Friday, May 6, 2011

Blood, Bones, and Beauty

When I added Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter to my library queue, I thought I was in for a fun, foodie jaunt. Usually, a memoir is a good read if it has a great story that's narrated in a not-entirely-irritating manner (ahem, Joyce Maynard).

Hamilton's memoir is a good story--how a young woman from rural Pennsylvania became a chef and opened an acclaimed restaurant in New York--but not a great story: girl has a mildly tumultuous upbringing, travels the world, eats quality food, meets crusty and wise characters who teach her to navigate a kitchen.

But the narration. Oh God. The book is colorful and funny and, most surprisingly, offers sentences that are just so true.


Some excerpts from my reading to-date:

...the root beer was frigid and it caught, like an emotion, in the back of my throat.

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Running out of milk in the middle of the dark woods with no town nearby and a hundred kids far away from home--some of them for the first time--rattled me but left Debbie calm and even-keeled.

"But what the fuck am I going to give them to fucking drink?" I asked, discovering that the milk "cow" in the dinking room, that refrigerated stainless box with the two heavy levers that spout milk when you lift them and stanch its flow when you lower them--had run dry. Two swear words in one sentence had become as effortless a part of me as my own saliva. 

"Kool-Aid!" Debbie replied cheerfully. She was used to opening big number-ten cans of corn and beans and mashed potatoes that they served at school lunch, and I didn't know anything about this, and I knew even less about kids. I naively didn't understand that they would prefer Kool-Aid to milk. Debbie grew her own tomatoes and zucchini in her garden at home but was no foe of processed foods. I loved that she gave her kids homegrown vegetables and big glasses of sugary processed Kool-Aid right alongside. That is my favorite kind of integrated person. Some of each thing and not too much of any one.

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To tackle a prep list at eight a.m. and have it knocked out by four p.m., black Sharpie line crossing out each item on the To-Do list:
6 quarts aioli
brown brisket
butcher salmon
toast walnuts
felt so manageable and tactile and useful. I could wake up and tackle that in a way that I would never be able to wake up and take a crack at certain literary pursuits, like, for example, illuminating the fog surrounding the human condition. This is not to suggest that I accepted this understanding about myself gladly, with just a sneering dismissal of the pursuit in the first place. Human condition. It's a blow to have to admit to yourself that you are not quite cut out for something that matters so much to you. More than a blow--it's a knockout. I had to lie down on the floor of my apartment for a very long time letting that one sink in. Did I have something more to offer, any other talent than a strong work ethic? Did I have something in me other than dishwasher?

As it turns out, I did not. 

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