Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

Source: borrowed from Anna
Paperback, 269 pages
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Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister is the perfect summer read, and while summer may be a few weeks away yet, this book hit the spot.  A group of friends came together unexpectedly from different walks of life and varied backgrounds and families, with some divorced, others perpetually single, and even a few happily married and content with family life.  These women — Daria, Marion, Sara, Hadley, Caroline, Ava — came together at first to help out Sara, a mother with twins and not enough hands, through a baby holding circle.  Once the twins grew old enough and Sara adapted to her new role as a mother of three, the women turned to another challenge, helping Kate through chemo and her battle with cancer.  As her daughter challenges Kate to take on the rapids of the Grand Canyon, she challenges all of these supportive women to face their own fears and challenges, and luckily each of them agrees.  From baking bread to getting a tattoo, these challenges are as varied as the women who must accomplish them.

“Two months later, Henry came into town just in time for Thanksgiving, bringing with him the smells of travel, cigarette smoke from a crowded train in Poland, yeast from a bakery in Alsace-Lorraine.  The toys he brought the children were not made of plastic; the music he hummed was nothing she recognized.  He was her twin, and looking at him she had never felt more as if he was her second half, the one she had sent out into the world while she stayed home.  She felt as if she could not stand close enough to him, listen to his stories long enough, as if doing so would make her a complete person again.” (page 107 ARC)

Like Bauermeister’s previous and current books that focus on people and food, so does Joy for Beginners, and in many ways all of her books center on the theme of learning to enjoy life and make the most of it.  Rediscovering what it means to be alive is at the heart of this novel, and it was a wonderful ride to see these women conquer their fears and face the challenges before them.  Like her previous books, readers will taste and smell the foods the women eat and find; they’ll smell the perfumes and scents around them; and they’ll experience the joy, surprise, and invigoration each of these women find.

Each of these women’s stories reads like a separate short story, but what makes this novel work are the connections these women share with one another and between themselves.  Kate and Sara may have brought these women together to nurture them and be their rocks of support, but its the connections that they continue to build together that propels these stories onward and deepens the ties that bind them together.  Readers are likely to want to see more from these women as their stories seem to be just beginning.  Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister is uplifting, fun, and reflective, but it also demonstrates the perseverance of the human soul despite the challenges of life that can seem overwhelming.

About the Author:

ERICA BAUERMEISTER is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients (my review) and The Lost Art of Mixing (my review).  She lives in Seattle with her family.  Check out her Facebook page.

New Year’s Winners

These commenters won Ruby Urlocker’s collection:

Beth Hoffman

Anna of Diary of an Eccentric

Rebecca of Lost in Books



The winner of Erica Bauermeister’s book:

Janel Gradowski





The winner of The Jane Austen Handbook:

Tina from Novel Meals




The winner of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies:


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.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister is a novel about food and characters as original and complementary as the dinners they create during Lillian’s Monday night School of Essential Ingredients at her restaurant.  From the older couple Helen and Carl who are seasoned and aged by salted wounds and mellowing cream to the spunky and unsure experimental flavors of Chloe who strives to build her confidence in the kitchen and her relationships, Bauermeister has created a culinary masterpiece that will melt in readers’ mouths.

“The girl was a daughter of a friend and good enough with knives, but some days.  Lillian thought with a sigh, it was like trying to teach subtlety to a thunderstorm.”  (page 7)

“Some smells were sharp, an olfactory clatter of heels across a hardwood floor.  Others felt like the warmth in the air at the far end of summer.  Lillian watched as the scent of melting cheese brought children languidly from their rooms, saw how garlic made them talkative, jokes expanding into stories of their days.”  (page 17)

“The more she cooked, the more she began to view spices as carriers of the emotions and memories of the places they were originally from and all those they had traveled through over the years.  She discovered that people seemed to react to spices much as they did to other people, relaxing instinctively into some, shivering into a kind of emotional rigor mortis when encountering others.”  (page 20)

Readers will smell the food, taste it, touch it, and become inspired to create their own culinary delights at home and share them with their families and friends.  Bauermeister threads the memories and problems of each character through the movements and creations in Lillian’s cooking class, alternating points of view and providing insight into each of their lives.  The true beauty of her prose is that cooking terms are even used when cooking is not the main focus of the story, and she excels at creating a mood of melancholy or a mood of frustration or even a mood of nostalgia as each character reviews their lives and their journeys in the kitchen.

Although the stories contained in the novel are short, Bauermeister does a magnificent job of creating characters that are three-dimensional.  Like the spices and other ingredients in Lillian’s recipes, each character is an essential ingredient to the whole of the novel.  In many ways, her novel is about enjoying each moment to its fullest, even those moments of guerrilla cooking in which someone is over your shoulder adding spices or tips to make a dish better, even if those moments of advice are unwanted at the time.  Taking criticism and advice with a touch of acceptance that we all need a little help is what the recipe to life requires to make it great.  The School of Essential Ingredients will leave readers wanting more, but willing to embark on their own journeys of food and so much more.

