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Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family,…

Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness

by Sasha Martin

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I liked the concept and found making unique dishes from around the world interesting, I did know about Cassava and Cyanide and unfortunately knew what could happen. Her personal stories were interesting and normally I don't care for reading about such issues but in this case it worked with the rest of the book ( )
  Adrienne17 | Nov 2, 2017 |
Blogger Sasha Martin may be best known for Global Table Adventure, the blog where she chronicled her culinary journeys cooking recipes from every country. Her memoir does discuss the blog, as well as her picky husband's foray into exotic foods, but the majority of the memoir focuses on the tragedies Martin experienced as a child, and how it affected her adult life. Martin's candid recollections and her vivid descriptions of food made this book a hard one to put down. There are also many exotic recipes from her blog adventures, which she has streamlined for the home cook.

Kathleen K. / Marathon County Public Library
Find this book in our library catalog.

mc ( )
  mcpl.wausau | Sep 25, 2017 |
This was an absolutely delightful memoir----Martin has a very appealing way to write---perhaps because she is used to using words to describe the food she is creating but far beyond the recipes is the story of her life so far---and she's still quite young! The book is full of small pieces of wisdom---often remembered from experiences with her mother. Well worth reading and hard to put down once you start! ( )
  nyiper | Mar 2, 2016 |
Lovely ( )
  cygnet81 | Jan 17, 2016 |
Six-word review: Food blogger's autobiographical odyssey of cooking.

Extended review:

When you publish a hardcover book under the auspices of a distinguished organization such as the National Geographic Society and sell it for $25, you're playing with the big boys. This sort of presentation sets readers' expectations. And so it's best if your work can stand up to some pretty close scrutiny.

I'm sorry to say that in my opinion this book doesn't stand up nearly as well as it ought to.

Sasha Martin seems like a likeable person who's had a hard struggle and has a dramatic story to tell, and I don't want to be mean to her, but I was underimpressed by the writing. I'd say it's well enough suited to a blog, which by its nature tends to be hastily written and transitory (in a deathless sort of way, like a newspaper article dashed off by deadline and then permanently archived), but making a book of it should have entailed an active coauthor.

Let me say that I liked the premise, that of preparing a recipe from every country in the world, one per week, alphabetically, and blogging about the experience, even if it does strongly echo Julie Powell's Julie and Julia. Putting the cooking project into a real-life context supplies a narrative thread that binds it together. It also gives the reader some vicarious experience, as does any memoir, and a way of finding common ground with the author that makes the ambitiousness of the undertaking seem a little less intimidating. I wouldn't want to underestimate the magnitude of the challenge that Martin undertook or the story she has to tell.

But this is a review of the book and not of either her life or her culinary prowess.

I also enjoyed the depiction of Sasha's mother, a unique character unlike anyone I've ever known on either side of the sanity line, who gave her daughter a bizarre but certainly colorful upbringing. The circumstances of Martin's tumultuous history engaged my sympathies. And, because I grew up in Greater Boston and lived for a time in Boston's Italian neighborhood in the North End, I felt a connection to the setting.

However, the defects of the writing itself were too conspicuous to overlook or brush aside. I found them so frequent and so frequently obtrusive that it was impossible to relax and enjoy the book the way I can when an author lets me know that I can trust her grasp of the language. Granted, I tend not to be a very forgiving reader; I expect an author to earn my careful attention by producing better-than-competent prose. Not every author can choose to be brilliant, but any author worthy of publication should be able to avail herself of adequate editorial support to avoid the flaws I see here.

Curiously, Martin's acknowledgments credit quite a number of helpers on the reading and editing side. So why, then, does the book read like the work of an unguided amateur?

I'll give examples.

• "bombastic"
p. 28, "the bombastic babble of a language the girls would never learn"
p. 41, "she yearned for the bombastic kitchen of her childhood"

What in the world does she think it means?

Here's what it does mean, courtesy of Dictionary.com:

(of speech, writing, etc.) high-sounding; high-flown; inflated; pretentious.

This is the kind of thing we often see when a writer lacks a reader's command of the language. It's as if she had overworked her thesaurus without quite understanding that most synonyms aren't really synonyms and that it makes a difference which one you choose. The result is apt to sound embarrassingly juvenile, like that of someone whose writing was praised by a high school teacher and who never developed very far beyond that.

• "fawn over"
p. 35, "the women fawned over Mom's widening belly"
p. 36, "Mom waited for Oliver to fawn over me, but he never came."
p. 245, "Mom stayed another week to help me and fawn over Ava"

Whatever she may think it means to fawn over someone, that's not what you do with a baby (or a belly). Dictionary.com explains this idiom:

verb (used without object)
1. to seek notice or favor by servile demeanor: The courtiers fawned over the king.
2. (of a dog) to behave affectionately.

Anyone who looked at the manuscript could have checked these expressions. Anyone who claims professional credentials as an editor should have.

• inept figures of speech
p. 28, "The ingredients were the true stars, wheeled home from the market in Mom's old wicker baby carriage. Every time Grammie unloaded bagged fowl or severed artichoke heads from that unlikely chariot, my mother was thrilled."

This is a different kind of error, but again, the sort that good readers are less likely to make because they're more apt to have cultivated an ear for the language, and that in any case a sensitive editor should not have let pass. The problem phrase here is "unlikely chariot," and it's one of very many instances of a style that sounds florid and pretentious while at the same time eluding the author's control.

Chariots aren't likely or unlikely; likelihood is not a trait of chariots. As a metaphor it has no meaning. It does not ascribe to a baby carriage the secondary characteristics of a chariot that in some way relate to using it as a vehicle for groceries. That just doesn't make any sense. Chariots are considerably less suitable and common modes of transport for market purchases than baby carriages, which on the whole seem to me rather likely to suffice.

This is not to comment on the mixed metaphor involving stars in a chariot or the rather distasteful image of artichokes as having been guillotined.

There are many other semantic and figurative oddities; for example:
"Mom's earthen hair" (p. 48)
"Cartons of milk and juice stood at attention each morning." (p. 75)
"the sauce bright with disarming bursts of unadulterated tomatoes" (p. 149)
"At first the attention felt awkward, but soon I settled into the panoply." (p. 187)
"I spend hours looking for authentic, viable recipes, subsumed by the curiosities I uncover" (p. 261)
"I stand in the laminate glow of the doorway" (p. 295)--did she mean "lambent"?
"I notice that the family is becoming askance at my obsessive behavior" (p. 318)
"The Beards nod in pendulous enthusiasm." (p. 334)

Page 104 is practically a minefield:
"rounds of stinky cheese, which unapologetically buttressed thick pâtés and quivering gelatins"
"the food of Paris was heady and salacious"
"cathedrals that had taken half a millennia to build"
"Paris's unquestioning rhythm"

That's enough. Time for my favorite refrain: Where was the editor? Where was the editor? Where was the editor?

In sum: I wouldn't say don't read this book, especially if you're interested in international cuisine. I would say enjoy it for what it is, but don't expect too much. It wasn't really ready for prime time. Even if everybody raves over your quiche or your spaghetti sauce, that doesn't necessarily mean it's ready to be served at a white-tablecloth restaurant downtown. ( )
1 vote Meredy | Sep 7, 2015 |
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"It was a culinary journey like no other: Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook--and eat--a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother, to a string of foster homes, to the house from which she launches her own cooking adventure, Marin's heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal--and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within"--… (more)

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