A Pinch of Love (Originally published in hardcover as Simply From Scratch) by Alicia Bessette.*
We meet Zell Carmichael as she's attempting to enter a baking contest. Unaware that there is something in the oven, she turns it on to preheat, and is soon overcome by smoke. Luckily, the local volunteer fire department shows up, gets Zell and her dog Ahab out of the house, and deals with the fire.
Zell is a widow who lives in Wippamunk, Massachusetts. Her husband, Nick, a news photographer, was killed while on a mission trip to New Orleans. She and Nick grew up in Wippamunk, along with most of the members of the fire department. Zell lives in half of a side-by-side two-family home. She has new neighbors in the other half, whom she meets for the first time while she's sitting outside her home waiting for the smoke to clear. Garrett Knox and his nine-year-old daughter Ingrid moved in a month earlier, but Zell hasn't met them because since Nick died, she's been extremely depressed and has hardly left the house.
A few days later, Garrett knocks on her door and asks her if she'll look after Ingrid, whose babysitter had quit. Ingrid brings her homework over to Zell's house, and Zell explains about the contest. The prize is $20,000, which Zell would like to donate to a New Orleans restoration fund in honor of Nick. Ingrid is enamored with Polly Pinch, the television cook who is hosting the contest, and since part of the prize is to appear on Polly's show, Ingrid asks if she can collaborate with Zell.
Taking care of Ingrid while Garrett is at class twice a week becomes a routine for Zell, and the two develop a bond. Zell still doesn't leave the house much, except to walk her dog Ahab, but spending time with Ingrid (and by extension, Garrett) increases her social life dramatically.
This charming story follows Ingrid and Zell as they create many spectacularly unsuccessful recipes for the contest, as their relationship grows, and as Zell slowly begins to heal. Although it initially seems like a sad story about a woman dealing with the recent loss of her husband, it's really a tale of persistence and hope.
If you enjoyed The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood, or any of Terri DuLong's Cedar Key novels, you'll love this book.
*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.