Kitchen inspiration

Few things inspire me to cook these days. (Too many pots of macaroni and cheese made for a picky toddler.) So I was surprised that food writer Ruth Reichl's book "Tender at the Bone" sent me into the kitchen at 6 a.m. to make a chocolate cake.

The book is a charming tome written by a woman who began her career trying to keep her kooky mother from accidentally poisoning guests, went on to become restaurant critic for The New York Times, and is now editor of Gourmet magazine.

Rarely do you find good writing and good recipes between the same covers. M.F.K. Fisher's books are celebrated for both their wit and epicurism. I loved Laura Esquivel's "Like Water for Chocolate," although no one would attempt the "recipes" that begin each chapter. Ms. Reichl's book is not as romantic, but her stories are funny and recipes like Show-off Salad and Coconut Bread make one's mouth water.

As I sifted cocoa, I thought about why I feel such admiration for fine cooks. For Reichl, cooking is the essence of her life. Esquivel calls it: "The joy of living ... wrapped up in the delights of food."

Although I appreciate good food, and dream of taking cooking classes, I don't have the patience to be a gourmet. Food is still a mystery to me, like a code to be cracked along with the eggs.

Reichl's memoir reminds me of the qualities of a great cook to which I aspire. And spending a little quality time in the kitchen didn't hurt either. (My picky son, with a hunk of cake in each fist, was especially appreciative.)

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