On a table across the street from the Fort Greene farmer’s market I found a used first edition of Heartburn and had no choice but to buy it and spend the rest of the day rereading it. Mashed potatoes in book form, I thought, the perfect antidote to the unrelieved bleak miserable ugliness of Desperate Characters.
But despite the books’ huge tonal difference, it turns out that they have similar themes! (Either that or I see misery everywhere I look.) Both books describe the discreet misery of the midcentury bourgeoisie, often expressed in terms of food. Also: real estate transactions, renovations that go on as marriages crumble, extramarital affairs, and the dull inevitability of all of the above.
And then I came across the page in Heartburn where narrator Rachel Samstat gives her recipe for sorrel soup, which a character in Desperate Characters had served at a dinner party mere hours of my reading-life earlier. Weird, especially because who has ever had sorrel soup? Or, for that matter, sorrel?
Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe is somewhat like Rachel Samstat’s, except Rachel uses garlic instead of shallots and adds lemon juice at the end. Also Rachel cautions you to remove the sorrel’s hairy stems because no one will be able to tell that it’s the sorrel’s hair, not the chef’s. Gabrielle Hamilton has also written a memoir with recipes that describes the end of a marriage; I wonder if she has read Heartburn? Probably. I hope everyone has. I read it for the first time when I was 13 and in retrospect it’s obvious that it changed my life. It gave me the impression that cooking and writing about cooking can get you through various crises. It also made it seem like adult life is mostly comprised of dinner parties, and made that seem like a good thing.