Blue Plate Special began as a series of autobiographical blog posts about food, which Kate Christensen jokes she wanted to write even if her mother were the only reader. The responses to these posts were so enthusiastic that Christensen, author of the acclaimed novels The Astral and The Great Man, among others, knew she’d found the topic of her next book, a mouthwateringly good story that begs to be read and shared.
Blue Plate Special follows the unusual—even eccentric—development of both Christensen’s palate and her very identity. It’s a story full of delicious indulgences and tasty descriptions of fried chicken, fresh produce and cheese. Simple recipes are included throughout, and it is well worth trying a few. (I can personally attest to the tastiness of the spinach pie.) Like many foodies, Christensen’s palate truly awoke during a year-long stay in France, and the stories of her simple meals in the French countryside alone are worth the price of the book.
But her story is also one of deprivation, determination to lose a few pounds, troubling thoughts about wide backsides and what her mother called “huskiness.” Christensen, a passionate and charismatic personality, vacillates between gorging herself on whatever her fancy may be at the moment—say, burritos with fried-up canned beans—and starving herself on diets that involve dipping a carrot in olive oil and calling it lunch. She seems to profoundly understand how she came to be herself, and she shares her insights simply and movingly.
Consider, for instance, her reflection on witnessing domestic violence between her parents in early childhood. “This particular wrecked breakfast,” she writes, “is imprinted on my soul like a big boot mark. It became a kind of primordial scene, the incident around which my lifelong fundamental identity and understanding of the dynamic between women and men was shaped, whether I liked it or not.” This frank insightfulness flavors all of the chapters, which are organized chronologically and span a wide geography, both literally and metaphorically.
For much of her life, Christensen writes that she was “a hungry, lonely wild animal looking for happiness and stability.” Readers will celebrate that she, at long last, finds both.