A book: Blood, Bones, and Butter

July 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

FOOD FOR THOUGHT Blood, Bones & Butter , a chef's memoir

Well, reader (all 6 of you), it’s been a while, huh?   The Summer has gotten the best of me and in between my kids taking trips (without me!!! hello, down time.) and my husband and I going to Nicaragua earlier this month, blogging hasn’t been at the top of my to-do list. Add to that, the untimely death of my camera, and you have reasons for months of no blogging.  I’m looking for a free/very cheap replacement camera, but I’ll just have to make do, until that happens.

So. About that crazy chicken head on the top of the screen.  I’ve read a few books since you last heard from me, Blood, Bones, and Butter being one of them.  The author, Gabrielle Hamilton, is a chef and owner of the small and well-loved NYC restaurant, Prune, but she also has an MFA in creative writing, so this is a good read even if you are someone who is  disinterested in food and cooking.

The book is a memoir, first and foremost, and is kind of haunting.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her detailed description of her early family life “when everyone was still, pretty much, intact and wholesome”, when her parents would host a giant, open air, party every year with multiple lambs roasting on spits in the back yard.  Her house, a kind of strange, idyllic, rural Pennsylvania, castle-like structure built into a nineteenth century silk mill.  It belonged to her artist parents, but only barely, because they were always about to lose the house to the bank.  Thankfully, her mother was a frugal french woman who always had “things with tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones….that she was stewing and braising and simmering to feed our family of seven.”  Gabrielle, the youngest, paid close attention.

It all falls apart, of course, and her parent divorce, though she never really says why, when Hamilton is 12.   When I say it falls apart, it really falls apart.  A year later she is basically on her own, her mother living in Vermont, her distracted father escaping creditors by running to NYC and leaving her and one of her brothers home alone (in the ramshackle castle) for months.  She lies about her age to get her first restaurant job (washing dishes) so that she can feed herself.  At thirteen.

The book goes on, of course, telling a lot about all Hamilton’s different jobs in the food industry (coked-up waitress, “soul-less” catering, and even being the head cook at a summer camp), and how she figures out she loves cooking when her detour into creative writing turns out to be disappointing.  We are left to wonder, however, what happened with her parents? Why does she have no connection with anyone in her family but her sister? It’s all left out.

In the last of the three sections of the book, she talks about opening her restaurant and, just in case this sounds like a fun idea, holds nothing back in her description of how hard it can be (think 17 hour days and maggoty rat carcasses to clean up). She also describes her odd (because she’s a lesbian), green card, marriage, how she ends up wanting it to be a real marriage, and the subsequent birth of her two sons. It’s pretty sad, a little confusing,  and she sounds like she’s pretty infuriating, but it’s all so honestly written, you can’t help but be moved.

So….what about you?  What have you been reading lately?

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