Posts Tagged ‘erica bauermeister’

Source: Review copy from Putnam
Rating: ★★★★☆

She had built her restaurant kitchen out of scents and tastes and textures, the clean canvas of a round white dinner plate, the firm skins of pears and the generosity of soft cheeses, the many-colored spices sitting in glass jars along the open shelves like a family portrait gallery.  She belonged there.

(from The Lost Art of Mixing)

Slated for release in January, The Lost Art of Mixing is the sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients, which I read a few years ago and absolutely adored.  I didn’t re-read the first book before tackling this one, and I admit that I didn’t remember everything, but that didn’t matter; although I recommend reading them in order, you certainly could start with this one.

Lillian is still a successful chef with a knack for reading people and knowing exactly what they need.  She’s in a relationship with Tom, a widower who attended her cooking class in the first book, and unsure whether he’s really ready to move on, she cannot bring herself to tell him the news that will change their lives forever.  Bauermeister also revisits Chloe, a young woman trying to regain her footing after a tough childhood and a failed relationship, and Isabelle, who takes Chloe in just as her memory loss starts becoming a problem.  Isabelle’s daughter, Abby, who feels overwhelmed by responsibility; Finnegan, a very tall young man who somehow manages to fade into the background and carries around notebooks filled with stories; Al, who finds comfort in numbers and longs for the rituals of his childhood; and Louise, an angry woman who has spent 52 years trying to conform to an ideal instead of just being herself all factor into the story.

Bauermeister is a master storyteller.  As in Joy for Beginners, each chapter in The Lost Art of Mixing is like a short story that when blended together creates a novel rich with unique characters with whom readers can all relate in some way.  Bauermeister writes about food, love, and family in a way that is deep and beautiful and really gets you thinking about your own life.  Her prose is wonderful in that you can almost smell and taste the food, and the characters’ souls are bared in a way that makes them feel like old friends.

The Lost Art of Mixing is about how people separate and come together.  It’s about learning to trust, the importance of memory, and moving on after loss.  Bauermeister’s understanding of human nature, our need for companionship, and the ways in which food can repair broken souls combine to create a powerful novel that will warm readers’ hearts.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Lost Art of Mixing. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received The Lost Art of Mixing from Putnam for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I am thrilled to welcome Erica Bauermeister to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Joy for Beginners, in paperback.  Joy for Beginners is about a cancer survivor, Kate, who tells her six friends she will face her fears and go whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon if they each accept a challenge from her.  As I said in my review, “Joy for Beginners is simply a beautiful novel about friendship and families and finding your way after marriage or children or illness causes you to forget who you are.”  Erica is hear to talk about a Grand Canyon trip she reluctantly took with her family and how it proved to be useful in the end.

Please give a warm welcome to Erica Bauermeister:

About this time, seven years ago, my family was preparing to go white-water rafting down the Grand Canyon. I cannot begin to tell you how much this was not my idea, how my stomach threatened to leave my body every time I thought about it. And while it should have been a solace to know we were going with a group of former Outward Bound instructors as well as time-tested guides, it only increased my certainty that my complete lack of knowledge would be abundantly on display.

But I was going because my husband and children were going, and I am, as a general rule, more protective than I am scared. So I bought a quick-dry shirt and pants and practiced shoving everything I would need for 16 days into two small dry bags. Worried about what would happen if I got tossed from a boat while wearing hard contact lens, I tried to get Lasik surgery only to be told my eyes didn’t qualify. Two days before we left, I was given soft contact lens and a couple trial bottles of storing solution.

I awoke the first morning of the trip in a hotel in Arizona. It was four am and the bus would be leaving soon for the river. I looked at my kids, sleeping in the double bed, and at my husband, competently repacking our gear. I went to the bathroom, put in the first contact lens and screamed.

