Kindness, thoughtfulness, and inspiration can come at you from the most unexpected places. This happened to me last week when a relatively new friend emailed me that she had a book for me to read. This friend, L.J., is a voracious reader and the instigator of our small book group. I distinctly remember the moment she walked by me in our exercise class, over a year ago, and said, “I’m starting a book group, I doubt you’ll want to join, but here’s when we are meeting to see if this is a go or not.” I had to chuckle at the somewhat backhanded invitation…but it worked. I went. How could I resist? The rest is history. Since then, normally a foursome of us meet up (we purposefully keep it small), we move at a relaxed pace, and have virtually no rules for our group. Each of us had prior experience with more elaborate “book clubs” which often veered off into a gabfest or onto a cliquish tangent, each having little to do with the books…eventually we opted out of those environments. We laughingly consider ourselves book “club” rejects. We call ourselves a group, not a club, and have truly grown from our discussions. The book she gave was written just for me I think…It stole my heart and made me hungry…the title, The School of Essential Ingredients…by Bauermeister.
L.J. is taking a break from the group for a bit to focus on significant life challenges suddenly tossed her way…so when I received her email, I was pleasantly surprised that, in the midst of her current situation, she thought about me and intuited something I would enjoy. And she was so right. I thoroughly consumed this book and was carried away with food memories of my own as I read. Thank you L.J. for exercising your uncanny ability to know the types of books that will move me and make my life better. It was a delicious, heart-warming gift. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates how cooking is more than just food preparation. It is gentle, creative, inspiring and kind and makes you really want to make some pasta or the cake mmmm or, well, I could go on and on. Let’s just say you don’t want to be hungry when you read it 🙂
You may ask, “so what are the “essential ingredients?” While different for everyone, three essential lessons about food are ingrained in me…first is to have respect for the ingredients. Bauermeister beautifully writes about this, noting that “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 is 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…the lesson is to give respect to both sides of the equation.”
Another essential lesson which I relate to every time I steep a pot of tea is the beauty of ritual and the thought provocation which occurs while waiting for the tea liquor to exude. It’s amazing what you’ll think about while waiting for liquid to absorb or onions to turn opaque while slowly cooking. There is comfort in this ritual for me.
Thirdly, food memories abound when I read about foods, chefs, or cook myself. I was struck by the author’s character giving advice when using canned tomatoes for making pasta sauce …her words could have come directly out of my mom’s mouth when the Chef described how to add the tomatoes to the meat of the bolognese…”you can used crushed tomatoes, but crushed tomatoes are made from bits and parts nobody will see anyway…however, if you want to ensure you have the best…then buy them whole and crush them yourself.” It takes a little time, but is worth it. I could hear Mom (Betty) saying that over and over as she made our Thursday and Sunday pasta sauce … our standards growing up in an Italian household. To this day, I only use “whole tomatoes” for my sauce and crush, puree, or dice to suit my needs. I smile and think of Mom every time.
Thanks to my friend L.J. for providing me the perfect recipe for escaping from life’s stresses and enjoying luminous prose while reading The School of Essential Ingredients. Friends who listen certainly fit on that list of essentials too. Some lemon curd and the tea time of your choosing is coming your way L.J. whenever you are ready for it. 🙂
Enjoy and drink tea.