Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"The School of Essential Ingredients" by Erica Bauermeister (audio)


Have you ever finished a book and noticed that you were glowing? Sort of like you did when you met the person of your dreams, or found a perfect pair of shoes for your Christmas party dress? I've not had this happen often, but it did happen after The School of Essential Ingredients. I was swept away. As some of you know, I have a passion for cooking that is pretty darned close to my passion for reading. For the eat-out-five-nights-a-week person, this is a damned good book. For those that share my passion for cooking, this is a love sonnet written just for you.

Lillian's father left her and her mother to fend for themselves when Lillian was a pre-teen. Lillian's mother disappeared into her books, forgetting that she had a child that needed her. By necessity and prodded by some untapped inner voice, Lillian began cooking. Her goal: to cook her mother out of her funk and back into her life. And she did...she started with mashed potatoes with alot of butter (which would work for me), moved onto coffee doctored with exotic spices, and with patience and love, brought her mother back to life.

As an adult, Lillian has capitalized on her talents to open a restaurant that draws nightly crowds. One Monday night a month, she holds cooking classes for a small group of people, but cooking isn't the only thing going on in there. Lillian is not only a food whisperer, she is a healer of souls. She innately understands what her students need in their lives to reconcile their hearts with their troubles, and she uses food to accomplish this. We are introduced to her latest group of students:

Claire, a young wife and mother who has been swallowed whole by a life that she loves but has caused her to lose herself. Carl and Helen, an older couple that can finish each other's sentences, but are attempting to rebuild their marriage after an affair. Antonia, a beautiful, single girl from Italy who misses her home and its traditions, and struggles to stay true to herself in her interior design job. Chloe, a clumsy teenager with low self-esteem and a domineering boyfriend. Tom, a widower who has recently lost the love of his life to cancer. Isabelle, an elderly divorcee who is in the early stages of dementia. And Ian, a guy looking for love. This group of seemingly mismatched personalities find friendship and peace within each other, and learn the subtle lessons that touching, sensing and creating food can provide.


This is Erica Bauermeister's first novel, and I'll be darned if this girl hasn't found her calling. Sure, she can write. But in experiencing the magic she has created on paper, you understand that she KNOWS food. She knows the sensuality of textures, flavors, the chemistry in combining spices, the quality of a meal when you get into it up to your elbows and make it from scratch. She also obviously gets the human psyche...what it feels like to give birth, to lose a spouse, or want more for yourself. Her warm, delicate prose is nearly hypnotizing. When it's over, you have to shake yourself back to your senses, and want for more.

17 comments:

Melody said...

I'm currently reading this book, along with a YA paranormal. I'm glad you enjoyed this book, Sandy! Now the mentioning of food makes me hungry... ;)

ds said...

Ok, she had me at the mashed potatoes...but it's on audio? Could be done. Fabulous review. Thanks!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - this book makes you want to stop what you're doing and cook something (or at least have lunch!)

ds - this audio version is fabulous. The narrator has a very melodic voice, and when she is talking about putting together certain spice and ingredients, she makes it sound almost erotic.

farmlanebooks said...

I've seen book mentioned a few times before, but I'm not convinced. I love cooking (and eating!) but other than reading cook books to get inspiration I'm not sure I'd like reading about food. It just doesn't sound very exciting....maybe I'm wrong, and should give this a try.

Beth F said...

So glad you did this audio review. I am definitely doing this one on audio -- I was thinking it'd be a great one for the summer when I go to the farmers market every week.

Carrie K. said...

I hate to cook - but I love to eat - and I loved this book! I felt the same way you did - it was almost magical, it was so good. I will definitely be looking for any of her future work.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I just got this one in the mail this week and can't wait to read it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jackie - there is nothing more beautiful than this book. It is not high action, but it will sweep you off your feet. I would almost promise you!

Beth - it would be perfect to listen to during the farmers market season. You might end up buying out the place!

Carrie - that's the thing...you don't have to be a cook to love the book. But being a cook just sent me over the top.

Melissa - read it now! It is short. You can squeeze it in before Jane Austen!

Bellezza said...

This sounds like a perfect book for my whole family: my mother, my aunt and even my husband LOVE to cook. I do, too, but I almost prefer eating. Any way, you have such a glowing review I'll have to look into this.

Gavin said...

This is on my TBR list. Erica is the mother of two students who graduated from the school where I work. She used to come in once a month and introduce new books to our elementary classes. I am so thrilled that her book is getting great reviews.

Margot said...

You lived up to the title on your blog on this one. OK - I know I GOTTA read it. You made me want to.

Great review.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Bellezza - having a love of cooking just makes the book extra special. It just makes you want to stop what you're doing and create something!

Gavin - that is pretty cool that you have a connection with Erica. I would seriously use it to get an interview. Anyone that could have created a book like this would be fascinating to talk to!

Margot - haha! Yes, this book definitely lives up to the blog's name. It will most definitely land in my top reads for the year. My whole life, I've been running around saying "You've GOTTA read this" to my friends and forcing slips of paper into their hands!

Matt said...

This sounds like a good candidate for feel good read. Your excellent review has convinced me to read it. It also reminds me of this book called Kitchen by a Japanese author.

I agree that other than nourishing the body, food can be a therapeutic.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Matt - this is so feel good, and short enough that it doesn't take you off track. Food can heal the soul...that is my opinion!

Iliana said...

What a great review! I've heard a lot of good things about this book and I just have a feeling I'm going to enjoy it so it's on my wish list for sure!

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

I'm so glad you loved this one, Sandy....wasn't it just fantastic?? A perfect book club selection (if I did things like that, which I don't, but still...). I don't even cook and I loved this!

Anna said...

I just adored this book. I'm so glad you loved it, too!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric