Read Now: Blood, Bones, and Butter

After a late night, at 11:17 sharp on an excruciatingly hot Sunday morning in NYC, the bartender at Prune informed us that on Sundays, restaurants were not permitted to serve alcohol until noon. I was crushed but managed not to stab the bartender with my now-indignant glare. That is when I saw her close to the door – blonde, with braided pigtails, and a wickedly confident presence. She looked like she owned the place. Because she did. She didn’t get us a drink, but seeing her almost made me forget about it.

Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef and owner of Prune. She is also the author of Blood, Bones, and Butter, a sharp, fiery, and luring memoir recounting an enchanted food-centric childhood, a mad self-search that ended in owning Prune, and a less-than-conventional approach to relationships, marriage, and family.

[This is not the released book, just an advance copy]

The youngest of five, Hamilton’s family set the stage for her later career. She was introduced to from-scratch foods by a charming French mother who inspired a deep respect for food and an undying love of making it. The sensory experience of eating was instilled in her by her father, an artist and free spirit who created magical stories, unforgettable parties, and romanticized memories all revolving around food.

The young Hamilton recounting her childhood is innocent, mesmerized. When her parents announce a sudden divorce, Gabrielle reacts by going into a tailspin of adolescent behavior that eventually takes her to New York City working in questionable bars, using drugs, and barely escaping a criminal prosecution for grand larceny and possession of stolen property.

Woken up to reality, Hamilton goes to college, on and off – searching her calling, working nauseating catering jobs, cooking at a kids’ summer camp for Mark Bittman’s daughter (the world is so small), and taking a long and enlightening (if not miserable and excruciating) trip to Europe. It is this trip that inspires and tips Hamilton’s will into wanting to do food her own way.

The trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant in a non-conventional way are described in detail and so is the emotional roller-coaster and romance and pragmatism that leads to her marriage. She leaves her long time girlfriend to marry an Italian doctor who sweeps her off her feet but who also needs paperwork to stay in the United States. This couple – a pair that never really lives as a couple in one residence – has two children and travels every summer to Italy for extended stays. Intriguing, unusual- to say the least.

During these Italian breaks from reality, Hamilton seems to dream up the scenery of dinners her father used to stage when she was just a girl. She wants to create her own feasts only to encounter her husband’s harsh and adamant resistance. This, if nothing else, is a sign of the decline of their union.

Hamilton shares much of herself in this book- honestly and openly. Her stories are engaging. Her writing is sharp and surprising- only one sentence can swing the language and mood from ‘fuck’ to ‘insouciant’ – seamlessly and gracefully in a three line span. It’s impossible not to fall for her writing, not to be enthralled by her story.

So buy the book and take a couple of days off work. Or plan to barricade yourself in the house for a weekend with enough food to survive. I got my advance copy 3 months ago and read it with the eagerness of a teenager getting her hands on the Justin Bieber memoir. I loved it and I am sure you will too.

A recipe is in order – one that Hamilton uses- a Chickpea Salad.

Chickpea Salad (an adapted version of a recipe published in Food and Wine)

Ingredients: one 19 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed; 2/3 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and torn into chunky bits; 10 small red radishes, cleaned and quartered; 5 scallions, white and light green parts only, chopped finely; 1 cup flat-leaf parsley chopped;
5 tablespoons olive oil; 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice; 2 teaspoons champagne vinegar; salt and pepper to taste. Plus 4 soft poached eggs.

Lightly crush half of the chickpeas. I did by pressing a cutting board on top of the chickpeas. Mix in the rest of the chickpeas.

Make the dressing by mixing together the lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of olive oil along with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the chickpeas with the dressing and add the olives, radishes, scallions, and parsley.

Poach the eggs by bringing a deep pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar per quart of water.

Reduce to a simmer and crack the shell of the egg on the edge of your pan gently lowering the egg into the water. With a spoon, nudge the egg whites closer to their yolk. The eggs cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes depending on the desired firmness. Remove the eggs from the water with a slotted spoon.

Serve the salad topped with a warm poached egg, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and hopefully a few hours snuggled somewhere with this book.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

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  • Joy, The Herbed Kitchen

    I love the sort of book that pulls you into its spinning vortex of love, family and heartache. I cannot wait to get my little paws on a copy. The last book to cause such a stir in my heart and mind was Zoe Heller's The Believers which is fiction but the characters are so very real that you could touch them if you really tried.

    I suppose you made a salad, hm? I was completely caught up in your review and thoughts on Gabrielle Hamilton's book that it was more than a surprise to see your gorgeous salad. Chickpea salads are some of my favourite, I like to make a warm version of this that I cook in a high-sided saute pan with tomatoes and lightly poached eggs.

  • Lawyer Loves Lunch

    This book sounds great! I loved food based stories, especially ones that do such a good job of weaving in food and recipes! And to think, you saw her in the flesh! :)

  • Sara @ Saucy Dipper

    I'm adding this book to my list right now. No joke.

    I didn't realize the you can't serve liquor before noon in NYC. Are mimosas exempt? Seems like I had plenty of those when I was there.

  • bunkycooks

    This sounds like a fascinating story and definitely worthy of a day or two dedicated to reading it. Thank you for introducing me to Gabrielle.

  • The Cilantropist

    I absolutely love reading memoirs (especially when there are recipes included) and I am intrigued by her unique life and interesting path – both personal and professional. I am glad you brought this book to my attention, I think I would really enjoy it! Plus, the salad with chickpeas and the egg on top sounds like a refreshing weekend meal.

  • Joy

    I hard that book was really good. I have been meaning to pick it up. The salad looks great.

  • Savory Sweet Living

    I've been wanting to read this book and can't wait to get my hands on it. I love adding an egg on top of many things so this salad is right up my alley.

  • AML

    First things first. I have a ton of books I am trying to get through, so I probably won't be reading this one anytime soon. In fact I'm still trying to finish the last one you loaned me… well one of them. J is reading the other. You could bring it when you come though… :) This looks killer. Some of my favorite flavors-yes, even the olive. I have acquired quite the ferocious palate for them as of late. My surroundings maybe? How were you lucky enough to gets your mitts on an advance copy anyhow? I'm sure you have your ways.

    Now. Time for the constructive criticism. It wouldn't be me if I didn't. Actually. Maybe it's more of a question. Canned… Precooked… Chickpeas? Really? I'm still in shock. The only thing I can think of for you doing this, is that your house seems to have a dry bean cooking curse. They never seem to turn out for some reason. Consistently at least. That is the only logic I can come up with, considering you are such a food purist and all. Unless it's just flageolet…

    Oh well. The flavors are there. The technique is there. Substitute if needed I suppose. I can always mail some ceci your way if you'd like… or you can just get some when you visit. Until your next post, which I am waiting for-happy cooking.