Ruth Reichl won’t say her mother still makes the best soup.

Lovesick 

Ruth Reichl won’t say her mother still makes the best soup.

When love -- or sex -- isn't enough, try apples. Food can be as potent as romance, maybe more so. Just ask Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, whose credentials also include her former position as The New York Times restaurant critic, which made her the country's most powerful voice in restaurant reviewing.

She's written a second volume of memoirs, Comfort Me With Apples, which mixes bittersweet tales of a crumbling marriage and a love affair with stories about food: her travels, her years writing about restaurants (and the characters who worked in them), and the occasional recipe for good measure.

The title comes from the Bible's "Song of Songs": Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love. The idea for the book sprang from an epiphany Reichl had one night after deciding not to write a book about her mother's longtime battle with manic-depression. Reichl's mother had indirectly inspired her interest in cooking: "My mother was a terrible cook," Reichl says. "I remember the moment I knew I had to start cooking myself. My mother was making a stew out of leftovers and as I watched, she dumped half an apple pie into it. She said, 'Don't worry, it will be good.' It wasn't."

Cooking for herself, Reichl discovered there was an order that transcended her mother's chaos. Food, she would later write, "could be a way of making sense of the world. If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were."

At the end of a recording session for the audio version of her first book, Tender at the Bone, Reichl was quizzed by the director and sound engineer. They insisted that the story couldn't be over and demanded to know what happened next. "That night, I blocked out the entire [new] book," Reichl says. Comfort Me With Apples picks up the story in 1978, when Reichl started reviewing restaurants in California, and takes readers up through the early 1990s and the heartbreak of returning her adopted daughter to her birth mother.

She's saving her stint with The New York Times for another book. That job made her name famous not only in New York but all over the world. "On my first day, I got a call from a college friend of mine, Mohammed, who was travelling to Mecca. He had been on a plane to Saudi Arabia when he heard I had been named the restaurant critic of The New York Times," she says.

Reichl doesn't, however, miss restaurant reviewing. "Not one bit! My friends who used to go to dinner with me, they miss it a lot! But I don't. Now I can have a cocktail before dinner. In all the years I wrote about restaurants, I never had a cocktail with a meal. It opens you up to criticism.

"Now I can go to the same four restaurants," she adds, laughing. "It's what I always said I would do when I became a civilian."

A funny, no-nonsense journalist, Reichl skewers pretentious food snobs and drops unexpected names, like that of actor Danny Kaye, who made his lemon pasta for her. "In his kitchen," Reichl writes, "Danny was desperate for an audience." With a dining companion like Reichl, who wouldn't be?

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