Monday, November 22, 2010

What the Love Goddess' Cooking School is Really About by Melissa Senate

by Melissa Senate

The summer I was getting divorced, a close friend flew from New York City to Maine to stay with me for the weekend in my new apartment. She glanced around my quaint small town of 8,000 with its lovely young families and historic homes, then looked at me and my (then) four year old son, and said, “You have to move to Portland. You won’t be happy in this town. As a single mother and living in an apartment, you won’t see yourself reflected here. You won’t feel like you belong. In New York (from where I’d moved two years earlier), anything goes. Here, perfect—however surface level—goes.”

Sledgehammer. I hadn’t even thought of that one. You won’t feel like you belong. You won’t see yourself reflected here. Perfect goes. That was four years ago, and as it turned out, she was both right and wrong (there turned out to be quite a few single mothers). That first year, though, I did struggle to feel like I belonged. But there was no moving: my town has one of the best public school systems in the state, which was my main priority. And it’s one of the few towns with great schools that also has a walkable downtown, albeit a little one—a necessity for me (including a sweet little indie bookstore). I was staying, despite the blinking  neon D on my forehead. 

Because my dear friend was also very right, I stayed home a lot more than I usually would. And I started to cook for the first time. I had the legendary Julia Child and Marcella Hazan and Mark Bittman by my side. And my dear little son, Max, asking if he could work the stove (no, but you can beat the eggs. And you can dip the chicken cutlets in the egg and flour and breadcrumbs). As my son and I spent hours in the kitchen, making pancakes from scratch, baking cakes and cookies, layering lasagna, talking, laughing, being together, I slowly began to feel that I belonged in my own house, my own life . . . and when you feel that way, you leave your house with your head held high. The neon D faded for me until I completely stopped thinking of myself as divorced or a single mother or different at all. I started thinking of myself as just me. A new me, but me.

And with a little perspective, I started to write about a thirty-year-old woman named Holly Maguire who feels adrift in her own life and stuck in one she doesn’t feel is her own. She inherits her legendary grandmother’s cooking class and now has four students who also feel adrift, who need to feel that they belong. And as they cook together, they talk. They share, they hope, they dream, they wish (the recipes call for adding wishes or memories into every pot and pan) into the chicken alla Milanese and saffron risotto and three cheese gnocchi. And their hopes and dreams begin to come true, not from the wishing, but because of the wishing, the asking for what they wanted. The daring to deserve, perhaps.

In THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL, heartbroken Holly hopes to rediscover her love of cooking, taken from her by a long ago mistake. A twelve-year-old girl abandoned by her mother signs on as Holly’s apprentice so she can learn to cook her dad’s favorite Italian food and stop him from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. Holly’s childhood friend twists her wedding band, barely bear to be in the kitchen as she hides a painful secret. A serial dater pressured to get married by her overbearing family can’t admit she longs for love. And a separated father hopes to cook his way back into his young daughter’s heart.  In the end, they’ll all discover what belonging truly means.

All that cooking and home-bodying worked out quite well for me. It gave me a book. And today, I’m giving one away! Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL, published just a few weeks ago by Simon & Schuster.  You can comment on my post, cooking, writing, the weather—anything will do!  P.S. Many thanks to Rebecca for sharing her blog with me!

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Julie Jeffs said...

What a lovely post and I will definitely add the book to my "to-be-read" list. Do you ever try to imagine what Portland or wherever might have been like? As I told a dear friend one day, geography is usually not the problem, or the solution. Thanks Rebecca too for having Melissa post!

Anonymous said...

Wow, has this ever whetted my appetite to read this book! I have always loved to cook, wrote a cooking column for several years and even taught some cooking classes. I'm currently rediscovering the important role cooking has in being "just me."

Thanks to both Rebecca and Melissa for this lovely post.

Karen said...

I have read the book! Wonderful recipes for the heart and soul are in store for readers!

