Even though this book has recipes with good directions, it is not exactly a cookbook. It is part memoir with an appreciation about having a family made of friends who are reliably there for the good and bad times--no matter what. The book is wholeheartedly a paean to life and the love that makes it jubilant when things are going well, and bearable when things are not going so well. It is noticeably British; the recipes are written with a mix of metric and centigrade measurements; and there are Britishisms throughout the text which readers will be able to figure out. The book is physically beautiful with the cover, the endpapers, and all the bright, colorful watercolor illustrations, large and small, created by Elisa Cunningham. All of these seemingly contradictory parts work together very well and have created this unique work that has left me and other reviewers fascinated by Ella Risbridger's book.
Each recipe has an introduction that is about food and the writer's experience. Early on she gives us some clues about her emotions, which are not quite clear at first. We learn through her escapades and forays in day-to-day life that Risbridger has moments of paralytic anxiety attacks that she calls "getting stuck", and tries logically to explain to herself and to us. She also suffers from depression, and weaves into the book what troubles her, but not in any maudlin way, thereby providing insight into what it is like to have these conditions that come and go, without much warning. There are also anecdotes that preface many recipes that show Risbridger's joy and self-assurance.
None of the following is a spoiler alert, just the facts. She learned to cook from her partner, the writer John Underwood, to whom she refers as the Tall Man. At the time she began writing the book, he was diagnosed with cancer. The two of them were young, in their twenties, when this disease took over their lives, ebbing and flowing, until he died before seeing Ella's book published. The Tall Man, who was the absolute soul mate most people yearn for, kept the two of them going by urging her to keep writing. It was the writing, the food, the Tall Man, the family of friends all tightly woven together that has gotten Risbridger this far.
If there is a definitive conclusion of some type for Ella Risbridger, about her cookbook/memoir/life story of survival, it is gratitude. She is not preaching to those who cook and love to do it, nor is she prescribing that cooking will do for others, who are facing illness, death or other disasters, what it has done for her. It is an entrancing story of her life, so far, filled with the delight in preparing food, anticipating its finalization, and the anticipation of sharing it with other people she loves.
Ella Risbridger includes a special bibliography of fiction and non-fiction that is reflective of, " ... making me the person I am, for teaching me to cook, for teaching me to think, and for teaching me to think about food."
This book is available on e-Media.