Thinking & Eating, a book review and recipe

Welcome to some deep thinking today.   Actually, in today’s lesson we will learn about Thinking & Eating.

I received a free copy of this book for an honest review.  The book  was presented to me as “a unique cookbook offering a new way of looking at food and its impact on our emotional wellbeing. Can food help us become better peopleWhat does it mean to be a “good enough” cook and how is it connected to the way we feel about ourselves?  Which foods are crucial sources of inspiration, playfulness, generosity and optimism? Published by The School of Life, a global organization helping people lead more fulfilled lives, and under the direction of its series editor and reigning master of modern-day philosophy, Alain de Botton, THINKING & EATING is both a cookbook and a manifesto for living, pairing compelling essays about philosophy and psychology with more than 150 recipes. “

Well, you know how I am with cookbooks.  I said, “Yes!”   I had no idea who Alain de Botton is.  Nor have I ever heard of The School of Life.

About the book:

It is easy to assume that food is simply fuel to get us through the day: we swig a morning shot of coffee, inhale an absentminded sandwich at our desk, or whip up dinner with the remnants from the fridge. But what impact does the food we eat have on us psychologically and how can we better nourish ourselves? THINKING & EATING: Recipes to Nourish & Inspire (The School of Life Press; Hardcover; September 29, 2020), offers a new way of looking at food and its impact on our emotional wellbeing. Both a cookbook and a manifesto for living, it pairs compelling essays about philosophy and psychology with more than 150 recipes. Written by a team of philosophers, chefs and psychologists from the School of Life, a global organization that helps people in their quest to live more engaged and meaningful livesthe book shares delicious recipes from around the world, from soups to stews, curries to cakes. Warm, insightful and beautifully written, THINKING & EATING reveals the foods we should eat in order to feel like our best selves.

Exploring the ways in which food and drink intersect with our psychological needs, the book is arranged according to our corresponding emotional state, so if we feel “It’s all getting too much’’ we can find calm from Orecchiette pasta bake; if we are looking to feel more grounded, brown soda bread may hit the spot; and if we anticipate that tomorrow will be challenging, lemon ginger tea can soothe our souls. Illustrated with striking color photographs, THINKING & EATING examines sixteen core cooking ingredients that symbolize critical virtues
in our lives—a lemon for hope; an avocado for reassurance; olive oil for diplomacy, etc. Some topics explored in the book include:

  •  How food can help us become better people
  • What it means to be a “good enough” cook and how it is connected to the way we feel about ourselves
  • How a “conversation menu” can elicit meaningful dinner party dialogue
  • How a couple sharing a meal of grilled asparagus, lobster and tiramisu can reboot their relationship during a “first date experiment”
  • How the right foods can be crucial sources of inspiration, playfulness, generosity and optimism
  • The ways in which certain ingredients like lavender, cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon help access transcendent thinking

Using The School of Life’s trademark blend of philosophical insight and practical wisdom, THINKING & EATING draws inspiration from art, literature, culture and communities of the past to examine the fundamental questions and concerns that we experience daily.  While we know that food itself can’t make our daily problems go away “it can ease us towards a better frame of mind in which to meet them. What’s on offer is perspective.” The approach turns cooking into an ideally therapeutic activity, by which we can recover faith in ourselves and hope in our lives.

What I thought…

Interesting reading.

I love the cover because it looks retro, but I found the premise behind the book to be a bit retro as well: “It has seemed like one cannot be both a cook and a thinker” (10). What?   Where has the School of Life been for the past twenty or so years and the influx of the celebrity chef.  I can safely say that I think Anthony Bourdain (RIP) was a tremendous thinker.  What about David Chang?  Edward Lee?  Grant Achatz?   I could go on and on.

Actually, the point of the book (and The School of Life philosophy) is the use of “the sensory realm” to help with “the mission of ideas” (12). It sounds a bit metaphysical but I kept on.

The opening of the book reads somewhere between a textbook and a treatise,  but once I got to the sections on individual foods, I enjoyed it much more.  As I read what each food means (according to The School of Life), I thought, “Well, that actually makes sense (in a weird way).”

Here, let me show you:

  • Avocados, The Symbol of Reassurance: “Avocados are what we should turn to—and remember to be a little more like—in the midst of our frequent and bewildering crises.” I don’t know…but that just makes sense.
  • The Caper, Symbol of Cynicism: “…if we have no cynical instincts at all we’re liable to be shocked by the normal imperfections of others and of society, and our naivety will prevent us from mounting necessary interventions and protests” (53). True that.
  • Mint, Symbol of Intelligence: “Mint is the sensuous equivalent of clarity and precision” (65).

