We all love a shiny, new book, but sometimes a slightly scuffed cover, sitting on a book cart, returned to the library and awaiting reshelving, catches our eye. These books can be gems, too, even if they no longer have the privilege of being displayed front and centre on the new book shelves.
The word “ingredients” jumped out at me since I am a keen amateur chef and am always on the lookout for a new (or new to me) foodie read. I soon had “The School of Essential Ingredients” by Erica Bauermeister tucked away in my book bag.
In Bauermeister’s novel, Lillian, a restaurant owner and self-taught chef, had learned at an early age that the only way to reach her distant Mother was through food.
Lillian’s Father had walked out when she was a toddler, and her Mother found solace in books, escaping into the chapters of favourite novels any second she had. Lillian was lost and alone when her Mother disappeared behind the covers of her cherished tomes.
By the age of 8, she had taken over the cooking completely in their household of two and, with the help of friends’ sympathetic mothers, had developed decent skills. Realizing how people react to spices, to textures, to smells, she hatched her great plan.
“I’m going to cook her out.” Lillian proclaimed, determined that her food would entice her Mother to step out from behind her books and back into her daughter’s life.
Many years later, with a successful restaurant bearing her name, Lillian decided to start a small cooking school to share not only the art behind her tantalizing dishes, but to also show how food, and recipes shared, can transform friendships and even, in some cases, lives.
I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the 8 students who meet each month at Lillian’s restaurant. We get to peek into their lives; their loves, their joys and their sorrows too. It was interesting to see how their lives intertwine and change through a chance meeting over the common interest of learning to cook.
And as for the descriptions of the food and its preparation, they made my mouth water and my fingers itch to get cooking, too.
To learn more about Erica Bauermeister and to check out her favourite recipes, visit her website.
— Sandi H.
Extra note: I recently read the sequel to “The School of Essential Ingredients” which is called “The Lost Art of Mixing” and, while it ties up some of the relationship loose ends from the first book, I felt it lacked a bit of the charm of “The School”. Was it worth reading? Yes, but only if you really enjoyed the first and wondered about the future of the characters.
As usual, I am happy to share a recipe along with my review. I’ve selected a recipe that is suitable for all levels of cooks. The recipe is easy, looks wonderful for presentation and is moist and flavourful each and every time.
Lemon Roast Chicken
1 onion, sliced thickly
Carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices lengthwise
1 – 5 to 6 lb. roasting chicken, fresh or thawed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved or quartered (depending on size of chicken)
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tbsp butter, melted
Preheat oven to 425F.
Put onions and carrots in roasting pan.
Rinse chicken inside and out. Pat dry with paper towel. Set chicken on top of vegetables.
Liberally salt and pepper inside the cavity, then stuff with the thyme, lemon and garlic. Tie legs together with kitchen string and tuck wings up under the body. Brush outside of chicken with melted butter; salt and pepper.
Roast for 90 minutes or until juices run clear when you pierce the flesh between leg and thigh.
Serve hot with roasted carrots and onion, and mashed potatoes.