Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Simply from Scratch

Summary: Alicia Bessette writes with compassion and tenderness to illuminate the many unexpected ways people save each others' lives every day-often without even knowing it. Poignant, bittersweet, and strikingly honest, Simply from Scratch is a radiant celebration of friendship and the strength of the human spirit.

Rose-Ellen ("Zell") Carmichael Roy wears her late husband Nick's camouflage apron even when she's not in the kitchen. That's her widow style.

It's been over a year since Nick died tragically during a post-Katrina relief mission in New Orleans. Long enough, according to the grief pamphlets, to have begun to move on with her life. But Zell is still unable to enter her attic, which is full of Nick memories. She hasn't even turned on her oven because cooking was Nick's chore. That is, until she decides to enter the first annual Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest, hoping to donate the grand prize to Katrina survivors in Nick's memory.

Meanwhile, Zell's nine-year-old neighbor, Ingrid Knox, is learning to cope with the loneliness of growing up without a mother. With an imagination as big as her heart, Ingrid treasures her doting father but begins to plot how she will meet the woman who abandoned her so many years ago. When an embarrassing baking mishap brings Zell and Ingrid together, they form an unlikely friendship that will alter both of their lives forever. Together, and with the help of a lively and loveable cast of friends and family, Zell and Ingrid embark on winning the Desserts that Warm the Soul contest - and learn that through the many sorrows and joys of life, with a little bit of flour and a pinch of love, anything is possible. -- Dutton

When I read the description for SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH by Alicia Bessette, it definitely appealed to me. To be honest, it sounded like a book that I'd adore! And, to makes things even sweeter, author Alicia Bessette is one of the 2010 Debs from The Debutante Ball and you know how I just love all of the Deb books. Oh yeah -- and cover isn't too shabby either! Not that I'd ever admit to reading a book based on its cover, but isn't this one just one of the best? I guess what I'm saying is that I was very excited to crack open this book.

I enjoyed SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH a great deal. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that I absolutely loved it, but I did like it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to my friends. The novel definitely captured my attention as well as my heart, and I found the characters to be extremely likable. My favorite character was, of course, Zell and my heart just went out to her as she struggled with her grief after losing her husband. As I read this novel, I really liked seeing Zell begin to heal with the help of her family and friends.

Another thing I definitely appreciated about this novel was how the entire story unfolded. When the book begins, Zell is a not-so-recent widow who catches her oven on fire when she turns it on without checking inside first (I'm not judging her because I would be absolutely lost -- just saying that a year had passed and she was still not wearing a bra on a daily basis.) She discovers that her husband had hidden a present in there over a year ago because he knew she'd never look in or use the oven. The reader is immediately faced with quite a few questions from the get-go ... how did her husband die?, who is this EJ?, does Zell have a serious health problem?, and what is in the box? Throughout the course of the novel, the reader discovers answers to these questions in bits and pieces.

One of my favorite parts of this book was how it explored grief and the eventual healing process. There is no doubt that Zee was devastated when she lost her husband, and she pretty much shut down her life for an entire year. Despite pleas from her family and friends, she just wasn't able to even face life in general. I loved that it was the friendship of a nine year old girl Ingrid (along with a little help from her father and her step-grandmother) that helped Zee begin to grieve in a healthier way. Zee not only had to learn to move on, but she also had to learn some important lessons about forgiveness. Overall, I really appreciated so many of the messages in this novel.

And then there's all of the "things" that I liked that existed in this novel. I just love books about cooking food and this one mentioned food stuff a lot. Some of the recipes were just plain disgusting to me, but I did appreciate how the author used food as a way of comfort and healing. In addition, I really liked that Zell had an adopted Greyhound (just like the author.) I am not a dog owner, but I have always thought that if I ever got a dog that it would be a Greyhound. And finally, I appreciated that Ms. Bessette makes so much mention of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it incurred on so many people. Through the use of Nick's emails, I feel as if the reader got a glimpse into the kind of help the victims need as well as how many wonderful people are that volunteered to help them.

