The School of Essential Ingredients

I had other plans. I was supposed to be at a bar with Laurie - knitting, drinking pints and gushing over the copy of her book that I'll get when we meet up. There were other forces in action though and her son got sick so after work I found myself at home staring at my library shelf. It's my one weekday afternoon that I have "off" and I planned to enjoy it. Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients called to me and we settled down together in the sunshine streaming through the windows of the sunroom while my cat took a sun nap beside me and the Beatles White Album drifted out from the office speakers.

It's my first sunroom read of the year. It reminded me why I work two part-time jobs instead of a regular (and probably more profitable) full-time one. It's for afternoons like this one. It's for days of reading in the quiet sunshine while the rest of the world is at work and I sit torn between wanting to lose myself in the book and bursting to tell the world that they must pick it up. I want to read passages out loud but there's no one here except that cat and she's an unreceptive audience unless the work "cheese" is involved. I console myself by rereading them and letting the words roll around in my mind the way Lillian's food would melt in my mouth.

I find myself jumping up from the table to go into the kitchen. I open the cabinets. I want to knead some bread dough. Mix up a batch of biscuits with my hands. Make salad rolls with translucent thin rice paper. Chop fresh herbs. Start a tomato sauce. Make ravioli. My essential ingredients for these are missing yet I feel the need to plunge my hands into them. I feel the need to create something luscious.

I wonder why it's been so long since a book made me feel this way. Is the books? Is it the long cold Canadian winter? Is it the sunshine? Am I just re-energizing like the potted plants placed in the sun after wintering indoors?

Sitting in the sun reading this book I feel like I could stay in this apartment for years. Or at least one more than we planned. Then the neighbour next door sees me and points me out to his friend who pokes his head over the fence to stare at me as well. I resist the urge to flip them the bird and remind myself that when we buy a house (hopefully in a year) I can build my own sunny sanctuary, minus the nosy (and slightly creepy) neighbours. I make a note to get back my sewing machine and make some curtains that will keep in the light but shield me from prying eyes.

I must mar this and complain about something, and yes really I must complain about this - why is it always breast cancer? Why is it always a lump in the breast? And why is it always followed by death? What is that about breast cancer that authors find so romantic and tragic? If this book was a meal that was the sour note, the failed course, the wine turned to vinegar. It always seems to happen in books  I would otherwise completely love and have to settle for mostly loving.  I'm tired of breasts as tools of death.  (Note: this was just a part of the story, it's not a "breast cancer book" per se, but I desperately wish it hadn't appeared at all.)

That aside I loved this book. I loved what it said about food, what it said about how food connects to our lives. It reminded me that soon my weekend routine will change. I'll bound out of bed on Sunday mornings. Lee will brew the coffee and pour it into travel must. We will throw on sloppy clothes. We'll gather up canvas bags and shove our bed-head hairdos under hats. It's the one morning where a computer is not touched. We'll hop in the truck and make the short drive to the farmer's market where we will be greeted by the people who grow our food. We'll stock up on farm fresh eggs, maybe some local meat or cheese. And always, always vegetables. We'll be home in less than an hour and we'll make breakfast. Eggs. Maybe pancakes or French toast. I'll spend the rest of the morning preparing the morning's goodies into something that will feed us. Maybe my hands will become stained with rhubarb or beet juices. Maybe I'll roast fresh tender asapargus. Maybe we'll have a treat something that comes rarely, a true seasonal item like ramps. Eventually we'll taste the first fresh tomato of the summer. We'll feed each other and our friends and family because our lives revolve around food and it's how we show our love for them and for life.

"We're all just ingredients, Tom. What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal."