There is something about food and life. I just finished an amazing book, The School of Essential Ingredients, that reminded me of that. In telling the story of a chef, Lillian, and her cooking class students, Erica Bauermeister weaves a story of real food and real life that leaves the reader inspired to slow down in the kitchen, think about the food we create, and ourselves as the essential ingredients of life.

A few excerpts:

fresh herbs and Mangalitsa lardA young girl, making her first food for her boyfriend when their relationship was difficult:

Chloe had watched (Tom making the pasta), the gentleness on his face as he worked, the way his hands touched the ingredients like the body of someone he cherished, and she decided this would be the dish she would make for Jake, and he would see her food as love.

The same young girl, talking with an admired classmate who is helping her see something:

Finally… Chloe looked up into the mirror. Her face gazed back at her,open, her eyes huge and blue, her hair barely restrained.
“Essential ingredients,” Antonia observed, “only the best.”
“But you are beautiful,” Chloe insisted.
Antonia laughed softly. “I used to say that to my mother all the time. She would be standing in the kitchen or digging in the garden, and I would think she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I was not a lpretty teenager. Snd do you know what she would say to me?”
Chloe shook her head.
“She would say, ‘Life is beautiful. Some people just remind you of that more than others.’”

Jim communing with a chick while moving it from the brooder to a tractor.Bauermeister describes food and life in such a sensual way that you can smell and taste the food and see the power its creation evokes. You see the slow simmer of a sauce and feel the slow simmer of a potential relationship at the same time. You appreciate the under appreciated quality of an heirloom tomato and understand the unappreciated quality of a girl at the same time. And you witness the drawing out of both by a knowledgeable chef. You also come to see that being such a chef is possible for anyone.

This was a timely book for me. I’m tired. If you’ve followed this blog for long, you may have noticed the sparseness of posts and very business like nature of them. War of any sort takes the heart out of a person. The pig battle was followed by the rebuilding struggle, with various personal challenges through in for good measure. I’d forgotten how sensual what we do is. Farming, the raising of nourishment, is a thing you do with your senses. Cooking and eating are things that build the body, mind, and spirit. The School of Essential Ingredients reminded me that high quality ingredients, put together with love, can heal the whole person. It was a timely reminder to this tired farm wife.

“We’re all just ingredients… What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal.”