Saturday, January 17, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Wow, it's been a slow week in blogland for me, which is bad because it seems that everybody else is really back in the bloggy swing of things. Blogland is in full swing and so's the workload at my job where it seems like we were busier than ever this week. Every day I try to sit down and read what everybody's writing and rarely get very far before getting distracted by all of life's have tos (and a few of those pesky other want tos, too). It all reminds me of why I've always been (and continue to be despite my best efforts) a big old lurker. All this commenting stuff makes this bloghopping take so much longer. Yet it would be a bizarre contradiction if I stopped taking the time to comment in the name of getting through the posts in my Google reader quicker, no?

Is anybody starting to get the feeling that the brief personal interludes at the beginning of most of my posts with actual content are merely serving to get me into the flow of writing? Because I'm pretty sure that's why I do this. Or else I'm just dragging my feet without really knowing why. Anywho, I'm all warmed up now, so on to the good stuff...

I finished a great book last weekend and my first read that will be released this year. It was one of those books that was fully satisfying and one that I knew that I would be recommending before I even came close to turning the last page. Any book that can make me forget that A) it's snowing outside and B) I'm sitting on a rock hard kitchen chair that's really making my back hurt for a considerable amount of time definitely gets my vote. Now the irony in all this is that, uh, I don't even remember requesting this ARC. Terrible, right? It arrived in the mail, and I was like...I chose this? I guess it sounds good, but when did I choose this? Oh well, all's well that ends well, and this book certainly does!

The book in question, of course, is Erica Bauermeister's debut novel The School of Essential Ingredients. Lillian recognizes from an early age that food is powerful. For Lillian, flavors can heal, spices can seduce, and even an ordinary apple can be magical for someone who eats it at just the right moment. During a monthly cooking class at her restaurant, Lillian sets out to show that cooking is much more than simply following directions in a recipe and eating is much more than a practical action to stave off hunger. As her students come from their seperate walks of life, each of their personal stories is illuminated and each of their lives is impacted by lessons they learn under Lillian's perceptive tutelage, lessons that extend far beyond how to bake a good cake or prepare Thanksgiving dinner. Slowly but surely, Lillian's students come to discover the power of a good meal to bring people together, to heal past hurts, and to alter the course of current struggles.

She saw that cookies that were soft and warm satisfied a different human need than those that were crisp and cooled. The more she cooked, the more she began to view spices as carriers of the emotions and memories of the places they were originally from and all those they had traveled through over the years. She discovered that people seemed to react to spices much as they did to other people, relaxing instinctively into some, shivering into a kind of emotional rigor mortis when encountering others.

The School of Essential Ingredients is a briliant blend of the obvious and the subtle just like the flavors that change the lives of Bauermeister's characters. Bauermeister's writing is a rare and sensual treat as her writing brings scents, flavors, and textures to life right alongside the poignantly rendered moments in the lives of each of the characters. Each of the students is fleshed out and all are having experiences that it is easy for the reader to relate to their own life. Their stories are both sweet and sad, but above all, genuine. Bauermeister's debut is a delicious story about food, about love, and about life that left me totally satisfied, even as I wiped a tear or two from my eye.

The frosting was a thick buttercream, rich as a satin dress laid against the firm, fragile texture of the cake. With each bite, the cake melted first, then the frosting, one after another, like lovers tumbling into bed.

That's two for two on books making me cry in 2009 which is actually a highly unusual event. And I should have written this review right after I finished the book instead of now when the afterglow has worn off in the face of a week of hard work - then maybe it would not be so feeble - though it is admirably concise, for me. *sigh* I loved this book a lot more than it seems like from the review, mmkay?

The School of Essential Ingredients will be available where books are sold on January 22, 2009. And have I mentioned that it was really, really good?

Read other reviews at:

A Reader's Respite
Books and Cooks


  1. I sometimes have a hard time getting started with my book reviews and posts and will start off with a personal interlude too. I actually never thought of it in those terms, but that's exactly what I'm doing. :-)

    I've seen a couple of reviews of Bauermeister's book recently and it does sound good. I am glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Really nice review! It's on my TBR.

    I added the link to the ARC Challenge post.

  3. Megan -

    I think your review is perfect - I'm adding the book to my list because of it.

    And I like your interludes and hope you continue them. I'm thinking of going back to the old fashioned way of checking blogs - via my blogroll because I'm finding I don't comment as much as I did before when using a reader. It's too easy to just sail through thinking I'll go back and I don't.


  4. Well Megan, first of all, I hope you never stop with the personal interludes...I love them even more than your actual reviews, and believe me, that's saying something because I really, really love your reviews. Including this one! I thought is was even managed to make me think I might have to get this one despite the fact that it really doesn't sound like something I would ever pick up.

  5. I'm adding the book to my wishlist based on your review. Happy reading.

  6. I loved this book! Probably more so since she's a local author for me. It was just a beautiful book all around. :)

  7. I'm halfway through this one and I'm loving it so far.

  8. What BermudaOnion said. I'm heading upstairs to start Chapter 4 (or is it 5?) right now. Wonderful review, and I like the personal interludes.

  9. LF - the personal interlude does make for a great writing warm up, no? :)

    Teddy - Cool, thanks!

    CJ - Great, thanks! Glad you dig the personal interludes - I don't foresee getting rid of them - they're actually quite fun. Besides, I love it when other peoples' personalities shine through on their blogs, so I guess I'd better let mine, too. Reading on a feed reader has definitely made me a bit of a lazier commenter, but I'm trying to break out of the trend more often lately.

    Debi - Aw, you make me smile! Thanks for liking my interludes. They're fun, I'm definitely keep them despite the fact that they seem all random all nuzzled up to the book reviews. Glad you're thinking about picking up this book - hey, it's not something I would normally pick up either, but I'm glad I did!

    pussreboots - That's great! Happy reading to you as well! =D

    Michele - Ooh, that's neat. So have you met her, then?

    Bermudaonion and Ali - Glad to hear you're both enjoying it, too! I didn't want it to end - I definitely could have kept on reading well beyond what she wrote! =)

  10. This book has certainly made its way round the book blogging radar and is becoming a hit. That it is weaving food tastes and stations of life together is more than enough to convince me. Thanks for a great review!

  11. Great review! This one is in my TBR pile, and I can't wait to read it. I've heard so many good things about it.

    Diary of an Eccentric