Melissa, it's wonderful to use everything life gives us to create a beautiful Novel. Congratulations!

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to know the story behind the book, since I plan to read it soon. No need to enter me.

esf said...

I can't wait to read this...and I really enjoyed hearing your story behind the story.. so glad things turned out so well for you! Thanks for sharing this with us!

Jael said...

A wonderful story -- thanks for sharing it with us! Making food together is a huge way to connect with other people, and I'm so glad it's been a way of spending time with your son, and yourself.

Melissa Sarno said...

I love this story. It really makes me want to read the book. I also love to cook. It's amazing how cooking can help you find yourself.

Anonymous said...


What a beautiful essay and a hint at what sounds like a beautiful read. I love this: The daring to deserve.

Count me in as a reader, whether or not I win a copy.

Thanks, Rebecca, for hosting Melissa here.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Thank you so much everyone for supporting Melissa! What a wonderful group :)

Leslie @ Under My Apple Tree said...

I've been hearing wonderful things about this book. Just thinking about Italian food is making me hungry. Thanks for sharing the background story. And of course I'd love to win a copy.

Melissa Senate said...

I promised myself that if I finished the freelance assignment due today, I could come see if there were any comments to my guest post (a great motivator to doing work!) and what a wonderful surprise to find all these lovely, warm comments! Thank you all so much. It's funny that while I'm writing a book, I'm not even aware of what's driving the emotional underpinnings until after it's finished. I kind of love how that works!

Thank you again! And thanks to Rebecca for sharing her blog with me today!

pinemeadowpond said...

Melissa, I loved reading your story, and I'll be another commenter who'll be reading your book whether or not I win a copy. I love to cook, and I have for a very long time.

I also think you're on to something: "I slowly began to feel that I belonged in my own house, my own life..." A few years ago, when I moved in with my partner, who is a great cook in his own right, I took on most of the cooking because I was working from home. He and I had both been living alone for some time, so we had some transition time (ahem). As we settled in, I gained more confidence and expertise in my cooking as I started to trust myself, and I think it brought our family (my partner has a teenage son who lives half-time with us) closer together.

Can't wait to read. And cook!

Beth Lowe

Mary said...

I was lucky enough to read a review copy of The Love Goddess' Cooking School. It's a wonderful novel, Melissa. Thanks for sharing the story behind the story.

Booksnyc said...

What a great story - your friend was very honest to challenge you on your choice and you were brave to stick it out!

I would love to read the book - thanks for entering me!

booksncity (at) gmail (dot) com

Modern day Molly Brown said...

I am a disaster in the kitchen, but I love digging into a good story. Bring on the burnt toast tragedies and the sweet smells of chocolate chip cookie success. Anytime a story takes place in the heart of a kitchen you know you can pull up a chair and enjoy each moment and linger there with friends.

Beth Hoffman said...

Love this post. Melissa has written a thoroughly engaging story. I was so glad to have read the ARC; it was (and is) a treat!

Anonymous said...

It's always lovely to hear the story behind the story. Thanks for sharing yours, and best wishes~

Melissa Senate said...

These wonderful comments have made my day--thank you all so much!

I wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving! I'm especially thankful that I'm not cooking this year (except for one untraditional chocolate cream pie).


Beth F said...

This books sounds perfect for me! I think I have or am getting a copy so no need to enter me in the giveaway. I can't wait to read it.

Happy holiday -- I cooked up a storm yesterday and have a little bit to do today.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Happy, happy Thanksgiving everyone! I am thankful for all of you this morning :)

Chutzpah said...

Hi, just found your blog through Dana's YA. I'm a writer too, and I really love what I've read here so far. I'll be keeping an eye out for The Bird Sisters.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Hi Chutzpah (Emma, right?), I just checked out your blog too! It looks wonderful. Glad that we found each other :)

Lori Gosselin said...

This sounds like a great read! Definitely enter my name in the draw!

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"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."