Friday, August 20, 2010

‘Muffins and Mayhem: Recipes for a Happy - if Disorderly- Life’ by Suzanne Beecher – Book Review

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One of my favorite book genres is the memoir. And one of my favorite daily emails to receive is the Zondervan Breakfast Club email from Suzanne Beecher. When I discovered Suzanne had a book coming out, I knew it was a must-read for me!

In Muffins and Mayhem, Suzanne Beecher, creator of the online book club,, combines her life story with 30 of her favorite recipes. With striking candor, Suzanne takes readers on a journey from her lowest moments to her greatest joys and personal victories. Suzanne writes about personal successes and failures and what each taught her about life, love, and her capacity to persevere.
Scattered throughout Suzanne’s memoir are favorite recipes, and each is accompanied by a personal anecdote. Suzanne believes that recipes are more than just a mix of ingredients: they’re food for the soul, and she doesn’t leave readers hungry. From humorous tales about avoiding her mother’s liver dishes as a child (and Mom’s Thanksgiving meals as an adult!) to a reverent account of how a childhood hero touched her life through frosted meat loaf, Suzanne’s food-filled memoir warms the heart as well as fills the stomach.
 Gathering thirty wonderful recipes and the memories surrounded them, Suzanne shows us the author as a child who learned to cook when she was just eight years old while singing backup to the Monkees, a woman who struggled with difficult parents, a hardworking mom who loved making cookies for her kids, a recovering addict, and a writer who has learned much along the way by remembering that love is the most important thing in life.
This beautifully written celebration of life, friends, and family will nourish Suzanne’s numerous fans and those who have yet to discover her simple, homespun magic.

Here is Suzanne’s biography:

Suzanne Beecher has owned a restaurant, founded and published a business magazine, founded a non-profit program to feed the homeless and home-schooled her youngest son. She writes a daily column at and designs book clubs for publishers, booksellers, and libraries across the country. She lives with her husband, Bob, in Sarasota, Florida.

Here is the engaging author explaining how to make her Whoops Banana Bread:

Suzanne’s childhood did not include the warm memories that she wishes she had to dwell on; it affected her adult behavior:

So I accepted my fate as an adult deprived of a childhood. Or at the very least an adult deprived of those warm and fuzzy memories I should have been able to tap into when I wanted to go back home in my mind. But then it occurred to me that I’d always been ambivalent about going home, anyway – not only in my mind, but in my car, too. At least it seemed that way. Whenever I planned a trip to see my parents, I’d get sick. I’m not kidding! Two or three days before I was supposed to leave, an illness would consume me: wheezing, sneezing, that all-over crummy feeling. Nothing serious, a twenty-four-hour virus sort of thing – but just enough “miserable” so I’d have to cancel my trip. My recovery period was amazing. And eventually I realized there was a pattern: As soon as the “magic hour” had passed, and it was too late to go, no hope of getting back home in time for a weekend visit, I was cured. (p. xi)

One bright memory in her childhood was a friend’s mother, Mrs. Creswick:

Years ago I’m sure Mrs. Creswick thought she was simply giving me a recipe for meat loaf, and for a long time that’s what I thought, too. But suddenly it was all so clear – the things that make me what I am today, the things I really like about myself, they all came from growing up in Cuba City [Wisconsin]. Remember the girl who was ambivalent about going home? Mrs. Creswick’s meat loaf finally showed her the way.
So if a plate of cherry tomatoes and cottage cheese, and a Frosted Meat Loaf recipe could leave such a big impression on my heart, maybe there were other little things in my life I was overlooking?
I’m a daily columnist who writes about life, and after I wrote the story about Mrs. Creswick’s Meat Loaf the tone of my columns changed. I guess what really happened is I wasn’t afraid to open my heart and let readers see the real me. Now I freely write about my feelings I wrestle with every day – my father’s final farewell apology, embarrassing moments like the day I was trying to make a big impression but suddenly realized a lint roller was stuck to my behind, trapping Mighty Roach in the middle of the night, and how I couldn’t get back in the groove after my mother died even though we’d never been close. (p. xii)

Even as a little girl, Suzanne had a certain flair:

I’d always get the work done, at least most of the time. But the “getting-it-done” didn’t start until about an hour and a half before my parents came home for lunch, because I’d get sidetracked by other important things. Like lip-syncing with the Monkees.

          Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees
          And people say we monkey around.

A bottle of Pledge was my microphone and a pair of my mother’s heels gave me the onstage look. I’d draw the curtains over the big picture window in our living room – I wasn’t ready for an audience yet – then I’d slide back the cover of our dark wooden console stereo, put the Monkees’ 33 1/3 LP on the changer, click the switch, and when the needle dropped the magic would begin. (p. 10)

Suzanne’s life was a little off-kilter early on:

