What do you get when you combine old-home renovation, yummy recipes and oddball relationships into one story? A new favorite book for me, to start with — but also just a genuinely enjoyable and at times even educational read.

In “Recipe for Distaster,” Stacey Ballis weaves a delightful tale of a woman, Anneke, whose life suddenly and spectacularly falls apart — much like the falling-down home she’s working on rebuilding. OK, that’s an exaggeration. The house isn’t falling down, but it is in need of a gut job in pretty much every respect.

Which brings me to the first cool thing about this book: Anneke is a builder– and a good one at that. In an industry dominated by men, she not only holds her own, but excels. Well, as far as building skills go. Her people skills need some work.

Speaking of relationships, there’s the obligatory love story, of course. It’s an entertaining one, with lots of twists and turns. But there’s also some great messages about family: blood relatives who let you down, friends-turned-family who stick by you even when you may not totally deserve it, and pseudo-family members who prove themselves more worthy than the real deal.

But to me, the true draw of this book was the old house. It’s a cliche, but they just don’t make ’em like they used to. And every time Anneke uncovered another hidden feature of the home (tapestry! dumbwaiter! original hardwoods!), my heart leapt. Yes, I’m an old-house dork. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

The other truly enjoyable part of this book was the old recipes Anneke uncovered as she was working on the house. I started Googling them so I could try them myself, before I realized Ballis had conveniently included them at the end of the book. Bonus points for that. With an artic-cold weekend looming in Boston, soubise is looking particularly appealing. Look it up– I think you’ll be glad you did!

 

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