Shelf Awareness Book Talk: LIFE FROM SCRATCH, by Sasha Martin

National Geographic (March 3, 2015), Hardcover, ISBN 1426213743 / 9781426213748)
Nonfiction; memoir/food (with recipes), 336 pages
A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (March 6, 2015). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.
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Flavors, fragrances, and the experience of recreating family traditions in the kitchen make food an effective gateway to memory, but when food writer Sasha Martin decided to “cook (her) way around the world,” she was looking forward, not back. A well-traveled graduate of the Culinary Institute of America settling into life as a mother and wife in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Martin challenged herself to broaden the tastes of her young daughter and picky-eater husband by preparing a meal from a different country every week, which she documented on her blog, Global Table Adventure. She didn’t anticipate that this four-year project would bring her to reexamine her own past and reconcile what “family” truly meant to her, leading to Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Forgiveness.


Martin’s Boston childhood was defined by the creative cooking of her mother, whose erratic behavior brought Sasha and her brother Michael to the attention of the foster-care system. After several difficult years, her mother placed Sasha and Michael in the care of family friends. The Dumonts promptly moved the children across the country, then relocated to Europe, where life really didn’t get much easier for them…and where Sasha’s foster mother barred her from the kitchen. Years later, returned from abroad and reconnected with her own mother, Sasha actively pursued food and cooking as a means to make peace with herself and her troubled past, and to create bonding experiences for her new family.
Life From Scratch features nearly 30 recipes—some from the Global Table Adventure blog, and others for dishes that Martin grew up with. While there are no photos included, the recipes are written in clear and conversational detail; a “glug” of olive oil isn’t a precise measurement, but most home cooks will understand exactly what Martin means, and many readers will relate to the ways that Life From Scratch connects food and family.

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Book description, from the publisher’s jacket copy

196 recipes. 196 countries. 196 weeks. With this ambitious goal in mind, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook – and eat – her way around the world. But Martin’s project proves more than a culinary challenge as she attempts to navigate the vicissitudes of marriage, motherhood, and failure and success, all inextricably linked to her troubled past. As cooking unlocks the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin is more determined than ever to make peace and give her own family the best of the world. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her wildly creative mother to a string of foster homes to the house in which she launches her Global Table Adventure, Martin’s journey of self-acceptance and discovery shows the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal.

From Chapter One:

“I am missing two fingerprints on my right hand. The neat spiral of lines on my ring and middle fingers suddenly flatten out, melted into circles that fan outward like the tail of a peacock. I first noticed the marks in fourth grade, when my school started filing fingerprints for the police. I wondered why mine looked so different from those of my classmates.

“After school, I asked Mom about it. But she was driving, She couldn’t inspect my fingers. Decades later I found out the truth: At age one I’d toddled over to an open broiler while Mom was making hamburgers. Her back was turned for a second to grab a pot holder. When she came back from the hospital, where they treated my third-degree burns and blasted her for child abuse, she found the shrunken packs of meat on the still-open grate. Cold. Congealed.


“She never made hamburgers again.”



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