I have temporarily suspended my Harry Potter Fest for a bushel of cooking/eating books. Among the collection: Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food (putenescca sauce, I would like to marry you!) and Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter.
I savored Hamilton’s book as I would chocolate cake, anything from Tweets, or fresh fig. Her first chapter–in a storied house, on hallowed ground, with ecclectic father and French ballet-dancing mother–has me walking stride in stride with her: I am camping out by the coals, slathering homemade marinade over the lamb on a spit and standing barefoot in the creek, passing out booze to partygoers. I am nine too.
Hamilton, an accomplished chef, is indeed, also a writer. Some of her prose is so lyrical and laden with images, I am transported into her scamming days as a bar girl, her kitchen at Prune, her local Italian market:
“In the square, I found my ideal kind of man. Missing most of his teeth, with his zipper gaping open, he was selling zucchini blossoms under the shade of a large tree. Guys like this are getting hard to come by anymore, even here in this little Italian town. He pulled back the burlap that covered the wagon of his three-wheeled motor cart and showed me, with shaking arthritic hands, his fresh black-eyed peas in the shell, his dark purple green beans, his zucchini flowers. he had a little crate of imperfect prune plums ans a small dark green watermelons no bigger than a regulation softball. I take some of everything he’s got. I know that when he dies he’s the last, and this–this–the pants held up with a piece of twine, his work shoes dusty and curling up at the toes, and the simple way he has tossed his wares into the bed of the wagon next to the jug of gasoline and the coil of thin rope and the cracked plastic pails, covering them with a light sheet of burlap–a grain sack split open to make a sheet–this all goes when he goes.”
Only two minor details left me disconcerted. First, and most repugnant: I am on the opposite coast as her resturant. Hamilton’s vivid descriptions left me salivating with nary a way to get to Prune. Second, the general organization and flow of the memoir feels a bit stilted; I don’t mind the huge gaps in time, but many of the chapters seem to be written as vignettes, and are joined together loosely as cheesecloth. However, describing homemade ravioli as “small and delicate and a beautiful yellow from the yolks in the pasta dough and you could see the herbs and the ricotta through the dough, like a woman behind the shower curtain” bypasses all angst I might harbor about structure. Who needs structure when you have ravioli as delicately described as they must have been to devour?
I admire Hmailton’s self-proclaimed diligence, and found myself laughing out loud on many occasions (it’s not often you hear a first-hand account of picking up both human feces and a maggot-infested rat in one sitting).
Most important, Hamilton encapsulates the joy of cooking, as I feel it in my hands, head and heart: “We split the pods open with our thumbnails and slid each pea out into a colander set in between us. What I have loved about cooking my entire life, especially prep cooking, is the way that it keeps your hands occupied but your mind free to sort everything out. I have never once finished an eight-hour prep shift without something from my life–mundane or profound–sorted out.”
There is, indeed, zen in washing lettuce.