Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Perfect and Wild

bay window, 2010

One of my first words was butter. It makes sense. Members of my family are genetically predisposed to appreciate good fats. We also ate kishka, the Eastern European blood sausage type. But it wasn't the name of her book that drew me to Gabrielle Hamilton, it was a little piece about Christmas Eve she wrote for her sister's publication, Canal House Cooking. This raw and honest writing left me intrigued about the author.

Soon I was the owner of a nice new hardcover book. I don't buy hardcover books often, this was a special occasion, so I took my book to Vesuvio, found a nice table with a view, ordered an Anchor Steam, and began reading.

I finished Blood, Bones & Butter yesterday afternoon and today I am thinking of Gabrielle and all of her idiosyncrasies. Her book is not perfect, she is not perfect, and as I ponder the word this morning I'm starting to think there's something ugly about perfection. Who needs it.

I've realized the traits I liked and disliked in Gabrielle (the Gabrielle we see in her book) are in direct relation to what I like and dislike in myself. Her experiences highlighted the good and bad in my own life. Her self reliance as a wild young girl had me recalling the young driven and independent me and her later drama over small obstacles left me wanting change in my life today.

I was most moved by her haphazard pruning of a set of towering oleanders outside her mother-in-law's villa in Puglia. This vision of her balancing barefoot in the crotch of branches, resolved to cut through to a view of the sea, it left me craving the same feeling of wild determination. It also reminded me of something a former drawing instructor said to me.

It was the final day of class and each student pinned their first and last drawings to the wall, proudly displaying the improvement made after a semester of practice. Our instructor thoughtfully commented on each set. When she reached my drawings, the first very loose, almost feral, and the second more careful and well crafted, I sat tall awaiting her praise of the progress I had made. She did acknowledge my progress, but followed with but I kind of miss wild Denise.

Blood, Bones & Butter
Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 5
Anchor Steam


  1. You know I loved it ( the book) unreservedly.

    She made me feel as if my life was straight out of Little Women.

    And she made me want to eat and cook and be brave and continue to take chances and make stupid mistakes.

    All in the name of living.

    I loved every word you had to say about it.

    xo Jane

  2. "and as I ponder the word this morning I'm starting to think there's something ugly about perfection"

    - if that doesn't say it all -

    thanks so much for stopping by my site :) i must get a copy of this book.

  3. Jane, My mind has been on food and Italy. Travel plans in the works...

    kitchu, Thank you.

  4. Oh Vesuvio...

    Time for me to check out that book. I'm curious now... thanks :^)

  5. So many times in my life, I've longed for perfection, knowing I can never achieve it but now I appreciate those little flaws that make things interesting and agree with you that there's a kind of ugliness there - beautifully put Denise. Another book you've recommended I'm dying to read. Don't lose that wild streak, keep in close to hand and follow it from time to time. I wish I had that, my problem is being too nice and polite.

  6. i don´t know the book or the author, but i have to change that! it´s important to keep the wild side alive in us, it gets lost so easily when we´re trying too hard to be good/perfect. thank you for this reminder!

  7. i have the italy bug as well. :) this was such a nice post, denise.

  8. That sounds like a book I must read, an antidote to bland perfection. There's so much pretend perfection in this media age, and it's even more insulting than the real thing. You and she and flwrjane need to go on tour together.

  9. Janis, Yes, is such a nice afternoon reading spot.

    Emily Vanessa, I appreciate those little flaws too. I'm sure you could be wild, just a small bit.

    WSAKE, Cheers to keeping the wild side alive.

    shari, I hope you go. I just love Italy. I've been corresponding with the owner of an apartment near a small port town, hoping to finalize some plans.

    mise, I agree. We'd have so much fun, but not without you. You'd definitely have to join us.

  10. I was planning to wait for the paperback but I think I might be not able to! Keep reading such good things about this book. Lovely post :)

  11. I love reading your writting as your words put me in a calm peaceful mood.

  12. I love reading your write-up. I loved sitting in Vesuvio when we went to San Fran last year. Something about sitting there sipping a huge glass of wine (I don't think they could have filled it any higher). I have not read the book. But I like the way you write about it, so perhaps I need to read it now.

  13. bloody hell, what a booster post, denise! [please pardon my french, but thruth needs to be told. boldly]
    i've loved every word of it.

    is gabrielle anything like mfk fisher, par hasard?

    go wild (again) in italy, girl!

