Review of the book The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger


At the tender age of 25, while her contemporaries were frothing lattes on Instagram and downloading dating apps, British author Ella Risbridger lost her longtime boyfriend to cancer. She had a contract to write a “cheerful cookbook for dinner,” but instead she handed over to the easygoing publishers of her “The Year of Miracles.”,” a luminous memoir about grief, renewal, and the twin consolations of friendship and cooking.

Sweetly illustrated with watercolors Elizabeth Cunninghamthe year of miraclesmakes a poignant sequel to Risbridger’s 2019 bestseller, “midnight chicken.” In “Chicken at Midnight”, Risbridger wrote about how he freed himself from a suicidal depression. In “The Year of Miracles”,” she cooks her way through the duel. The two books are a treat for readers and cooks alike, though, for Risbridger’s sake, let’s hope there aren’t any additions to the bittersweet series any time soon.

Cooking can be therapeutic. For Ella Risbridger, she saved her life.

The year alluded to in the title is 2020 (difficult for everyone) and miracles are the many small pleasures that we decide to create, or simply acknowledge, in our daily lives. These homey delicacies, claims Risbridger, will sustain us through the dark times. “Now I know that there is no use hoping for miracles,” he announces in his introduction. “You have to choose to find them based on what you have and where you are.”

This is where Risbridger finds herself when the book begins: sitting sadly amidst piles marked “for sale” and “to keep” in the soon-to-be vacated “aftermath” of the house she had shared with her boyfriend. What she has: the carcass of a chicken. From the remains of the bird, she conjures a cake and from the remains of her shattered world, she must now conjure a new one.

She does just that over the course of a year, describing her uneven progress from month to month through accounts of the dishes she cooked and the people she cooked them for. She moves in with a friend, perfects her focaccia, plants tomatoes, bakes a rhubarb custard pie, and decides to paint her kitchen pink. She also falls in love with her, though she refuses to privilege romance over friendship. The thought that “we’re supposed to save the flowers and the chocolates and the poems and songs for the One” horrifies her. “What a waste!” she writes. “What a shame!”

Risbridger’s recipes are discursive and poetic with suggestions on how we can even more deeply savor the cooking process itself. Her recipe for yuzu meringue bars is fussy and she wants us to get in on the fuss. “It’s a commitment and it’s worth it,” she writes, arguing that every moment you spend in these bars “is a perfect moment: still, calm and interesting.”

Stanley Tucci opens his cookbook and his heart in his tender memoir ‘Taste’

Time and time again it asks us to slow down and enjoy what is at hand, to look closely and lovingly at the beauty and wholeness of the everyday. A humble corner store “smells like spices and donuts and someone else’s dinner and inside is…well, inside is the world,” she writes. “A world in a corner store; eternity in an hour.” She whips up instant ramen with cheese and egg, a trick that elicits an exuberant poetic outpouring: “the yolks spill through the broth, salty and rich, scarlet and gold and saffron and saffron and crimson and pink, all the colors of a fire.” , alive and always, every minute, new.”

Has anyone ever written such a lyrical tribute to Top Ramen? Is it maybe a bit too mature? You can exaggerate the intoxicating wonders of the ordinary (or monotonous or difficult) and Risbridger sometimes does. Comparing the pain to a shipwreck, he tells us: “You learn to live in the ocean, and how beautiful it is here, with the birds and the stars, and those phosphorescent algae that shine like in the sea.” Blue Planet II . . . You see the great white albatross and the great blue whale, like you never would have known if the ship had never sunk.”

If your dueling experience was more like being thrown against a coral reef while hammerhead sharks circled, you’re not alone. Likewise, the comfort of small comforts can be exaggerated, as in an unreadable interlude over chicken soup. “When the feeling lingers, the bad feeling, there is only one way out,” writes Risbridger. “The road is chicken soup.” His meandering three-page recipe for this magical elixir may test your tolerance for twee.

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But these excesses do not mar the book, which is, for the most part, wise and tender, a reminder that however bleak your situation may be, the world abounds in beauty, if you choose to see it. You may be full of fear, but there are birthday cakes to frost, friends to drink with, fish cakes to bake: “Think buttery mashed potato, crispy under the broiler until browned, the cheese bubbly on the top; think bland white fish peeling off the fork; think of tender morsels of salmon and the small pleasure of a prawn.” And now there is the gift, not so tiny or small, of Risbridger’s book.

Jennifer ReeseHe is the author of “Bake the Bread, Buy the Butter”.

Recipes about love + grief + growing things

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