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An Autobiography of My Appetites

Written by Kate ChristensenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kate Christensen



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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: July 09, 2013
Pages: 368 | ISBN: 978-0-385-53627-1
Published by : Anchor Knopf

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Read by Tavia Gilbert
On Sale: July 09, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8041-4901-3
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From acclaimed novelist Kate Christensen, Blue Plate Special is a mouthwatering literary memoir about an unusual upbringing and the long, winding path to happiness.

“To taste fully is to live fully.” For Kate Christensen, food and eating have always been powerful connectors to self and world—“a subterranean conduit to sensuality, memory, desire.” Her appetites run deep; in her own words, she spent much of her life as “a hungry, lonely, wild animal looking for happiness and stability.” Now, having found them at last, in this passionate feast of a memoir she reflects upon her journey of innocence lost and wisdom gained, mistakes made and lessons learned, and hearts broken and mended.
   In the tradition of M. F. K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin, and Ruth Reichl, Blue Plate Special is a narrative in which food—eating it, cooking it, reflecting on it—becomes the vehicle for unpacking a life. Christensen explores her history of hunger—not just for food but for love and confidence and a sense of belonging—with a profound honesty, starting with her unorthodox childhood in 1960s Berkeley as the daughter of a mercurial legal activist who ruled the house with his fists. After a whirlwind adolescent awakening, Christensen strikes out to chart her own destiny within the literary world and the world of men, both equally alluring and dangerous. Food of all kinds, from Ho Hos to haute cuisine, remains an evocative constant throughout, not just as sustenance but as a realm of experience unto itself, always reflective of what is going on in her life. She unearths memories—sometimes joyful, sometimes painful—of the love between mother and daughter, sister and sister, and husband and wife, and of the times when the bonds of love were broken. Food sustains her as she endures the pain of these ruptures and fuels her determination not to settle for anything less than the love and contentment for which she’s always yearned.
   The physical and emotional sensuality that defines Christensen’s fiction resonates throughout the pages of Blue Plate Special. A vibrant celebration of life in all its truth and complexity, this book is about embracing the world through the transformative power of food: it’s about listening to your appetites, about having faith, and about learning what is worth holding on to and what is not.

Excerpt

FROM CHAPTER 6

Summer lasted year-round in Arizona, and therefore, swimming pools were a big part of our regular life. Sometimes my mother’s friend Carol would have her consciousness-raising group, which included my mother, over for pool parties, with all their kids. Carol was divorced and she lived with her four pretty, perfectly blond, blue-eyed girls, Marcia, Julie, Jeannie, and Janelle, in a huge air-conditioned stucco house. I remember spending the entire day in their pool, all of us kids shrieking and jumping into the blue water, playing Marco Polo and racing from end to end, pushing against the side and shooting off like launched rockets to the other side of the pool, throwing ourselves on and off rubber rafts and inner tubes, and taking turns running down the diving board and belly flopping or dive bombing into the pool.

Then Carol lit the grill and we had a cookout: hamburgers with melted cheese on toasted sesame buns with pickles and ketchup, potato salad, potato chips, Coke, and ice cream for dessert. I stood dripping and shivering a little in the sudden desert chill at sunset, a wet towel around my shoulders, my hair streaming water between my shoulder blades, eating a cheeseburger as fast as I could shove it into my mouth and chew and swallow it, and wondering how food could taste even better through the chlorine clouds on my tongue.

Before we moved to Arizona, I was largely indifferent to food, except those few favorite things I loved best and requested constantly. But at Wildermuth, something ignited a passion for eating in me. Maybe my palate had developed enough finally to enable me to taste fully what I was eating for the first time. Maybe Tempe itself, this wild, strange new place that was so profoundly different from Berkeley, opened my senses to taste and texture, flavor and smell.

I was in no way a born gourmet, and my palate was not instinctively refined. Far from it. I was an omnivore, a glutton. I loved putting things in my mouth and chewing them and swallowing. I loved eating, and thinking about food, as much as I loved reading and writing, and somehow all these passions were connected for me, on a deep level.

