50 in 2013: Book Five

The Lost Art of MixingThe Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this book, we are reintroduced to characters from Bauermeister’s earlier novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. However, the magic of Lillian’s cooking, the ability of her recipes to transcend paper and leave traces of her magic within each recipient was lost in this story.

Less about cooking and more about individual stories of routine and rituals, The Lost Art of Mixing examines the ways in which routine and ritual can define one’s life. The routine rituals of a disgruntled housewife: the ways in which she loses a little bit of herself over the years as she transforms to meet the needs of her husband or her house. The routine rituals of an out of touch husband: the ways in which he stays at work an hour longer to avoid the inevitable onslaught of rising anger from his wife. The routine of a daughter forced to grow up far too fast in order to help her aging mother and attempt to get her siblings to see the reality of their family’s situation. The routine rituals of a young man desperately searching for a place to call his own, a place to truly fit in, a place to stop hiding and discover himself.

Routines and rituals that bring strangers to Lillian’s kitchen for a cooking class where they end up learning about much more than cooking.

I particularly loved the following quote: “the way things could become so permeated with memories that story was more important than function.” Many of the characters struggle with moving forward, pinned down by their past. As Abby searches for answers regarding the next step with her mother, she is forced to confront her mother’s connection to things. Things that seem mundane to Abby, yet the stories within each item mean the world to Isabelle. This pulled the heartstrings for me as a mother, a daughter, a sister…at what point does the item connected to the story come to solely represent the story? Does the story remain within the item or one’s heart?

I missed Bauermeister’s culinary prose. She is incredibly lyrical and moving as she mixes recipes with personal stories. “By the time Lillian had turned twelve years old, cooking had become her family. It had taught her lessons usually imparted by parents- economy from a limp head of celery left too long in the hydrator, perseverance from the whipping of heavy cream, the power of memories from oregano, whose flavor only grew stronger as it dried.” Magic. Overall, a good read but not nearly as poignant as the first…

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