The School of Essential Ingredients

April 13th. 2009

Food and hope are two essential ingredients in a life well lived, and Erica Bauermeister brings both to the table with this debut novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. The setting is a charming and intimate  restaurant–and the owner/chef’s Monday evening cooking school that begins a new session with a dozen or so strangers. From the very first page evocative descriptions of food and careful preparation become parcel with the steps people are taking to move their lives forward. This story features an ensemble cast of characters learning to savor the slow methods of choosing ingredients like you would choose guests for a dinner party, and how to enjoy each moment when its ripe not force everything to come together at once. The author creates vignettes of the cast allowing us to care for them and watch them grow (or stew) through other’s perspective. I admit there were times I was a bit confused on remembering the back story of so many characters because of similarities in history, but like with the chef’s salsa it all works best when you don’t think so much.  Having read these chapters and going back to re-read some sentences because of the elegant stylization and luminescent descriptions, I was motivated to go into my pantry and find something to cook. Not just for the purpose of having food to eat, but a joy in creating that transcends the pressing need of offering a meal to starving people. This book is like basil. It’s a small pleasure that in changing how you look at life, seasons everything that comes after with a new perspective.

Since I finished this book on a particularly cold, and remarkably slow, Easter weekend, I had plenty of time to ponder recipes. We had a big ham and roasted potatoes for our Easter lunch, I decided to take leftovers and make a frittata for dinner. Frittata is one of those words I love to sprinkle into a conversation because it makes any sentence sparkle with mystery. I don’t make frittatas (kind of like a giant omelet baked in  the oven) often because, well, I’m really the only one really likes them. My husband and daughter are game for new recipes, but my son is a very picky eater. So, I’ll be eating the frittata leftovers for the next week. I will say Lillian, the main character in the novel, had an interesting take on Thanksgiving dinner that I might have to spring on my relatives this fall.

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