Saturday, February 27, 2016

Book Review: The School of Essential Ingredients a.k.a. My Blind Date with A Book

The moment I stumbled upon the notion of going on a blind date with a book, I knew I wanted to make it happen. Full disclosure: I am on the programming committee for a local library, so there was a reasonable chance I could achieve this goal. Obviously, given the title of this post, you can deduce that I did indeed achieve my goal; it wasn't a hard sell.


The adventure began with getting books to set people up on blind dates with. We surveyed the whole staff on what their favorite titles were and went from there. Luckily a lot of the staff are avid readers and were more than willing to help, so we had a lot of suggested titles to work with! We pulled the books off the shelves, wrapped them up in bright red paper and put them on display, all nice and pretty, and ready to be set up on some dates!

I let the general public have a head start, but decided after about a week and half that they had had their chance, and I selected my date! I had a colleague check the book out for me so that I wouldn't ruin my surprise, took my pretty package home and . . .


I got "The School of Essential Ingredients" by Erica Bauermeister! 

Full disclosure: I had helped wrap the books and knew all the titles that had been selected, so it wasn't a completely blind date. However, I tried very hard to pick a book without any bias and picked one that looked like I had not personally wrapped, so it was as "blind" as I could make it. I tried to get a colleague to pick the book for me so that it would truly blind, but she insisted that I have the full experience of selecting my "date". All that being said, I ended up with a book that I had not wrapped and that I had not suggested.

I was very eager to take my book home and unwrap it. My first impressions were relief and excitement that it wasn't a book that I had read. I had never heard of the author before, but had read books of this genre occasionally. Of the books that I have read in the last month or so, I would say it is most similar to "The Coincidence of Coconut Cake" by Amy E. Reichert. Both were books about food and relationships with light-hearted spirits.

Initially, I had thought that the book would be told through one point of view, as it started with a chapter from the perspective of Lillian, the owner of the restaurant hosting 'The School of Essential Ingredients'. It turns out that 'The School of Essential Ingredients' is a cooking class that Lillian teaches, and each proceeding chapter is told from the view of a different student from the current class session. The chapters take place during each night of the class and interweave details from the lesson being taught that evening and events either going on in each person's life or from their past.

The one thing this book really does right is that it demonstrates how integral food is to our memories and life experiences. There were some really great descriptions of food, covering all the senses from touch to taste to smell. The most memorable descriptions for me were the making of fresh pasta and homemade tortillas. Pasta in particular is special to me as I grew up in an Italian-American household and was raised on handmade fresh pasta a.k.a. "homemades". I've also been really interested in making my own tortillas after reading "Tacos" by Alex Stupak, and this book only reignited that flame.

Overall, I was pleased with my "date" and would consider reading other books by this author. I would recommend this book if you're looking for something light to read with some great descriptions. It was a quick read, but it definitely left me feeling hungry and wanting to do some home cooking!


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