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Blue Plate Special

Cover of Blue Plate Special

Blue Plate Special

An Autobiography of My Appetites
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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.

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.

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Excerpts-
  • 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...

About the Author-
  • KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of six previous novels, most recently The Astral. The Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award. She has published reviews and essays in numerous publications, most recently the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, O, Elle, 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


Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 10, 2013
    Novelist Christensen (The Great Man) describes her 1970s upbringing in Arizona in this unpretentious memoir. The oldest daughter of a Marxist lawyer and Waldorf-educated cellist, Christensen always modeled herself after her tough, uncompromising, iconoclastic father, whose manic rages nonetheless ruptured the family, sending the Christensen, her mother, and two sisters to start life in Tempe, Ariz., where her mother took up graduate studies in psychology. The three girls flourished, immersed in the era’s consciousness-raising feminist literature and instant or experimental food, recipes for which Christensen dandles along her narrative without much ado (e.g., “farmers fritters,” “camping peas”). Her efficient, chronological chapters treat some of the details those years, such as her mother’s boyfriends and her own crushes, even the sexual predator at the Waldorf school she attended briefly in high school in Spring Valley, N.Y., but mostly the undercurrent eddies around the author’s persistent loneliness, which she indulged by solitary writing and gorging on comfort food like bread and granola. A stint in France (“flageolets en pissenlits”), followed by college in Portland at Reed, graduate school in Iowa City, and work in New York round out this frank memoir, with appropriate culinary offerings for the writer’s darker moods (“Bachelorette puttanesca”).

  • Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects "I've often thought that eating, writing and living well required similar qualities: creativity, daring, the ability to savor the good stuff and learn from the bad. Blue Plate Special is the memoir of an utterly original thinker, a free-spirited gourmand, and a great American writer. It's an expert guide on inspiration, ingenuity, heartbreak, buoyancy, home, love, family, screwing up, bouncing back and perfecting the bacon-cheddar biscuit."
  • Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins "Blue Plate Special is the evocative, irresistible tale of the life and loves of one of America's greatest writers, Kate Christensen. Her loves include: Family, friends, men, travel, literature, but perhaps most of all, food. This is a breathtaking book, sensuously written, emotionally generous, and decadent as a bowl of macaroni and cheese."
  • Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking With Men "No American author writes with greater generosity of spirit or blazing descriptive power than Kate Christensen. Blue Plate Special is a marvel of a memoir--warm, wise, earthy, funny, honest, haunting, and bighearted. Christensen takes her place among the other great writers who've shown us that the best writing about food must also be about life and love and the world that grants us these gifts. 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."
  • Cathi Hanauer, author of Gone and Sweet Ruin, and editor of The Bitch in the House "Kate Christensen's prose has always been dazzling and brilliant even as it amuses and entertains. In Blue Plate Special, she applies her formidable talent to a memoir about the role of food in her (not always easy or kosher) past and present. The result is a glorious feast of meals, prose, and life from one of our finest writers today--a banquet of a book about eating, loving, and overcoming, to be devoured as fast as one's fingers can turn the pages."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred) "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."
  • Booklist "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."
  • Salon.com "In the end, Christensen makes no grand pronouncements, offers no advice, reveals no starry epiphany. There is, simply, life, and its small pleasures, and maybe, with time, a little bit of peacemaking with the company of memory, over plates of asparagus and steamed-and-buttered clams, small glasses of Rioja and chocolate-dipped strawberries, and out of it all a generosity of spirit..."
  • The Wall Street Journal "In Blue Plate Special, Christensen has deftly tucked food into every scenario, every relationship and every crossroads. But it isn't her subject. Eating is what she was doing while she was growing up, falling in love and becoming a writer. She recounts all of this very well, creating 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."
  • People Magazine "After publishing six novels, Christensen (The Great Man) turned her literary attention to food--first in a blog and now in this poignant, delicious first memoir...A delightful book that leaves you hungering for more."
  • The Christian Science Monitor "How many more food-based memoirs does the reading public really need? Novelist Kate Christensen proves that there's always room for one more, provided that it's good and this one is...There's plenty of food (and no shortage of alcohol) in these pages, counterbalanced with some really fine prose."
  • Los Angeles Times "Picking up Blue
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An Autobiography of My Appetites
Kate Christensen
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