Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin @GlobalTable #weekendcooking

cover imageI first heard about Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin from a Weekend Cooking post, so it’s only fitting to keep passing the word along about this satisfying memoir this way.

I don’t read many food blogs, so before I started reading I wasn’t aware of Sasha Martin’s blog, Global Table Adventure, where she records her experience of trying recipes from around the world. The author grew up in Jamaica Plain, a Boston neighborhood, so there was a Massachusetts connection there, but I can’t resist the lure of a foodie memoir, anyway.

In Life from Scratch, Sasha Martin writes about growing up with and mostly without her mother, who – present or absent – dominates the book with her larger-than-life personality. Mom eventually gives up custody of all five of her children, and seems to be a cross between a happy-go-lucky, irrepressible, eccentric, free-spirited single mother and an unlucky, unhappy depressive burdened by the weight of family responsibilities.

When the author starts her own family and begins her food blog documenting her once-a-week meal inspired by other cuisines starting with Afghanistan and on through 195 countries to Zimbabwe, her unadventurous-eater husband and their young daughter are dubious, at first, but as she continues her project through some failures (including an episode of food poisoning) but many successes, they get carried along by her enthusiasm.

Life from Scratch starts off fairly dark; the author survived a rough beginning. Despite having a wealth of experiences such as living in other countries as a teenager, she had a lot of sadness in her young life. She opens the book with the story of finding out in fourth grade why she had no fingerprints on some of her fingers. They had melted off in a kitchen accident at age one when she reached into an open broiler while her mother had her back turned. This incident, though her mother was cleared of any charges, got them entered into “the system” and they never fully bounced back from that.

Recommended for anyone who likes a good foodie memoir with recipes, or for readers who liked The Glass Castle and are looking for other memoirs about growing up in a dysfunctional or unusual family.

Life from Scratch
Martin, Sasha
National Geographic Society
March 3, 2015
336 pp.
$25.00, hard.

Disclosure: I won my copy of Life from Scratch in a giveaway from Books on the Table in March (Thank you, Ann, and thank you, National Geographic!)

Other opinions:
I’d Rather Be at the Beach
The 3 R’s Blog
The Well-Read Redhead

Weekend Cooking buttonThis post is part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click on the image for more Weekend Cooking posts.

Youthful Accident or Racial Incident: Upper West Side Story by Susan Pashman

cover imageIn Upper West Side Story, a first novel by philosophy professor and former attorney Susan Pashman, two families in Manhattan are pitted against each other after a tragic accident (possibly a crime) goes from the personal to the political.

The case of two eighth-grade boys – best friends, one white and one black, both in the gifted class and on the chess team – just horsing around or maybe not? – while returning a weekend class trip to Washington, D.C. is nothing like a recent incident of the three black students who opened fire on workers in a Brooklyn school cafeteria, thinks Bettina, who narrates most of the story. Max, the white eighth-grader who becomes a public figure overnight is her son.

Bettina’s a political liberal – an academic – who prides herself on raising her two children – Max and his younger sister Nellie – to be comfortable in a racially diverse, urban environment. Bettina’s husband, Stephen – a city planner enmeshed in local politics – can see clearly how Max and Max’s best friend Cyrus are being used as pawns in the game of racial politics played by the mayor, the district attorney, and most of all the most vocal local activist on racial issues – City Council member Marcus Hake, an African-American fighting for social justice and against racial inequality under the law.

Here’s an excerpt from Upper West Side Story to give you an idea of it:

I stood up to face Stephen, a lump swelling in my throat. “It is simple,” I cried. “I can’t stand all this conniving and second-guessing when the truth is perfectly obvious. It’s always some stupid game with you politicians. But they can’t play games with our son, Stephen. That’s just not going to happen!”

I tore down the hall to our bedroom and stared out at the city. Down every street, behind every window, lives were being ruined – choked by greed, poisoned by ambition, obliterated by self-interest. The city stared back at me, a professor of political theory, a stalwart campaigner for a more just world.

“Sweetheart,” Stephen said gently He stood in the doorway to our room. “I know this could be a bit hard on Max, but it’ll be worse if we try to head it off. Hake will get the press revved up and they’ll mix this in with the cafeteria case even if the D.A. does nothing. It’s better to let them investigate and find nothing. If we get in his way, Hake will blow things up as he always does.

“The mayor’s obviously desperate for a bone to throw to him. The D.A., I’m sure just wants to keep up the office’s image as tough on crimes against kids. She won’t be as eager as the mayor is to yield to Hake. It’s a game, as you said, but I think we have to let it run its course.”

“I won’t have our son made a scapegoat! I won’t let those games get anywhere near him. We owe Max some peace!”

I turned back to the window. I felt a tear start down my cheek and brushed it aside. “They have to leave us in peace, Stephen. You and me, but most of all Max.”

