“Most people who have had a rough background will admit there’s something unsettling about finding happiness after difficulty – that even after we unwrap this gift, we don’t know how to stop searching, rummaging, pilfering for something else. We walk haltingly through life, ready for the other shoe to drop. The question is not if, but when.” – Sasha Martin, “Life from Scratch” (National Geographic Society, March 2015).
I had never heard of the food blog GlobalTableAdventure.com until I read Sasha Martin’s engaging food memoir “Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness” (ISBN 978 – 1- 5462 – 8, National Geographic Society) published in March of this year. Martin’s blog is about cooking globally and bringing that experience of culture to the table, but it’s her book and story that’s the winner. “Life from Scratch” begins light-heartedly enough but as Martin’s life progresses from child to teenager, it becomes disquieting and uneasy. Once, Martin moves to Tulsa, Oklahoma as an adult, I breathed a sigh of relief. To Ms. Martin’s credit, it’s her calm style of writing that gives the reader emotional balance to understand the truth of what’s transpiring. Otherwise, one might get squirmy reading in the Lazy-boy.
Speaking with Martin on the phone is a pleasure. Her voice is like her writing — soft, easy with hints of apprehension. (Apprehension because she’s talking to me. I make people wary.) She disclosed that
Life from Scratch came about in an unusual manner. Martin was approached by a literary agent who liked GlobalTableAdventure. The agent shopped the proposal around to a variety of publishing houses — they all loved it — but Martin felt a “kinship” to National Geographic Society (NGS). Interestingly, her NGS editor really liked the story of the blog and global cooking up until the first draft. But she felt that Martin wasn’t forthcoming with her childhood history…. that she was holding back. Martin admitted she was. She explained to her editor about growing up, the death of her brother and the twelve European countries she visited with her legal guardians. She details the story of her mother letting her and her brother go into foster care. Once, the real story of Sasha Martin was out, it was the truth and book the editor wanted.
Martin said, “I never expected so much of this book to be about my past. It was supposed to be a lighthearted exploration of world cooking but digging deeper made me realize the real story wasn’t how I cooked the world but why. Being forced to face my past was a gift. I have so much more understanding and perspective now.
Punctuated with loving memories of home cooking with her mother, a lonely teenager in European and global cuisine from her blog, GlobalTableAdventure.com, such as Hungarian Paprika Chicken, German Cake and Maldivian Fire-Roasted Fish, “Life from Scratch” may turn out to be my favorite book of 2015. It offers hope and fulfillment on a spiritual scale.
“There’s a difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit.” – Sasha Martin, Life from Scratch.
(Correction/Revision: Previously, it was noted that Ms. Martin lived in twelve countries her foster parents. She visited twelve with her legal guardians. A correction and revision to the original post was made. )
Food People Questions: (with a nod to Marcel Proust)
What is your favorite food to cook at home? Argentinian Acorn Squash Salad with baby arugula and aged goat cheese.
What do you always have in your fridge at home? Spicy mustard.
What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal? Warmth.
What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal? Treating their cellphone like a guest at the party.
Beer, wine or cocktail? Any cocktail with grapefruit or a Riesling spritzer with a wedge of orange.
Your favorite kitchen tool? Microplane.
Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Cooking a meal from every country in the world taught me to love trying recipes from obscure-to-me parts of the world.
Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Tofu.
Favorite vegetable? Brussels Sprouts.
Food you dislike the most? I’m not much for eating something just for the shock value. My goal is to share international food that’s easy enough for a weeknight and elegant enough for the weekend.
What is your favorite non-food thing to do? Write or paint.
Who do you most admire in food? The millions of families struggling to make ends meet. My own mother struggled to make ends meet and yet she scrimped and saved so we could eat foods like 19-layer German Tree Cake. She taught me that food can help us see beyond our circumstances; there’s a real difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit.
Where is your favorite place to eat? Any patio, 75F.
What is your favorite restaurant? I have fond memories of eating at Vietnamese restaurants in Paris. Go figure!
Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? No. I have a theory that I could never truly be naked if I ever got a tattoo.
Sasha Martin’s Recipe: Mongolian Carrot Salad (Serves 4 hungry people)
- 1 lb carrots, grated or julienned (on a mandolin is easiest)
- 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in hot water
For the dressing:
- 1 large clove of garlic, grated
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
- salt & pepper, to taste
Toss everything together and refrigerate until needed. Best after about 30 minutes. Check seasonings before serving (be sure to use plenty of salt to bring out the flavors).
– The End. Go Eat. –