Author: Sasha Martin

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On sending my book out into the world

They say writing a book is like having a baby. I’m not so sure.

My memoir,  Life from Scratch is due into the world on March 3rd, 2015. I started writing in 2013 and can assure you that the 2-year gestation period was one of the most challenging periods of my career. I am just now starting to feel the butterflies as early press pours in from Women’s Day, O Magazine, and Food and Wine.

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Peking Walnuts

In the spirit of DIY deliciousness, why not start off the Chinese New Year with something sweet and savory? Peking Walnuts are an impressive affair – the glossy walnuts appear lacquered, but it’s really just a simple sugar coating that’s been dunked in a vat of hot vegetable oil. While the walnuts cook, the sugar caramelizes onto the crust and takes on a reddish hue – just like Peking Duck. The red color makes Peking Walnuts lucky. What’s the story with the color red and Chinese New Year? Legend has it that a Chinese beast called Nian lives under the sea and mountains. He is afraid of the color red. Chinese families use lots of red during the New Year to scare him away.Today, red signifies both luck and joy in Chinese culture. How to make Peking Walnuts (and impress all your friends): Grab a bunch of walnuts. Boil them until their skins fall off. Dry well. Toss with sugar and let dry for a couple of hours in a sunny spot (or overnight).   Meanwhile, go watch some fireworks! When you return, deep …

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Salad Niçoise

There’s nothing like a mid-winter picnic, especially if Salad Niçoise is part of the equation. The other day my daughter asked if we could eat dinner outside. It was sunny, the temperature in the mid-sixties. My answer? Most definitely. We bundled up – each in a cozy sweater – and set up our colorful spread on the scraggly winter landscape. For the Salad Niçoise, I piled on delicately steamed French beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and everything deliciously funky: Tuna, olives, capers and a few anchovies (for salty chew). A handful of crackers with cheese completed dinner (though a hunk of crusty bread would be nice, too). My husband flashed us all back to his “Mr Picky” days as he struggled to down one solitary anchovy. He did the work but remains unconvinced of their merits. My daughter escaped the challenge since she’s a self-proclaimed vegetarian, focusing her efforts instead on the vegetables and cheese (for protein). As for myself, I ate everything. While we enjoyed our meal, the sun sunk behind our neighbors’ rooftop (taking the warmth with it). Our fingers gradually chilled until we …

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Kir Impérial

In honor of Valentine’s Day – and being one month away from the release of my new memoir (Eeee!!) – I went to the “way back” machine and dug up what I consider to be the most romantic of all French drinks: a Kir Impérial. There are only two things you need to know about Kir Impérial. #1 It bubbles. #2. It tastes like love. But… since I’m a front row kind of gal… The Story Behind Kir Once upon a time the Kir was actually called “vin blanc cassis” – which just means “white wine currants.” According to Larousse Gastronomique, this was a specialty drink from Burgundy, France. It mixed two of the region’s best drinks: an Aligoté wine (dry white wine) and cassis (black currant liqueur). After World War II everything changed. A priest, who helped 5,000 people escape a prisoners of war camp, was knighted and elected as the mayor of Dijon. He always served vin blanc de cassis during official meetings and celebrations, in part because there was a red wine shortage. His name was – you guessed it – Felix …

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Going “Down Under” with an Easy Kid’s Lunch

Throwing together a Down Under lunch requires just a few fun ingredients. My kindergartner loves a good cheese sandwich (don’t we all!?) so this week I smeared her sandwich bread with sticky, salty yeast extract like they do in Australia and New Zealand (I couldn’t find Aussie’s preferred version, Vegemite, so I used Marmite, the version preferred in Britain and New Zealand). Let the record state: ooey gooey cheese paninis with yeast extract are also grand! The salty smack goes a long, long way; don’t overdo it! Next, leftovers came to the rescue. On the side are leftover sweet potatoes drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. In New Zealand and parts of Australia they call sweet potatoes “kumara.” The shining star of the meal came from the fruit basket: one shiny Granny Smith apple. These green beauties were first cultivated in Australia in 1868. What an easy, authentic addition to the lunch box. The container came back empty, so I’d say her lunch “down under” was a success! Tips & Tricks: Ava’s lunch is vegetarian but others might enjoy tossing the sweet potatoes …

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Eritrean Spiced Bread | Hembesha

This year Ava and I brought a loaf of Eritrean Hembesha bread to the annual Martin Luther King parade. It’s a random sort of thing to bring to a parade, but I’d just pulled batch #3 out of the oven and couldn’t stand the thought of the bread cooling down without being able to enjoy a still-steaming, soft wedge. There are few things better than a steaming-hot piece of homemade bread.  Hembesha is no exception: the east African bread is soft and earthy with whispers of garlic, coriander, cardamom, and fenugreek. The distinct flavor profile is great with hearty stews or even on the side of scrambled eggs (perfect for a savory brunch). That being said, hembesha is traditionally served in the afternoon with tea and a drizzle of honey and/or tesmi (tesemi is spiced ghee made with ginger, garlic, onions, and berbere) While original recipes decorate the flat loaves with nails, I’ve used a ravioli wheel (the idea came from the blog Yesterdish). I learned the hard way – don’t just score the dough – cut through 99-100% of the …

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5 Easy ways to use up your spices

