This is the book I was referring to in this Instagram post: it was a gift from Pam from her recent vacation in New York. When she had my book signed, Pam told Ruth about my carbonara experience, which was essentially, my first foray into cooking. Ruth then wrote a special message for me.
June had been slightly more hectic and stressful than usual I simply didn’t have enough time to curl up with Delicious! the entire month. And so I had to cram on the last day of June: with about 200 pages left, I proceeded to a coffee shop right after work, ordered chicken and pesto sandwich and iced soy latte, and delved into it. (Highly recommended: Spotify’s Late Night Reading playlist; the sandwich with the stale bread from Starbucks, not so much.)
Taking everything into account, including my love for Ruth’s work (Garlic and Sapphires is one of my all-time favorite books), I already loved Delicious! even before reading it.
The first few pages were enthralling, the prelude ended in dramatic fashion as a young Billie Breslin attempts to recreate her mother’s gingerbread, based solely on memory and to her surprise, her palate’s razor-sharp ability to distinguish and identify flavors. That was promising; I couldn’t wait to go on this ride.
Many years later, as a fresh graduate, Billie lands an interview in the distinguished food magazine, Delicious!—where its staff, friendly, flirtatious, and otherwise—unwittingly dare her to unleash her culinary talents, now kept under wraps due to a traumatic experience. My expectations were then set on a lighthearted romance novel—in the tradition of Confessions of a Shopaholic (which I loved)—with food as the central motif.
Unfortunately, the ride took way too many turns for my taste. The number and nature of the subplots bordered on farcical (I’d list them here but they all involve spoilers), most of them an unnecessary juggling of Wikipedia-like narrative (however written in Ruth’s elegant prose).
It’s hard for me to fault Ruth’s enthusiasm: her brightness and optimism drip on every page, which was, to be fair, refreshing versus nauseating; nerds would have a field day learning about obscure ingredients and dishes, although in my case, it was a challenge to keep myself fascinated by the many details. Overall, I feel this was more the editor’s fault than the writer’s: the former could have striven for a tighter storyline, although I do acknowledge that this wish is rather subjective.
I suppose I could be upbraided for having set such a limited expectation for the novel’s storyline; however, the problem with having a myriad of subplots is that the reader ends up disappointing himself every time the author decides to explore a different direction. Even if Ruth was successful in tightening all loose ends, my interest in them had waned by then.
I liked the book and enjoyed its heartiness; with some fine-tuning, it may have been perfect.
* * * *
First few paragraphs:
“You should have used fresh ginger!”
The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. I glanced at Aunt Melba to see if she was upset, but she was looking at me with undisguised admiration. “Why didn’t I think of that!”
“And orange peel.” I wanted her to look at me that way again.
“Any other ideas?” Aunt Melba was rooting around in the vegetable bin.
She emerged holding a large knob of ginger triumphantly over her head, then went to the counter and began to grate it, sending the mysterious tingly scent into the air. “How come you didn’t say something last year?”
“Would you have believed me?”
She swiped at the thick red curl that had fallen across her right eye and grinned ruefully. “Ask advice from a nine-year old?” She reached out and tousled my hair. “Now that you’re ten, of course, everything’s changed.”