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Yearning For Spicy Chinese Noodles

Comfort me -- with spicy Chinese noodles.
Comfort me — with spicy Chinese noodles.

A sense of deep wistfulness came over me as I read Ruth Reichl’s latest book, “Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir.”

And if you haven’t yet read her newest memoir (Random House), of which I received a review copy, you ought to pronto, especially if you were a fan of the dearly missed Gourmet magazine.

When she was the restaurant critic for the New York Times, Reichl was offered the top job at the country’s oldest epicurean magazine. Initially, she actually turned down the job as editor-in-chief of Gourmet. But she eventually reconsidered, realizing the strong pull the magazine had on her since she first leafed through its pages when she was 8 years old.

The book takes you behind the scenes of the iconic magazine, recounting how Reichl turned it around from a publication that had grown stale with ladies-who-lunch fare to one that was ground-breaking in design and text. It thrilled and surprised — until it was no more, shuttered because profit margins weren’t high enough.

I was a long–time subscriber to the magazine. But I had forgotten just how pioneering it had been. It was illuminating to revisit the topics it covered, enlisting some of the country’s best writers — not just best food writers — to pen stories never seen before, including the plight of the Immokalee farm workers in Florida, who picked the industrial tomatoes that flood supermarkets, under conditions that verged on modern-day slavery.

Or the shocking fall-out that occurred when Reichl dared to put a gloriously whimsical cake covered in cupcakes on the cover of the magazine, which somehow ended up offending a number of readers. Go figure.

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