Alicia Bessette’s writing is compassionate and sweet. As she writes this new novel Simply from Scratch we are overthrown with the illumination of death and the devotion that friends and family have for their loved ones. As we watch Rose Ellen “Zell” Roy deal with the death of her husband, Nick, we see her pain and sorrow, yet so much more. In an homage to her husband she dons his camouflage apron and attempts the impossible –baking. A year after her husband’s tragic death in New Orleans Zell preheats the oven and it starts to smoke and burn alerting the fire department and many of her neighbors. The fire was short lived and left the remains of a charred present from her husband- who knew she would never look in the stove-which alters Zell’s existence. Cooking was Nick’s chore and she hasn’t even turned on the oven since he died.
Continuing her homage Zell decides to enter the Warm the Soul baking contest in order to donate to New Orleans and the Survivors in honor of Nick. As she sits outside in the snow with her Greyhound ‘Captain Ahab’ she contemplates her life and the many things she has lost. As her life long friends attempt to console her she cannot cope with what they represent- the happiness she had when her husband was alive. These individuals serve as a constant reminder of her past. In attempt to escape Zell consults with her nine-year-old neighbor, Ingrid, about cooking and baking. Yet Zell connects with Ingrid in more than one way, the two are both coming to terms with their loneliness and contempt. Ingrid’s imagination is wild and alluring- similar to Zell I get caught up in her innocence. After the initial baking mishap the two unite for the Baking Contest- they both have ulterior motives for wanting to win. Yet despite Ingrid’s obsession with Polly Pinch, whom she thinks is her mother, she has little to no knowledge of baking. The two embark on a wonderful adventure rife with ups and downs which complicate their baking needs, lives, and so much more.
As I began this novel I was excited about the new interesting topic since none of the books I have read thus far revolve around baking or cooking- which is one of my favorite things. The novel quickly grasped my attention as I followed Zell through her ordeal in search of love and so much more. The small town friendship is something I can sorta remember, while my hometown is by no mean small it is tight knit especially with loss. While many of us can be lost in despair it was nice to see a community gather around Zell as she dealt with her anger and sorrow. As Zell begins to heal she is confronted with much confusion and fear.
Throughout the novel Besstte leaves us pondering many different questions about how we would react in a similar situation. Not many authors are willing to explore the grieving process as thoroughly as Bessette did, she was able to examine the issue from many different angles involving many points of view and periods of grieving. To many different people cooking and food are a sense of comfort during a difficult time and that is how Zell attempts to mount her problems. Whether she is cooking what to me seems like a grotesque combination of foods or she is talking in her pirate voice to her Greyhound, Zell is an intriguing and inspirational character. Bessette not only confronts the loss of a loved one but the major issue of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I generally appreciate the diversity of her dialogue from monologues to emails corresponding with her dead husband. We are able to take a glimpse at the inner dynamics of each character.
At the close of the novel –following many different baking catastrophes- Ingrid and Zell create something amazing which they coin Scrumpy Delight. Okay so I tried the recipe. First let me preface with the fact that I am allergic to pineapple so I substituted apples instead. It was pretty good! I really loved the combination of cheeses and apple flavor. While you may initially look at this recipe and think gross, give it a try and let me know how it works for you! My favorite recipe for desert is Amy Oh’s Very Best Cookies. I truly loved the humor and relationships throughout the book. I would recommend Simply from Scratch to anyone looking for a heart-warming story of love and triumph over all odds.
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
-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
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
9. Using a sharp knife, divide into segments. Best served warm.
This book is available on Amazon
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