From the kitchen window, the fall leaves, a bonfire of rich gold, ochre and red, flash and ripple like Koi slipping gracefully through still water. I sip my coffee and turn my attention to a plate of thin buttery pancakes smeared with strawberry jam.
This is my idea of heaven. And then the vacuum cleaner roars up under my feet, its engine revved like some old school muscle car and at its helm, my mother.
The bubble has burst. No matter how I try to recapture the sensation, the Zen-like trance of the moment, it is gone forever. The grousing of the vacuum cleaner has robbed me of all delight.
I am reminded of the way all the elements that go into a meal, even an ordinary one taken at home and often especially those taken at home, should create an atmosphere of wonder. It is this metamorphosis, the ability to transform an ordinary experience into the extraordinary, that is the joy of both cooking and eating.
No one more aptly describes this joy than Ruth Reichl. I am devouring Garlic and Sapphires, the wonderfully written and thoroughly delicious memoir of Ms. Reichl's days and nights as restaurant critic for the New York Times. It is clear as perfectly executed consomme that she not only knows her business, but truly, deeply cares for and loves good food.
Ms. Reichl humanizes (and tattles on) the insular world of super-chic and expensive New York restaurants, scoring points for every diner who has ever been given a miserable table or who has ever been treated to the crushing disdain of restaurant staff.
What made her so appealing as a critic is her keen sense of justice, the sensibility that every diner - from little old ladies to VIPs - ought to be swept away from mundane cares by the experience of a delectable meal. She writes gorgeously of meals that are the stuff of fantasy for many readers, but also dishes on the lesser known but equally memorable and more affordable restaurants within the reach of the discerning diner. She is fair.
Reading her book gives me a delicious thrill as I recognize old stomping grounds in my beloved Brooklyn and, conjured by her sensory description of passing by subway through Little India, I lovingly recall the savory samosas of my favorite Indian tea shop in Jackson Heights, Queens. I linger over her dense, lush descriptions of restaurants like Daniel, Lespinasse, or the Four Seasons, which I yearn to experience.
Her book describes the comforts of the table so well I feel as if I am home at last.