys about a day in 2001 when their mom experienced a historic and horrific event that changed the lives of so many and that we will never forget.
Chinese Spicy Noodles
(Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s Memoir Save Me the Plums)
- ½ lb spaghetti noodles, cooked al dente
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 2 tablespoons Chinese bean paste
- 1/2-inch piece ginger, minced
- 2 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- A few splashes sesame oil
- A few splashes hot pepper sauce (to taste)
Directions: Boil spaghetti to al dente and drain and toss with a splash of sesame oil. Set aside. Mix the bean paste with the sugar and a few splashes of hot pepper sauce in a small bowl and set aside. Heat a wok or skillet on high and add the vegetable oil and a splash of sesame oil. Stir fry the ginger for 1-2 minutes and then add the white parts of the green onion and ground pork. Cook the pork until no longer pink and mix in the paste mixture and the noodles. Toss until the noodles are coated in the bean paste. Add a splash of sesame oil and the green parts of the onion and toss again. Serve warm.
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