It was like having acid poured into my eye. Actually, that’s exactly what it was; I had gotten the soaking solutions mixed up. After two agonizing minutes my eye released the lens and I put on the outrageously ugly blue cat-eye glasses I had for emergency-only use. I arrived at the bus fifteen minutes late, sweating and neon-eyed, and promptly spilled my cup of coffee onto the bus seat.

The novice had arrived.

But here’s the thing about challenges. When you’re supposed to do them, the right doors seem to open. The former Outward Bound instructors were down-to-earth and generous in sharing their knowledge. They handed me bandanas to wipe up the coffee and told me stories of their own disasters. Over the days, my husband’s face cleared of all the accumulated stress of work and life in the city. My children, who had barely ever even camped, dove into the experience with joy – climbing cliffs, paddling rafts, washing their hair in the thick, brown water. There were conversations around the cook table, hikes into enchanted slot canyons, and the stunning magnificence of waking up as the sun made its way into the canyon. As we traveled down the river, through millions of years of rocks, we shed parts of ourselves we didn’t need, found others we will carry with us always.

And yes, there was water. Big, heaving, brain-numbing water. Waves we had no choice but to go through because rivers only travel in one direction. But as a writer, the one thing you can always count on when you are in a sticky situation – when the train doesn’t come and you’re stuck in some town in Croatia, or a tree falls into your house, or a friend suddenly leaves sixteen puppies at your house – is the consoling thought: “I am SO going to use this in a book someday.”

Which I did, in Joy For Beginners. The fear I felt and conquered is the backbone of that book, and even though I am not Kate, much of her resolve came from my experience. But while any writer will tell you that experience is the gold we mine in writing, what was even more important happened that last morning on the river, when we woke in the pre-dawn light, packed our gear in mutual silence, and paddled the last stretch into the sunrise, the only sound a song played on a wooden recorder by one of the guides. It was a moment of pure, aesthetic beauty, but what made it profound was all that had come before, the sense of having earned the peace it brought.

Thanks, Erica, for sharing your story!  You made it work so well in the novel.  I’ve been whitewater rafting a few times in Maine, and now I’d love to take one of those Grand Canyon trips.


Erica is kindly offering a copy of Joy for Beginners to one reader with a U.S. address.  This giveaway will close at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, June 17, 2012.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

It was funny, Sara thought as she left the courtyard and headed back out into the maze of streets.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had really looked up and paid attention to anything higher than the top of her children’s heads.  She had spent the past eight years looking at the ground ahead for things that would trip them, or behind for things they had dropped.  The world had diminished to a height of four feet.  And yet here it was, with a sky full of birds.

(from Joy for Beginners)

Joy for Beginners opens with a dinner party to celebrate Kate beating cancer.  Her daughter, Robin, wants Kate to accompany her on a whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, but Kate is scared.  Having survived a disease that could have taken her life, Kate doesn’t want to take unnecessary risks.  But she decides that she will do it if her six friends are willing to let her choose adventures for them to tackle.  Although their assignments don’t seem as risky as whitewater rafting, Kate chooses things that will challenge them, make them face life head on, and inspire them to become the women they’d always longed to be.

Erica Bauermeister tackles each of these women separately, creating a series of interconnected short stories.  She displays the strengths and weaknesses of these women, who have been there for each other through the good and the bad.  Caroline, who is struggling to accept the end of her marriage; Daria, who tries so hard to be unique and rebellious to hide her pain; Sara, who hasn’t made time for herself since she had children; Hadley, who’s been hiding from the world since her husband’s death; Marion, who is trying to settle into a house empty of children; and Ava, who still struggles to move beyond her mother’s death.

Bauermeister’s writing is descriptive, sensual, and insightful.  I was blown away by her vivid descriptions of food in The School of Essential Ingredients, and I wasn’t disappointed this time around.  In her hands, something as ordinary as gardening or baking bread is a thing of beauty, engaging all of the senses.  Her prose envelopes you in emotion, and you just know that she truly understands her characters and wants you to understand them as well.

