Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

'My sweet lawyer,' she said, her voice deep and slow as the bottom of a river. 'I don't think you have a choice.' She paused, and took another sip of wine. 'We're all just ingredients, Tom. What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal.' (from The School of Essential Ingredients, page 130)

The School of Essential Ingredients has made my list of all-time favorite books. This is a story to be savored, yet it begs to be devoured in one sitting. Erica Bauermeister's first novel is the story of Lillian, a restaurant owner who learned to cook as a child when her father left and her mother used books to escape what her life had become. Each chapter focuses on a member of the latest session of Lillian's cooking class, The School of Essential Ingredients: Claire, a young wife and mother whose identity seems lost within her family; Carl and Helen, a husband and wife renewed in the face of betrayal; Tom, a lawyer drowning in grief after the loss of his wife; Antonia, an Italian immigrant who knows the comforts of home; Isabelle, an older woman struggling with the early stages of Alzheimer's; Ian, the son of a painter who turns to computers to satisfy his need for precision; and Chloe, a clumsy girl looking to find her place in the world. Lillian senses the needs of these individuals and shows them how to heal and to find love or themselves through cooking, and for Lillian, cooking is about smells and textures and emotions--not recipes.

Bauermeister is a master of words, using simple sentences with descriptions so rich you can actually smell, feel, and taste the food along with whatever emotion the character is feeling. Only a little bit of time is spent on each character, but Bauermeister never wastes a single word so the reader is left full and satisfied. (Satisfied with the story anyway...This book made me so hungry!) Nearly every page features sensual descriptions of food--the aroma of spices, the silky texture of a cake batter--and they made me look at ingredients differently and recognize their power to evoke emotions and repair wounds.

I'm always rummaging through cupboards and creating new recipes, though nothing as fancy as in the book. I think my love of food and willingness to experiment in the kitchen enhanced my enjoyment of the book, but the beauty of Bauermeister's writing, the realistic characters, and the strength of each of their stories taken as a whole makes The School of Essential Ingredients an all-around must-read.

Thanks to Penguin and MotherTalk for giving me the opportunity to participate in the blog tour for The School of Essential Ingredients.

The School of Essential Ingredients also was reviewed by:

Devourer of Books
Bermudaonion's Weblog
Breaking the Spine
Books on the Brain
A Reader's Respite
Leafing Through Life
A Book Blogger's Diary
Books and Cooks
Booking Mama
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Peeking Between the Pages
Life in the Thumb
Book Room Reviews
A Mom Speaks
S. Krishna's Books

If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The School of Essential Ingredients from the publisher for review purposes as part of a MotherTalk blog tour.


Julie P. said...

I enjoyed this book so much. I've already set it aside for my mom and sister.

Serena said...

This sounds like a great book, though I should probably refrain from reading it on an empty stomach. I may have to borrow your copy!

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds lovely, shall go and check at once more about it :)

Anonymous said...

I loved this book, too. I didn't want it to end.

Molly said...

I am 3rd on the waiting list at my local library and I can hardly wait to read it! I have heard nothing but wonderful reviews.

Anonymous said...

I have this book on my tbr pile! I am bumping up its priority after reading your review..:)

Sandy Nawrot said...

This is about the ten thousandth glowing review of this book, and I'm getting a little antsy! I going to go right now and see if the library has it available...

Alyce said...

I have read so many good reviews of this book. I guess it must be good!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Anna, wasn't it wonderful? I thought the language in this book was just beautiful.

I wanted to let your readers know that the author will be guest posting on my blog tomorrow, and will be giving away 3 copies of her book! Stop by for a chance to win!

S. Krishna said...

Man, I seriously need to read this one!

Darlene said...

I'm so glad you loved this book too Anna. It's one of my favorites of 2009 for sure. It's also one I see myself rereading in the future. For me, it's like the comfort food of books if that makes sense. Great review and thanks for linking my review.

abookblogger said...

It IS a magical read. Great review! I've linked to it.

Anna said...

Julie: I wish my mom and sister read books like this. I'm hanging onto my copy and can't wait until my daughter is old enough to enjoy it. Some day...

Serena: You certainly can borrow mine. Yeah, it's probably best not to read until you've eaten. My stomach was grumbling on the train!

Blodeuedd: You definitely should read it!

Bermudaonion: I agree. I was sad when I realized it was over.

Molly: I hope your name comes up soon! But it's worth the wait!

Ramya: Great! I hope you enjoy it!

Sandy: I hope you get a chance to read it soon.

Alyce: It really is a great read. I bet you'd love it, too.

Lisa: Thanks for letting me know. I'll spread the word.

S. Krishna: Yes, you do! ;)

Dar: It's definitely comfort reading!

cambw: Magical certainly is a great word for it! Thanks!

Tracy(bookroomreviews) said...

Thanks for the link anna! I will add your too:) Really good book.

Anna said...

Tracy: Thanks! And you're welcome. :)

Wendy said...

Anna: Wonderful review - and thanks for the link!!!

Anna said...

Wendy: Thanks, and you're welcome! ;)