The rest of my family liked food, but no one else felt as vehemently about it as I did. At mealtimes, my sisters and mother ate happily enough, but I devoured, exclaimed, crowed, exulted. When something tasted particularly good, I would say in a didactic, insistent voice, “Yum!” My sisters would look at me, knowing I wanted them to concur but unable to share my visceral intensity. Susan later told me that she felt a certain strong pressure to agree with me and quailed under the fierce unblinking certitude of my stare around the table.

My mother was (and still is) possibly the slowest eater in the world. At the beginning of the meal, as the rest of us were all attacking our plates of food, she took a bite very deliberately, chewed and swallowed, then took a sip of whatever was in her glass, wine or water or beer. A long time elapsed before the next bite, during which she would talk, laugh, lean back in her chair. She appeared to have forgotten she was eating, as if the ongoing flow of bites that make up a meal, start to finish, were of no consequence to her, as if she were oblivious to any gustatory narrative flow. Instead, for my mother, each new, successive mouthful of food seemed to have its own logic, its own internal poetry. Every morsel was a world in itself, separate from all the others. She sat over her plate until long after the rest of us were finished.

My mother could also do a neat trick: sometimes, when she was eating corn, she could blow a kernel out her nose, much to our astonishment. We had no idea how she did that. None of us ever could. She was very mysterious about it. “Oh, you know,” she told us. “It’s just one of those things.”

During most of our years as a family in Arizona, we were flat-out poor. My mother clipped coupons, saved books of Green Stamps, was very careful about her budget, and bought all our clothes in thrift shops. But we didn’t feel deprived. Every night before bed, our mother read us stories or made them up. In the mornings or afternoons, she sat with her cello in the living room and practiced the Bach suites, which she played with fluid, soulful beauty. For her graduate school friends and their spouses and kids, she threw barbecues, pumpkin-carving parties, and poker parties.

She also fed us very well with the little money she had—before dinner, to stave off our immediate hunger while she cooked, we got a plate of cut-up raw carrots and peppers and jicama, which, not knowing any better, we gobbled up as fast as she could dole them out—or a big bowl of frozen mixed vegetables, which we called frozies. She baked fresh whole-wheat bread and handed us a piece of fruit or a graham cracker for midafternoon snack. Sugary things were restricted; candy was limited, and the only cereals we got were Cheerios, corn flakes, and wholesome hot cereals. Pop (as we called it in Arizona) was out of the question; we drank nothing but milk, water, and juice in our house. Of course, out-and-out junk food like Cheetos and Pop-Tarts was never allowed.

My mother was a cook of the plain, simple, homey variety, which was perfect for our undeveloped palates. She wasn’t a puritan or a health nut, but she greatly cared what we ate and took pains to serve us good meals every night. Sometimes, when she dished up one of her typical home-cooked dinners, and we told her how good it was and asked for seconds, she would say half joking, “Aw, it’s nothing but a blue plate special!” She told us this meant the kind of dinner you got in an old 1950s diner: a piece of fatty, salty meat or chicken or fish, usually fried, with or without gravy, plus a side of vegetables cooked to a gray pallor, plus something starchy, like mashed potatoes or baked beans. It was old-fashioned and filling, and also cheap, which was a big consideration for her back when she was a student and had to live on fried farina for most of the week.

My mother’s own versions of those other, earlier blue plate specials from her past struck me as a lot more special than those meals she described to us. Her mashed potatoes were rich, lumpy, and buttery, and when she made fried chicken, she shook it in a paper bag of spiced flour before frying it in very hot oil, so it was always both juicy and crunchy. She thawed frozen cod or haddock fillets—firm, white, mild, kid-friendly fish—and baked them just till they were flaky and tender, then squeezed lemon juice on them. She made meat loaf with ketchup, eggs, chopped onions, and bread crumbs, then served us each a savory thick slice that melted on the tongue. Her vegetables were usually frozen French-cut string beans or peas brought to a boil, then drained when they were still bright green and tossed with salt and margarine. They were never gray or overcooked; we loved them.

