Reading Christensen’s “autobiography of my appetites” is like a delicious journey through beautiful scenes, with food as the centerpiece. Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites is not just about food, but about how the preparation and eating of delicious meals brings the world in. In her prologue, the author shows us more:
“To taste fully is to live fully. And to live fully is to be awake and responsive to complexities and truths–good and terrible, overwhelming and minuscule. To eat passionately is to allow the world in; there can be no hiding or sublimation when you’re chewing a mouthful of food so good it makes you swoon.”
In her early years as a small child in Berkeley, the author and her parents and two sisters lived what looked like an idyllic life in a peaceful community, but there was violence behind closed doors.
After her parents separated, the author moved with her mother and sisters to Arizona while her mother worked on her Ph.D. In psychology. Just when they were all settled in and acclimated, enjoying food and reveling in blue plate specials, another change came about and they moved to Jerome, a ghost-like town that was the opposite of those early beginnings. Isolated and lonely, impoverished at times, the absence of those dinners was deeply felt. Now the girls began to test their own skills at cooking.
Over the years, we learn about how food and its preparation and consumption and the memories of people and experiences are woven together for the author. From the Bay Area to Arizona, to the East Coast, and then to France for a year, we get to experience, along with the author, the role of food in making those moments memorable.
To show new discoveries in France, the author writes her impressions after a supper with zucchini as a main dish:
“That zucchini woke me up to the idea that food had possibilities and qualities that I had not suspected. After that supper, I began to pay closer attention to what I ate; I began to see it not as a substance to assuage hunger or homesickness but as something to savor when it was good, like a well-written book or piece of music.”
Settling in New York and writing her first novels there, the author shows how food played a role in her life and relationships there, too. And finally, after a long marriage, in which food was the strongest connection between them, she divorced and finally left New York for New England with her new man.
This memoir was wonderfully full of the elements I most enjoy in both fiction and nonfiction: a strong sense of place and a feeling that I’m part of the settings. And after most of the chapters, the author gave us recipes that make this reluctant cook want to dive in. I also thoroughly enjoyed following this writer’s journey, having read and enjoyed two of her novels. The author’s willingness to share her flaws and shortcomings, without blaming her childhood or giving excuses, made her even more readable, in my opinion. I will be picking up more of her novels.
As I read, I could also bring my own memories and associations of food into play, recalling times spent with special family members who brought food to the table like a creative production. And how delicious flavors do linger in our memories for years afterwards, adding something poignant to the moments of our lives. A delicious read that earned five stars.