I did have one slight issue with this book and I'm sure it's just a personal preference thing, but I found it a little bit odd. Most of the book is written in Zell's voice and I thought the author did a great job with that. At the end of the chapters, there is part written in third person about Zell's long-time friend EJ. And, then some sort of email correspondence between Zell and her husband Nick. I thought the emails were a nice touch and a great way to unfold the story about Nick; however, I didn't really "get" the EJ part. Don't get me wrong, I loved EJ (what little I got to know about him.) I just thought it was strange how there were a few pages about him stuck at the end of each chapter. I think it's possible that it would have worked for me if he had his own separate chapters, but I just didn't appreciate the presentation. I also felt as if I was teased with EJ's story. I think he was a great character and I actually wanted more of his story.

I do think SIMPLY FOR SCRATCH would make a fantastic book club pick for women of all ages. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but I don't think it would be difficult to come up with a few questions on your own. Plus, I think this novel is one of those where people just start talking and move on from there -- sometimes the best type of books for discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, family, friendships, loss, grief, healing, and forgiveness.

A very big part of the story is the baking contest that Zell and Ingrid decide to enter. After many baking mishaps (Zell never claimed to be a cook!), they finally stumble across a recipe that they think is a winner. I admit that I didn't try it, but I think it has potential with the black pepper and fruit. (I'm a big fan of a walnut biscotti recipe that I make that includes pepper!) What do you think?

Scrumpy Delight

Yield: One Scrumpy Delight. Serves two to four.

* For best flavor, use fresh pineapple, and grill slices before chopping. If using canned chopped pineapple, drain juice well.

  • 1 heaping cup well-chopped pineapple (if substituting fresh strawberries, apples, or peaches, wash and dry fruit completely
  • 2 ox. spreadable goat cheese, softened slightly in microwave (may substitute other preferred soft cheeses, such as cream cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • a scant 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper (sounds like a lot, but trust us)
  • Polly Pinch's Super Simp Flakey piecrust (may substitute store-bought crust, or make your own from scratch using a favorite recipe)
  • 1 1 1/2 oz. dark or milk chocolate bar
  • 2 teaspoons whole milk or cream
For garnish:
  • brown sugar
  • chilled fresh raspberries (may substitute blueberries)
  • fresh-ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2. Combine pineapple, cheese, honey, lime juice, and pepper in large mixing bowl.
3. Carefully lay piecrust flat on baking skeet. Repair any tears in dough with moistened fingertips.
4. Place chocolate bar in the center of piecrust.
5. Pour the pineapple mixture onto the chocolate bar. Using a spatula, spread the mixture out toward the edge of the dough, leaving about a one-inch edge.
6. Using fingertips, drag two opposite sides of piecrust to meet in the center, forming a rectangle. Brush the top of the crust with milk.
7. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
8. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with brown sugar and pepper, if desired. Garnish with berries.
9. Using a sharp knife, divide into segments. Best served warm.

I enjoyed this heart-warming story and I think many women will agree. If you are a fan of chick lit or women's fiction or even books about food, then I suggest you check out SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


Ladytink_534 said...

This sounds like such a good book and that recipe made me hungry! Have you seen the book trailer for this? Super cute!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I am drawn to books that have to do with food and cooking. Despite the tragic plot, I would imagine many women would relate to the main character and want the best for her.

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds good and so does the recipe - seriously what could be bad about fruit and chocolate?

rhapsodyinbooks said...

That's a riot about her husband hiding a present for her in the oven. I also find it confusing when the point of view in a book is suddenly changed. Still, it sounds like this is a good book - "bittersweet" as the summary says.

Beth Kephart said...

Such a great and thoughtful review (but then again, yours always are!)


Meg @ write meg! said...

Definitely sounds like a moving novel I would enjoy -- and the food element in novels always appeals to me! And yum, biscotti. I'd love to try my hand at that sometime!

Beth F said...

Sounds like a charming book and that recipe . . . wow. Mr. BFR loves pineapple, so this would be a good one for him.

Karlie said...

Sounds like one I would love to read!!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Wow. I need to find this one. It sounds terrific.

Heather said...

What a neat sounding book. I am so glad I popped in to check your Weekend Cooking post.