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What does it mean to eat in peace?

Woman harvesting wheat by Yann Forget

What we put on our tables tells a mighty important story.

In my time so far as a Research Fellow at University of Tulsa, I’ve come to appreciate globalization of our food on an entirely new level. Everything is connected – seeds, weather, harvests, shipping, pricing, grocery store availability, history, cooking, healthy digestion. If there is turmoil in just one part of this system? Everything falls out of whack.

Fluctuations in the price of bread have brought about revolt. Even Mr. Death, himself, reflects the importance of the system; he carries a scythe – tool of the harvest.

He is the reaper.

If we are ever to realize peace, it must be from field to stomach.

Embroidered in 1929 on this sack: "My great-grandmother Rose, mother of Ashley, gave her daughter this sack when she was sold at 9 in South Carolina. It held a tattered dress, three handfuls of pecans, a braid of Rose's hair. Told her 'It is filled with my love always.' They never saw each other again. Ashley told this to my grandmother Ruth Middleton." Photo by Kelly Crow.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture | Photo: Kelly Crow

Our food tells a story, heartbreaking at times. Embroidered in 1929 on the sack above:

My great-grandmother Rose, mother of Ashley, gave her daughter this sack when she was sold at 9 in South Carolina. It held a tattered dress, three handfuls of pecans, a braid of Rose’s hair. Told her ‘It is filled with my love always.’ They never saw each other again. Ashley told this to my grandmother Ruth Middleton.

What wrongs might we right in our lifetimes? What space might we hold for each other?

A meditation on peace

Overwhelmed with the complex food systems around us, I wrote this meditation and poem: “If there is to be peace.” It is based off of the “Prayer for Peace” by Chinese Philosopher Lao-Tse (also Lao-Tzu, 6th-5th c. B.C.). *

If there is to be peace, by Sasha Martin // If there is to be peace in the world There must be peace in the fields. If there is to be peace in the fields There must be peace at the mill. If there is to be peace at the mill, There must be peace among customers. If there is to be peace among customers, There must be peace in the kitchen. If there is to be peace in the kitchen, There must be peace at the table. If there is to be peace at the table, There must be peace in the stomach.

*Here is Lao’s original poem:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace among neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

For more of my thoughts on peace at the dinner table, you may read my guest blog on the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities web site.

In peace and love,


Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: A tail of her own

The Science & Geography of Mermaids: A Birthday Party

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Challenge checklist

My daughter loves science and mermaids; when she couldn’t decide on a birthday theme, we agreed on an epic sci-fi mashup of mermaids, science, and geography.

Mermaid goals

Science of Mermaids: Mermaid goals

A pool party seemed inevitable when Ava wrote in her writing journal that her “greatest aspiration” was to become a mermaid. My goals were similar at 7 years old. Many nights I’d dream I was a mermaid, sunning on a rock, only to wake up abruptly whenever I splashed into the ocean, finding that I’d thrown myself off the bed and, instead of landing in a coral palace, I face-planted onto the hardwood floors.

Not all mermaids have red hair

Mami Wata

I really wanted Ava to think beyond the stock image of “Ariel,” so we spent some time this spring learning about merfolk around the world. We began our study with the Zambian mermaid Chitapo, followed by the Selkie of Scotland (and a few other neighboring countries) – their stories are here and here on the blog, along with recipes to match. As she learned about these amazing merfolk and ate food inspired by them, her excitement grew.

A tail of her own

The Science of Mermaids: A tail of her own

In early summer, we went to Florida to visit her Aunt and Uncle, the twins. Bringing her dream a little closer to reality, we all chipped in and got Ava a mermaid tail. When she opened her present she burst out “This is the best birthday ever!” We all laughed to see her flip her new fin with so much enthusiasm. (Secretly, we all wished we had a mermaid tail, too.)

Ava decided her mermaid name would be Emerald.

Science of Mermaids: A tail of her own

Getting crafty

When we got home, Ava and I spent part of our lazy summer days imaging and then creating the party games and decor… a summer camp of our own. As we were unfortunately unable to make contact with real-life mermaids during our gulf coast family vacation, we did our best to make the mermaid “science” as realistic as possible. The final result was better than I could have ever done on my own (or found at a party store), because my daughter’s imagination operates at 1000%. As an added bonus, we were able to use a lot of materials we already had on hand, which made this party fairly affordable.

Without further ado, here are our favorite details from her Science of Mermaids party:

1. Mermaid Anatomy 101
(a.k.a. Pin the organ on the mermaid)

Science of Mermaids: Pin the Anatomy on the Mermaid

Mermaids are living creatures which means they have organs, just like humans. They think with their brains, digest food with their stomachs, and love with their hearts.


How to create a magnetic Mermaid Anatomy Puzzle:

  1. Paint a mermaid on a piece of canvas (this is a great project for older children)! My daughter went all out, adding glitter, shells, and fabric oysters. Just be sure to leave plenty of room on the torso for the magnetic organs.
  2. Stitch a piece of sturdy fabric to the back of the canvas to make a large pocket. Slide a magnetic sheet from the hardware or craft store into this pocket. The magnetic sheet should fit snugly in the fabric pocket and should extend past the mermaid on all sides by a few inches (in case children miss the proper area while playing).
  3. Make magnetic organs – You can find rubber human organs at some craft stores or online. I glued the organs to small, round magnets with super-strong e6000; this worked perfectly for us. Tip: Test to make sure the magnets stick to the magnetic sheet through the canvas. If not, use larger magnets.
  4. Play! Older children might want to play blindfolded, while primary and elementary children might want to keep their eyes open and use this as a puzzle challenge.

2. Mermaid Habitat Toss

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Habitat Toss

Mermaids can live in salt water or fresh water. They eat seaweed. They use shells and coral reefs to build their homes. Like all creatures of the wild, they feel best in their natural habitat, where their surroundings are familiar.


How to create a Mermaid Habitat Toss:

  1. Cut 3-4 holes in a large sheet of plywood or cardboard. Each hole will represent one habitat. Make sure they are a few inches bigger than the soft mermaid toy you’ll be throwing through them.
  2. Paint a scene to bring the habitats to life. Again, Ava chose to go all out and glued on shells, sand and seaweed she collected on our family trip in Florida.
  3. Play! See if you can toss the mermaid back into each of her habitats. Older children can try this from further back for greater challenge.

The Science of Mermaids: Habitat Toss

3. Mermaid Economy (a.k.a. Treasure Dive)

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Treasure Hunt (Economy)

Mermaids don’t go to the bank, like humans. They collect treasures and hide them in wooden chests, underwater caves, and in bottles. Mermaids use this treasure to barter with other mermaids for food and other goods.


How to create Mermaid Treasure:

  1. Clean and remove labels from a plastic gallon-size juice bottle.
  2. Fill with play treasure (jewelry, coins, and gemstones). Top it off with water to make the bottle’s contents “float” around.
  3. Decorate lid and bottle if desired. We attached a fabric cover to the lid to discourage the children from opening the treasure. You could also use duct tape.
  4. Play! Drop the treasure at the bottom of the pool for the kids to find. They’ll do this over and over again!

4. Mermaid Reproduction (a.k.a. Dive for mermaid eggs)

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Mermaid Reproduction (Diving for Eggs)

Like a fish, mermaids lay eggs. This process is called spawning. They hide their eggs in protective foam in the bottom of the ocean.  Like humans, mermaid babies take 9 months to be born. Mermaid mothers care for their babies the same way human mothers do.


How to set up Diving for Mermaid Eggs:

  1. For the eggs, use water-safe lights, preferably spherical in shape and colorful. These can be found at craft stores and online. Add several to one or more small mesh bags. The bag represents the foam, will make the eggs easier to find, and keeps the kids from messing with the light mechanism.
  2. Play! Hide the bags around the pool and let the kids dive for them over and over again.

4. Geography of Merfolk

Science and Geography of Mermaids Party: Geography Garland

Not all mermaids have red hair. There are stories of mermaids from every continent in the world to captivate your guests. Each has unique characteristics, whether it be seaweed hair, snake tails, blowholes in the back of their necks, or removable seal skins.


