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Interview with Erica Bauermeister

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister was one of my favorite books from last year and continues where The School of Essential Ingredients left off.  I said in my review of The Lost Art of Mixing, “Bauermeister has created another set of deep characters with nuanced personalities and places them in unusual situations that are all at once odd and plausible, and readers will be swept up in the relationships within these pages and how the characters mingle and mesh with one another in different ways.”

Today, I’ve got a giveaway and a great interview for you.  Without further ado, here’s my interview with Ms. Bauermeister:

The role of food as a way to connect people to one another and their memories is strong in both The School of Essential Ingredients and The Lost Art of Mixing. What is your relationship with cooking and is there someone in your life that sparked your interest in the culinary arts?

My relationship with cooking is similar to Lillian’s. I am far less intuitive when it comes to matching people and food – but I do love playing with ingredients. Interestingly, the spark came from a place more than a person. I was brought up in a recipe-oriented household, and it was language I was never really comfortable with. In 1997, my husband was relocated to Italy and we took our children and lived there for two years. No one I met there used recipes – they cooked with their five senses. That approach was felt as natural as breathing. I haven’t looked back.

Lillian has a pretty good head on her shoulders when it comes to connecting people in her cooking classes to others and themselves but when it comes to her own life, she seems adrift. How did you come to create her as a character and what elements of her personality were strongest to you when you started writing her?

I think many of us know someone who has taken a gift or talent and hidden inside its beauty. We’re so in awe of the magic, we forget to look inside.

When it came to Lillian, I started with two images in The School of Essential Ingredients – a woman wise beyond her years, and a child who had been abandoned and had turned to cooking for solace. In The Lost Art of Mixing I wanted the chance to go deeper into her character, to explore Lillian as the flawed and wonderful human being that she is. Her strength becomes more complicated in Mixing, and that makes her even more interesting to me.

In terms of cooking, would you consider yourself a follower of recipes or someone who experiments in the kitchen with just a few guiding principles. Name one successful dish you’ve created and one that didn’t work as well.

If I am learning a new cuisine –Thai or Indian, for example – I’ll need to use recipes for a while to learn those guiding principles. But once I understand the basic grammar, I want to go play.

One of my favorite things to do is to open the refrigerator and see what I have left over, and then turn those ingredients into something new. One of my favorites was a butternut squash, pancetta, garlic, cream, and truffle oil sauce served over penne pasta. It tasted like autumn, but in a completely seductive way.

Less successful? I was trying to see just how little flour I could put in cookies. I went from one batch that was light and crispy and wonderful to a complete mess in the next. Yes, there is a tipping point.

The Lost Art of Mixing deals a lot less with the creation of food and there is less food imagery than the first book, but the title still calls to readers’ minds the idea of cooking. Why the absence of strong food imagery and elements in this book?

One of my main goals in writing is to get my readers to slow down and pay attention. Cooking provides a wonderful opportunity to do that, but it isn’t the only way. In my second novel, Joy For Beginners, I branched out into gardening and perfume and books and travel and pottery – all of them activities that are more rewarding when you slow down and use your five senses. In The Lost Art of Mixing I wanted to remind readers to pay attention to those around them.

So why the title? In my mind, the “mixing” refers to the characters and the situations they get themselves into. There are four pairs of characters in this novel, each pair in the midst of misunderstanding. My job was to present those conflicts from the viewpoint of each of the characters involved – allowing the reader to stand in the middle and become immersed in both sides of an argument, to mix, as it were. I think empathy is one of the most valuable qualities a human being can possess.

Finally, what are some of the best poems/poets you’ve read recently and do you prefer contemporary or classic poetry? Why or why not?

The creating of rhythms and the making of images are two of my favorite parts of writing. I probably spend more time on that than anything. And yet, I could never write poetry, and I am in awe of those who do.

Some of my favorite poets are those who take ordinary parts of a day and shine a new light on them. I love the way Billy Collins can be writing about losing your memories in a way that feels comfortable and familiar, until the last two lines, when the poem suddenly surges into beauty. Mary Oliver does the same thing with the natural world, observing closely and then making us see something new and brilliant. They cause me to slow down and pay attention to the day around me, and in doing so give it meaning.

Thanks, Erica Bauermeister for writing such great books with wonderful characters.

Giveaway is open to US/Canada readers through Jan. 11, 2013. To enter for a copy of The Lost Art of Mixing, please leave a comment with one of your favorite recipes.

  • My biscuits and gravy is one of our family’s favorites. Frankly I buy the Pillsbury Grands frozen biscuits and then focus on the gravy. Brown your 1 lb of your favorite sausage (ours is Jimmy Dean) then add 1 tbs of butter and melt. Sprinkle 3 Tbs flour over the pan once butter is melted. Then slowly add 1 3/4 cup of milk while stirring. Stir and cook until reach desired thickness.
    Note: I will often double or triple this recipe so we have left overs.

