Currently Reading: The School of Essential Ingredients

Lillian lifted the lid and drew out one of the creatures. Its shell was the color of dried blood, with black pea eyes perched on the front edge. Its antennae shivered, reaching out for input, and its front pincers waved, ludicrously out of proportion to both its body and the situation, as it searched for air in an ocean of oxygen.

"Are we going to kill them?" asked the black-eyelinered girl.

"Yes, we are, Chloe. It is the first, most essential lesson." Lillian's expression was quiet, calm. "If you think about it," she went on, "every time we prepare food we interrupt a life cycle. We pull up a carrot or kill a crab--or maybe just stop the mold that's growing on a wedge of cheese. We make meals with those ingredients and in doing so we give life to something else. It's a basic equation, and if we pretend it doesn't exist, we're likely to miss the other important lesson, which is to give respect to both sides of the equation. So we start here."

Author: Erica Bauermeister

Synopsis: Lillian teaches a cooking class every year to eight students, focusing not on recipes but on taking time to consider food and enjoy it, to seek out what ingredients work together. Her belief is that people are affected by scent and taste, that a mood can be changed, that a person can find emotional healing through food--and every one of this year's students is searching for healing or resolution.

Notes: While I hope to never own a restaurant, in my own little home I love to cook with an eye to satisfaction--comfort food, real food made with real ingredients, things that both fill the body and provide pleasure for the senses. I'm no purist--sometimes I'm in a hurry, I have no particular affection for a zester, and last week canned fruit sounded like the best side dish a girl could ever enjoy. But I do love to cook.
I enjoyed this book, then--the word sensual comes to mind, and while that might have negative connotations, it's hard to find a good substitute. The writing is poetic and evocative, and the tale has something of a magical feel about it. The different stories fit together smoothly and work toward a hopeful ending.
It reminded me of the movie Chocolat--same feel, similar ideas.
It isn't moral--be ye forewarned; weirdly enough, there's even a scene where a mother and her teenage son make brownies with marijuana. That isn't judged at all--it just happens and the book moves on, and I was a little bit floored because the general world nowadays will judge drug use when they wouldn't do more than shrug at a young girl's moving in with her boyfriend. Which, of course, also happens in the book.
I came away from the story wanting to try my hand at all-day spaghetti sauce with sausage, and the chocolate-orange-anise-milk-and-cream thing Lillian put in her mother's coffee (though I have never learned to love anise and would be awfully cautious about including it.) I'm also wondering what I can do with mushrooms, orange pepper and/or asparagus tonight. Hmmm.


  1. Ha, you make me think I should write something about how writing is like cooking. Actually, the stew-pot is already Tolkien's metaphor for the mythic tradition. Personally, I wind up spending amounts of time puttering in the kitchen as often as I can--I think in some parallel universe I'm a gourmet chef. There's all sorts of wonderful things you can do with orange pepper and mushrooms (that bear no resemblance to what you can do with brownies and marijuana, ahem)--I hope you discover something memorable!

  2. Thanks, Mr. Pond! If you write something about how writing is like cooking, I'll be very interested to read it.

    I wound up making cream of mushroom soup and pumpkin bread with ginger. Really good, but I left the orange pepper for another day. On the other hand, I still have some mushrooms ...


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