How to create a Geography of Merfolk display:

  1. Download and print my PDF Merfolk around the World.
  2. Google images of mermaids. Search by the mermaid names (Chitapo, YawkYawk, Ningyo, Iara, Mama Glow, and Selkie), but also add quirky searches (look for “vintage mermaids” and Chagall mermaid paintings, for example).
  3. Cut and glue the mermaid images to colorful card stock, then modge podge to give them a finished look. String them up on tulle or yarn to complete the garland.
  4. Display the mermaid stories near the mermaid garland. You can add images of the mermaids, if you want. Note: I didn’t get a photo of this at the party – but I do have one below of it all tangled together with the cutouts, waiting to go out the door with the rest of the decor.
  5. Kids can try to match the merfolk stories to their image, or simply enjoy reading about them.

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Geography of Mermaids Display

5. Mermaid Photo Opp

Science of Mermaids Party: Mermaid Photo Opp Cutout

“Becoming” a mermaid was by far the biggest hit at the party. Perhaps this was because her organs were exposed, giving the kids an almost-creepy look-inside. This would make a great Halloween decoration, too!


How to make a mermaid cutout:

  1. Use a large piece of fabric, cardboard or wood.
  2. Trace the outline of a mermaid and paint or hotglue fabric to create the art. Be sure to add the inner organs to go with the science theme. I used scrap fabric from a bunch of projects – a great way to clean out my stash.
  3. Set up the photo opp so kids can stand behind it and take photos (we hung ours from a rafter and kept a step stool in the back since it was so tall).

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Anatomy photo opp

5. Crowning glory

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Driftwood Crowns

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Seashell Crowns

When the children finished their games, they were awarded with a homemade mermaid crown. We gave them their crown right before cutting the cake so that the real shells wouldn’t get damaged during water play (and had a better chance of making it home safe).

How to create mermaid shell crowns:

  1. Cut out foam into crescent shapes with a hot foam cutter.
  2. We hot glue the crescents to dollar store headbands (3 for $1) to create a sturdy, waterproof backing. Try to find headbands with a chainlink type pattern; this will bond better than a smooth surface.
  3. Hot glue shells, pearls, and blue netting to the foam, as desired.

How to create driftwood crowns:

  1. Sew fabric headbands. Use elastic to make them fit better. Make sure the fabric you choose doesn’t bleed color in the water.
  2. Hot glue on pieces of driftwood. We made “driftwood” by boiling sticks in salted water for an hour or two. (Ava actually thought for a minute that we’d be having sticks for dinner – ha!). Once the sticks were cool to the touch, I peeled off the bark to expose the pale wood.
  3. Decorate with starfish from the craft store.

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Seashell Crowns

6. Fun Summer Challenge Sign

To encourage the kids to try all the games, we created a “Fun Summer Challenge” sign. The kids were invited to add tally marks to show what they’d done (or decided not to do). This was also a secret way to help them realize what activities were available to play.

One little girl – just about three years old – asked what she was supposed to do. Understanding, in her own way, she was later found adding all the tallies, filling in every row, ever possible inch. When done, she stepped back from her masterpiece and added, with a content smile “There, I did it.”

Yes. Yes, you did.

Science of Mermaids Fun Summer Challenge Party Sign

Decor: Skelly the skeleton

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Skeleton Makeover

Mermaid skeletons show the upper skeleton of a human and the lower skeleton of a fish. They use their strong tail to swim great distances. Most mermaids have gills on the sides of their torso. Some mermaids have blowholes on the back of their necks – just like a dolphin or whale.

How to adapt a skeleton into a mermaid skeleton:

  1. Unscrew the legs from a standard skeleton.
  2. Use air-dry white clay to form a fish tail for the skeleton.
  3. Attach through the skeleton’s pelvis with zipties.
  4. Disguise the ziptie with a whimsical skirt. Add a hat and jewelry. Give her a name. Ours is Skelly.

Marzipan Cake Topper

Science of Mermaids: Marzipan mermaid cake topper

I made my first marzipan cake topper and omgosh I had so much fun. Marzipan cake toppers can be made way ahead (weeks or even months ahead if kept clean and covered in an airtight container), making for stress free party planning. This little gal (meant to be my daughter as a mermaid) was shaped with plain marzipan. She is stacked onto a straw for stability and decorated with color dust. A little edible “glue” was used to keep things like eyeballs and bathing suit in place.

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party: Marzipan cake topper

I put her on a cardboard base wrapped in aluminum foil. To help her stay put on the bundt cake, I gathered a handful of the foil below the cardboard to make a wide handle. This way, when I put her on top of the bundt cake, the foil handle went into the bundt’s center. I covered any visible aluminum with more marzipan (made to look like sand and rocks).

The sweet almond flavor went perfectly well with Ava’s cinnamon bundt cake with maple drizzle. As a bonus, she held up in super hot weather all afternoon. Much preferable to buttercream and more delicious than fondant.

Party Favors

Science of Mermaids Birthday Party Favor


A few salt water taffys, stickers, the homemade mermaid crown, and these Water Conservation Tips(PDF) went home with Ava’s friends, along with a hug and a thank you!

So that’s about it. Phew. Except for this (important) note

For lack of a better term, this is what I’d call a “slow birthday party.”

Ava wasn’t in many summer camps this year. We had a lot of time to play and create at home, which is part of why we were able to go all out with the handmade items. The experience lasted from spring through half the summer. It was about building projects and memories together over many months, not just a 2-hour party. Ava learned how to use a glue gun and made beautiful art. She learned how to use colored dust to decorate marzipan. She did some woodworking with her father. She tried a few international recipes while reading new stories.

The party was simply the culmination of her study of science and mermaids – an “art show” of sorts, showcasing everything she’d learned and experienced in the months prior.

I am a firm believer that parties are not about going as big as you can… but they should always be about something bigger.

Along those lines, this year Ava donated her birthday to animals in need. Here she is with one of the many animals that will benefit from her and her friends donations to Tulsa’s Animal Welfare center.

Donate your birthday party

I’m proud of our girl and grateful to share our experience with you. Sending love to you and yours for all your celebrations!


A fellowship of food

A Fellowship of Food

Expressions of peace through the art and poetry of food

This is my cat, Malky. Sitting on my homework.

Moments later, after some gentle kneading, he fell fast asleep, fuzz down on “The Language of Food,” by Dan Jurafsky. I debated the merits of waking him. But instead I’ve decided to use his catnap to tell you about my latest adventure.

A Fellowship of Food

I am proud (and honored) to announce that this week starts my journey as a 2016-2017 Research Fellow at the The University of Tulsa through the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. That’s right – Ava isn’t the only one going back to school this fall!

The powers that be at TU dubbed this year’s fellowship The Year of Food. Every Tuesday myself and 8 other fellows will gather together to discuss our research. Each of us will have a unique perspective: some will look into food law, others food history or geography, still others food art. It’s going to be delicious for the belly and the mind.

The Peaceful Table

Year of Food Fellowship: Expressions of Peace at the Global Table

My research will focus on Expressions of Peace & War at the Global Table – in other words, what we need to “bring to the table” for a peaceful meal and world. I will examine how we use food to create identity and borders (emotional and geographic), and what that means to the conversation around peace. Since we can’t talk about peace without talking about her opposite – war – the scope of my project will include some consideration about the challenges we face on our journey towards peace.

Throughout the year, I will create art pieces and poetry that speak to my findings. In the spring, my work will be exhibited here in Tulsa – the idea is to present an art show and poetry reading so that the public can engage with these ideas. I don’t particularly want to provide definitive answers to these broad questions, but open up a dialogue about them.

My plan is to keep you updated throughout the year, so you can see what I’m learning and creating.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this passage from my first reading assignment, in which Dan Juafsky shares one of the characteristics that unites all humans – the fact that we’re all immigrants, and that no culture is an island:

Quote from Dan Jurafsky from "The Language of Food" | "So it seems that it's not just melting-pot America whose favorite foods come from somewhere else [...]. I'd like to think that the lesson here is that we're all immigrants, that no culture is an island, that beauty is created at the confusing and painful boundaries between cultures and peoples and religions. I guess we can only look forward to the day when the battles we fight are about nothing more significant than where to go for ceviche."

Thanks, as always, for being a part of our community. Remember, we’re all here to support you, whatever your journey might be. Share your experiences and cheer each other on Instagram and Facebook with #GlobalTableAdventure.



