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The School of Essential Ingredients is a novel, but it's really a collection of short stories focusing on each of the students of the cooking class, and their teacher. I loved it. The author is a skillful writer, and she must be a very good chef, because her knowledge of and love for food and the entire preparation/serving process is remarkable. Very rich. She does add a pinch too much simile, plus repetitive use of people running fingers over this surface or that, but I'll forgive her because her descriptions are just wonderful. I think that may be her strongest suit. Here are examples:
"...Margaret's mother raised the cup of milk away from the pot, and Lillian looked at the sauce, an untouched snowfield, its smell the feeling of quiet at the end of an illness, when the world is starting to feel gentle and welcoming again...", and
"The beef bourguignon was bubbling in the oven, the smells of meat and red wine, onions and bay leaf and thyme murmuring like travelers on a late-night train."
There is a theme running through this novel, that of women offering themselves up for family - a noble and rewarding pursuit, but one which leaves them feeling a bit hollowed out (remember the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?) But another theme, that of slowing down and treasuring, savoring, indulging in, the simple things, works to help heal these people. In fact, after I finished the book, I found that the act of closing up my home for the night seemed a richer experience. I walked through the rooms thinking, "This is my beloved home. I love this room. I love these windows." etc.
The characters are well-developed and relatable, and there is a gratifying warmth between them as they struggle with the normal difficulties of life. There are several places in the book where one character reminds/asks/encourages another to answer the question, "what did you do today that made you happy?" Wouldn't we be better off for asking ourselves this question?
What is essential for preparing exquisite meals is also essential for living life to the fullest. This delicious story made me salivate and want to eat every single thing prepared. It also made my heart smile as the students of food became students of life and grew into people I want to spend time with. I highly recommend this book.