Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

I served sour tomato soup to my friends. I was trying to be hospitable, thoughtful to their long day of travel to see us by offering a comfort food. Unfortunately, upon first bite of soup, it became immediately clear that I had added too much, way too much citric acid to the tomatoes when I canned them last summer. It was sour, terribly sour. But technically edible, I suppose, if you closed your eyes and thought about lemonade. I am pretty sure it was their actual hunger that made the soup edible. Being hungry can really make a meal feel gracious, even a sour one!

Gabrielle Hamilton's book Blood, Bones and Butter is about hunger. The hunger of a poor, young traveler. The emotional hunger of a child abandoned by parents. The hunger to reconnect with perfect meals and moments from our past. Is there any other reason we really cook? To achieve a comfort we imagine and hunger for, to recreate a moment that sustained us when we were in need. To soothe a growling stomach is obviously why we cook, but what we choose to cook, how we meet that hunger, if we look closely at that, we will discern a long, emotional path, a labyrinth of physical memories and hopes.

I ate Gabrielle's cooking once. The angels were smiling upon Craig and I and we got a free spot in an event at the Italian Wine Merchant's secret back kitchen where Gabrielle was cooking. I fell in love with her when she held up the raw heart of a young cow (yes that is a nice way of saying Veal) and told the story of her butcher, who she said had a crush on her and always saved her the best hearts. She told the whole story with the heart in her hand, gesturing with it while the fancy ladies and gentlemen in the room stared, slack jawed and wide eyed. I thought she looked like a rock star shredding at her guitar, standing there with her swagger, her knowledge and her comfort with this ingredient: a heart.

She holds hearts in her hands, and with her writing and her cooking, she'll have yours in her hands too.

One of the other things she made that day was a perfect, truly perfect!, omelette, over which she put finely chopped young spring onions, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. Every spring Craig and I make batches of this when the long young onions are in season and we put it on absolutely everything. Eggs, bread with good crust, steak, soft cheeses.

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