Saturday, August 22, 2015

Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness, by Sasha Martin

I LOVED Julie and Julia, which started me reading books based on cooking blogs. Sadly, as yet none have had the entertainment value of Julie Powell's very funny book. Life from Scratch is anything but funny. Although the author had a culinary goal not unlike Powell--she decided to cook and blog about food from a different country every week until she had made her way through all 195 countries on earth--her book is more similar to The Glass Castle than to Julie and Julia.

Sasha Martin had a very difficult childhood; she was let down by her parents, the social welfare system, and the surrogate parents with whom she went to live at the age of 10. One of her siblings died in tragic circumstances. She got into some trouble in her teenage years, but it is somewhat miraculous, given all she went through, that she pulled herself together, graduated from a top college, and built a meaningful life for herself--despite her ongoing struggle to find where she belongs in the world. It is perhaps helpful to others who have suffered through terrible years as children to read about another's struggle and eventual triumph. It is probably helpful for Martin to share her story and be heard. I'm sure I sound cold and heartless, but I feel like I have read this story too many times.

Sounding cold, heartless, and shallow, I did enjoy the book more when she began to write about her Global Table Adventure and her effort to use food as a way to create peace, within herself, her home, and beyond. The ways in which her research, cooking, eating, and sharing affected her are, for me, the most interesting part of the book. I doubt I will try any of her recipes, but I enjoyed reading about her preparation of them.

Favorite passage:

For dessert, we head to the kitchen to make koko Samoa--Samoan rice pudding. First, I steam the rice. In another pot, I plunk a few chocolate squares into coconut milk. As the two slump together, I zest in a heavy orange. The citrus oil mists my hand and glistens on the brown surface before my spoon folds it deeper into the pot. I draw a breath. Bitter zest might not sweeten the mix, but it does deliver a gust from the rambling orchard in which it once grew.

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