Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness" by Christine Lahti, Served with a Recipe for Cacio e Pepe

Happy Wednesday! I'm excited to be today's stop on the TLC Book Tour of True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness: A Feminist Coming of Age by Christine Lahti. Accompanying my review is a recipe for an easy and delicious pasta dish.

Publisher's Blurb

A fiercely intelligent, hilarious, and deeply feminist collection of interrelated personal stories from Academy, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award–winning actress and director Christine Lahti.
For decades, actress and director Christine Lahti has captivated the hearts and minds of her audience through iconic roles in Chicago Hope, Running on Empty, Housekeeping, And Justice for All, Swing Shift, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, God of Carnage, and The Blacklist. Now, in True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, this acclaimed performer channels her creativity inward to share her own story for the first time on the page.
In this poignant essay collection, Lahti focuses on three major periods of her life: her childhood, her early journey as an actress and activist, and the realities of her life as a middle-aged woman in Hollywood today. Lahti’s comical and self-deprecating voice shines through in stories such as “Kidnapped” and “Shit Happens,” and she takes a boldly honest look at the painful fissures in her family in pieces such as “Mama Mia” and “Running on Empty.” Taken together, the collection illuminates watershed moments in Lahti’s life, revealing her struggle to maintain integrity, fight her need for perfection, and remain true to her feminist inclinations.
Lahti’s wisdom and candid insights are reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Joan Rivers’s I Hate Everyone—and yet her experiences are not exclusive to one generation. The soul of her writing can be seen as a spiritual mother to feminist actresses and comedic voices whose works are inspiring today’s young women, including Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Caitlin Moran, and Jenny Lawson. Her stories reveal a stumbling journey toward agency and empowerment as a woman—a journey that’s still very much a work in progress.
True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness is about the power of storytelling to affirm and reframe the bedrock of who we are, revealing that we’re all unreliable eyewitnesses when it comes to our deeply personal memories. Told in a wildly fresh, unique voice, and with the unshakable ability to laugh at herself time and again, this is Christine Lahti’s best performance yet.

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harper Wave (April 3, 2018)

My Review:

I was quick to sign up for this book tour because I am a big fan of Christine Lahti, stemming from her movies the eighties; Running on Empty is a favorite, as are Housekeeping, Gross Anatomy, Swing Shift and Just Between Friends with Mary Tyler Moore. I like coming across her on television movies or shows like No Place Like Home, Amerika, Chicago Hope, Law & Order SVU and even as McGarrett's mother on Hawaii Five-O. She is a talented actress with plenty of awards for her work and she has always struck me as very real and earthy--someone who would be fun to share a bottle of wine with and listen to her stories. It turns out that is very much what her book is like--storytelling in a honest, conversational way.

True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness is made up of short essays that all relate in some way to three important parts of her life; her childhood, the beginning of her career, and her current life as an actress and feminist. Lahti speaks her truth with wit and dry humor, with sometimes poignant honesty, sharing happy and funny moments along with harsher and hurtful ones. As Lahti states in the Introduction:

"This book is a collection of my true stories. They are my emotional memories, the goo that surrounds the facts, the parasitic muck that attaches to them. These are the stories that altered me in some way, even just temporarily. They chronicle events when something inside me stirred or quaked. There was a shift in my focus. A tremor up my spine. A hot flash of injustice, of shame. A gut-punch of reckoning with my own bullshit. An acceptance. A forgiveness. A way to survive."

I went into the book thinking it would be full of Hollywood tidbits--probably given the era, there would be plenty of examples of harassment and #metoo moments, and there are those--such as casting couch propositions or the times she was told she was too tall and her nose not perfect enough to be successful as an actress. There are her memories of love scenes (both good and bad) and industry relationships--although she doesn't do a lot of name-telling. But as much as I love celebrity moments, to me the stand-out chapters of the book are when Lahti gets the most personal in her recounting of family stories, both humorous and heartbreaking. I can relate to the sibling relationships in a large family, both the humor and the dysfunction, as well as the difficulties of dealing with a sibling with mental illness and depression. Lahti tells of facing the deaths of her older brother, younger sister, and both her parents and the guilt and regrets they bring. She also tells of the high and low points of her own marriage and motherhood, again with candor and wit. The book's title, True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, acknowledges that these are Lahti's memories and her perception of what happened and I can appreciate that. It's interesting to me how with six older siblings, our take on shared moments from childhood can be alike in some cases and very different in others. Lahti states that her siblings "cried foul" on how she remembers or saw certain events and that happens to all of us based on the significance of the moment or the filters we view it through. 

The book's subtitle is "A Feminist Coming of Age" and the essays certainly contain Lahti's awakening and focus as a feminist--she calls it the "lens" through which she "sees just about everything," but this book has many different layers and nuances to it. Her writing had me laughing as well as getting angry along with her, and even tearing up a few times. I think if like me, you are already a fan of Christine Lahti and you read her book, you will be even more impressed by her, and if you aren't that familiar with her, you'll start looking for her work on both the big and small screens. I hope she continues to write--it is certainly another skill she can add to her acting and directing talents. 


