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The School of Essential Ingredients Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 22, 2009
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
In this remarkable debut, Bauermeister creates a captivating world where the pleasures and particulars of sophisticated food come to mean much more than simple epicurean indulgence. Respected chef and restaurateur Lillian has spent much of her 30-something years in the kitchen, looking for meaning and satisfaction in evocative, delicious combinations of ingredients. Endeavoring to instill that love and know-how in others, Lillian holds a season of Monday evening cooking classes in her restaurant. The novel takes up the story of each of her students, navigating readers through the personal dramas, memories and musings stirred up as the characters handle, slice, chop, blend, smell and taste. Each student's affecting story—painful transitions, difficult choices—is rendered in vivid prose and woven together with confidence. Delivering memorable story lines and characters while seducing the senses, Bauermeister's tale of food and hope is certain to satisfy. (Jan.)
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Top customer reviews
"...Margaret's mother raised the cup of milk away from the pot, and Lillian looked at the sauce, an untouched snowfield, its smell the feeling of quiet at the end of an illness, when the world is starting to feel gentle and welcoming again...", and
"The beef bourguignon was bubbling in the oven, the smells of meat and red wine, onions and bay leaf and thyme murmuring like travelers on a late-night train."
There is a theme running through this novel, that of women offering themselves up for family - a noble and rewarding pursuit, but one which leaves them feeling a bit hollowed out (remember the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?) But another theme, that of slowing down and treasuring, savoring, indulging in, the simple things, works to help heal these people. In fact, after I finished the book, I found that the act of closing up my home for the night seemed a richer experience. I walked through the rooms thinking, "This is my beloved home. I love this room. I love these windows." etc.
The characters are well-developed and relatable, and there is a gratifying warmth between them as they struggle with the normal difficulties of life. There are several places in the book where one character reminds/asks/encourages another to answer the question, "what did you do today that made you happy?" Wouldn't we be better off for asking ourselves this question?
Be warned, reading this will make you hungry, but it also might make you ambitious. I found myself adding fresh herbs to my standard chicken dish and savoring flavors I had taken for granted. My only qualm is feeling like I didn't get to know Lillian well enough. She is laid out on the pages as a flawless individual who always says and does the right things. Perhaps her character will be further developed in the novel's sequel, so here's hoping that The Lost Art of Mixing delivers.
Through themes associated with a particular food or meal, each chapter explores one class and the life of one of the students: a mother lost in the needs of young children; a long-married couple; a kitchen designer; a young widower; a misfit teenager; a software engineer; and a woman moving into the middle stages of dementia.
The writing is sensual and lush, the stories tender and hopeful, with a magical realism evocative of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. Since I finished the book, I've wanted nothing more than to read the stories of the next year's class. Highly recommended.