Part of it might have been the romance of eating the food that had comforted and nourished my mother when she was very young and very poor, and part of it might have been how good these meals were, but the term “blue plate special” has always been one of the homiest, coziest, most sweetly nostalgic phrases in the English language for me. It brings me right back to Wildermuth, back to that time in my childhood when I had my mother and my sisters all to myself; we were a complete family then, just us four girls, living in a wild, strange place, making a home for ourselves.
Kate Christensen

About Kate Christensen

Kate Christensen - Blue Plate Special

Photo © Michael Sharkey

KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of six previous novels, most recently The AstralThe Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. She has published reviews and essays in numerous publications, most recently the New York Times Book ReviewBookforumOElle, and Gilt Taste. She writes an occasional drinks column for The Wall Street Journal called "With a Twist." Her blog can be accessed at: http://katechristensen.wordpress.com. She lives in Portland, Maine.
 

Praise

Praise

“A gorgeously written, boldly honest memoir. . . . Full of disarming humor and a rich appetite, both for the meals whose recipes dot the chapters and for life itself.”
The Boston Globe
 
“Christensen has deftly tucked food into every scenario, every relationship and every crossroads. . . . A homey and vivid portrait of a woman who has dedicated herself to sitting in a room—sometimes of her own—and writing good books, including this one.”
The Wall Street Journal
 
“A paean to cooking and food, from the homey to the haute. . . . [A] blend of personal and social history.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“Christensen summons to mind a young, sexy Julia Child who mixes things with her hands and ends up with sauce on her chin.”
Elle
 
 “A fine case for life’s simplest pleasures—soul-satisfying sustenance shared with a soulmate.”
The Washington Post
 
“Picking up Blue Plate Special is a little like having Kate Christensen sit down next to you in a bar and hearing her life story. . . . In a bar, you wouldn’t get her recipes, however. They appear in the book and are built for comfort, from the Bachelorette Puttanesca to the Dark Night of the Soul Soup.”
— Los Angeles Times
 
“An inspiring and refreshing memoir that should whet the reader’s appetite to seek out the rest of [Christensen’s] oeuvre.”
The Miami Herald
 
“The memoir of an utterly original thinker, a free-spirited gourmand, and a great American writer. [Blue Plate Special] an expert guide on inspiration, ingenuity, heartbreak, buoyancy, home, love, family, screwing up, bouncing back, and perfecting the bacon-cheddar biscuit.”
—Gillian Flynn, author of Gone GirlDark Places, and Sharp Objects
 
“[A] poignant, delicious first memoir. . . . A delightful book that leaves you hungering for more.”
— People Magazine
 
“Christensen . . . brings a real sense of enchantment to her food writing. . . . She is both sensual and wickedly observant, a hard combination to pull off.”
—NPR
 
“A breathtaking book, sensuously written, emotionally generous, and decadent as a bowl of macaroni and cheese.”
—Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
 
“A banquet of sorts, with a surfeit of flavors. Christensen eats for all of us, and writes about food at the intersection of everything that matters. . . . [A] fierce, big-hearted memoir.”
Portland Press Herald
 
“A moving feast of memory, a repast of the past. . . . [Christensen’s] clean prose is sprinkled with witty phrases and wry observations. . . . An honest portrayal of the forces that have shaped her: love and loss; joy and pain; trust and despondency.”
Christian Science Monitor
 
“Warm, wise, earthy, funny, honest, haunting, and bighearted. . . . If you’re crazy about M.F.K Fisher and Laurie Colwin, you will be crazy for this book, too. There's not a single empty calorie here: every morsel is both delicious and nourishing.”
—Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking With Men
 
“Christensen lifts her story toward something bigger, something signifying. She looks up and glances across her page. I see you, she says. And we feel seen.”
The Millions
“A banquet of a book about eating, loving, and overcoming, to be devoured as fast as one’s fingers can turn the pages.” 
—Cathi Hanauer, author of Gone and Sweet Ruin, and editor of The Bitch in the House
 
“A novelist’s deliciously engrossing exploration of her life through the two major passions that have defined it: food and writing. . . . A Rabelaisian celebration of appetite, complete with savory recipes, that genuinely satisfies.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred)
 
“Christensen writes with savory, home-cooked clarity as she digs deeply into the pleasures and dangers of food, charting the culinary fads of the 1960s on as well as changes to women’s lives while zestfully telling intimate, harrowing, and hilarious tales of appetites corrosive and nourishing.”
— Booklist

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