Besides the sections on food symbolism, there are sections on “Looking After Ourselves,” “With Friends,” “Relationships,” “Good Enough,” and “Food for Thinking.” There’s recipes a plenty. But, I had to laugh that when one might be faced with thinking, “I don’t like myself very much,” the authors recommend fish pie (130-131). What?

“With Friends” reminded me of a Good Housekeeping column back in the day. “Relationships” read like an old Cosmo column.  Again, I could appreciate the retro-ness of these sections.

But, perhaps I am a bit too cynical (overly capered?). There are lots of recipes I want to try like Moroccan Bean Stew (204), Cinnamon Nut Muesli (310), Baked Feta (59), Avocado Pasta (44), and Crisp Fried Eggplant (62).

The photos of the symbolic foods are nicely done. There are a few photos of the finished recipes (also nicely done).

I could not help but think of my favorite (yet crazy) aunt who was always wagging home one self-help book or another or some new-to-her religious philosophy. I think she would love this book. Buy it for the food. I’m not sure I am really into The School of Life tenets but perhaps more research and reading and digesting is needed.

Again, I may need to cut down on my capers and eat more aubergines (symbol of sensitivity).

I’m linking up with Foodies Read

and Novel Food.  

Now, for some substantial food to feed your spirit and soul.  I think we need more calm because life seems to be “getting too much” right now so I tried the Orecchiette Pasta Bake.  But, because of all the uncertainty (and hoarding)  in our lives right now, there was no orecchiette in the pasta aisle.  I used orzo for this recipe instead.
I made this comforting pasta dish.

Orzo Pasta Bake

Based on Orecchiette Pasta Bake (123), from Thinking & Eating

If you’re thinking “It’s all getting too much,” then try this pasta bake.


  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 t. fennel seeds
  • 1 (14 oz.) can chopped tomatoes (I used fire-roasted.)
  • 1 handful basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 16 oz. orzo (or orecchiette if you can find it
  • splash of red wine, optional (My addition.)
  • 1 c. ricotta
  • 3 T. Parmesan, grated
  • sea salt
  • fresh ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat olive oil in a saucepan set at medium heat until hot. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and a pinch of salt, cooking until onions are soft, 5-6 minutes.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and basil leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook over on low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a food processor, add a splash of red wine, and puree until smooth.
  3. Cook the pasta according to directions until al dente.
  4. Drain pasta well and return to pasta cooking pan. Add tomato sauce and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer to a baking dish. Top with ricotta and Parmesan. Bake until golden brown on top, about 25-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand briefly before serving. Garnish with more basil.

Yield: 4

Tips:  Sauce can be made ahead of time and then you will just need to cook the pasta and bake.  Saves some time.

This recipe is very aromatic while simmering and pretty tasty, especially with some sourdough bread.  I will make it again; however, I will use more ricotta and lots more salt and pepper. 

I also made the baked feta recipe mentioned above.  IT IS DELICIOUS!

So, from the two recipes I tried and the many that I read for this review, I would recommend this book.  (Know that the primary measurements are in UK units but there are American equivalents.)

8 comments to Thinking & Eating, a book review and recipe

  • That sounds like a fun read, Deb.
    I love that baked feta!!! The pasta bake looks so comforting and perfect for our rainy Fall weather.

  • Mae

    I think the publisher is blitzing all the bloggers who accept review copies, as this is the second review of this that I have read. As you indicate, it sounds pretty out-of-date. Another self-improvement book with a somewhat silly premise, fake “meaning of life” stuff.

    Your review is great, though. I don’t doubt that they could find a few good recipes. Definitely I would not pay actual money for this.

    be well… mae at

    • Probably true on the blitz. I did enjoy reading it, though. I am going to try that bean stew and other recipes. Then I am sending it to my sister to see if she gets the same “Crazy Aunt” vibe. 🙂

  • I think I would enjoy reading and browsing through this book, as well as trying the recipes. Retro or no. I like books like The Last Chinese Chef, I think it was, where food is used for healing.

    • I do think that food can definitely be used to heal (physically and mentally). I’m just not sure I was sold on this rationale here. The recipes are wonderful though.

  • That does sound interesting and I agree with you about the cover (I recently purchased some walnuts from the new crop and love just looking at them on my counter)
    And I would make that baked feta for sure. Thank you so much for your contribution to Novel Food 🙂