What if you could live off Victory?

What if you could live off Victory? | Simone Biles of USA, by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, CC BY 3.0 br,

Simone Biles of USA (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil).

The Olympics celebrate the human form: bodies that move – blood pumping through veins, muscles twitching, brains firing. A place where gravity seems to be as awestruck as the rest of us.

What if you could live off Victory? |Kōhei Uchimura of Japan, by Agência Brasil Fotografias.

Kōhei Uchimura of Japan (Agência Brasil Fotografias).

What if you could live off Victory? |Kōhei Uchimura of Japan, by Agência Brasil Fotografias | Kohei Uchimura of Japan, by Roberto Castro/ -, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Kōhei Uchimura of Japan (Roberto Castro).

What if you could live off Victory? | Diego Hyplito by Roberto Castro/ -, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Diego Hyplito of Brazil (Roberto Castro)

What if you could live off Victory? | Kai Qin and Yuan Cao of China. By Agência Brasil Fotografias - BRITÂNICOS VENCEM E BRASILEIROS TERMINAM EM ÚLTIMO NO TRAMPOLIM DE 3M SINCRONIZADO DOS SALTOS ORNAMENTAIS, CC BY 2.0,

Kai Qin and Yuan Cao of Chin (Agência Brasil Fotografias).

Even as newscasters contextualize the athletes by their nations of origin, the games are a rare chorus in an often discordant world, its very premise a celebration of effort and victory over the latest political skirmish. John Williams, theme composer for four Olympic games, quite possibly said it best:

The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that’s wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.

What if you could live off Victory? | Germany vs. Canada, by Agência Brasília - Alemanha x Canadá - Futebol feminino - Olimpíadas Rio 2016, CC BY 2.0,

Germany vs. Canada (Agência Brasília).

What if you could live off Victory? | Neda Shahsavari of Iran & Aleksandra Privalova of Belarus, by Javid Nikpour -, CC BY 4.0,

Neda Shahsavari of Iran & Aleksandra Privalova of Belarus (Javid Nikpour).

What if you could live off Victory? | Colombia vs. Nigeria, by Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil -, CC BY 3.0 br, São Paulo - Colômbia vence a Nigéria por 2x0 na Arena Corinthians (Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil)

Colombia vs. Nigeria (Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil).

The food of Victory

As I watch the players struggle and triumph, I can’t help but consider the food that makes those heroic bodies move. Despite some athletes endorsing frosted cereals and golden arches, I know the truth about good nutrition is far more complex. Back when I used to lift weights (another, bizarro lifetime ago), there was a lot of oatmeal, fresh fruit, eggs, and leafy greens in my life.

I shopped for produce obsessively.

San Francisco Farmer's Market by Sasha Martin

Shopping with a mind towards nutrition takes more time, energy, and money.

When any of these resources are thin, a person’s diet will be lacking – and we don’t have to be athletes to suffer the consequences.

In my career as a food writer, I try to shake up the world’s food story. Instead of focusing on poverty and war, relief efforts and famine, my goal was (and is) to unlock beloved recipes from all nations – to shine a light and honor their culinary victories. To tell the good stories. I began in February 2010 with Afghanistan and, by November 2013 I’d cooked more than 650 recipes from 195 countries, ending with Zimbabwe. Many of you have been with me since the beginning (Shoutout! Hugs and love to you!). As you know, the recipes are here, free of charge, to serve you and your families.

This collection of international recipes is another sort of victorious arena – a culinary Olympics, an edible chorus in a sometimes discordant world.


Recipes from every country in the world


The truth is that no one can live off of victory alone. We must make a global effort to ensure that there is adequate nutrition for all. And, fact of the matter is, right now there isn’t.

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said:

We live in a world today where the state of nutrition is relevant and important to each other country. […] In a world in which each half knows what the other half does, we cannot live with hunger and malnutrition in one part of the world while people in another part are not only well nourished, but over-nourished.

She said this back in 1970. And it’s true today.

But I promise the situation is not hopeless.

How can you help?

Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lights the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs.

Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lights the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. (Tim Hipps)

We need to light a fire under this issue.

We can start with nutrition education in our homes and schools – so we can raise a new generation of policy makers who give a darn (yes, yes, yes – lunch, snacks, after sport treats are educational opportunities!).

And then we can continue our efforts by taking part in global movements that put pressure on today’s global leaders. I’ve chosen to be a part of the #HungerFree movement to ensure good nutrition and the right start for all children in the world.

#HungerFree & the Olympics

Here are two simple ways for you to get involved and make a difference while enjoying the Olympic games.

1. This Olympics, lift your voice

One voice is lost in the wind, but many voices change the world. Join in on the #Nutrition4Gold conversation as we call on world leaders to #InvestInNutrition by increasing financial investments in nutrition, scaling up interventions that are proven to work and targeting the most vulnerable, ensuring a #HungerFree future for all children!

TWEET NOW: “World leaders: take action to ensure good nutrition & the right start for all children #nutrition4gold #Olympics2016”

2. Share a global meal

At your next Olympics watch party, cook a healthy meal inspired by your favorite athlete’s home country and then SHARE A PHOTO using the hashtag #nutrition4gold – then get all your friends to share too!

FOR RECIPE IDEAS and a party resource kit, visit my friends at HungerFree. They’ve put together an awesome collection, as well as these 10 other reasons to host any Olympics party.

All that’s left is to begin…

Rio de Janeiro - Cerimônia de abertura dos Jogos Olímpicos Rio 2016 no Estádio do Maracanã. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Torch lighting at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, 2016 (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Until the next time, cheering you on with much love and good health to you and yours.



Sweet Apricot Bites - Turkish stuffed apricots

Turkish Stuffed Apricots – Sweet Fairy Food

turkish-apricot-recipe-01These golden morsels are inspired by a place where giant fairy chimneys rise above yellow brick roads, leading travelers past a network of underground cities. It sounds like fantasy. But this surreal scene lives – as real as you and me – in Cappadocia, Turkey.

What are Fairy Chimneys?

Uçhisar in Cappadocia, Turkey, by Wolfgang Moroder.

Uçhisar in Cappadocia, Turkey, by Wolfgang Moroder.

The fairy chimneys of Turkey (Peri Bajası) are geological remnants created by volcanic debris. These colossal outcrops can be as tall as the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil and almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty on the eastern US coastline. But unlike those human made structures, fairy chimneys were sculpted over millions of years by rain and wind, in the end weathering the elements better than the dinosaurs.

"Castle" Uçhisar in Cappadocia, Turkey, by Wolfgang Moroder.

“Castle” Uçhisar in Cappadocia, Turkey, by Wolfgang Moroder.

This not to say humans never set chisel to chimney; over the last millennia humans carved into the fairy chimneys to create secure homes and places to worship. These weren’t basic dugouts – many of the cave dwellings are connected with a network of tunnels and vent shafts, and decorated with mosaic floors and frescoes. The underground city at Derinkuyu, for example, is large enough to hold 20,000 people spread over seven interconnected levels, while the underground city at Kaymakli has nearly 100 tunnels.

A Churche in Göreme By Antoine Taveneaux - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A church in Göreme, photo by Antoine Taveneaux.

View of the Christological cycle in the New Church By Georges Jansoone JoJan - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

View of the Christological cycle in the New Church, by Georges Jansoone JoJan.

Kaymakli underground city By © Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Kaymakli underground city, photo by Nevit Dilmen.

Communication moved fast in these dimly lit dwellings; all it took was one fire to turn a fairy chimney into a beacon. In turn, other chimneys lit their beacons and, in seconds, a visual alarm could spread to all citizens – and sometimes to other cities – warning of imminent danger or other news.

Fairy Chimneys Today

Today, tourists flock to Cappadocia to marvel at the interweaving of civilization and rock. They stay in cave hotels, pray in stone churches, and wander the underground cities. Some might even study up on St. George the dragon killer while visiting – he is said to be from Cappadocia.

Beyond the typical tourist stops, the towns of Cappadocia offer traditional communities built on agriculture. The dusty, parched landscape gives way to fertile canyons, where villagers painstakingly tend their gardens and orchards – mostly a tapestry of apple, plum, pear and apricot trees.

What, then, is the yellow brick road?

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - Own work by uploader,, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Apricots drying in the sun in Cappadocia. Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.

