Between the Pages: Blood, Bones and Butter

Love this vibrant jacket


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.

Between the Pages: I Recant–Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Do you know about my long-standing nemisis with this man?

It’s an old, Snape-like grudge, and it goes like this:

Wayyyy back in 2001 or some such inconsequential Muggle date, I hit the backcountry for three weeks with one–ONE–novel in tow. The plan was to read and swap as my backpacking buddies finished their picks. Caught up in the madness that was–is…has it ever gone away?–I scooped up HP and the Chamber of Secrets. Book Two.

Picture this: glorious treks over King’s Canyon peaks, meadows of wildflowers in a California spring, MREs brought to life with just a splash of boiling water. Me, tucked in my down sleeping bag, headlamp blazing, ready to be entertained. Nights of reading lay ahead.

If only someone had told me that number two was the worst of them all. That it would be mindless drivel without the context and set-up of book one. If only someone had shaken me and shouted, “Linsey! Go! Find The Sorcerer’s Stone! You must start there! Checking your emergency kit can wait–GO!”

I think I wept in my tent for lack of inspiring reading material. There were some pages torn, some curse words slung. No one would trade books with me after I  bitched so fervently about “that boy and his stupid magic.” Sophomoric. Uninspired. Insipid. A waste of pack space.

A decade later, a gaggle of students are beyond convinced that I have missed the window into their generation. (I suppose it would be like one of my teachers not falling prey to Beverly Hills, 90210. Or My So-Called Life.) My classroom becomes a Potter Room, with allusions flying like Quidditch brooms lost on me like the Golden Snitch lost on the blind. Vocab skits are Potter-based, Christmas ornaments are Potter-themed. The entire seven-book-series is bestowed upon me. I have no choice. I am almost in tears. Every cell in my body threatens a rash. I could not bring myself to do it. And yet…they made me promise.

I recant. There. I said it. After years of bitching about the mislaid mystique of Harry Potter and of holding a grudge against JK Rowling for leaving me in the forest without a decent book to read, I have come to my senses. I could not put the book down. I even considered violating a very serious pact I have with myself: to go to school during break to pick up the next book. The dreaded Book Two. (Cue horror music.)

Here’s the thing, though: JK Rowling weaves a very compelling story–at least in Book One. Harry is sympathetic; Snape, Voldemort, and the Dursleys are all repulsive, and the magical realism makes me suspend my disbelief. In fact, I was downright shocked at the twist at the end of the book. And Rowling leaves just enough threads unwoven at the end  that I am eager to keep reading. I mean, Voldemort is going to grow from his baby-snake head-perching status, right? And the unicorns…they come back, right? RIGHT?

Needless to say, I am preparing myself for a long affair with books two through seven, even if  I have flashbacks to that long, unentertaining backpacking trip. Cause really, if Harry can lure Fluffy to sleep and fend off Quirrell while being half-conscious, don’t I owe it to him to read on?

Plus, I got a round of applause for announcing today that I was officially on Team Gryffindor. And the Sorting Hat told me, after all these years, that it is where I belong.