Blood, Bones and Butter and Three Inspired-by Recipes

“What starts out as a typical memoir of an eccentric family and one girl’s triumph above it (or because of it), the book soon turns into a poignant tale of living a fairy tale life with doubts.”   This sentence summed up my feelings about Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton when I first read the book soon after it was published.  I kind of still stand by this statement.

Blood Bones & Butter is the June/July selection for Cook the Books.  You can read the announcement post here .  Simona (from briciole) is hosting.

This is the first book by Hamilton, chef/owner of Prune in NYC.  Since then, she has published Prunea cookbook from the restaurant.    She has also been featured on Mind of a Chef.

Hamliton, who did finally obtain an MFA in writing along the way of her unorthodox education, may not be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read, but I do enjoy her story and style.

The early chapters about her unusual childhood and her stint at the children’s summer camp made me look forward to other adventures that I was sure were awaiting Hamilton.   I’m not sure I was rewarded.

Her time in Ann Arbor while she worked on her MFA and still did a catering gig was a little staid.  (I did enjoy the characterization of her catering boss, Misty; she was intriguing).   I know Hamilton was focusing on academia at the time, but these accounts were totally unadventurous.  Perhaps that was intentional.  When she did get back to NYC and stumbled upon her perfect restaurant location, she decides to back track and flashback to her backpacking trip to Europe.  I had to reread that a few times to even figure out the time frame.

Then I got it.  It was on this trip that she had the epiphany meal (one of many):

…the waitress put the plate in front of me.  There was, as I’d ordered, a cold ham sandwich on good buttered grainy bread, but it came with a warm salted potato and a wedge of Gouda that had aged so much that it had gritty, very pleasant granules in it, which at first I thought were salt grains but then realized were crystallized calcium deposits from the milk of the cheese.  I ate the little potato right away.  Its pail yellow flesh was perfectly waxy, and its skin snapped when I bit into it.  I don’t know under what other conditions a simple, salted, warm boiled potato could ever taste as good as this tasted.  Probably none.  (121)

She also experienced the simplicity, beauty and deliciousness of simple food in Breton:

This is a crêpe .

This is cider.

This is how we live and eat.  (126)

After her “marriage” to Michele (they lived apart) and the births of her boys, Hamilton does have some other life epiphanies.   I had to smile at her musings on badassness as she was making definitely non-badass to-do lists with a Sharpie marker.

Blood, Bones & Butter is three or four different books wrapped up under one cover.   There’s a memoir of a dysfunctional family, precarious experiences as a youth and an unorthodox education.   There’s a poetic travelogue of being twenty and traveling Europe with $1200 in traveler’s checks.   The whole chef/owner/restaurateur is another portion (to include her experiences as a mother).

I admire Hamilton and was probably more impressed with her appearance on Mind of a Chef than I was during my re-reading of Blood, Bones & Butter.   It’s funny revisiting a book seven years later, a book you once professed to love.    Age will do that.  My reexamination only left me liking the book this go around.   I sometimes wondered about her credibility as a narrator but to get into to that would be to open up the whole perceptive memory and truthful memoir argument.


Although Hamilton doesn’t share any recipes in this book (that’s in Prune), she does offer a plethora of inspiration from her father’s lamb roast to ice cream for the King of Thailand.  I was struck on her early memories at her chaotic, dilapidated childhood home—to meals that her mother would cook to her father’s highly-anticipated lamb roast.   Images of Hamilton rooting through her mother’s pantry as she was trying to fend for herself in her early teens also stayed with me.

One weekend morning, I found myself preparing three recipes that I thought would pair nicely with this book:  Herbed Olives and Hummus (both from Dorie Greenspan) and homemade Dijon mustard.  It just hit me that perhaps through foraging in the fields around the mill and hungrily searching through leftovers in the home larder that maybe Hamilton might have found some sustenance making something similar.


Herbed Olives

Dorie Greenspan  (I took a few liberties.)

These are better as they time passes. You can eat them almost immediately but put them in the refrigerator to store and remove them at least thirty minutes before serving.


  • 1 can green olives (packed in water), drained*
  • 1 can black olives (packed in water), drained*
  • 3 sprig of rosemary, about 1-2 inches long
  • 3 thyme sprigs, about 1-2 inches long
  • 1/4 t. coriander seeds
  • 1/4 t. black peppercorns
  • 1/8 t. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 dried red chile
  • zest of one lemon (cut in strips)_
  • salt to taste


  1. Let drain and then place olives in jar along with one sprig of rosemary and one sprig of thyme.
  2. Strip the leaves off the other three rosemary and thyme sprigs and chop (discard these stems.)
  3. In a small heavy skillet, toast the peppercorns and fennel seeds. When aromatic, scrape them in a small bowl and set aside. Let skillet cool slightly and add 1/4 c. of the olive oil.
  4. Add coriander and toasted spices along with the rest of the ingredients. Heat the mixture just until it’s warm and fragrant (about two minutes).
  5. Pour the herbed oil over the olives and top off the jar with the remaining oil. Let set at room temperature for at least 4 hours. (Keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks).