About the Author:

ERICA BAUERMEISTER is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners. She lives in Seattle with her family.  Check out her Facebook page.

This is my 79th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister (January 2013) picks up where her earlier novel, The School of Essential Ingredients (Check out my review tomorrow), left off — revisiting with Lillian, Chloe, Isabelle, and Tom.  Bauermeister also brings in some new characters as well as she leads readers on a journey of human interaction and family.  In many ways, recipes still play a role here as they did in the first book, though the imagery and word choices here are less about ingredients and cooking than they are about nature and the people themselves.  Isabelle plays a more integral role here than she did in the last book as a mother to grown children concerned about their new role as caregivers and to her wayward roommate, Chloe.  She’s also a motherly figure to Lillian when she finds herself in uncharted waters.

“For all the glamour of restaurants, the underlying secret of the successful ones was their ability to magically repurpose ingredients, a culinary sleight of hand that kept them financially afloat and would have made any depression-era housewife proud.”  (page 3 ARC)

Bauermeister expands on her early work and how food and emotions are closely tied to one another, looking deeper into her recipe to the ingredients and how they blend together or are mixed.  When a recipe is created, are the essential ingredients lost in one another or do they merely bring out the best elements of one another to create something luminous?  Isabelle’s memory loss highlights the mixing element further in terms of how memories are mixed in our minds with scents and seemingly innocuous objects, but the recall of those memories in those moments when scents and objects are present is all at once disconcerting, phenomenal, and joyous.

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.  Whether a chance meeting when returning a lost coat or a rushed moment in the accountant’s office, lives are touched and changed.  The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister examines the relationships we have, the ways in which we perceive them and ourselves, and how an outside perspective can improve our interactions with those we think we know the best and are closet to, creating even deeper connections than we thought possible.

About the Author:

ERICA BAUERMEISTER is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners. She lives in Seattle with her family. Check out her Facebook page.

Also look for a giveaway and interview in January when the book is released.

Mailbox Monday #196

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the Mailbox Monday blog.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Lost Art of Mixing and The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister for TLC Book Tour.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

2.  The Hopkins Touch by David Roll for review in January from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.

David Roll shows how Harry Hopkins, an Iowa-born social worker who had been an integral part of the New Deal’s implementation, became the linchpin in FDR’s–and America’s–relationships with Churchill and Stalin, and spoke with an authority second only to the president’s. Gaunt, nearly spectral, and malnourished following an operation to remove part of his stomach, the newly widowed Hopkins accepted the president’s invitation to move into the White House in 1940 and remained Roosevelt’s closest advisor, speechwriter, sounding board, and friend nearly to the end. Between 1940 and 1945, with incomparable skill and indefatigable determination, Hopkins organized the Lend-Lease program and steered the president to prepare the public for war with Germany. He became FDR’s problem-solver and fixer, helping to smooth over crises, such as when the British refused to allow an invasion of Europe in 1943, enraging Stalin, who felt that the Soviet Union was carrying the military effort against the Nazis. Lacking an official title or a clear executive branch portfolio, Hopkins could take the political risks his boss could not, and proved crucial to maintaining personal relations among the Big Three. Beloved by some–such as Churchill, who believed that Hopkins “always went to the root of the matter”–and trusted by most–including the paranoid Stalin–there were nevertheless those who resented the influence of “the White House Rasputin.”

3.  Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan for review.

4.  Carnival by Jason Bredle for review.

Jason Bredle’s poems approach the world like a haunted cat approaches a glacier, curious and itchy with strangeness. In Carnival, he skates paratactically between states of being: levity, heart-holes, licks of darkness, lovesickness and werewolfishness. Bredle’s gift as a poet is to traverse and re-traverse one looking glass in ten different moods. When he goes through it, we are taken. -Melissa Broder

5. Leaves by Michael Baron for review with Providence Book Promotions in February.

Welcome to Oldham, CT, a small town rich in Colonial heritage while being utterly contemporary. Situated along the Connecticut River Valley, Oldham bursts with color every fall, as the leaves on its trees evolve into an unmatched palette of scarlet, orange, purple, yellow, and bronze. For more than three decades, the Gold family has been a central part of Oldham in the fall, its Sugar Maple Inn a destination for “leaf-peepers” from all over the country, and its annual Halloween party a stirring way to punctuate the town’s most active month.

But this year, more than just the leaves are changing. With the death of their parents, the Gold siblings, Maria, Maxwell, Deborah, Corrina, and Tyler, have decided to sell the Sugar Maple Inn, and this year’s Halloween party will be the last. As October begins, the Golds contend with the finality that faces them, and the implications it has for a family that has always been so close. For some, it means embracing new challenges and new love. For others, it means taking on unimagined roles. And for others, it means considering the inconceivable. Complicating it all is a series of “hauntings” that touch each of the Gold siblings, a series of benign interventions that will remain a mystery until October draws to a close.

What did you receive?