Saturday, August 21, 2010

A book club discussion of "The School of Essential Ingredients"

Our book club met this past week to discuss my pick for August: The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. It’s the story of  Lillian's cooking school for beginners that meets once a month, and while the book is about food and the pleasure and joy of preparing and consuming it, it is also about the lives of the eight students who come together to cook
Based around profiles of Lillian's eight students: Claire, Carl, Antonia, Tom, Chloe, Isabelle, Helen, and Ian -  each chapter focus' on one student as we learn about their lives and the experiences that they bring (and that bring them) to a cooking class that is more about the people than the recipes.
Chapter 1:  The class assembles
 Our book club started off the evening by bringing together the 13 members who were available to attend.  Wine was poured and beer bottles opened as everyone threw off their daily cares and prepared for a cultural exploration of cooking, book discussion and art.

The adventurous cooks in the group were in charge of throwing, stretching and pulling dough into a form that slightly resembled a pizza shape ~ while other members happily gave advice from the sidelines.

After which came  the careful selection of essential ingredients to top off each artfully shaped pizza dough that were then cooked and eaten with great gusto.

Chapter 2:  Book Discussion
In preparation for my book club meeting I visited Erica Bauermeister's web site:  and saw that she loves to talk with book clubs.  Thinking, "What the heck" I e-mailed Erica, told her a little about our club, the fact that we would be meeting - that evening - to discuss her book, and would love to have her join us, if at all possible.  Within minutes, she returned my e-mail and we set up a time to video chat via skype.
 It was amazing to have the author of our selected book "attend" and enhance our book club meeting.  Erica discussed the development of her characters, their story lines, and how elements from her own life were used within the story.  A few outtakes from our discussion:  *The first character written was Henry, *Some story lines developed via dreams and a car ride with her daughter, *The deletion of "Mary" who became instead Chloe, *A loving reference to her husband in a picnic scene, and *The slow decline of her father's health and mind which in some way relates to her character Isabelle.  Erica graciously answered our many questions and humored us with details and stories in regard to this book and another book she's finished that will be published around Mother's Day 2011.  We cannot thank her enough for taking time from her schedule to bring to life the writing of and story line behind "School".

Chapter 3:  Painting the Essential Ingredients
The evening culminated in my studio - with members using their own essential ingredient - not to cook with but to paint. Being an art teacher, and not a chef, I felt more at home teaching the joy of painting vs the joy of cooking.
During class we were fortunate enough to have Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin join us for a little bit of inspirational painting advice.

Epilogue:  An ode to the last few paragraphs of "School"
It had been a good class and the moon was already high in the sky.  "The class would finish soon.  The teacher always felt a bit of sadness at this point, expected it even.  This time, however, she felt more regret than usual.

She had always loved being a teacher, the one who knew the colors that would wake up a memory, heal a heart.  She enjoyed holding the knowledge in her mind like a secret, figuring out which student needed which gift.

But this class was different.

 These students gave to each other, reaching out among themselves with such grace.
She saw how connected their lives had become and would remain.

Where did a teacher fit in the picture, when there was no longer a class?"  The teacher fit in the studio of course.

Shaking her head at herself, she sat down on a chair and listened to the quiet hum of the paint drying, the rustling of brushes in the water jar.  Then she turned off the light, and left the studio.

Cheers to family, friends, books and to those who share them with glee.


  1. I am so sorry I missed it! You really outdid yourself Mrs. Carlson...and I expect you will continue to do so. Love, Sara

  2. This looks like so much fun!!!! Yes, wine is always essential! I love that the author could be part of the book review. That's amazing.

  3. :) Yes, isn't wine what makes a book club tick! Erica B. was simply the best.

  4. Oh, my - this looks like fun! I am hosting our book club next month to discuss Erica's book - and you've given me lots of ideas to consider. Thank you!


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