Simply from Scratch **** by Alicia Bessette
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, a delicious blog for readers with an appetite~ for the written word. . .and food.
Rose-Ellen “Zell” Roy is a young widow that has been unable to move on with her life after her husband Nick dies tragically, during a post-Katrina relief mission in New Orleans. Zell, who works out of her home, is in seclusion from Nick’s well-meaning friends, with only her dog, Captain Ahab, and Gladys Knight & the Pips for company. A year after Nick’s death, Zell is still unable to enter her attic, full of memories or turn on her oven since cooking was Nick’s domain. When she learns of celebrity chef Polly Pinch’s first annual Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest, with a $20,000 grand prize~ the exact amount Nick was hoping to raise for Katrina survivors, she decides fate has handed her a way to honor Nick’s memory.
Fate appears to intercede again when, motherless nine-year-old Ingrid Knox moves in next door. Ingrid spends her days when she’s not in school watching & worshipping Polly Pinch~ whose persona and face are everywhere, from cracker boxes to TV commercials. An unlikely camaraderie develops between Ingrid & Zell that has them brainstorming, bonding & baking together in an effort to win the Desserts that Warm the Soul contest. Toss in some kitchen disasters, some endearing, memorable characters, and a bit of chaos~ the end result is a story that satisfies the sweet tooth & warms the soul.
“I flick the oven light switch, but the bulb’s dead. All I can make out through the little window is a dark object on the top rack. It shouldn’t be there; that much I know. Maybe I was supposed to check for foreign objects before preheating.”
“An alarm screeches. A smoke alarm. A fire alarm. A saucy-wench-trying-to-bake alarm.”
“The object in the oven is officially on fire. Its azure and orange wings shoot up as if inflated, as if ready for takeoff.”
“In Chief Kent’s huge hands is the object from the oven: a charred box the size of a human head, apparently made of hard plastic. The cube is deformed from the heat. It looks like hardened lava coated with residue from the fire extinguisher. Its lid is sealed shut.”
Nick’s closest friend EJ, owns a Muffinry, who Zell has studiously avoided as he was on the trip with Nick when he died. EJ “The Muffin Man” Murtonen’s muffins are delicious, cakey, moist & huge. . .
He also specializes in muffin tops. . .
S’mores Muffin Tops, recipe here
“I knot Nick’s camouflage apron under my boobs, unable to remember the last time I wore a bra, or preheated the oven. That’s my widow style.”
In one of Nick’s emails to Zell, he mentions his love for muffalettas. . .
Zell begins her baking for the contest:
“Gladys Knight and the Pips: check. Camouflage apron: check. Empty oven preheated: check. Ahab leaning against the legs of a kitchen stool, winking his eye-patch: check.”
“The odors of smoke and fire extinguisher linger, but the room doesn’t look any different than it did before the fire, except maybe a bit cleaner, somehow.”
Ingrid imparts her nine-year-old wisdom and encourages Zell to have a back up plan:
“Stir, stir, stir. Slap some grease on a baking sheet. Drop heavy dough in haphazard columns. Set timer.”
“The timer dings: real time, real place. Still on the floor, I reach over and open the oven. Zell’s Banana Cocoa Milky Way Cookies form one giant gray spongy puff, like the brain of a large mammal. Some brain drips onto the floor of the oven and sizzles.”
“And I am neither a kitchen Nazi nor a televison chef with tight skin and perfect tanned boobs. I am Rose-Ellen Roy, nee Carmichael, the soggy omelet trying to win a twenty-thousand-dollar baking contest. If not with Flourless Peanut Butter Treats, if not with Oatmeal Brownie Upside-Down Cake, then with Something Else Outstanding.”
Snickerdoodle Sandwiches~ quick & easy, NOT from scratch :-) recipe here.
“Floury handprints smudge the cabinets. Sugar dots the counter. Brownish oatmeal sticks to the wall.”
“Inside the pan, the oatmeal mass shifts. A wet spray plops onto the counter.”
“I recount Flourless Peanut Butter Treats, Banana Cocoa Milky Way Cookies, Oatmeal Brownie Upside-Down Cake, and on and on. How every baking disaster made the lips purse, the tongue prickle, or the eyes water; left the mouth oversaturated or dry as dust, left the stomach too empty or too full, left the soul decidely unwarm.”
This was a fun read and while nothing has ever caught on fire in my oven (a few close calls with toast :-), I can SO relate. . .I tend to leave a trail of crumbs and flour in my wake, and leave my signature on every cabinet drawer, door, dishwasher & refrigerator handle. My husband shakes his head in disbelief. I am NOT tidy in the kitchen. I’d LIKE to think I have an excuse, to quote my friend Carolyn, “Creative minds are seldom tidy.” Sounds good anyway. . .
Just for fun:
Zell talks to her dog, Captain Ahab (so named due to his coloration that makes him appear to have an eye patch) in pirate-speak. My sister-in-law shared with me that if you have a Facebook page, just for fun, click on “English” at the bottom of the FB homepage, drop down and click on English (pirate). It will change everything to pirate-speak on the page. ‘Share’ becomes ‘Blabber t’ yer mates’; ‘What’s on your mind?’ becomes ‘What be troublin’ ye?’ If someone ‘likes’ something, it then becomes ‘be eyein’ this with pleasure’ and if someone makes a comment, you’ll be notified that they ‘wagged their scurvy tongue’ :-)
Yes, I am EASILY entertained. . .
Alicia Bessette has created a recipe for a heartwarming story served with humor and hope. With a little bit of flour and a pinch of love~ Zell learns that sometimes with life, you have to simply start from scratch (and it doesn’t hurt to have a fire extinguisher handy :-)