  14. I remember that essay, and it stuck me, too. Now I'm going to look for that book.

    Really nice, thoughtful post, Denise.

  15. I've been wondering about this book ever since you 'pinned' it a few weeks ago. Your words make me want to pick up a copy even more.

    I've taken one drawing high school. My teacher basically spent a semester trying to change my style. In the end, she finally acknowledged she should never have done that. Your story reminded me of that. Interesting the idea of 'better' sometimes.

  16. Denise, I want to thank you for the list of books in the side column, as well as the other books you mention in various posts. (I enjoyed both "Housekeeping" and "Shadow Tag.") When and if you're inclined, I'd like to know how you go about finding your books.

    Thanks and Happy Easter!

  17. I have this book on my MUST READ, soon, list... thank you for making the read even more compelling for me

  18. I've been wanting to read Hamilton's book since there was an excerpt of it in the New Yorker. Your discussion (review is not the right word, right?) of it makes me want to read it all the more. Perfection is totally overrated.

  19. Beautiful post and I'm excited for you and your Italy plans.

  20. After reading this post I feel like I need to read this! You write so lovely, and you have such a wonderful blog -I'm very happy I stumbled upon it!

  21. Perfection is boring. Unless it's in a cake. Thanks for pushing me in the direction of another chef/writer, I needed a new one. And thanks for stopping by!


  22. Hi Denise--wonderful post. this book is waiting for me to pick it up and read--so, soon. very soon. it's good to remember that wild part of ourselves--bold and brave and chancy, out there in the thick of life--is always there, waiting to be expressed.

  23. You are the third person to suggest 'Blood. bones and butter' to me. You are, as always, very pursuasive. Off to have almond ice cream for an early lunch.

  24. Wild determination! I like that. I am very determined in things I do, sometimes to point of ridiculousness, but add 'wild' before it and... yes! I like that.

    Wild is a great word. It should be used more often. And I hope it features in your drawings in all its many guises. A balance of the two perhaps. Abandonment tethered but not always. Skill and craft and considered attention underpinning something seemingly loose and free. Your post makes me want to draw more!

    be well, g xo

  25. couldn't agree with you more about perfection....

    and now i have another book added to my to read list

  26. I haven't read the book yet. I think I'll order it from Amazon, I'm in the mood for a good read...

  27. there's something about perfection that feels too complete, too stifled and closed. wild, unresolved, to grow and change is much better I think... interesting your first word was butter...
    the book looks interesting...i shall seek it out.

  28. I'm really curious. off to amazon... hugs to you, Denise

  29. Imperfection is what makes us who we are, no? Wend all be little robot Stepford people without a little imperfection, and that would be plain creepy.

  30. Nancy, I enjoyed reading this book in hardcover form. I hope you like it too.

    cookiecrumb, Really... Thank you very much.

    coco, This pleases me.

    Raina, Your making me think I should switch my usual Vesuvio order from beer to wine.

    nadine, No, I don't think Gabrielle is much like M.F.K., but she is good in her own way. And yes, wild I will go! Dreaming of pesto alla genovese...

    Lecia, Enjoy.

    Rachel, Hopefully she learned a lesson and ceased trying to change style. It's such a bad idea.

    Rachael, I wish I could clearly articulate how I find the books I read. It's all pretty willy-nilly. I read about books on blogs, in magazines, and in newspapers. Often it's just a slight reference to an author or a quote that will prompt me to dig deeper and I'll stumble upon a good book. Sometimes someone will tell me about a book. Also, I love browsing bookstores (especially used bookstores) and libraries.

    Amelia, Enjoy.

    Julia, Agreed, this is far from a formal review. Just a few personal thoughts.

    alexandria, Thank you.

  31. Marguerite, Thank you.

    Anna, I can live with a perfect cake.

    Ida, I hope you enjoy it.

    nancy (at good food matters), I love that idea, that the wild side of ourselves is always out there waiting for us.

    rachel(eats), Almond ice cream for lunch? You know how to live.

    Gracia, Such a beautiful perspective. Thank you.

    lisa, I hope you enjoy it.

    Joyti, Have fun!

    Annie, I know, perfection just feels odd. Yes, butter, actually butter slightly mispronounced.

    design elements, I hope it suits you too.

    Erin, Yes, I agree. I'd rather avoid creepy.

  32. I've never heard of this book before, but it sounds like a must read. Thanks:)

  33. I've never heard of this book before, but it sounds like a must read. Thanks:)