My only complaint is that I wanted more time with these women.  Even if I couldn’t identify with their particular experiences, I learned enough about who they were before and how they came to be at this point in their lives to care about them as if they were truly friends.  When their sections ended, only hinting as to what came next, I was torn away from them before I was ready to say goodbye.  However, I appreciate how Bauermeister handled the characters and am amazed that she packed so much detail — in both what was said and what wasn’t — in so few pages.  Each of the seven women was distinct, and because Bauermeister takes such great care to distinguish them in terms of age, personality, and life circumstances and show how and why they bonded together, it’s never difficult to tell them apart.

Joy for Beginners is simply a beautiful novel about friendship and families and finding your way after marriage or children or illness causes you to forget who you are.  It’s painfully sad at times, but hopeful as well.  The writing is simply gorgeous, and I turned the last page feeling as satisfied as if I’d just finished a hearty meal of my favorite comfort foods.

Disclosure: I received Joy for Beginners from the author for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The School of Essential Ingredients is a gem of a book and one I know I will read again in the future. (Read my review here) I’m thrilled to welcome author Erica Bauermeister to Diary of an Eccentric today to answer a few questions.

The School of Essential Ingredients gives new meaning to the term “comfort food.” What is your favorite comfort food?

I think comfort food is different for each person. For my son, Annie’s boxed macaroni and cheese meant home when he was a child. When we moved to Italy in 1997, we actually took the flavor packets out of the boxes and packed them in our suitcases. We felt a little silly, but it eased the transition for a homesick seven year old.

As for me, comfort food will always be part-preparation, part-eating. In Seattle, it gets dark early in the evenings in the winter, and at the end of a hectic day one of my favorite things to do is to make risotto, standing at the stove, stirring the chicken broth into the rice, smelling the salt and starch and butter and sauteed onions, listening to my family talking at the kitchen table. Lillian’s experience with the mashed potatoes in The School of Essential Ingredients comes from that feeling.

Lillian prepares numerous dishes with the class throughout the book. Are these dishes you created?

Some of the dishes – the roasted crab, the pasta sauce, Antonia’s Thanksgiving dinner – are variations on dishes I learned in two different cooking classes, one in Seattle and the other in the Napa Valley of California. Others were ideas I picked up from friends, magazines, and cookbooks and then played with. There was a lot of kitchen experimenting, though, because I wanted to feel that in the end the dishes were Lillian’s and that I had been true to her approach to cooking.

How did the characters in The School of Essential Ingredients come about? Do you have a favorite? There is much diversity in the characters and their experiences, and by the time I finished the book, I loved each of them–flaws and all!

Ahhh…. favorites. You know, something I promised myself when I was writing this book was that I would never write a character I couldn’t feel compassion for. Part of what made the writing so interesting was putting myself into the shoes of all these different people – trying to see a marriage from both sides, trying to understand what it’s like to be a foreigner in the United States, or to lose your spouse, or to need precision in order to feel safe. But if I had to choose a favorite it would be Isabelle. Perhaps because I feel protective of her, perhaps because one of the reasons I wrote her was to understand better what my father was going through as his own brilliant mind faded.

Something I have found intriguing since the book was published, however, is how people respond to the characters. So many have a favorite and it’s almost always different from person to person. But at this point every character has been someone’s favorite – and I know that would make them all happy.

How long did it take to write the book?

I started the book when we returned from Italy in 1999; I took a cooking class and got the inspiration. So, off and on, it has taken almost ten years. But that time included raising children, renovating a house (filled with six and a half tons of trash), writing about the house (no, that wasn’t published), doing real estate for five years to build up the kids’ college funds – and all the etc that makes up a mother’s life. I like to think that the detours created a better book – at the very least, I know the book was radically different in the end than when I started writing it at the age of 40.

Do you have a special place where you write?