If you work your way along the orchards of Cappadocia, you’ll find the yellow brick road: thousands of apricots, laying the sun to dry, blazing against the dirt like the hot strike of a match.  Turkey grows more apricots than anywhere else in the world, and the Cappadocia region is an important part of that tradition.

I thought it’d be fun to explore a recipe for stuffed apricots in honor of Cappadocia’s apricot groves. This traditional Turkish sweet (also known as Kaymakli Kayisi Tatlisi) uses just a handful of ingredients – apricot, lemon syrup, pistachios, and creamy cheese – making it a great appetizer for a dinner party or afternoon tea.

Making Turkish Stuffed Apricots

Sweet Apricot Bites - Turkish stuffed apricots

You can make Turkish stuffed apricots on a paper plate with a beach towel tablecloth. I know because we did! This summer Keith, Ava and I took a three-week road trip; we spent much of our time in Florida, with my brother, sister and her daughter and dad. With lots planned (the beach! Harry Potter at Universal! the pool! the planetarium!), we needed a recipe that would be easy to prepare.  Turkish stuffed apricots turned out to be a summer-proof solution.

There’s just a few steps: soak the apricots overnight, simmer them in syrup, and stuff with creamy, cool kaymak (or substitute marscapone). Garnish with crushed pistachios and you’re in business.

How to make Turkish stuffed apricots


The finished result combines the gentle sweetness of apricots with the lusciousness of cream. Pistachios add gentle crunch and a hint of salt. This is the sort of dessert folks who aren’t into sweets will love; it’s not a one-two punch of sticky sugar, but rather a wholesome, slow-burn energy treat.

In sum? It’s the type of dessert a granola bar would have a crush on.

A little help from family

Turkish stuffed apricots

My sister and brother (the twins known as Grace and Tim in my memoir) helped make the Turkish stuffed apricots on his Fort Meyers patio, the chlorine of the neighborhood pool still on our skin. The beach towel was my sister’s; the glass used to crush the pistachios, my brother’s. This was but one small recipe in a sea of homecooked meals, but as we stood there, on Tim’s patio, eating the apricots as fast as we could make them, I knew that even the simplest meals accomplish more than simple sustenance.

Making Turkish Stuffed Apricots

Cut into the facade of the apartment building, that second story patio was our own little cave dwelling… our own little fairy chimney. We found ourselves drawn to that space at all hours of the day, one night staying up until 5 am over several bottles of wine, incense trailing around our conversation. The flicker of candlelight was our beacon, allowing siblings who rarely see each other to really see each other.

A fairy chimney is about safety, community, about a little bit of magic.

Turkish stuffed apricots

Have you ever been the little sister? I am the little sister when I’m with my family. It’s one of my favorite feelings. My siblings reminded me not to worry so much. They gave me parenting tips. They’re creative, fun influences on my daughter. The tease me just the right amount and love me as only family can.

Their love is a cave dwelling. A safe place.

As you make these stuffed apricots, think about your safe place. Imagine the cave dwelling you might be taking for granted in the here and now. Then imagine Cappadoccia. Perhaps you are St. George, or a local farmer, or a villager hiding in the underground city from invaders. However you play it, these apricots will light the way to adventure… but, also, to deeper appreciation of what already is.

Turkish stuffed apricots

Resources & Further Reading:

Turkey’s Fairy Chimneys & Rock-Carved Churches in Kapadokya 
Cappadocia (Travel Guide), by Susanne Oberheu & Michael Wadenpohl
The Valley of Love and Dried Apricots
The Canyon of Cappadocia
Nose to Tail Cooking in Cappadocia

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Rating: 5
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This Turkish appetizer is sweet and creamy - just right for a dinner party or afternoon tea. Start it the night before to soften up the apricots. There are three options for the stuffing, kaymak is the most traditional, while marscapone makes a great substitute. Some use strained Greek yogurt called labneh for this job (regular Greek yogurt will be too runny) - consider sweetening it with a little honey if you want to cut the tart flavor a bit.Sweet Apricot Bites - Turkish fairy food
Servings Prep Time
4-6people 15minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10minutes 8hours
Servings Prep Time
4-6people 15minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
10minutes 8hours
  1. Soak apricots in a bowl of cold water for 8 hours (or overnight). Keep in the fridge. In the morning they will be plump.
  2. Drain off the soaking water into a small saucepan - there should be about a cup of liquid. If not, add a little water to make up the difference. Add sugar and simmer for ten minutes, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and add reserved apricots. Let sit in the syrup until cool to the touch (or until needed). The syrup will make the apricots shiny.
  4. Peel apricots halfway open and stuff with kaymak, marscapone, or Greek yogurt. You may find a few of the apricots are a little too soft - enjoy those while you work! For stuffing, I like to use a piping bag, although a spoon work work as well.
  5. Garnish with crushed pistachios and enjoy!

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

New Orleans street art by Brandan Odums / Photo by Sasha Martin

Peace is not a verb

New Orleans street art by Brandan Odums / Photo by Sasha Martin

Peace is not a verb

Peace does not twist or rush
between bodies of water or flesh;
There is no giving
or delivering of peace.

Peace is not the catch in a mother’s throat
before her scream scales the body
nor does it rise from vacant eyes

Peace does not love or die.

Peace does not lift,
does not hoist.
There are no weeds peace uproots
and replants with purpose.

Peace is not something I do to you
or force upon you;
Though a lover makes love
and a rapist rapes,
Peace is without clambering,
bargaining, begging for change.

Peace is the weed being the weed;
Peace is mourning all morning
– if that’s what’s to be done.
Peace is knowing things aren’t well
and scraping breath over lung anyway.

Peace is stillness in the storm –
Finding the eye, the gaze;
Lone requirement for clarity
Lone requirement for change.


This poem came to me last night. My cat had just brought in a mouse, which my husband and I proceeded to chase around the bedroom before we finally caught and released it. Afterwards, I couldn’t fall asleep. I lay there as these words swum in formation, not wanting to ruin the spell by getting up to find a pen. In the morning it was as vivid as ever.

This poem is the result of feeling helpless in the face of tragedy – watching people shoot, watching people hate, watching people judge. I want there to be peace, yet I can’t, like some fairy godmother, bestow this gift upon the world. There is so much hurt and we all have a stake in it.

I can love you, but I can’t peace you.
If I could, I would.

Here’s the important bit: Since peace is not a verb we must start by cultivating peace within. Finding inner peace helps us gain clarity and act with love in the face of tragedy. When we can see each other with clarity real change has a chance. Peace of this sort might even be contagious, but that cannot be the condition for seeking it.

All my love to you and yours,

P.S. Here’s a poster of the poem if you’d like to save or share it. The art is by Brandan Odums – I stumbled upon it in New Orleans during this summer’s road trip.

"Peace is not a verb" by Sasha Martin

Vegetarian Falafel Scotch Eggs Recipe

Falafel Scotch Eggs – Snacking with Selkies

Let’s travel to Scotland and enjoy a traditional Selkie legend paired with a Selkie-friendly recipe for Scotch Eggs.

But first… what is a Selkie?

By Claire Pegrum, CC BY-SA 2.0,

By Claire Pegrum, CC BY-SA 2.0,

On the cold, northern shores of Scotland you’ll find smoke-grey seals basking on the wet rock, backs glistening with ocean spray. On an ordinary day the seals might sit for a time then slip into the water, hardly making a sound as they go about … well… whatever it is that seals normally do. But when the light is dim or fog blankets the horizon, some report having seen the seal skins drop away, revealing men and women of great beauty, whose big, brown eyes give their gaze a look of dewy grace.

These are Selkies – merfolk who can shed their skins and walk about on land. But there’s a catch with the Selkie’s freedom: if they lose their skin, they cannot return to their natural form. Instead, they are trapped on land, destined to remain human until they discover their skin again.

A note on the Biology of a Selkie:

A male Selkie by artist Mapvee.

A male Selkie by artist Mapvee.

Unlike mermaids, selkies are either head to toe seals OR head to toe humans. To become human, they slip off their seal skins and store them somewhere safe until they’re ready to go home. (Totally normal.)