Author Susan Pashman has clearly thought a lot about race, especially in terms of schools and parenting. In January, she started a Kids & Race blog where she posts on these issues. Writing a nuanced novel about a family in crisis allows her to delve more deeply into the complexity of reality vs. theory and imagine what’s happening out of the public eye when an event that you’re used to reading about in the news hits home.

Harvard Square Editions is a publishing house formed by and for Harvard University alumni to publish literary fiction with a social or environmental message. The message in Upper West Side Story that racial politics don’t tell the whole story occasionally overpowers the fiction, but the multilayered story of family, city, and the law, told in the voices of Bettina and Max is moving, and the clash of Bettina’s academic theories and liberal ideals with her maternal desire to protect and defend her son is realistic and thought-provoking.

Upper West Side Story
Pashman, Susan
Harvard Square Editions
May 28, 2015
276 pp.
$22.95, softcover

DIsclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review. (I’m not part of the blog tour going on now, but check out it out for a chance to win one of 15 copies of Upper West Side Story.)

Part 2 — Speed Dating with Mass. Authors 2015 @massbook @MassLibAssoc

shot of room with books in foreground, authors in backgroundIn a post earlier this week I wrote about the Speed Dating with Massachusetts Authors event during the Massachusetts Library Association conference last week, but only got to describe part of it. So here’s the second post about this wicked fun event – organized and hosted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book – which is always my favorite part of the library conference.

Tcover imagehe young adult novel Being Henry David by first-time author Cal Armistead is set in Concord, Mass., the site of Walden Pond made famous by Henry David Thoreau. A Boston teen wakes up in Boston not knowing where he comes from or even his own name, and flees to Concord, where he calls himself “Henry David” after the author of Walden, the book he had waken up holding. “Thoreau keeps coming back as a spirit guide for him,” the author explained during her speed date with our table.

holding a copy of Being Henry David
Her book contains many Thoreau quotations, making it “an easy way to introduce students to transcendentalism and Thoreau,” author Cal Armistead said.

cover imageThe Massachusetts co-author of Saving Baby: How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led Her to Redemption, Lawrence “Larry” Lindner, was a dog person not a horse person but was still captivated by the story of Michigan resident Jo Anne Normile who was converted from being a successful and fanatical breeder and owner of racehorses to rescuing injured racehorses and questioning the entire horse racing industry.

author at table
Hingham, Mass. resident Lawrence Lindner said he was dubious about co-authoring a memoir about racehorses, until he heard Jo Anne Normile’s amazing story.


cover imageRandy Susan Meyers is a high-energy personality and a lot of fun. She obviously has a serious side, though, because, as she said, her novels “tend to deal with family dysfunction.” Accidents of Marriage, her third and latest,  is no exception, being about a family in turmoil when Madeline, mother of three, is gravely injured by her husband Ben. Randy Susan Meyers is also the author of two previous novels, The Murderer’s Daughters and The Comfort of Lies.

signing books
“I like looking at a family from all different angles,” said Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents of Marriage.


 cover imageAgainst Football by Steve Almond is a contender in the nonfiction category of the Massachusetts Book Awards for books published in 2014. The author of Candyfreak, a lighthearted look at his lifelong candy addiction, gets serious here by laying out his reasons for deciding he can no longer, in good conscience, continue to be the rabid football fan he had been for years, because of the risk of brain injury to the players. “When your brain is gone, you’re gone,” he told us. “There’s no helmet that will fix physics.”

author holding copy of Against Football
“That’s the nature of football. It’s profoundly violent, but we hide from the violence.” — Steve Almond, author of Against Football


cover imageRichard “Rich” Michelson has published several collections of poetry – his latest is More Money Than God – and several children’s picture books – the most recent is S Is for Sea Glass – so he talked a little about both when he visited our table. “My books are not all still in print,” he said. “Thank God for libraries.” (Playing to the audience, but we loved it.) Rich Michelson said he often visits schools to talk with students about race and diversity, poetry, or other topics.

photo of author at table

Thank you to the Massachusetts Center for the Book for bringing Speed Dating with Massachusetts Authors to the conference again this year!

Sadly, the Massachusetts Center for the Book is once again having to struggle for its annual funding, as the state budget works its way through the House and Senate. It’s strange, in a state that prides itself on being so literate and smart, that we can’t stabilize funding for our Center for the Book as so many other states have. (There is a Center for the Book in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.)

How can you help? If you’re a Massachusetts resident, please call your state senator today and ask him/her to sign on to Sen. Jennifer Flanagan’s amendment 137 to fund budget line 7000-9508, Massachusetts Center for the Book:


This amendment matches the allocation in the House budget. If passed it would mean that MCB could hire a program coordinator so that its director was able to focus on developing new projects, securing new collaborations, and raising the funds needed to realize the potential of an organization charged with developing, supporting, and promoting cultural programming to enhance library outreach and to advance the cause of lifelong literacy.

Not sure how to contact your state senator? Check out CapWiz through the Massachusetts Library Association, which makes it really easy!


Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian


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