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Originally published Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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‘The Lost Art of Mixing’: good food, love and loss

Seattle author Erica Bauermeister’s new novel, “The Lost Art of Mixing,” continues the story of a chef/restaurateur who learns life lessons along with the finer arts of cooking. Bauermeister appears at several locations during January and February in the Seattle area.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Erica Bauermeister

The author of “The Lost Art of Mixing” will appear at these area locations:

At 7 p.m. Thursday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).

At 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Barnes & Noble in the Northgate Mall; free (206-417-2967).

At 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island; free (206-842-5332 or www.eagleharborbooks.com).

At 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).

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Seattle author Erica Bauermeister’s new novel, “The Lost Art of Mixing” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 288 pp., $25.95) returns to the milieu of her popular “The School of Essential Ingredients” for a sequel offering variations on the original recipe. Sweet, and occasionally quite tart, the new book follows some striking new developments in the life of chef/restaurateur Lillian, who was first seen as the instructor in a weekly cooking class at her restaurant.

The prologue has Lillian deciding to make a seafood chowder for Al, her accountant and father figure. Only four pages into the novel, Bauermeister lets us in on Lillian’s new secret, as the aroma of the fish sends an unexpected wave of nausea through her, and she draws the inevitable conclusion.

What will this new development mean to her relationship with Tom, a lawyer who still is mourning the death of his wife? Why is Al so closemouthed, and what is going on with his coldhearted wife, Louise, who seems to begrudge every breath he takes?

To this mix of characters, Bauermeister adds some intriguing ingredients: Lillian’s young helper, Chloe, whose history of uncaring parents and a callous lover sends her to find sanctuary with Isabelle, a 73-year-old woman whose memories are inexorably being overtaken by dementia.

Chloe is being quietly pursued by Lillian’s dishwasher, Finnegan, a young man whose parents had earlier died in an ill-advised attempt at scaling Mount Everest. Finnegan fills notebooks with the fascinating life stories of the people he meets, but he can’t figure out how to move his own life forward — though he thinks the fetching Chloe might be the answer.

Many of the novel’s epiphanies take place over food, while characters are making chowder, braising endive, or biting into a tortilla chip.

Bauermeister’s third-person narrator shows us the point of view of each of the characters, most compellingly of all when she shows us how Isabelle feels about her gradual and encroaching loss of memory: “Isabelle thought it deeply unfair that you could start to lose your memories without also losing that desire to keep them. Although that, of course, was coming too. It struck her sometimes, the effort it took for her to keep holding hands with the present ... It wasn’t so much the occasional mingling of past and present that was the problem as it was the unyielding anxiety that she was not doing what was expected of her, the drag of the now-world with its requirements to follow the cluttered trail of a conversation, or put a milk carton back in the refrigerator.”

Harrowing and graceful at once, this is some of Bauermeister’s strongest writing. As she demonstrates the “art of mixing” her characters into new configurations, passages like the one above draw the reader in. The Pacific Northwest setting, with its rainy “black and freshly washed” streets, adds a special zing to the mix for Northwest readers.

Melinda Bargreen is the former classical-music critic for The Seattle Times. She’s a freelance contributor to the Times and reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM (www.king.org).

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