Published by National Geographic
Publication date: March 3rd 2015
Genres: Cookbook, Debut, Memoir, Non-fiction
It’s often said that fact is stranger than fiction but as I’m a big fiction reader I don’t often test that theory. All that changed when I read Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin. Martin is well-known for her blog, Global Table Adventure, where, in the span of four years she cooked a meal from every country in the world. That alone is accomplishment enough to fill a memoir but it is the facts of her youth that make Life from Scratch compulsive reading.
Martin and her older brother were raised by their mother, a woman fond of travel and adventure who left her first husband and children to marry Sasha’s father. When he disappears with all her money she is left with two small children and few options for work. While she did her best, their poverty was extreme and her strong and often unorthodox opinions meant that by the time the children were in elementary school their situation warranted investigation by the Department of Social Services. The following years were filled with shuttling between their mother and foster care until she elicited the help of an old school friend, now married, who agreed to become the legal guardian of preteen Sasha and Michael. This solution provided physical stability but the resulting emotional damage led to consequences none of them could imagine.
The subtitle for Life from Scratch is: “a memoir of food, family, and forgiveness” and Martin cycles through all of these by interweaving recipes with her memories and dealing with the fallout from her mother’s decisions. She is quick to credit her mother for her love of cooking and her imaginative streak but it is Martin’s journey to forgiveness that is the crux of the book. All of the women around her who were supposed to be protecting her as a child were psychologically damaged in one way or another and imparted this damage onto her psyche. With her teen years and early twenties spent in addictive and destructive behavior she struggles to find a sense of self and inner strength. Only when she is finally able to let go and move on does she embrace her own creativity and create her own adventure.
And while I know I should resist diving into food words to sum up Life from Scratch, I can’t. Martin peppers her life with a sumptuous level of detail even when she cuts close to the bone. The less savory years are still meaty with a tenderness that can only come from one who’s lived them. She is a natural storyteller and each bite of the book made me anxious for the next course. (Whew, thank you patient reader for letting me go there.) Food lover or not, this is an astonishing story and the luscious recipes (“Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake” or “Torta di Riso”, anyone?) scattered throughout, means it is a book, and a life, you’ll return to again and again.