Over the centuries there have been many a marriage between Selkie and humans, most of which begin with a human stealing the Selkie’s skin and ending abruptly whenever the Selkie finds their skin. You see, no Selkie-human marriage can fully satisfy a Selkie. As soon as they find their skin, the homesick creature rushes into the ocean for good.

The legend of the Seal Hunter & the Selkies

In a small Scottish village, there once was a hard working man who did not believe in Selkies. In this way, he was able to make a living hunting seals and selling their skins with not even a prick to his conscience.

One day he snuck up on a particularly fine seal and made a stab at it with his carved hunting knife. Though the blade pierced the seal’s side, the creature lurched away, into the water, the knife disappearing with it. The man let out a cry of dismay: it would cost many week’s savings to purchase another as strong and as fine as the hunting blade he’d lost. He returned home sadly, mourning the loss with his wife.

By Guinnog at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Orkney Islands, by Guinnog

Late that night there was a knock at the cottage door. When the hunter opened it, he discovered a gentleman, dressed in fine clothes.

The stranger bowed deeply. “Are you the seal hunter of Orkney Islands?”

“Ay,” nodded the hunter, straightening his ragged shirt.

“Then I would like to place an order of a dozen seal skins.” An order of a dozen seal skins would feed the man’s family for a very long time. The gentleman continued: “However, I need the skins before this night is over.”

The hunter dropped his chin to his chest. “As much as I would love to help you, I do not have that many seal skins. Even if I hadn’t lost my knife earlier today, I have little hope of gathering so many skins in one hunt.”

“In that case, I will lead you to a place where you’ll find more seals than you could ever imagine, and perhaps even a blade worthy of your hand.” said the gentleman.

The man eagerly followed the gentleman to a high cliff overlooking the sea. But when the gentleman invited him to step to the edge, the hunter became afraid.

"Orkneys seen from Dunnet Head 01" by Postdlf from w. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Orkney Islands seen from Dunnet Head, by Postdlf.

“I mean you no harm,” the gentleman said and gestured to the overlook again. “You will find all the seals  you can dream of at the bottom of this cliff.

As the man looked down the sheer cliff, he saw nothing but the moonlight on the empty waves, salt spray against stone. He stepped closer to get a better look.

Photo by Adam Ward

Copinsay, Orkney Islands. Photo by Adam Ward

At that moment the gentleman wrapped his arms around the hunter and dove over the cliff. They fell like shooting stars, splashing into the ocean.

Yesnaby scotland by Renata

Down they continued, at great speed, until they reached an enormous castle on the ocean floor.

The hunter had been holding his breath but now found he couldn’t hold on any longer. Gasping, he was shocked to find he could breathe under water as easily as he had on land. The gentleman released the hunter as they swam up to an iridescent hall made of mother of pearl. In the glow the hunter saw he was surrounded by hundreds of Selkies. He tried raised his hands as if in defense, only to find he had flippers where his hands had been. Turning to the gentleman, he saw that he, too, had become a Selkie.

The Selkies swam closer. “We mean you no harm,” they said, “In fact, we need your help.”

They led him to a side chamber where a Selkie was laying his back, gasping for breath.

“Our king is wounded and only you can cure him.”

The hunter saw his blade sticking into the Selkie’s side.  “I am no doctor, I know no medicine to cure him.”

“You are the only one who can help,” they insisted. “Remove your blade and press upon the wound.”

The hunter did as he was told and pressed his flippers onto the wound. To his surprise, the wound closed and the King’s breath steadied. They thanked him and, without further ado, the gentleman brought him up through the waters, the way they had come.

At the cottage door, the gentleman handed the hunter a heavy purse. “Please consider the Selkie, my good man, and save your blade for other purposes.”

The man peered inside the purse and found it full of gold. His hunting days were indeed behind him.

“Thank you,” he murmured in wonder, but when he looked up the gentleman was already gone. He never hurt another seal again, but often sat at the cliff, looking down in wonder at the sea. Whenever he saw a seal swimming below, it seemed to him their big brown eyes gave him a knowing look, almost as though they were smiling up at him.

Story adapted from Education Scotland

Snacking with Selkies: Let’s make Scotch Eggs!

Vegetarian Falafel Scotch Eggs Recipe

I chose to pair Scotch Eggs with my retelling of The Hunter & The Selkies because Scotch Eggs are something a poor seal hunter could take to strengthen him on the hunt. Often enjoyed cold on picnics, they are considered to be “a poor man’s lunch.” So says Neil Chambers from the Handmade Scotch Egg Company, who goes on to say they’re “made from left-over meat and eggs, quite handy because they were so easily transported.”

Let’s dive deeper …

The original Scotch egg is found all over Scotland and Britain. History tells us the Scotch egg was most likely based off of a medieval north Indian recipe for eggs wrapped in spiced lamb (nargisi kofta) and was invented in (close to) its current form by Fortnum & Mason, a department store in London, way back in 1738. According to Larousse Gastronomique, a Scotch egg is made like so:

The finest sausagemeat or minced (ground) meat is wrapped around a hard-boild egg, which is coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried until golden.”

Since The Hunter & The Selkies honors the precious life of our friends in the animal kingdom, I chose to adapt a vegetarian recipe for Scotch Eggs. While there are many, many possibilities, I opted for the falafel scotch egg. The chickpea coating has big flavor without being spicy and gets a springtime boost from the addition of green onion and fresh cilantro.

Move over deviled eggs – this is just the thing to slice up and serve at a potluck.

Vegetarian Falafel Scotch Eggs Recipe

A few tips for making Falafel Scotch Eggs

In my experience, this is a relatively straightforward recipe – as long as you set yourself up for success.

1. Cook the eggs a little shorter than usual for perfect scotch eggs. Remember, they’re going to keep cooking when they get deep fried. Put them in a pot of cold water, then bring to a boil. Set the timer for 5 minutes and remove into ice water!

2. Save time by building the falafel coating while the eggs cool off. While the eggs cool, saute the onion with the garlic and spices until nice and soft, then blitz it together with the remaining ingredients (the breadcrumbs get stirred in at the end).

Vegetarian Falafel Scotch Eggs Recipe

Ava loves adding ingredients to the food processor – she’s helped me in the kitchen ever since she could get her little fingers around food!

3. Lightly oil your hands and flatten the falafel mixture. This will make it easier to wrap around the eggs.

Don’t worry too much about perfection when working with a little one – it’s more important they get to help!

Vegetarian Falafel Scotch Eggs Recipe

4. Make sure you divide the falafel mixture into 8 even portions. We used a scale – but you could eyeball it. This will help the falafel look the same and cook evenly.

Vegetarian Falafel Scotch Eggs Recipe

5. Really press the sesame seeds onto the Scotch Egg. You’d be surprised how many fall off the eggs during the cooking process, even when you do.

Vegetarian Falafel Scotch Eggs Recipe


Watch a storyteller share a version of the Seal Hunter & The Selkies at Education Scotland
Discover a list of other Selkie movies & books at Selkie Stories: From Sea Songs to Tragic Romances
Watch the trailer for the beautiful animation Song of the Sea.
Learn more about the history of Scotch Eggs at Historic Foodie 

Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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These falafel scotch eggs balance the earthy warmth of cumin and coriander with the brightness of fresh cilantro and green onion. 8 Scotch Eggs can be halved for serving, providing 16 pieces to enjoy. Consider serving over a bed of baby spinach or similar for an appetizing salad.Falafel Scotch Eggs - Snacking with Selkies
Servings Prep Time
8Scotch Eggs 30minutes
Cook Time
Servings Prep Time
8Scotch Eggs 30minutes
Cook Time
For the falafel coating
To prepare the eggs
  1. Set 8 eggs in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil. When it reaches a full boil, set timer to 5 minutes. Remove and set in cold water to cool down.
To prepare the falafel coating
  1. Cook the onion, garlic, coriander and cumin in the oil until very soft.
  2. Add to the bowl of a food processor, along with the chickpeas, green onion, fresh cilantro, egg and salt. Pulse into coarse mixture (everything is chopped but it's not a smooth paste). Scrape once or twice. Stir in the breadcrumbs and divide into 8. You can use a scale if you'd like.
  3. Peel the eggs. Press one section of the falafel coating until only about 1 cm thick. Lay the flattened falafel on your hand and lay the peeled, cooked egg on top. Press the falafel around the egg gently but with conviction. Work to seal all around. Roll in sesame seeds, pressing them on well.
For frying
  1. Preheat oil to 375F in a medium pot, making sure it goes 3" up the sides. This can be done while the falafel coating is going around the eggs, but be careful not to forget about it and get the oil too hot!
  2. Fry in Falafel Scotch Eggs in batches for 2 minutes each, until deep golden. Slice in half and place on a platter or take as-is to a picnic. Note: Some of my eggs were runny because my oil got a little cool (take note - don't rush this process!). At 375F, the Falafel Scotch Eggs come out crisp on the exterior and perfectly set on the interior. I recommend cooking a test one, then adjust frying time to your liking.
  1. Enjoy, with a view of the ocean and possibly some Selkies 😉

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

"Ritual001" by NAEINSUN - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Dear Chris Kimball: Welcome to cooking the world!

