Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton--I think I first heard about this book over at Books On The Nightstand. Michael loved it (his review starts at 18:02), and I'm sure I heard or read other good things about it, but every time I thought about adding it to my TBR list, I'd hesitate--I wasn't quite sure if it was something I'd be interested in or not. Well, I finally saw it on display at my library one day and figured I'd check it out. I'm so glad I did--I loved it!
Hamilton is the owner/chef of the restaurant Prune, in New York City, and the book's title pretty much says it all. She never really set out to become a chef, but, in one way or another, she's been training for it for most of her life. The book is broken up into three sections--"Blood," "Bones," and "Butter"--and each has a very different feel.
To break it down roughly, "Blood" is about Hamilton's childhood, who she is, what's in her blood; although she takes a turn toward the dark, depressed delinquent teenager eventually, I love the nostalgic sense of family that she portrays early on. Her father was a set designer for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus and "[p]rying back the lid on a fifty-gallon barrel of silver glitter--the kind of barrel that took two men and a hand truck to wheel into the paint supply room of the shop--and then shoving your hands down into it up to your elbows is an experience that will secure the idea in your heart for the rest of your life that your dad is, himself, the greatest show on earth."(p.9) Michael said that he often found himself with a big smile on his face while reading this book, and I felt the same way, especially during this part.
"Bones" is about Hamilton's adult journey to becoming a restaurateur (and includes, among other things, what I think is a highly useful take on balancing family and work life.) The magical childhood has, sadly, lost most of its magic, but we start to see other influences in her life. Although she doesn't realize it at the time, Hamilton's travels abroad are preparing her for her future position as a supplier of food, comfort, warmth, and welcome. Also, there is a great/horrific story about a rat. If you have ever thought about opening a restaurant because it would be "fun" you should read this book. There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears involved in getting a restaurant up and running and keeping it going every. single. day. If you don't think you have to be tough to open up and run a restaurant, think again.
"Butter" is largely about summers spent in Italy, cooking in the kitchen with her Italian mother-in-law, a woman who does not speak a word of English, but speaks the language of cooking and family and love. This comes back to family again, but with another feel yet again, this time with a realization of things that are slipping away.
I mentioned that I first heard about this from Michael over at Books on the Nightstand, but Michael mentioned it again (review begins at 20:52) when it came out in paperback...with a new chapter! Dang-I read the hardback; I would totally like to get my hands on the paperback because I definitely wanted some follow-up on a few things.
If you have reviewed this book, let me know, and I'd be happy to link to your review. I'd like to hear what other books have inspired people to cook. Books like this make me think, Yeah, I could do that! I could totally make my own pasta and use eggs to make things rich and savory instead of icky and egg-tasting. I'm going to start growing all my own vegetables and plant olive trees and become familiar with an actual butcher and raise chickens and stuff!
And finally, you know how I love my coincidental literature bits, and I have some for this book. Not too long after I finished reading this, I was on line looking for information about my tomatoes that were turning black (blossom end rot, as it turns out), and I found Keavy's 10 pound of onions blog where she talks about cooking all kinds of wonderful looking things (things that look like they have been inspired by Gabrielle Hamilton), and I saw an entry that started out with "Bill and I went to Prune today" and I thought, Hey! That was inspired by Gabrielle Hamilton! Then I clicked around on her blog a little more and found a recent post that starts out, "I've been obsessively reading Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune for the last week." Hey! Me too! Well, mine was a month ago, but still. Also, I don't really do eggs, but after reading this book, Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce is the kind of thing I might get brave and try one of these days.