Blood, Bones and Butter

As best as we could, using the butter-yellow melamine plates, we artfully arranged soppressata, Alphonse olives, hard cheeses, and bread that had crust and body – that could actually hurt the roof of your mouth if you were accustomed. We fried fatty, bony duck wings and coated them in toasted sesame seeds. We untangled mounds of curly bitter endive and tamed it with pear and walnuts and vinegar with bacon fat.

As I made my way through this book, I kept thinking: man, this book and her life are imbued, suffused, just completely infused with food. And my other thought: good god, what a life she had led. Being left on her own (accidentally?) as a kid and taking on a job at a restaurant (and hijacking cars in workshops to get to said job) to make money, essentially her first and very young foray into the culinary universe. Working as an underaged waitress at a bar. Doing coke and other drugs. Backpacking through Europe in winter with not very much money. Saying yes to owning a restaurant when she’s had no experience managing one (she’s had plenty of experience working as a catering chef but that’s a different ball game). Cooking for summer campers, including a young gourmand who’s father is a rather famous someone and some idiotic counselors who feel for the lobsters they’re going to consume anyway. Taking up an MFA in Michigan. Working the egg station at her restaurant while heavily pregnant and scheduling her childbirth when some members of her kitchen staff quit on her! This is a life boldly (perhaps sometimes a little foolishly?), led. And she puts all of it into her New York restaurant, Prune.

And I wanted to bring all of it, every last detail of it – the old goat herder smoking filterless cigarettes coming down the mountain, crushing oregano and wild mint underfoot; Iannis cooking me two fried eggs without even asking me if I cared for something to eat; that sweet creamy milk that the milk wallah in Delhi frothed by pouring in a long sweeping arc between two pots held as far apart as the full span on his arms from his cart decorated with a thousand fresh marigolds – into this tiny thirty-seat restaurant.

This book shines with such a gorgeous, delicious lustre when Hamilton talks about food, about her mom’s teaching them to forage for food in their own backyard, about Andre Soltner of Lutèce making an omelette, about making oriecchette in Italy (she married an Italian who courted her with homemade ravioli), and even about freelancing at catering companies (which makes me so rethink ever eating catered food. Here’s a hint: you know those canapes on toasts? Those toasts probably have been sitting around in the kitchens for days and days.)

We’d tromp around in the mud and taunt the geese in the meadow who’d lower their necks and come at us hissing mad, try to spear fish in the stream, and pick the big black berries off the mulberry bushes near our mailbox while inside our mother would whistle along with the classical music station, stir pots of fragrant stews, and repose in her chair, howling out loud, a New Yorker open on her lap and a particular cartoon cutting her in half.

But the bits about her family, especially her mother, are a little hard to swallow. There is so much angst and tension between the two of them that it very nearly pushes the reader away. But like that car wreck you pass on the highway, you just can’t tear your eyes from.

Blood, Bones and Butter is full of life, full of passion. Her dedication to her work, to her restaurant, to her children, is unceasing. Her story, a little bittersweet, the narrative a bit confusing at times, but a very hearty, satisfying read.

This is my second read for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 

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