  • Great interview! No need to enter me as I’ve already read (and loved) the book.
    Anna´s last blog post ..The Girl’s Favorite Books of 2012

  • I loved this interview! Thanks so much for sharing! My favorite recipe to cook is Spaghetti Carbonara:

    http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2008/07/spaghetti_carbo.html

  • Anne B.

    This is a great interview! I have loved both of Erica’s other books and have enjoyed sharing them with others. Thanks for the giveaway, I would love to win a copy. I’m looking forward to reading The Lost Art of Mixing. I also love reading Mary Oliver.

    One of my favorite recipes is a simple one for Roasted Potatoes. It’s only 3 ingredients. Start with some potatoes that are cut into quarters. Place olive oil in a baking pan and put in the potatoes. Put on some seasoning like rosemary or thyme. Pour on some more olive oil on top. Bake at 425 for about 35 minutes. Enjoy.

  • I really enjoyed the interview with the author. I love the way she likes to “play” with cooking in the kitchen. I would never have the nerve to try putting something together without a cook book or a home recipe tried over time. I felt very surprised. I also love Billy Collins and Mary Oliver. I would love to win and read her book.

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    Hattie´s last blog post ..Teaser Tuesday

  • Great interview, but then, having interviewed Erica Bauermeister myself a couple of times, I can honestly say that she is a wonderful author to interview and her books are a true delight to read! I can hardly wait to get to read The Lost Art of Mixing!
    Here’s a recipe that I have used that is vegan, but also gluten free, which I don’t need but many of my friends do. Even if you use regular flour, the muffins come out moist and flavorful!

    Pumpkin Muffins: gluten free and vegan
    Courtesy of Kendra Hubbell bfffoodproject.blogspot.com

    Ingredients:
    • 1/4 cup canola oil (or other favorite oil. Coconut is great!)
    • 4 tbsp flax meal mixed with 6 tbsp warm-hot water
    • 15 oz pureed pumpkin
    • 1 ¼ cup organic sugar
    • 2/3 cup coconut milk or apple juice
    • 1 tbsp baking powder
    • 2 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tbsp cinnamon
    • 1 tsp nutmeg
    • ½ tsp ginger
    • 2 ½ Bob’s Redmill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour

    Directions:
    Add wet ingredients in Vitamix, (or blender, mixer, or bowl of your choice) followed by the dry ingredients and mix well.
    If you don’t have a mixer, you can mix the wet ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Add all dry ingredients in another bowl and stir to combine. Then combine the wet with the dry and mix well.
    Put ¼ cup of the batter into muffin tins that have been sprayed with your favorite cooking spray or muffin or cupcake papers.
    Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

  • I took the instructions to mean that we are to leave our favourite recipe in the comments not just name it. I am not taking any chances because I am a huge fan or Erica and I believe as I think she does, that cooking is an intimate expression of our emotions for others. So here is a quick an easy seafood dish that is perfect for two.

    Mussels in White Wine
    Note: Set the table with an empty bowl for discarded shells.
    Ingredients:
    1 T garlic, minced
    2 T butter, (not margarine-it does taste different)
    2 pounds live/fresh mussels, drained and rinsed in cold water
    1 fresh tomato, diced
    juice of one lemon
    2 c wine (any dry white or even rose)
    1/3 c fresh parsley, chopped
    Preparation:
    Sautee the garlic in butter over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, until the garlic starts to become fragrant.
    Bring the temperature up to high and add the rinsed mussels.
    Throw in the tomato, lemon juice, wine and parsley and cover with a tight fitting lid.
    Let the mixture come to a boil (which in most cases will be about 5 minutes but depends upon your stove)-the steam in the pot will open and cook the mussels. Stir the mixture just once in this process.
    Ladle into a warmed bowl.
    If you are serving with bread, you can head to the table, if pasta, then proceed to the following:
    Any noodle with a broad surface will soak up the fabulous sauce. On this night we already had cooked spaghetti noodles in the fridge which I rinsed under hot water.
    Grind sea salt and cracked pepper over the pasta and then add your preferred amount of freshly grated parmesan (in Italy cheese is never served with seafood pasta, but we love it).

    Buon appetito! Amore….

  • Beth Hoffman

    Fun interview! I have this book on my list and hope to find time to read it soon.

  • karenk

    thanks for the chance to read this novel.
    pineapple/angel food cake recipe….only 2 ingredients…one box angel food cake + one can crushed pineapple…mix w/ wooden spoon. place mixture into 9×13 cake pan, sprayed w/ pam…bake at 350 degrees for about one hour…enjoy 🙂

  • Great review! I read this one a few months ago and still need to review it. I love the symbolism of the title!

  • The School of Essential Ingredients is one of my favorite books. I can’t wait to catch up with the characters again.

    As far as recipes go, I love Dutch baby pancakes. My current favorite is an apple one, but I want to try different kinds of fruits. They are quick, use pantry ingredients and I love to serve them for any meal. I mean, what is better than breakfast for dinner?
    Janel Gradowski´s last blog post ..Happy New Year!

  • This is a great interview! I’m glad to know what the title means to Bauermeister. No need to enter me.
    bermudaonion (Kathy)´s last blog post ..Wondrous Words Wednesday