Author Notes: Christine Lahti is an acclaimed director and stage, television, and film actress with a career that spans over forty years. She won an Oscar for her short film, Lieberman in Love; an Oscar nomination for Swing Shift; a Golden Globe Award for No Place Like Home; an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Chicago Hope; and an Obie Award for Little Murders. On Broadway, she starred in God of Carnage and The Heidi Chronicles, among many others. Her films include Running on Empty and Housekeeping. Her television shows include Jack and BobbyLaw & Order SVU, and The Blacklist. She lives in New York City and Los Angeles.
Follow Christine on Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

There is not a lot of food in the book, but I did find some foodie mentions and references like; a classmate having "cauliflower ears," freshly made muffins, an open-face peanut butter and honey sandwich, Neapolitan ice cream, a piece of cake, tomatoes, chili, filet Mignon, sausage, a Papaya King hot dog, peanut butter and jelly, a Reuben sandwich, peanuts and red hots mix, gefilte fish, eggnog and Christmas cookies, fudge, oatmeal, whipped cream, smog thick as pea soup, French fries, roast beef, apples and pretzels. There were also a plethora of beverages like Sanka, Manhattans, a martini, champagne, Torch Lake Specials (lemonade, whiskey, blue curacao & maraschino cherries), milk, beer, fruity cocktails, Chardonnay, Rob Roys, and White Russians.

I ended up taking inspiration for my bookish dish from Chapter 12: What I Wish I'd Known About Love Scenes. In the essay she talks about doing a love scene when you can't stand the actor you are paired with:

"Sometimes when I have to look adoringly into someone's eyes, I imagine that they're the eyes of Nellie, my golden retriever. I'm sure there've been many actors who've looked into mine and thought about their dog or their favorite pasta dish or sports team. There's always something we can find to help us 'fall in love.'" 

I decided to make a pasta dish worthy of a look of love! 

I am usually not at home on Saturdays to watch The Kitchen on The Food Network but I DVD it to watch later. (That way I can speed through the meat recipes and the hosts that I don't like.) ;-) I do like Geoffrey Zakarian. His recipes often tempt me and his little tweaks to classic dishes usually give me great results (his Caprese Salad is a favorite). On the recent pasta episode, he made his version of Cacio e Pepe and it looked absolutely delicious. When Lahti wrote about thinking of a favorite pasta dish this one definitely came to mind first--since I hadn't stopped thinking about it since I saw it. 

I've made cacio e pepe before. It's a pasta dish that basically means "cheese and black pepper." It's a simple, easy to make pantry meal, but done right, it is sublime and has a bit of elegance to it. The main difference in Zakarian's recipe is cooking the pasta in a pan with less water and letting it reduce to a starchy liquid that when blended with the cheese, makes a creamy sauce. He also toasts the freshly ground pepper which adds toasty notes.

Cacio e Pepe
By Geoffrey Zakarian via 
(Serves 4)

12 oz thick-cut dried pasta
kosher salt
30 turns fresh ground pepper on the coarsest setting, plus more for serving
1/3 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, plus more for serving
2 Tbsp high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

In a pan just wide enough to hold the pasta, place enough water to fill the pan 1 inch from the bottom. Season the water with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Spread the pasta in the pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Allow the pasta water to reduce; do not add more, as you want the starchy water to be minimal when the remaining ingredients are added.

Meanwhile, add the coarse black pepper to a separate small pan over medium heat. Toast a minute or two until fragrant.

Once the pasta is al dente and the pasta water has reduced so only a slight coating remains at the bottom of the pan, turn off the heat and add the toasted ground black pepper and Pecorino-Romano. Stir and toss vigorously until both ingredients are well incorporated into the pasta. Toss in the olive oil and season with salt.

Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and garnish with more black pepper, Pecorino-Romano and extra-virgin olive oil.

Notes/Results: I think that if I had to pick a favorite pasta shape it would be bucatini--it is so thick and the hole that runs through the noodle grabs the sauce so well, it just seems to have more flavor than spaghetti or linguine. Cooking it in the pan with an inch of water, stirring with tongs to ensure it doesn't stick and making sure the bucatini is perfectly al dente adds to the pleasure of the dish. But the biggest revelation is toasting the black pepper--it mellows it and keeps it from being sharp and overpowering. With the nutty and slightly salty Pecorino-Romano cheese, it comes together in a dish you don't want to stop eating. I can definitely imagine thinking of this pasta when faced with something unpleasant--whether a love scene with someone you aren't attracted to or a work problem you are mulling over in your head. I will happily make this again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "True Stores From an Unreliable Eyewitness" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.



  1. I love the simplicity of this recipe - it sounds like one I could recreate without too much difficulty, and it is something I've definitely not made before.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour for this book!

  2. You found more food than I did, Deb. I enjoyed the book as well.

  3. I would love this dish, but the grains of coarse-ground black pepper always seem to make me choke. Maybe I could use liquid pepper seasoning somehow.

    best... mae at

  4. I should try to make this. Thanks. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  5. We love coarse-ground pepper ... and pasta. So, yeah, I need to make this. Plus, this is one of those dishes you can make in a pinch.


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