"Ritual001" by NAEINSUN - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Dear Mr. Kimball,

At first, I was saddened to hear you left America’s Test Kitchen. Like so many, I’d come to rely on your impeccable standards and trustworthy recipes over the decades. They were a sure thing – dare I say, as sure as death and taxes but a lot more palatable. For me, this was more than a need for robot-like precision on my counter and in my oven (such an aim would be fruitless anyway: my oven runs hot – and it’ll be a long time before my pennies pile up enough to upgrade).

My interest in your work started in 1998, when I was 19 years old. My mother is the one who introduced me to you, your recipes and your bow tie – an introduction wrapped up in the messy business of getting to know a mother who I had only seen once since I was 10 years old.

Circumstances were challenging in my early childhood. My older brother and I slept in the living room, while Mom slept in the breadbox bedroom on the other side of the kitchen. The kitchen doubled as the living room, the trestle table used as much for cooking and eating as playing and sewing (at night Mom hauled out her old Singer to stitch odd jobs to make ends meet).

We were raised to make it work: Mom cut mold off crusts and cheese, hid weeping fruit inside delicate crepes, begrudgingly served fat blocks of welfare cheese. On good days, after scrimping and saving, we’d make something completely outrageous, like a 19-layer German Tree Cake. Not because we needed to blow money on almond paste and chocolate (or spend two days cooking and decorating the cake), but because she wanted us to see beyond our circumstances. Food, she knew, could take us wherever we wanted to go. And so, she taught me the difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit.

Unfortunately,  as a single mom, Mom’s quirky creativity was a gift and a curse. She had no partner to help deal with day to day stresses, and her response to challenges at school and in the community ruffled more than a few feathers at the Department of Social Services. After a few years in and out of foster homes, she sent us to live with family friends several states away. My brother took the separation hard. In a pungent cocktail of adolescence and grief, he succumbed at 14. Gone much too soon.

Soon after, my new family moved a continent away; I spent my adolescent in France and Luxembourg, far from everyone I’d ever known or loved (including my three beautiful siblings from my mother’s early marriage). Searching for a connection with my mother, I looked to food, wandering into boulangeries as though I’d find some madeleine of my childhood there. I never did, though I did ignite a passion for international cuisine.

Years later I showed up at my mother’s door – 19 years old, a young woman feeling like a little girl. There was no recipe for how to proceed.  In the face of our awkward “getting to know each other” phase, your magazine and the recipes inside were a relief. They were built on clarity and predictability. A safe haven. Much different than finding out my mother, still seeing me as a sweet ten year old in her mind, had tossed all my push up bras (years later I find myself exceedingly grateful for that one). Much different than trying to figure out how to love each other after the passing of time and space.

As one of many white flags, Mom gave me a worn copy of one of your magazines, strewn with post-it notes, asterisks and underlining. Together we’d discuss the kitchen tools you demystified in the front pages.  We discussed your editorial. We were awestruck with the precision of your team.

Focusing on food was easier than figuring each other out (and, might I add, a way into figuring each other out).

One day between the heave-ho, teeter totter of our relationship, Mom said she had a surprise for me. I was an impressionable undergrad at Wesleyan University – maybe a junior. We’d been arguing a lot and, though I should have outgrown the attitude by then, I had a teenage huff about me, impatient with whatever surprise she had at the other end of the car ride.

We parked on a quiet street in Brookline, Massachusetts. Someone buzzed us into a nondescript doorway. Suddenly we were there. The Test Kitchen for Cook’s Illustrated. And suddenly you were there. You gave me a private tour of the place. Not an assistant. Not a kitchen tester. YOU. Mom hung back (waited in the lobby) and let me have the experience. You probably gave hundreds of similar tours, but I was just some poor kid, raised in foster homes, struggling to figure out my emotions, my mother, my self. Who was I to have a tour in this amazing place you created?

That day left an indelible mark on me.

You led me into the gleaming test kitchen. Sitting on the counter was a simple chocolate pudding pie. You invited me to taste it. You did the same and asked me what I thought. Nervous but hopeful, I said I thought it was “pretty good.” You, however, had another opinion. You rattled off a list of adjectives – cloying, too this, too that – your exact opinions have faded now, but the important part remains: you had expectations, you were discerning, you paid attention to details few others would ever notice. That’s when I realized I had a long way to go. Pretty good wasn’t going to cut it.

We went back to your office and sat for a few minutes. You spoke little. You asked me about my goals, projects, dreams. I probably spoke too much, hoping to impress in that annoying, overeager way kids do when they really haven’t accomplished much but want to be noticed. You were patient. You nodded and encouraged me. I remember asking you then about international food. About historical food. You told me many home cooks weren’t ready for that (or, even if they were, they were so busy they couldn’t take it on). A few minutes later we went our separate ways. I thanked my mother with shining eyes, guard down for once.

In the last 15 years I continued to get to know my mother. I went to the Culinary Institute of America for a year. I started a family. I had ups and downs. As part of my attempt to find a sense of belonging, I spent four years cooking a recipe from every country in the world… which inspired my first book Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. It turned out to be more about why I cooked the world – a chronicle of my childhood and relationship with my mother. Everything goes back to our childhoods, I think.

I even adapted one of your pound cake recipes for the scene when my mom tells my brother and me she’s sending us off to live with another family for good. That’s what she served and, though I resisted including a recipe for that chapter, having a reliable base to start from was a relief and helped me get through it.

Mom was excited about the book. In the year I took to write it, she helped me with dates and details. We bonded. And then I was done and something – fear of public opinion, perhaps – has led her into retreat. Missing her and knotted with emotion, but also trying to respect her space, I find myself feeling very much like I did when I was 19 knocking on her door for the first time in nearly a decade. Like I need something predictable. Something to bind us back together. Something to fortify my spirit. Something like your recipes. But I know not everything works the same way twice. This time I wonder what will, in fact, work.

And then I discover you are on a new venture – that you will be exploring culinary techniques from around the world. What a gift! The timing is perfect: home cooks are bringing the world into their kitchens at unprecedented rates; students can fill their course loads with the politics of food.  If I’ve learned anything from cooking 195 countries I can tell you this: you are in for a real treat. There are a myriad ways to extract excellence – as you know, our global neighbors have much wisdom to share on this front.

These days I feel less certain of the world than I did in those “pretty good” days. But thanks to that brief trip through your kitchens, I have stronger opinions and I’m more willing to voice them. I’m also more apt to celebrate when I discover excellence, for I realize what a rare gift it is. I want to thank you for helping a young woman learn some of these skills.

Enjoy your new venture. Enjoy that most humbling curiosity – a willingness to admit that sometimes there’s a better way to do things than the way we’ve always done things. And, always, a burning hope for the future.

With loving kindness,

Sasha Martin

Photo Credit: “Ritual” by Naeinsun
A book signing for children

Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace

Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace

Creative writing is peace education.

The process of creating a world on paper helps children understand the real world. When a child imagines themselves in strange situations – or better yet, when they imagine what another person would do in their story – they learn to “walk in other people’s shoes.”

A question like “What would your character feel like in the desert, looking at up at a massive pyramid” gets at a deeper question – what is it like to live in another part of the world? Suddenly, a child who has put no thought into what it would be like to be born into a different situation is considering it. Creative writing helps children learn empathy.

When done with care, creative writing is also a lesson in conflict resolution.  Writing exercises should be built around traditional story structure, meaning the children must put their characters in some sort of peril. If a character’s boat tips over, then the child must imagine a way to get their characters to safety. If two characters have a disagreement, they must resolve it (or they need to explain the fallout if they don’t – playing out consequences is an equally important lesson).