*Dorie calls for two cups of olives.


Dorie Greenspan

I added a bit of fresh thyme (that I had left over from the herbed olives).


  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (but reserve a bit of the liquid)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/3 c. well-stirred tahini (I used Sprout’s Roasted Garlic tahini)
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 t. ground cumin
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme, stem removed (use leaves only)
  • salt and fresh ground pepper


  1. Drain and dry the chickpeas. Add chickpeas, garlic, tahini and lemon juice in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the reserved chickpea liquid if needed.
  2. Add the cumin, thyme and salt and pepper. Process a bit more. Taste, re-season as necessary.
  3. Place hummus in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or put in a sealable container. Refrigerator before serving.

This would have been better with grainy bread, some really fine Gouda and a bit of ham.

Whole-Grain Spicy Mustard


Spicy and sweet.


  • 6 T. brown mustard seeds
  • 2 T. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 c. white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio.)
  • 1/4 c. ancho chile white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 t. coarse sea salt
  • 2 T. honey


  1. Combine the mustard seeds, wine and vinegar in a pint jar. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for two days.
  2. Transfer the contents to a blender, along with the salt and honey, and blend until you achieve the desired consistency, anywhere from 30-60 seconds.
  3. Store in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate for another 24 hours before using. Makes about one cup. Will keep in the fridge for a couple of months as long as it’s tightly covered.

Yield: 1 pint

I’ve made this recipe before but this one was different because as I rooted through my own pantry, I only had a few yellow mustard seeds and a bit of white wine vinegar.  So, I used more brown mustard seeds and the ancho chile vinegar.  I had to add the honey to offset the bite of the ancho spice.


Would I still recommend this book?  Yes and I have since me re-reading.   I’m about the same age as Hamilton so I wonder if she wrote a memoir today if it would be similar or strikingly different?  Would she have a different set of eyes on her own life looking back as a fifty-something.


The next four books in the Cook the Books rotation have been announced:

August/September: The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)

October/November: The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)

December/January: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (hosted by Debra at Eliot’s Eats)

February/March: Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran (hosted by Simona at briciole).

Please join us in reading these books, getting inspired in the kitchen and posting up your book reviews and recipes!

I’m linking up to Foodies Read.

11 comments to Blood, Bones and Butter and Three Inspired-by Recipes

  • I have had this book in my wish list for quite a while, Guess it’s time to put a hold on it so I can read it soon. Thanks for the thorough review. Love all of the recipes, especially the olives. I usually cheat and just get them at the olive bar, so yours looks SO GOOD.
    BTW – Can’t wait for The Language of Flowers event. I read it a few years ago and loved it. Good choice.

  • I think I have that book too..not sure though. Thanks for the review…might read it before bed today. Both hummus and herbed olives are delicious, but the homemade mustard is my favourite, Deb.

  • Good review Debra, and I love all your recipes. As one who makes her own mustard, it was good to get ideas for additions to it. I always add honey and about half brown mustard seeds to half yellow.

  • Good review. Definitely worth reading for the food parts! Not sure if the “life” parts sound all that interesting, actually. Anyway, great trio of recipes. I never make my own mustard — I need to. 🙂

  • Mae

    Your fellow participants in Cook the Books have also reviewed this book — I read it some time ago with my culinary book club.The book seemed interesting, but she wasn’t an entirely likable character, and I preferred her appearance on Mind of a Chef (or whichever TV series she was on). My reaction was similar to the other reviews, so I am probably repeating myself.

    I think your recipe choices are very appropriate.

    best… mae at

  • Thanks for the book recommendations as well as the recipes. I don’t normally read biographies, but since I also did a short stint in Ann Arbor, I’m kind of intrigued by the vague connection to Gabrielle Hamilton.

  • As always, I enjoyed reading your review, particularly the comparison with your earlier view of the book. Age indeed shifts our perceptions of many things, including books and movies. I have been wanting to make whole-grain mustard at home for a while, so thank you for the recipe inspiration. Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books 🙂

  • Foraging through cupboards is always an adventure. Love your tasty conglomeration.

  • I really liked this book. Also, I’m a big fan of hummus, nice work!

  • I love your mustard recipe, that looks so delicious.

  • I found myself put off by this woman’s early lfe. Couldn’t connect with the chaos, the drugs etc, but the rets of her story was captivating