Friday, August 17, 2012

The School of Essential Ingredients - Erica Bauermeister

Title: The School of Essential Ingredients
Author: Erica Bauermeister
Published date: 2009
Publisher: Putnam
Hardcover: 240 pages
FTC: I won this from the author

Way too long ago I won this book from Erica Bauermeister.  I think I won it from her cool website but I can't really recall. I do know that the giveaway asked about family recipes or something and I mentioned how my husband turned me on to pasta sauce with jerk seasoning. Even now when I'm out of jerk, I'll do all the italian seasoning stuff and throw in some cinnamon.  Just because.

I remembered when this book came out and EVERYONE loved it.  I kept meaning to read it because it really isn't a long book but for some reason never got around to it. I even acquired her second book Joy for Beginners which has gotten raves too.  Recently I really needed a good comfort book and so this is the one I went to.  O my gosh. How perfect was for me at this precise moment. Why oh why haven't I read it before?

The back of the book:

Once a month on Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect.

The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian's soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. One by one they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love, and a garlic and red sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Over time, the paths of the students mingle and intertwine, and the essence of Lillian's cooking expands beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of their lives, with results that are often unexpected, and always delicious.

My thoughts:

O how I needed to read this book right now in my life.  I love that the characters each had their own chapter which corresponded to a cook night.   The first character we delved into was Claire, the mom of two young children who is learning how to cope with this new dimension of her life. How I totally understood her.  As a stay-at-home mom, I am pretty much in charge of grocery shopping and feeding the family to help us stay within our budget.  I am learning so much lately of how to chop an onion quickly and well, what meals are my go-to meals, how to make sure my husband has food to take for lunch, how to have desserts once in a while, and how to enjoy this new aspect of my life.  I am starting to look at cooking as not another chore in my to-do list but as something I can enjoy.  And seriously, I don't know of a better smell than onion, garlic and thyme simmering.  Mmm.

Erica Bauermeister's writing is beautiful and so wrapped me up in the flavors, textures and all of the senses of cooking.  Of all the characters though, Lillian herself was my favorite. The book starts off by telling her back-story of how she got into cooking as a little girl.  My heart broke for this little girl who wanted to cook for her mother to help her mother get over her grief.  Later, as Lillian gives her cooking classes, she becomes more than a teacher or chef, but also a councilor and knows just what each person in the class needs.  Each person gets a recipe that becomes a balm to the wounds in their life.

How I enjoyed this book.  I kept wanting to write down all the "recipes" but it's so funny that in this book there really are no recipes as Lillian never uses them.  I unfortunately NEED them so I was so happy to find the recipes listed on Erica Bauermeister's website.  Go there now.


I'm going to include this awesome autograph Erica Bauermeister did for me.  At the time I received the book I was living in New York and she had just returned from a visit there as well.  How incredibly awesome is this?


I'll admit the cover of my copy isn't my favorite.  Kind of boring with the pears.  And I don't even remember there being any recipes with pears in the book. Hmm.  But I've found some other beautiful covers.

From Erica's website -- I love love this cover:

From Goodreads - the paperback with an alternate title:

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