“Hell hath no fury like a woman once ignored, who is now receiving attention several years too late.”
One of the aspects of cooking I enjoy (besides the good part at the end where you get to eat the yummy food) is that it is productive and you get something out of it that you (or people with you) will enjoy. And if you mess up, you throw it away and start again. And if you really, really mess up, you throw it away again and then order Chinese food. Simple.
This must be why we see so many books like Life from Scratch, where a divorced unhappy woman pulls her life together with a resolution such as learning to cook.
Part of me always wants to scream at these books. “Really? learning to cook? you have no original ideas!” I mean really, why does the woman always have to 1.) travel and/or 2.) cook. And when they travel, why is it always in Italy? Why does she always end up finding the-job-she-always-wanted and/or a new man/ending up with the ex again? (Yes, my glare is directed at you Eat, Pray, Love – Under The Tuscan Sun – Julie and Julia etc) It is so overdone, these books are the romantic comedies of the book world. (Note: I’d put money on the movie version of Life from Scratch starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.)
But what we must inevitably admit, is that we keep going to the romantic comedies and reading these books when we need a mind vacation. In the end we all enjoy a book that combines tasty food, love, humor and a touch of drama. So despite the extreme cliche factor, I enjoyed Life from Scratch anyway.
Rachel Goldman: a graphic designer, newly divorced, unhappy. Rachel starts a food blog where she challenges herself to cook, but also talks about her private life. She writes about her friends, her ex-husband and food. Her blog quickly becomes popular and her love life takes off again. Rachel has to learn to deal with re-defining who she is, her values and her love life all at the same time.
Rachel is a funny and honest character. She will blog about how good her date smells in the same entry where she writes about how to perfectly fry an egg. She bounces back and forth between happiness and depression as different events remind her of her ex-husband and the life she used to have, but then she kicks her butt into gear and goes on with it. She is a well rounded person with as many hypocrisies, worries, self doubts and mistakes as the rest of us. Even when she is being ridiculous or hypocritical, she’ll be the first to point it out.
“Not everything in life needs to be crema catalana and confetti. Sometimes you endure things just because you need to do it and then you can toast yourself on the other side.”
In addition to Rachel there is her powerhouse best friend Arianna, her various dates, her wanderlust brother Ethan and even her work obsessed ex-husband Adam. Each character is well polished. They have their own distinct personalities and parts to play in her life to help form a seamless enjoyable narrative.
And the food! Now lets be honest, we all know why we read these books. Its not to listen to yet another rendition of a divorced woman crying in the bathroom (or on her bedroom floor or in a pile of laundry or into the dirty dishwater) over her failed marraige. Its for the delicious descriptions of scrumptious recipes.
“I sprinkle the sugar over the top of the custards and slide them under the broiler, opening the oven door every few seconds to make sure that it is caramelizing and not burning. I remove the dishes from the oven and bring them back to the table along with two spoons. Gael cracks through the sugar crust and scoops up a small spoonful of custard.”
Food is an aspect in books that attracts us because it is sensory. We can almost smell that hot crisp sugar crust on the dish, taste that cool sweet smooth custard underneath it. Food reminds of us comfort, of family, of friends, of great restaurants we’ve visited or countries we’ve traveled through. It’s one of the most important aspects of a novel like Life from Scratch because the author needs to not just make you believe in her people, she needs to make you believe in her food. You have no expectations of Rachel Goldman since you’ve never met her, but I bet you’ve eaten a crème brûlée. You know what its supposed to taste, smell, sound and feel like. And in a book that does food well, the author should be able to make you taste that crème brûlée on your tongue from her words.
Luckily in Life from Scratch, she does. Its not The Hundred-Foot Journey (was anyone else absolutely starving after that book? yum) but it is well written and descriptive enough to make you wander towards your kitchen cabinets hoping that some gourmet surprise may be waiting there. (Hint: it isn’t. you have to actually cook it! sigh.)
So if this review didn’t already made you ravenous, next time you sit down to a chocolate souffle or a roasted herb chicken with garlic cream risotto, you should crack open this book as well. It is delicious and heartfelt, in more ways than one.