Cleaning out the spice drawer: you either love or hate the job. For every person that has a collection of barely-used spices from their wedding 20 years ago, there are folks who try to rotate through their spices yearly. But sometimes we get stuck on how to use up that last tablespoon of a spice without trudging through an obscure recipe (a recipe that probably barely uses a pinch of the herb or spice anyway).  The good news is that we don’t need recipes – there are a handful of quick solutions to make using up your spices simple and painless: 1. Seasoned Butter This is by far the easiest method to use up spices – soften a stick or two of butter on the counter, then mix in 1-2 tablespoons of salt-free herbs or spices. Try making a sweet blend with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg (honey is great in here, too). Or try a savory version with oregano, basil, and garlic (really any green herbs will work together!). Or go spicy with hot paprika, berbere or ground harissa. It’s …

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Labneh

For much of December I found myself being entertained rather than entertaining. It was a nice, relaxing way to spend two weeks but I find myself – even now that we’re well into the New Year – looking for a way to make someone else feel special and cared for.  After some recipe rummaging, I had my answer: Labneh. Soup might comfort, jelly might wibble-wobble, but Labneh delights. This Middle Eastern thickened yogurt appetizer seems oh so fancy but is really a set-it-and-forget-it kind of affair – exactly what I need to pay it forward during a busy time of year. It’s mild and tangy – but if you use full fat yogurt, very creamy and indulgent in a… healthy way (it’s made with yogurt, after all). Does your mind ever wander when you cook? Mine does. As the yogurt strained in the cool, dark refrigerator I considered the people who came in my life for no more than a season – perhaps a brilliant season, perhaps a painful one. I reminded myself that letting them go is a gift. Ahhhh, what a gift for my heart. …

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A Polish lunch that’ll clean out your fridge

Whether your child is in a growth spurt or you just need a meal to satisfy you longer than the 20 minutes it takes to eat it, Polish comfort food is the answer. We ate ours back on December 23rd, three hours before locking up the house and flying to spend 11 days with more than a dozen family members (First stop: Cape Charles Virginia, to see one of my brothers and sisters, and their kids. Second stop: Martinsburg, West Viriginia for our cousin’s wedding and most of Keith’s family). In large part, this hurried meal was the kind of “cleaning out the fridge” and “pantry upkeep” situation I engage in every time I travel. It started because the potatoes threatened to grow legs and walk off while we were away.  In the fridge, I had a link of kielbasa sausage and package of fresh sauerkraut with imminent expiration dates, plus some carrots and Brussels sprouts that I just knew would be despondent upon our return. I pan-fried the vegetables and sausage while the potatoes boiled. As the components came together on our trays …

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Why I’m terrified of telling you about my memoir

My dear friend Becky and I had been chatting over drinks for more than an hour when I suddenly mumbled “I’m terrified of telling my readers about my memoir.” The admission took me by surprise, as did the tears that spilled down my cheeks. I added, almost self consciously, “I don’t know how to tell them … isn’t that crazy?” I darted my eyes around R Bar expecting to lock eyes with frowning onlookers, but the only other patrons were engrossed with each other, the flush of new romance in their eyes. Truth is, I’ve been scared to tell you about my memoir for a long time. Sure: I’ve told you about the book casually – in a billboard announcement sort of way (clipped, chirpy, and relatively benign). But I haven’t told you in a pour my soul out through the keyboard sort of way. And – for better or worse – that’s the kind of announcement this book seems to require. My friend took in my tears, then said:  “Tell them the truth: that you’re scared; that you cried at a bar …

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10 New Year’s Food Traditions from around the World

Before the confetti and the fireworks glitter through our skies, our global neighbors teach that we must first take a little time to dream. You see, if we imagine our futures as bright and as shiny and as real as the stars above us, we come that much closer to realizing our dreams. It’s called positive thinking. And all around the world, people accomplish this through a brilliant collection of New Year’s food traditions. These food traditions aren’t just another nice meal with a game attached; they’re a way to represent everything we want for ourselves and our loved ones. When we eat symbolic meals, it’s the best kind of positive thinking (hello, happy tummies and hearts). Here are my favorite New Year’s food traditions from around the world, with recipes pulled from our archives. Try one this year to make your very own Global New Year. 1. “RING” in the New Year Rings are a symbol both of continuous love and of “coming full circle.” Any food made in a ring shape is a great choice to celebrate …

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A Central American Lunch

Central America can provide fresh, fun inspiration for the lunchbox (with a generous dash of indulgence). Since our family chose not to opt in for my daughter’s school’s weekly Pizza Day, I’m always looking for something special for Ava’s Friday lunches. When I asked Ava how she enjoyed this particular Around the World lunch, Ava returned my question with wide eyes and an even wider grin. I have a feeling the cheesy pupusas from El Salvador did the trick. Pupusas are made with masa harina and melted cheese or bean filling, then fried. We made them for dinner the night before (when Ava taught papa how to make them with a hilarious, if not entirely authentic “double stuffed” method). Not bad for five years old! The leftovers were a quick reheat in the school microwave, though they’re decent cold, too. To balance things out, I included a cabbage slaw called “curtido” seasoned with dried oregano, vinegar, and a touch of red pepper flakes. The fried plantain chips and sliced avocado were just for fun! Tips Try substituting the …