For this round - our April-May selection - of Cook the Books, This month’s book selection was chosen by Debra from Eliot's Eats.
She chose Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin.* You can read Debra's invitation in the book announcements: here.
Debra wrote: "Although this is more of a traditional memoir than what I would classify as the recent trend of recipe-laden-"foodie" ones, I think that we all will find some inspiration, whether it's from Martin's childhood memories or her adventures with international flavors."
On the Page...I have long been acquainted with Sasha's blog - Global Table Adventure. In fact, it was her project that inspired my family's own Cooking Around the World Adventure that we started five years ago. We still have just over a dozen countries to cover. I promised my Precise Kitchen Elf we'd finish before he left for college. Good thing he's only a freshman. I just need to get my act together again!
Look how small these guys were when we started...
I have to be honest: despite my familiarity with Sasha's project, I wasn't sure I wanted to read her memoir. I had heard that it was less about the culinary adventure and more about the why...and that that why was uncomfortable. I knew nothing beyond that. As there is no dearth of books on my to-read stack, I didn't delve too far into what was uncomfortable in the book.
But, when I saw Debra's pick, I ordered the book and took it with me on vacation last month. I read it in two sittings. I won't comment too much on it; I think you ought to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. I'll just say a few things about the subtitle - a memoir of food, family, and forgiveness.
The book is peppered with recipes that are not so much from her global table adventure, but are tied to the narrative. For instance, Sasha shared Cousin Alfred's Meat Sauce after describing how her mom took them to visit their Italian relatives. "A name alone cannot keep a heritage alive. Mom shuttled Michael and me across town every month to the home of our closest living Italian relative, Great Aunt Fina. She'd boil hefty pots of her famous potatoes and spaghetti, tossing the classic Genovese combination with red sauce.... One of our favorite excursions was to Cousin Alfred's place. When we asked how we were related to him, Mom would always say, 'Who cares? He's family'" (p. 42).
Then you get the sense that cooking is a salve. Sasha shares, "But I wanted to cook, I needed to cook. Mom had raised me with the implicit understanding that cooking is the answer to all life's vicissitudes - not just the antidote to boredom, but also a way to ward off the darker realities of grief, separation, and loneliness" (pg. 78).
Sasha's family is complicated to say the least. She has a mom; she had a brother; she has half siblings; she had legal guardians and "siblings" from her time with that family; and, now, she has her own nuclear family with her husband Keith (Mr. Picky) and her daughter Ava. Until she created her own family, her family life was tumultuous, untethered. She writes, "Nothing, it seemed, was forever. Even as I gave in to the status quo, I felt a wave of homesickness, yet didn't know what or who for" (pg. 139).
This is perhaps the hardest part. I'm not really good at forgiving...just ask my family! I think, for Sasha, forgiveness is more about acceptance. When she moved to Tulsa, she was on her own. She worked and she had a rainy season. "I fell asleep crying. I woke up crying. One morning I cried so hard while jogging that I had to stop and use a leaf as a tissue. It was ridiculous. These were tears of coming face-to-face with the past; of coming face-to-face with my mother and accepting who she was instead of who I wanted her to be; of relinquishing the Dumonts; of letting Michael go. They were cleansing. Purifying. Cathartic" (pg. 192).
There were times when the memoir was tough to read, difficult in its rawness. Sasha cracks open her life and the reader's heart is wrenched right along with hers. But it's also a wonderful story. I hope you'll read it.
On the Plate...I looked through the recipes in the book and do plan to try Sasha's Baumtorte, German Tree Cake; Cambodian Grilled Eggs; and her Muamba de Galinha, an Angolan Chicken stew. But Debra's pick had me reliving our own cooking around the world adventure, well, the countries we have covered. As I said, we still have a dozen to go. I thought about re-doing some of our favorites so far - Bitokes, Russian meatballs; Congelese Babute; Honduran Nacatamales; and so many more. But my answer came when my Precise Kitchen Elf asked for Khachapuri while we were on vacation.
Khachapuri is a cheese bread that's ubiquitous in Georgia—the country, not the US state—that comes in at least half-dozen varieties. We like to make it with a heavily herbed dough topped with an egg.
- 1 T active dry yeast
- 1 T organic granulated sugar
- 1 C warm water
- 3 C all purpose flour
- 1/2 C ground almonds
- 2 T olive oil
- 1/2 C fresh herbs, minced (I used a mixture of parsley, mint, thyme, and oregano) + more for sprinkling
- 2 C shaved parmesan cheese
- fleur de sel
- butter for rubbing on the bread
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let bloom until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in flour, ground almonds, herbs, and oil. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Return to oven until egg white is slightly set, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. To serve, rub bread with butter and serve immediately.
The boys were so happy to see their on their plates. I haven't made them since Jake went gluten-free a few years ago, but I might have to figure out a solution to that as this has always been a family favorite.
I am also linking this post to the Foodie Reads Challenge.
Here's what everyone else read in April 2017: here.
*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.