I’m writing from there right now. It’s the house we renovated, in a Victorian seaport called Port Townsend about two hours outside of Seattle. It’s an old four-square-style house, up on a hill, looking out over the town to the water. In the winter, the winds come blasting right at you and it feels as if you are in the crow’s nest of a ship. When I am out here, my job is to write.

But it’s not the house that’s important, it’s the mind-set. This house had renters in it during the time I was writing The School of Essential Ingredients. That book was written in Seattle, in coffee shops and in bed, at the kitchen table on weekend mornings while everyone else was still asleep. What was important was that in those places, during those times, I thought of myself as a writer first.

Are you working on another book right now?

Yup. Unless I am stalling by answering more interesting questions. 🙂

Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists with regard to the craft itself and publication?

For a while there, I wrote for money and renovated houses for free. And I realized that writing for money was changing how I wrote, and not in a good way. At one point I thought – what if I do houses for money and write for free? How would I write then? So I did real estate. In the process, I learned an amazing amount about people and took all the restrictions off my writing. That was a good choice for me, even if it took me longer to get the book finished.

But really, I think every writer needs to do what feels right for them. You don’t HAVE to get up every morning at 5 a.m. and not leave your seat until you have 2,000 words (lord knows I don’t). There are many days when I know my writing will be much better served by running errands, or cooking, or getting my hands in dirt. I write a lot when I am walking (my new favorite toy is a dictaphone, which saves me from stopping in the middle of the street to write down a thought). But if you ARE one of those writers who thrives on structure, then claim it. Tell your husband to walk the dog. Let the kids do the dishes. Shut the door (of the closet, if that’s what it takes – that’s where Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants) and write.

Thanks, Erica, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish you much success, and I can’t wait for your next book to be published!

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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‘My sweet lawyer,’ she said, her voice deep and slow as the bottom of a river. ‘I don’t think you have a choice.’ She paused, and took another sip of wine. ‘We’re all just ingredients, Tom. What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal.’

(from The School of Essential Ingredients, page 130)

The School of Essential Ingredients has made my list of all-time favorite books. This is a story to be savored, yet it begs to be devoured in one sitting. Erica Bauermeister’s first novel is the story of Lillian, a restaurant owner who learned to cook as a child when her father left and her mother used books to escape what her life had become. Each chapter focuses on a member of the latest session of Lillian’s cooking class, The School of Essential Ingredients: Claire, a young wife and mother whose identity seems lost within her family; Carl and Helen, a husband and wife renewed in the face of betrayal; Tom, a lawyer drowning in grief after the loss of his wife; Antonia, an Italian immigrant who knows the comforts of home; Isabelle, an older woman struggling with the early stages of Alzheimer’s; Ian, the son of a painter who turns to computers to satisfy his need for precision; and Chloe, a clumsy girl looking to find her place in the world. Lillian senses the needs of these individuals and shows them how to heal and to find love or themselves through cooking, and for Lillian, cooking is about smells and textures and emotions–not recipes.

Bauermeister is a master of words, using simple sentences with descriptions so rich you can actually smell, feel, and taste the food along with whatever emotion the character is feeling. Only a little bit of time is spent on each character, but Bauermeister never wastes a single word so the reader is left full and satisfied. (Satisfied with the story anyway…This book made me so hungry!) Nearly every page features sensual descriptions of food–the aroma of spices, the silky texture of a cake batter–and they made me look at ingredients differently and recognize their power to evoke emotions and repair wounds.

I’m always rummaging through cupboards and creating new recipes, though nothing as fancy as in the book. I think my love of food and willingness to experiment in the kitchen enhanced my enjoyment of the book, but the beauty of Bauermeister’s writing, the realistic characters, and the strength of each of their stories taken as a whole make The School of Essential Ingredients an all-around must-read.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of The School of Essential Ingredients from Putnam/Penguin for review purposes as part of a MotherTalk blog tour. I also received a $20 Amazon gift card from MotherTalk for my participation in the tour. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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