Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren
categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence
Early in her career author Kate Christensen consistently published some of the smartest, cleverest and most entertaining works in contemporary fiction (The Astral, The Epicure’s Lament and The Great Man. among others). Then she turned her extraordinary talents to memoir with Blue Plate Special; An Autobiography of My Appetites. Now she offers a love affair to her newly adopted home of Maine and the unique culinary culture flourishing there, in How to Cook a Moose: A Culinary Memoir (Islandport Press).
Escaping from the environs of New York City, Christensen migrates northward with her new love, a fellow writer. They decamp to his family’s homestead, a rustic New Hampshire farm perched on the shoulder of the White Mountains. Eventually their wanderings lead them to Portland, a small city poised on the precipice of a cultural and gastronomical explosion. The small ‘city by the sea’ becomes a targeted destination for the newly minted foodie tourism business and trendy eateries sprout like mushrooms from Portland and on up the coast (or ‘downeast,’ as the natives describe it).
Christensen lovingly recounts intimate and exquisite dining experiences, while also giving attention to the crucial role played by a farming and fishing and gathering culture and community that sustains the ‘local’ philosophy of the foodie scene. But while reading an account of one deliriously presented meal after another, it becomes difficult to ignore the elephant in the room: this is food for the privileged–it is a celebration of the art of the meal, but it is also often offered in settings far beyond the means of many people.
As a former farmer, my favorite episodes from this enchanting memoir are those when the author detours from the well-trod path to the latest restaurant of the week and sojourns downeast to dine with friends who harvest lobster and grow much of their own food, or when she visits the family farm of her good friend Melissa (another wonderfully talented writer), whose father happens to be Eliot Coleman, one of the gurus of the sustainable farming movement. For as my friend John was always fond of asking, as we sat down to eat at his Wisconsin farm, table arrayed with a freshly butchered chicken roasted to perfection, produce harvested minutes before, fresh goat milk and butter from Bessie outside the kitchen door: “I wonder what the Queen of England is dining on tonight?” And ultimately that is what this rhapsodic memoir is about: celebrating good, fresh food, prepared with love–while the issue of how sustainable it all is inevitably weaves its way into the narrative, the real message is, let’s simply appreciate it while we can.
Kate Christensen will be reading from How To Cook a Moose: A Culinary Memoir on Tuesday, Sept 22nd at 5:00 at Sonny’s Bar and Restaurant in downtown Portland (83 Exchange St.) The event is co-hosted by Longfellow Books and Islandport Press. It promises to be one of the literary events of the summer season.
[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a friend of Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”), where you can buy this book and about a million others, from booksellers who care. Bill keeps a bird named Ruby, a blind pug named Pearl, and a couple of fine bird dogs, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College. ]