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Blue Plate Special

Author Kate Christensen tells her own story of a lifetime of love, loss, and great meals.

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Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, by Kate Christensen, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 368 pages

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Novelist Kate Christensen’s memoir, Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of my Appetites, is a moving feast of memory, a repast of the past. “To taste fully is to live fully,” the author declares at the outset.

Chronicling her American girlhood from the early 1960s (at the end of the Baby Boom), to her present life as a writer and blogger in Maine, the book is an honest portrayal of the forces that have shaped her: love and loss; joy and pain; trust and despondency. In those 50 years, the author turned to food – to nourish away gloom, to celebrate, to reconnect with lost years. The book includes a smattering of recipes: Anadama bread, Yorkshire pudding, rabbit stew, among others.

Originally written as blog posts, the book’s brief chapters read like complete stories in themselves. Christensen, author of seven novels including "The Great Man," winner of the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award, writes wonderfully. Her clean prose is sprinkled with witty phrases and wry observations.

The story begins at a “wrecked breakfast” in Berkeley, California, where 2-year-old Kate recoils in confused horror, watching her father beat her mother.

Eventually Kate’s mother moves her three daughters to Arizona so she can attend graduate school, and then on to a Bohemian “ghost town” in northern Arizona where the girls are forced, yet again, to fit into all new schools. But the teenaged Christensen isn’t satisfied; she enrolls in a Waldorf-inspired high school in upstate New York, only to discover the rural idyll includes male teachers who take sexual advantage of students while officials turn a blind eye.

Upon graduation, Christensen takes a job as a nanny in France, where she learns French language and cooking (by far the most interesting culinary discussion in the book). Here’s Christensen making her popular muesli for breakfast: “Every night before bed, I cut up all the ripest plums, peaches, and apricots in the larder, and soaked it all in milk overnight with a heap of steel-cut oats. The next morning the vat held a slightly fermented, sticky, thick mass that smelled like library paste on a rotting orchard floor. The … kids couldn’t get enough of it.”

Boyfriends come and go; food obsessions wax and wane; her weight seesaws.

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