For longer than I care to admit, I walked around with loose wires in my brain. While other teenagers were applying to colleges and planning their futures, I was getting drunk and looking for love in all the wrong places. Some people were quick to blame my parents; instead I used to blame myself. The truth is, Mom and Dad and I were each doing the best we knew how to do. Yes, parents are supposed to know the way, but my parents missed the day they passed out the informational brochure about How to Love and Raise a Well-Adjusted Child (I’m pretty sure their parents were absent that day, too). Mom and Dad didn’t intentionally fall down on the job; they simply couldn’t give me what they’d never experienced themselves. If they could have freely let go of their love and still survived, I believe they would have.
So where did that leave me? Trying to figure out how to write a successful recipe for my life, a better recipe than the one my parents were using. Common sense told me when you’re trying to figure out how to do something better than before, you need to take a closer look at before. “Learn from your mistakes,” advises the old adage, and eventually I did write a new recipe for my life, but it sure was rough going for a while. People seem to be amazed when I find the courage to tell them about the things I did when I was young – young, maybe, but old enough to know better. Some perils are embarrassing and downright insane, even I shake my head in amazement. What was I thinking? (pp. 27-28)

I loved Suzanne’s description of the first encounter with her husband, Bob:

I was impressed – not only was this guy talented, he owned two businesses, took full-time responsibility for his children – and he was a handsome man. Gorgeous, really, but I could only dream. This responsible clean-cut guy was way out of my league.
“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see,” wrote Shakespeare, which must account for Bob’s impression of me the first day we met: “I was a single parent, working around the clock trying to run two businesses, couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a date, or even left my house except to go to the grocery store – and there you were. A goddess walking into my office asking for help. It was love at first sight. You were a smart girl – I knew it right away – and you were hot!” (p. 39)

Suzanne has always questioned her abilities, and the boogeyman (I would interpret that as Satan) is happy to come alongside to question herself:

Well, I’m here to tell you (and him) the subject is alive and well in my life. Questioning my abilities, talking myself out of feeling like a loser, these are conversations I know by heart – both sides. The boogeyman doesn’t even have to actually say anything to taunt me, I do that job myself. Suzanne, you’re not talented, you’re a big loser, people think you’re strange, crowds of people are snickering behind your back, every other writer is in, but you’re out. The list could go on for hours and, unfortunately, some days it does, until even I have had enough – for heaven’s sake, Suzanne, give it a rest. I get upset and angry with myself – and what’s when the “magic” happens. Because in my weakness I find my strength. Get me angry and I come out fighting. Not fisticuffs, but with just enough feistiness to protect my feeling and in the process, I decide I’ll show ‘em I can accomplish things, and so I do. (p. 69)

Boy, can I relate to that paragraph!

God truly blessed Bob and Suzanne with each other:

My husband says he was put here on earth to take care of me. Now how could a woman possibly argue with that kind of logic?
Our marriage must be for keeps because every day it just keeps getting better and better, even after being married for thirty-two years and working together every single day. But working together harmoniously wasn’t something that came about naturally. Shortly after we were married, we went several times to see a therapist so we could learn how to work together. “Learning” requires several sessions because it took me a while to recognize and to finally ‘fess up to the fact that I think my way of doing things is the right way. (And just between you and me – most of the time it is! I’m smiling, just kidding.) (p. 114)

I love this life lesson:

I’ve always thought my job, my purpose here on earth, certainly must be something more dramatic than simply loving and taking care of the people around me. So I’ve strived to be clever, artistic, and talented in business. But as I sit here at four in the morning looking around the room and looking at my grandson, I realize I’ve been looking at life all wrong. It’s not complicated, there’s nothing to prove. My mother was right. It’s really very simple. What’s really important is love. (p. 218)

And this one:

Writing has taught me that simpler is better. That it easy, slow down, Suzanne, and simply say what’s on your mind. Maybe I should use impressive words, sonorous adjectives, or make the sentences complex. But writing isn’t really any different from other things in life. Too much eye shadow – what was I thinking? The first Dove Bar tasted divine, so I ate another – my stomach rebelled. The man at the deli thought he was doing me a favor when he put a little bit more of everything on my sandwich, but it was too much. (p. 226)

Interspersed throughout this book are tasty recipes, including the Whoops Banana Bread, Funeral Cake with Buttercream Frosting, Mrs. Creswick’s Frosted Meat Loaf, Porcupine Meatballs, and, of course, Suzanne’s Chocolate-Chip Cookies. I am not the cook in the family (God blessed me with Fred, who loves to cook), but these look really easy and tasty – too hard to resist!

This book was everything I expected – and more! You can tell Suzanne is a wonderful person; she’s someone you’d love to hang out with at Starbucks – with the hopes that she brings her famous chocolate chip cookies with her! She is genuine and real, and her number one aim is to make people feel comfortable. I really enjoy her daily emails on life and love, and I really appreciated learning more about her life by reading this fun and entertaining book.

You can order this book here.

The Advanced Reader Copy of this book was published by Touchstone Books, a Simon & Schuster Publishers imprint and provided by Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for review purposes. The page numbers included in this review are from the Advanced Reader Copy, and may be different from those in the final edition.


Barbara E Brink said...

I love the idea of a memoir and cookbook combined. That's one way of saying we are what we eat:) I've read mysteries with cooking woven into the story but never a memoir. I'll have to check it out.

Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Barbara -
It is a great read; I am sure you will enjoy it. And, if you order, it would be great if you'd order through the links in my post! : )
Blessings -

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