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Review: Compromise Cake: Lessons Learned from my Mother's Recipe Box by Nancy Spiller

When Nancy Spiller discovered her late mother’s teaching credential buried in the midst of a long abandoned recipe box, she felt compelled to investigate the lingering mysteries of this troubled woman. Marguerite Lenore Soult had taught for only one year before marrying, having four children and a life surrendered to mental illness, divorce and social withdrawal. Spiller realized that she had probably been her mother’s best and only student in the kitchen they had shared.Compromise Cake explores Spiller’s life in the suburbs of Northern California in the 1960s, learning to cook by her challenging mother’s side, as remembered through the recipe box’s mid-century and heirloom offerings. It touches on lineage, and industrial changes; it is a meditation on men, women, marriage, community and the nature of compromise.

What emerges is a portrait of a woman whose own desires for a career were tragically stifled by the conventional pressures to be a wife and mother, but found expression through her daughter, an author, artist and teacher. This is a memoir that weds Spiller’s story to the universal of all mothers and daughters, and what, as they say, is baked into the cake.

No matter who you are, everyone has a story. For the ones whose voices seem silent, it usually takes the end of their life for their story to be told. For so many mothers and daughters, the kitchen has been the blank canvas which the greatest masterpieces have been created. Memories made, traditions passed along, and lessons of life sifted together to form the perfect ingredients. Through such a beautiful memoir, Nancy Spiller takes the reader on a journey through her mother’s old recipe box to recreate the memories of their lives and ones created through their lineages that will inspire nostalgia for so many who have shared the same connection.

What was so special about this book was that from the beginning, you are invited in the kitchen for this shared journey. It is all too often that once a loved one passes that we come upon something that intrigues us about their life to learn more or drifts our mind to remember when. For so many like her mother who represent a time when the pressures of being a wife and mother dominated their own desires, it was the kitchen where they poured their hearts into. As for so many, the recipe box was much more than just a box with recipes in it. It represented the special moments no matter what life was like beyond those four walls the greatest memories and the best lessons our life were learned. 

Whether this book represents her life or yours, the sentimental nostalgia is interchangeable. It’s books like this that make you want to go back in time and remember the familiar aromas of the simple but special times that brought the best out of life.  This book not only was just filled with her story but we learned about the times that it represented as well as experiencing with her recreate those recipes as if her mother was beside her. Each chapter featured a dish that gave the reader new ingredients of her life that were made. The recipes that made the box weren't just her mother’s but other relatives and friends that were part of their journey as well. Since I consider myself somewhat of a foodie, I greatly appreciated the recipes and their origins. It gave a special touch to the book as well as some new additions to my recipe collection. I would add this book to your list. I think you will enjoy reading.

Reviewed by Michelle Bowles

Book Information
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 11/12/2013
Pages: 160

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