While reading Kim Severson's new gem of a food memoir that came out last week, I started reminiscing about other food memoirs in recent years that travel well beyond food... the kind of books that leave one simultaneously comforted, satiated and challenged to live a more authentic life.
Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by Kim Severson
Kim Severson, a New York Times food journalist, just debuted Spoon Fed , sharing about eight cooks who taught her important life precepts. I read a lot of food memoirs but when this one hit my desk a few weeks ago, I couldn't put it down. It contains stories (each accompanied by a recipe) of food trailblazers, from Alice Waters to Marion Cunningham. I related not only to Severson's stories of life on both coasts (and in the Midwest) or as a food writer, but was touched by her tender honesty, blanketed in warm frankness. Severson's life lessons are never heavy-handed and, in fact, are so vulnerable, I came away renewed to face my own hang-ups, while understanding others'. I particularly loved "Popular Girls," a chapter on Ruth Reichl and self-acceptance, or lessons on faith and tenacity in New Orleans from the wonderful Leah Chase, even embracing authenticity and ambition from Rachael Ray. Severson's own stories carry impact due to the heartfelt candor with which she shares her insecurities and fears, and what she has achieved in facing them.
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg
Molly Wizenberg is an author who grew up in Oklahoma (where I was born), exhibiting a youthful yet mature-beyond-her-years hominess in her writing and comforting recipes. A Homemade Life  pulsates with accessible heart but not naivete. This was a favorite memoir in recent years, laden with bittersweet sadness from her father's cancer, the rejuvenating joy of re-discovering herself and her love for food upon returning to Paris after his death, the surprise of starting a blog, Orangette , that gained her an international following... and even more suprising, meeting the love her life through the blog. Her recipes are delicious, whether cider-glazed salmon or a ginger chocolate banana bread that's become a staple in my own kitchen.
Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl
One of Kim Severson's aforementioned inspirations, Ruth Reichl has also long been a favorite of mine. Her memoirs are enjoyable reads, including delightful stories of life and disguises as a NY Times food critic in "Garlic and Sapphires", or understanding her mother in "Not Becoming My Mother". Reading Severson brought to mind Ruth's first two memoirs, Tender at the Bone (1998) and Comfort Me with Apples (2002). Whether bluntly proclaiming she wasn't "pretty or funny or sexy" but could attract people with food, or, in "Comfort Me..." (I recommend this one if you haven't read her books), where she reveals, via colorful food and travel stories, the heartbreak of the dissolution of her first marriage or the agony of nearly adopting a child. Ruth's bright candor, adventurous palate and lack of self pity make these food memoirs worth returning to.
Visit Virginia Miller's food itinerary and review site, www.theperfectspotsf.com