Tag Archives: food

This Woman’s Place Really Is in the Kitchen: Blood, Bones, & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Audio)

cover image of Blood, Bones & ButterGabrielle Hamilton is the owner of Prune, a restaurant in New York City’s East Village with a cult following. Gabrielle Hamilton’s writing may have its own cult following after the publication of Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef – a no-holds-barred memoir of her life up until she becomes chef-owner of her own restaurant and a little beyond. She reads her own memoir for the audio edition with the competent, matter-of-fact tone that I imagine her taking with suppliers, staff, and siblings, not suffering fools gladly but not really letting them disturb her self-possession, either. She doesn’t cut herself any slack in the kitchen or on the page – remembering her childhood and difficult adolescence, describing her various jobs, unusual marriage, failures, and successes, with straight-to-the-bone honesty.

An excerpt from the first chapter of Blood, Bones & Butter was published in the January 17, 2011 issue of The New Yorker as a personal history piece titled The Lamb Roast, in which the author describes the huge, outdoor party the author’s father and mother threw every year, with a lamb roasting on a spigot as a centerpiece. The story of the free-spirited, unhappy family stuck in my mind after reading it, so I was happy when I found out there was more of the story available.

Take The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls; Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain; Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes; and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (and her other memoirs, too) and roll them into one and you’ll have Blood, Bones & Butter, with the author’s dysfunctional family and issues that go unresolved into adulthood; too many wild, late nights in restaurants and manic cooking jags; summer meals in a crumbling villa in Italy; and plenty of meals and menu descriptions all the way through. The author’s passion and love of food really comes through, but not in an over-dramatized way. There isn’t any gushing or ecstatic renditions of meals eaten. The preparation of good food seems to be what calms the author’s driven spirit, making her years of hard work in kitchens seem in retrospect like a labor of love.

You can listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here. It takes a while for the author to hit her stride in the reading, so an excerpt from later in the book might have been a better sample. At the beginning she sounds more like she is reading than telling the story (which is why I don’t usually like an author to read his/her own book) but her reading becomes more natural as she goes on. Plus, with an author’s reading, you can count on pronunciations being correct.

Found this great list of food-related memoirs on The Literary Foodie blog, if you’re hungry for more.

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook on CD from the public library.

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Weekend Cooking: Moosewood Restaurant and Mollie Katzen’s Cookbooks

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After almost 30 years of putting dinner together a few times a week, I turn to the same cookbooks again and again: the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks and cookbooks by Mollie Katzen, originally part of the Moosewood collaborative.

Greek Pasta Salad, made from recipe in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

With the garden produce dying out, I wanted to make at least one last lunch from stuff picked fresh from the garden. Since a few cute baby eggplants were ready to pick, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, and since we had Kalamata olives and feta cheese in the fridge, I pulled out one of my most used cookbooks, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, for its Greek Pasta Salad recipe. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any fresh dill (which really adds to the salad’s flavor) or scallions (which I meant to replace with red onion, but forgot) but the salad was still delicious.

Book cover imageThe Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY, includes fish on its vegetarian menus, so a few recipes call for fish or shellfish, but most of the recipes are completely vegetarian. What I like about the Moosewood cookbooks is that they use only ingredients that can be pretty easily found if you’re anywhere near a large town, so you don’t have to make a special visit to a natural foods store before using the cookbooks. They also make great reading, with their entertaining recipe introductions and casual air of friends in the kitchen; Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks also have pleasing illustrations and a friendly design. The recipe directions imply confidence in your culinary skills, giving you enough information but not an overload of strict precautions and precise measurements. None of them have intimidating glossy color photos of meals that look like they were made by professional chefs or put together by food stylists.

Another old favorite, The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, didn’t survive the transition from just-married to three-child family and Laurel’s Kitchen‘s didn’t survive the transition from country to city life, but the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks, as well as several by Mollie Katzen (especially Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest) have been the source of many favorite family meals over the years.

A neighborhood landmark, the Moosewood Restaurant has been owned and operated by a collective of the people who work there for almost 40 years, and was named one of the 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century by Bon Appetit. (See Cornell Daily Sun article.) The Moosewood Collective also donated its papers, including some original cookbook manuscripts, to Cornell University’s Carl A. Kroch Library.

Weekend Cooking is a weekly feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Click here to check out all Weekend Cooking blog posts. A printable list of my favorite Moosewood cookbooks is on Book Lists page.

Food equals Love, Parisian style: Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe

The title of Chez Moi, a novel by Agnes Desarthe, refers to a restaurant of sorts that the main character, Myriam, decides to open with no help, no business experience, and not much money. Forty-three years old and estranged from her family, her husband, and her only son Hugo for reasons she doesn’t reveal, Myriam pours her whole self and all her passion into cooking, a conduit for the love she can’t give her son. Her sole passion is to provide her new restaurant customers with the experience of home-cooked meals, but she doesn’t have the first clue about how to run a restaurant.
Chez Moi is translated from the French by Adriana Hunter, and was published in English in 2008. (The French title is Mangez-Moi, which didn’t get translated literally as “Eat Me” due to its connotations.) It has a je ne sais quoi (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) quality about it that’s hard to describe, like A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. Chez Moi has what I imagine to be Parisian reserve; it doesn’t try too hard to win the reader over. On the other hand, Myriam is a very down-to-earth character, unpretentious; she describes herself as the “biggest f**ker-upper the world has ever brought forth.”
Readers have to accept Myriam as she presents herself: evasive, eccentric, lonely, depressed, gnawed by guilt, grieving lost love, and doomed to fail dramatically in her restaurant experiment if she doesn’t get help fast. She is in a fog much of the time when she’s not drinking herself into a stupor – avoiding thinking about her life beyond the need to make food for customers who may not even show up, given Myriam’s erratic restaurant hours, unconventional menu, sketchy table service, and nonexistent marketing skills.
There’s not much action in Chez Moi, and some of what does happen is surreal, as in a French movie with strangers walking in and out saying cryptic things. Myriam slowly reveals her past, musing philosophically whenever she’s not succumbing to despair, but she has a caustic wit that slices through her fatalism often enough to keep readers from getting too bogged down, and she also has that irrepressible love of food to keep her going.
To sum up the review, if you’re looking for a psychological novel set in Paris about an imperfect woman with a past; you enjoy sensual descriptions of cooking (including meat); and you aren’t expecting magical realism because you saw this book compared to Like Water for Chocolate in a review, then pick up Chez Moi and let me know what you think!

Read an interview of Agnes Desarthe here. [WARNING: Interview contains some spoilers.]

Other opinions of Chez Moi (mostly good):
Books on the Brain
Fleur Fisher in her world
Urban Domestic Diva

Disclosure: I read a public library copy of this book.
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