I worked with my daughter on her first book last summer and saw this learning process in action, as she took in knowledge about herself and the world at large. Here’s a video of her book reading, followed by an interview with me, her mama. The rest of this essay describes why she chose to write a book and how we approached the process.

How and why my six-year old spent last summer writing a book:

It all started at the book launch for my memoir, Life from Scratch, a few months before her birthday. There was a line of people waiting to have their books signed. Ava scampered up to my signing table, where I had my head bent over a book, and promptly announced that she wanted to autograph the books.

While I wanted to grant my five-year old (and her big brown eyes) her every whim, I couldn’t; as a rule, people want the author to sign the books.


I told her if she wanted to write a book, she could have a book signing.

Her eyes grew wide and she jumped a little, presumably with joy. And so, shortly after her sixth birthday, I set out on a summer quest to help my daughter harness her imagination with the written word.  Because of her young age, the book writing process was a delicate balance – trying to keep it fun while helping her create her BIGGEST project yet. In the end she had more than 20 illustrations and 5 chapters.

I thought it’d be fun to share what we learned in case you want to work with your child on a book.

How to help very young children write a book.

Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace

1. Help them choose a subject and main characters.

Their book should be something they LOVE. Ava loves everything Egypt, so this was a natural fit. Almost immediately, she decided her book would be about her cat, Malky, going on an adventure to Egypt. To help inspire her imagination, we got on all fours and “walked” around outside so we could see the world from a cat’s perspective. That’s when she saw a beetle – and so the adventure included a beetle friend named Rosie.

2. Teach them basic story structure

I like to teach young children about five-part stories in very simple terms.

a) We meet our characters and something happens to start their journey
b) They take the first steps of the journey
c) The exciting part (This should be an “Oh no!” moment)
d) They take the final steps of the journey
e) We end our journey and say goodbye to our characters

Each of the 5 parts should be one sentence. Have the child write each sentence on a separate page. Then they can expand on each idea over several sentences, ultimately turning each part of the story into a short chapter for their book.

The hidden agenda?

The initial 5 sentences serve as an outline; with these sentences in place, the child will always know where they are going with their story – and they will always have a satisfying beginning and end, with something exciting in the middle!

3. Let illustrations break up the writing process

Help your child write a book

Children love to draw. Make sure they get plenty of opportunity to create illustrations for their book. They can be made on colorful paper and taped into the book at a later date. Some days this might be all they feel like doing; that’s okay.

Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace

4. Research is your friend

Whatever topic your child chooses, and no matter how much they love it, they’ll occasionally get stuck. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe they have writer’s block. Help the story flow again by doing research with them, at home or at the library. Ava has several books on ancient Egypt so we looked through them to learn about possible things the cat and beetle could encounter. The books also inspired her drawings. That’s where we learned about goddess Hapy, a real figure in ancient Egypt, and what she looked like.

Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace

It’s also where she got the idea to add basboosa cake to the story, a recipe traditionally enjoyed throughout the Middle East, including Egypt. (As you can see below, I helped put a copy of the recipe in the back of the book … along with info about the real cat behind her story. We served the cake at her signing, along with traditional juices and hibiscus tea).

Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace

Basboosa cake and hibiscus tea

5. Do a little at a time

Children don’t need to try and complete a big project like this in one sitting. Ava’s book took all summer. Sometimes she worked for fifteen minutes, other times she worked for an hour and fifteen minutes. This should be fun, so don’t push your child too hard or they will resent the work and it may not get done.

6. Don’t worry about spelling.
7. Don’t worry about spelling.

Seriously. If they want to learn a word or two, fine (Ava wanted to learn Egypt and pyramid). But otherwise, trust me. The sweet spelling will be 100% cute when you look back on it, years from now. And any fussing over this sort of detail totally disrupts the creative process. Remember, the simple act of forming letters is still a challenge to many primary students… let’s save proper spelling for later.

8. Celebrate!

Celebrate your child’s success with a book signing party. We were fortunate to have Mr. Paul, a local story teller at Hardesty Regional Library, read Ava’s story. She was BEAMING – not only to celebrate with her friends but to have her words come alive with Mr. Paul’s vivacious reading. You know how kids think: Of course mom will love it, but seeing a story teller bring it to life?


A childs book signing (Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace)

A childs book signing (Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace)

Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace

A childs book signing (Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace)

9. Make copies of the book, for signing

You can make photocopies of your child’s masterpiece, or you could go one step further and have bound books made. We opted for the latter, making real keepsakes. To do this, I took photos of each spread of Ava’s book and placed them in a free book layout on Blurb* Using the softcover magazine option, each printed book cost about $5. We got extra made for Christmas presents.

*Note: This link gives me a small commission if you design and order a book from Blurb; new customers can use PHOTOMAY20 for 20% off their order this month.

A childs book signing (Book writing for children: Laying foundations for peace)

A childs book signing

10. Enjoy the finished result

Sit back and enjoy the pride and accomplishment your young child feels after writing their own book. Good luck and have fun with the process!

P.S. A few have asked and, yes, you can order a copy of The Adventures of Malky and Rosie by sweet Miss Ava Martin. The slight mark up will go towards Ava’s college fund.

P.P.S. I am developing a creative writing club for young children living in Tulsa, OK. Please contact me if you’d like to learn as plans are finalized.

Zambian Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe

Zambian Pumpkin n’ Peanut Oats: To keep Mermaids away

Zambian Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe

Forget what you know about The Little Mermaid.

Zambia’s infamous mermaid, Chitapo, is no dewy-eyed, red-haired princess. To set eyes on this fierce water spirit, paddle along the Zambian/Congolese waterways – along Lake Namulolobwe, down Victoria Falls, into any number of smaller ponds. You might even find her cresting the salty Atlantic.

How will you know it’s her?

See that shadow caught up in a whirlwind? An elusive figure sunning on a rock, with the body of a woman and the tail of a fish or serpent?

That’s Chitapo.

Mami Wata

Beware: Beautiful Chitapo is not content to observe humans from afar. Pay attention if things seem amiss in your village. Did a woven mat or a few beloved baskets vanish, then reappear a few days later? Is a neighbor’s missing collection of pots and pans now floating on the murky lake? Chitapo pushes this shiny bait in the shallows, luring unsuspecting victims to their untimely death.

Tempted to wade into the water to retrieve these prizes?
Think you can outwit, or out-muscle this water spirit?

Good luck.

"African Traditions Zambia" by Ninaras - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Zambian men in traditional clothing” by Ninaras

Even those with unflinching biceps and steam-engine thighs are unable to resist Chitapo’s iron grip.  Legend states she only has to snatch someone’s shadow to pull them in, rendering even the densest muscle as worthless as a bundle of kittens in a tuna factory.

Chitapo is particularly keen on capturing criminals – robbers, rapists and racketeers. Thanks to her quick judgement these rough types sink to new lows. Some become permanent inmates of Sandy Bottom Prison, no possibility for parole; others are fed to Muntu Mamba – a creature equal parts man and crocodile.

It would be easy to write off Chitapo as some cruel monster but – as with all good legends – this water creature redeems herself in surprising ways. That drowning child? She’ll save them. Women? Some believe they get a blank pass. Same for the loyal husband on his way home to his wife.

Come to think of it, I rather like this Chitapo creature.

Warding off Chitapo: keep your pots busy

"Lady of Zambia Makes Nshima" by Gerhard302 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Zambian woman makes Nshima” by Gerhard302

The best way to keep Chitapo from stealing your pots and pans (or YOU!) is to put them to good use. Today we’re going to do this by – big surprise – cooking.

This doesn’t sound like a big deal, until you realize that Americans eat out an average of 4.5 times per week (Zagat). That means most nights your pots and pans are in reach of Chitapo. 

I’m not gonna say you’re doomed to a watery grave unless you make this meal, but… I’m not going to say you’re not.

In praise of Zambian breakfast

Zambian Breakfast: Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe

As I researched a distinctive Zambian use for my pots and pans, I came across a recipe called Chipwatanga in the lovely Recipe book on Zambian Traditional Foods. This hot pumpkin porridge features ground peanuts and a touch of sugar, and is often served for breakfast. My desire to make the dish went from steady curiosity (I love pumpkin and peanuts, after all) to burning desire.

