The School of Essential Ingredients

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From the beginning, the prose is fantastic! I dare anyone to read Lillian on page one and not want to keep reading for the sake of the fun metaphors. I really appreciated the style that had independent stories about a variety of characters all tied together by the cooking class. It is a similar format to a book I am writing.

The story is set in the northwest and is what I call a potato chip book.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 1

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 1

Traditional: 1

Sex - Very subtle: "...memories she played in her head these days as she soothed herself to sleep, long after his breathing told her it was safe." (Pg. 53) Implied - a woman puts her hand under the table. (Pg. 117) A woman uses food to seduce a love interest. (Pg. 127) Passing reference. (Pg. 186) A woman surprises her husband with a new move. (Pg. 218)

Religion - "Lillian believed in food the way some people do religion." (Pg. 14) Commentary on deals made with higher powers. (Pg. 15)

Gruesome - nothing

Suspense - minor curiosities about back stories or future pairings

Morality - A woman has an affair.

Traditional - Dad ran off. Mom hides in books. Child cooks and cleans.

Carl and Helen had traces of "The Pilot's Wife" which was our July selection and had a theme of suddenly doubting all you know about your spouse. (Pg. 78)

Discussion Questions

In the Prologue (Pg. 1), Lillian stands in the door of her kitchen, with the lights off, and identifies all the smells. What smells can you identify right now, where you are?

Have you ever taken a cooking class? What was your motivation? Was it like this class? If you haven't taken a class, would you expect it to be like this one? Did this book change the way you see food or any of your cooking techniques? What did you learn about cooking or food while you read this book?

Abuelita says, "Our greatest gifts grow from what we are not given." (Pg. 30) What gifts have you not been given?

Claire had lost herself in motherhood, causing her to withdraw from her husband and feel unseen in public. Can you relate?

Helen asked Claire what she did that made her happy? (Pg. 55) What did you do when your kids were young for your happiness?

Lillian sometimes wondered why psychologists focused so much on a couple's life in their bedroom. You could learn everything about a couple just watching the kitchen choreography as they prepared dinner." (Pg. 64) Where could we learn more about your marriage - kitchen or bedroom?

Do you agree with Lillian that all couples should make their own wedding cake, and if they did less people would get married? (Pg. 71)

Lillian put her finger into the cake batter and tasted it. (Pg. 75) Would that be okay with you, as a student?

Which character story did you like best?
If the people are metaphors for the essential ingredients for life, what would they be?

How do you feel about these statements?

  • Isabelle said, "memories hold you to the ground...I am a bit light on my feet these days." (Pg. 99)

  • "A holiday is like a kitchen, what's important is what comes out of it." (Pg. 107)

  • Charlie thinks, "Our bodies are far more intelligent than our brains." (Pg. 129)

Charlie had an unusual way of memorializing her breasts. (Pg. 136) What creative ways have you heard of?

Charlie's view of life: "We're all just ingredients, what matters is the grace with which you cook the meal." (Pg. 139) What ingredients do you bring to your relationships? In what ways are you graceful?

Would you knowingly eat spice cake with someone's ashes in it? (Pg. 142)

Do you think distracted people are interesting? (Pg. 152)

Reread the section of Isabelle and Tom's dialogue, starting on Pg. 195 and ending on Pg. 197, in which they share ideas about food and memories. How do your personal concepts differ?

Helen talked about experiencing a longing for something we never really intended to have in the first place. (Pg. 208) Have you ever felt like Helen?

Ian had a hard time mastering rice. (Pg. 228) How long did it take you to master rice? What did you struggle to master in the kitchen? What are you awesome at?

Antonia's father said, "a person needs a reason to leave and a reason to go." (Pg. 237) Can you apply this philosophy to a move you've made?

I write my questions as I am reading.
When I get to the end, I look at what questions the book includes. Sometimes I find a similar question but usually I think mine are more realistic.
In this book, I l
iked a lot of the questions including: 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 11.
By coincidence, I wrote questions similar to 6 and 7.

Theme Ideas

Learn how to fold napkins. Or decorate with folded napkins.
Take a cooking class.

Decorate with cream colored roses with lavender and rosemary like Carl brought Lillian. (Pg. 250)

Serve tamales and guacamole like Abuelita introduced her to. (Pg. 21-23) Also serve coffee with chocolate cream like Abuelita told Lillian to make for her mother. (Pg. 26-29)

Serve Ding Dongs in honor of Helen and Carl.

Serve the significant food from each chapter: