On the Shelf: Blood, Bones & Butter

Monday, 19 January 2015
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton is a literary genius. You don’t always hear about fantastic chefs being fantastic writers but she is. I just listened to her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter while driving from Ohio to Tennessee to teach and I was reluctant to even get out of the car! If you love food, humor, and appreciate strong women who are highly successful, read this book.

 I can only aspire to be as fabulous as Hamilton, who owns her own restaurant (Prune) in New York City, and has published two books. She is also a mother and has put up with unbelievable mental and physical stress while building her own restaurant.

An example: Hamilton (who narrates her own book on CD) tells a story about how she had to deal with human feces outside the door of her restaurant one morning (homeless guy) and a rodent that was still moving when it appeared to be dead (maggots). I have so much admiration for this person who takes no shit from anyone (figuratively) but works impossibly hard to make sure her patrons are well cared and leave happy.

James and I have kind of gotten “over” New York City because of its presumptuous folks, high prices, and horrid airports but I MUST return soon to dine at Prune and relish in the behind-the-scenes stories about how Hamilton turning the former Italian-gone-bankrupt restaurant into her own jewel. (Her newest book, by the way, is Prune.)

 Beyond the fact that Hamilton’s life is/was fantastically adventurous (she backpacked by herself through Europe, worked as an alcohol-serving waitress in a busy NYC night club before the age of 18, married an Italian MD to help him get a green card, climbed 25 foot trees to trim back branches so her mother-in-law could have a few of the sea) she can put pen to paper while explaining food like I’ve never read before.

Listening to this book has inspired me to do something. I try to plan, prep, and cook yummy meals for James and I each night. I present some inventive meals such as steamed artichokes, roasted Italian sausage from the butcher, green salad with fresh herbs along side oozing, pungent, soft cheese. James is on a champagne kick and opens something gorgeous (we recently tried the label owned by Jay-Z) most evenings and we are keeping a journal of what we taste. But I want to learn more, attempt new knife techniques, and bring different flavors into our home.

Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter has inspired me to take local cooking classes. Even if they are commercial and I learn to use equipment sold by a certain store (or whatever), at least I’ll be adding somewhat to my kitchen skills. Being in the kitchen and preparing good food is a stress reliever in my life. Thinking is not necessary while I go through the practiced motions of chopping onions and garlic and sautéing them in extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes not thinking (especially while most of your mental energy goes to a dissertation) is a good thing.

January on Bald Head Island

Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Mom and dad went to Bald Head Island last week and invited James and I to join them. We were able to get away for the weekend and we all stayed in a lovely house on the golf course. Even though it was January, we enjoyed temperatures in the 60s and the sun came out two of the three days we were there.

James and I took a long walk to the Old Baldy lighthouse (established in 1817) and marveled at the structure that has stood strong for so many years. The walk was enjoyable and we listened to the sounds of the island as we strolled.

During the off-season Bald Head Island is even quieter and more private than usual. We saw only a few golf carts each day and even on the beach, we didn’t see a single other person.

Mom and I went to the beach one afternoon to walk and loved feeling the sun on our faces. Rather than people, we saw quite a bit of nature: dolphins, pelicans surfing the thermals over the water, and lines of hundreds of migratory birds.

The four of us took a walk on the golf course (near hole 11) around 4:00 one afternoon and spooked a huge Blue Heron. It squawked its displeasure at us and landed in a far-off tree. Once we walked past the tree, the heron circled back to its original perch by the lagoon. As we walked back to the house on the golf course, we started seeing medium-sized bats dart and dip through the sky. They were feeding on insects and their quick acrobatics were fascinating to watch.

One of the best parts of the weekend for me was riding a bike around the island. I biked in the forest as well as along the beach. There aren’t many hills on the island so riding is easy and the bikes were simple to use. My thighs pumped hard while I road into the wind and the light spray from the ocean felt refreshing against my face.

On the day before James and I were set to leave the island, the power went out. Apparently a barge with a crane snagged some power lines on the main land and the entire island was without power. Luckily the house we were staying in had a gas fireplace as well as a gas grill with propane! We lit candles, grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, sipped wine and even went for a walk on the beach under a full moon. That was truly a magical experience. We could see our shadows on the sand and loved seeing the light sparkle on the ocean. I can’t wait to go back.