Rebecca's Reviews > Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness

Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin
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bookshelves: read-via-edelweiss, foodie-lit, memoirs

I like reading a chapter or two of a ‘foodoir’ (as Sandra Gilbert dubbed foodie memoirs in The Culinary Imagination) over weekday lunches. Martin writes well and I enjoyed this book overall, but at times you may become frustrated and ask “where’s the food?!” That’s because the makeup of this book is: Misery Memoir – 70% / Global Table Adventure blog – 30%.

Here’s the misery memoir bit (skip if uninterested):

Martin never remembered her father; she and her brother Michael grew up in Boston with their single mother in poverty, although she was so clever with shortcut and thrifty meals that Martin never realized they were poor. Food was always a way of connecting to their Italian and Hungarian heritage. “In those days food was never just sustenance; the very act of cooking knit our disparate lives together,” Martin remembers of her brother and half-siblings.

Their mother struggled to cope, and the kids were taken into foster care when Martin was nine. Their new guardians, family friends Patricia and Pierre, moved the family to Atlanta, then to France and Luxembourg. In her rebellious teenage years, Martin felt cut off from her own mother and failed to get Patricia’s attention and acceptance, especially after the tragic sequence of events relating to her brother Michael.

Food started to become more important when...

Martin used an unexpected bequest to attend the Culinary Institute of America – but dropped out before graduation. She had moved to Tulsa for a summer internship and ending up staying there and getting involved in a motorcycle club, through which she met Keith. They married and had a daughter named Ava. (This is easily the most boring stuff.)

Now, FINALLY, the blog comes into the picture.

Martin had the idea to cook dishes from every country of the world. At the rate of one feast per weekend, the blog project (Global Table Adventure) would take four years. Luckily she manages to give a fairly comprehensive overview of the cooking she did over those years. (This is much better than Reading the World in that it does make an attempt to tie in the blog content.) It was impressive to me to see how diverse Tulsa is – Martin was able to find most of her ethnic ingredients at local specialty markets.

The irony of the project was that Keith was an extremely picky eater, and now he had to make his way through lots of curries, flavorsome stews, and dishes that you eat with bread or with your hands. Martin almost poisoning herself with poorly processed cassava root for the Angola meal. Some of the food is more recognizable of course, including the German 21-layer cake her mother always made them, and a Sacher torte from Austria.

Towards the end of her blog project, Martin had a dream of making her virtual ‘global table’ a physical reality. She recognized that, especially with her family spread around the country, she needed community right there in Tulsa if she was to stay. This meant, at the very least, finally meeting their neighbors, who she dubs “The Beards.” On a larger scale, it came to fruition through her huge Tulsa-based exposition of over a hundred countries’ cooking, aided by local chefs.

I might have liked the misery memoir material to have been condensed a bit more to make more space for the blog project (or for the whole book to be cut by 30% or more), but this is still a good one for foodoir fans. I reckon Martin could write a fun nonfiction book about her culinary travels, or maybe a novel along the lines of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, in which food and emotions are inextricably linked. Julie and Julia was a delightful food blog project turned book turned film; I could see Life from Scratch becoming a movie, too.

Favorite passage:
“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. If I could just get my hands on a ball of dough or a pot to stir, I could work my way through this new life and be OK.”

Related reading:
Elsewhere by Richard Russo also features a characterful mother joining the author for a road trip west.
Delancey is more feel-good foodie lit (also, Molly Wizenberg is from Oklahoma).
The Temporary Bride shares a theme of discovering another culture through its food.
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Reading Progress

March 4, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
March 4, 2015 – Shelved
March 24, 2015 – Started Reading
March 24, 2015 – Shelved as: read-via-edelweiss
March 24, 2015 – Shelved as: foodie-lit
March 24, 2015 – Shelved as: memoirs
April 7, 2015 –
April 7, 2015 – Shelved as: on-hold
April 30, 2015 – Finished Reading

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