The turning point?

When I read about breakfast buffets in Zambia’s big city hotels adding a sweet scoop of chipwatanga to a piping hot bowl of oatmeal.

Sounded like the perfect treat for my daughter, who is now sporting her first pair of glasses and looking like 6 going on 16.

Zambian Breakfast: Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe

This Zambian Pumpkin n’ Peanut Oats is a mother’s (and a nutritionist’s) dream – high in beta carotene, protein, and fiber. A pillow of ever-so-slightly sweet pumpkin porridge punctuates a bed of steel cut oats with quiet force, each bite a fortifying indulgence. Using chunks of pumpkin gives texture (a great choice in autumn), while canned pumpkin lends each spoonful ethereal silkiness all year round. Unless you pulverize your peanuts to a fine powder (which you are more than welcome to do), the crunch of peanut morsels make eating this breakfast a little bit like an Easter egg hunt.

Just. Need. One. More. Peanut.

Zambian Breakfast: Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe

Good to the last morsel, so to speak.

While Ava was captivated by Chitapo’s story, I wasn’t sure what she would think of the crunchy bits. Turns out she loved them, adding even more peanuts, stirring her porridge vigorously and gobbling up an entire bowl.

Zambian Breakfast: Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe

Zambian Breakfast: Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe


From what we can tell, this Zambian breakfast succeeds mighty well at deterring Chitapo.
No pots missing from the pantry. Not yesterday. Not today.

So where’s your next meal taking you?

Zambian Breakfast: Pumpkin and Peanut Oatmeal Recipe

Further Reading:

Waterspirits and Mermaids: The Copperbelt Case” by Brian Siegel
Sacred Waters” a book on African water creatures
Zambian Water Spirits
Books by Henry John Drewal
Mermaids around the world
Recipe book on Zambian Traditional Foods

Note: Chitapo (also Kitapo) is one of many local water spirits in Zambia and the Congo. Old stories about Chitapo are quite disturbing: parents delivered ill-omened babies to her (those children whose upper incisors broke through before the lowers).  In the 20th century, Chitapo became more of a mermaid figure thanks to the widespread Mami Wata legends. These stories spread to central and southern Africa from west Africa. While the legends are distinct, Brian Siegel (see Further Reading) thinks this is where Chitapo got her mermaid features, including the fish or serpent tale and human upper body.

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This Zambian Pumpkin n' Peanut Oats is a mother's (and a nutritionist's) dream - high in beta carotene, protein, and fiber. A pillow of ever-so-slightly sweet pumpkin porridge punctuates a bed of steel cut oats with quiet force, each bite a fortifying indulgence. Using chunks of pumpkin gives texture (a great choice in autumn), while canned pumpkin lends each spoonful ethereal silkiness all year round. PLUS it keeps mermaids away.Zambian Breakfast: Pumpkin n' Peanut Oats
Servings Prep Time
4-6people 5minutes
Cook Time
Servings Prep Time
4-6people 5minutes
Cook Time
For the Chipwatanga
Serve on hot breakfast cereal
  • oatmeal(preferably steel cut oats)
  1. Add all ingredients to a pot and cook over medium heat. It will sputter because it is a rather dry mixture. You can add more milk if you'd like, but I like having some body to the mixture. Stir regularly to keep the bottom from scorching.
  2. Serve over freshly prepared steel cut oatmeal. Garnish with more peanuts, if desired.

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese culinary masters

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

My favorite time to obsess about my parenting choices is when I’m washing dishes, a mixture of warm soapy water and tomato sauce soaking my belly. Am I raising my six-year old right? Should she be doing more than yoga and dance? Or is she already too busy? Does she have time to let her mind wander? Should she be helping me with the dishes? Or would she be better off making mud pies?

Then I began reading Rice, Noodle, Fish, by Matt Goulding. The subtitle to this book is not Parenting for Chefs… Nor did Anthony Bourdain Books / HarperCollins, the publisher, intend this book to have an interdisciplinary application.

But the best books do.

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

This is not some gentle text.

Pursuant to the actual subtitle, Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture, this is not some gentle text, allowing the reader to sit comfortably in whatever generalist assumptions we might have about Japanese cooking. This is a 1,000-x magnification, showing crumb-level texture of the food scene in several major Japanese cities. From Tokyo to Noto, we sweep quickly past what we already know – ramen, udon and tempura – to get to know the people and their craft. The imagery is vivid and the language, at times, is colorful. There are lessons in the elaborate art of knife making, and details about why Japanese chefs believe “water is the most important ingredient in Japanese cooking.”

(Don’t be too quick to dismiss this concept – local water has it’s own flavor and is one reason why bagels, pizza, sour dough, and sushi rice tastes different from city to city. It’s also the reason why iced tea made with city water tastes no better than a slightly sweet mud puddle)

The main idea?


Devotion is the core of Japanese cooking.

In Rice, Noodle, Fish, food is the mechanism to get at the process of Japanese cooking and, with this, the book reveals a distinct way of being oriented around the idea of DEVOTION.  Even the author’s dedication points to this:

To the shokunin of Japan, pursuers of perfection, for showing us the true meaning of devotion.

What is a Shokunin?

The concept of shokunin, an artisan deeply and singularly dedicated to his or her craft, is at the core of Japanese culture.  […]

Hiding in every corner of this city and country: the eighty-year-old tempura man who has spent the past six decades discovering the subtle differences yielded by temperature and motion. The twelfth generation unagi sage who uses metal skewers like an acupuncturist uses needles, teasing the muscles of wild eel into new territories. The young man who has grown old at his father’s side, measuring his age in kitchen lessons. Any moment now, it will be his turn to be the master, and when he does, he’ll know exactly what to do. […]

Tokyo is the city of ten thousand shokunin. If you come to Japan to eat, you come for them.

– Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels through Japans Food Culture by Matt Goulding.

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

Accidental Lessons in Parenting (from Japanese culinary masters)

Between mouthwatering reading sessions and fighting the urge to hop on the next flight to Japan, I found myself thinking about the concept of shokunin – DEVOTION – in relationship to how I parent my daughter. Here are a few rules from Japanese culinary masters that also apply to parenting:

1. Parenting with Kimochi, or FEELING

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

The best sushi comes down to feeling. With only two primary ingredients, rice and fish, rice is the harder of the two to master and, therefore, the true star. According to master sushi maker Sawada, sushi rice should be skin temperature, served 60 minutes after cooking, and made with the best rice from the exact right location (a site that recently changed because of global warming). He says there is no fire – it is made with the hands, and enjoyed with ours, sushi is all about feeling.

As with sushi making, there are two primary ingredients in parenting: You need the parent and you need the child. Like turning rice into sushi rice, a lot of parenting decisions are based on FEEL. A child throwing a fit will warrant a different reaction based on the why, the where, and the how. Reacting appropriately gets easier the longer we parent. Having a standard – as Sawada does – helps give parents a baseline for their reactions.

2. Lessons are not learned in isolation

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

Just like the shokunin, it is not enough to tell our children what’s what. We need to stand side by side with our youth, demonstrating by example, guided by a set of principles based on quality and consistency.

Many of us want to tell our children to do something and have them march off and do it. Clean your room! Put away your back pack! Brush your teeth! But the shokunin became masters through repetition at the side of a mentor, or master.  It is sometimes more effective to have a young child brush their teeth at the parent’s side while the parent brushes their own teeth than griping at them from another room. Equally, a young child benefits when we clean their room together – so that, by the time they are old enough to do it themselves, they have positive associations with the experience.

In every instance, children benefit when we model the behavior we want them to cultivate. Many times they absorb the lesson without realizing one has been taught – as when we model loving language towards friends and strangers; as when we let them see us struggle with tough decisions. Side by side, we give our children a framework for how to cope with the many circumstances life throws their way.

Side by side, they get the feel.

3. Learning doesn’t stop at 18

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

Let’s return to the image of the fledgling Japanese chef: “The young man who has grown old at his father’s side, measuring his age in kitchen lessons. Any moment now, it will be his turn to be the master, and when he does, he’ll know exactly what to do.”

Do you see how the chef is already old, and yet he is still not a master? The same is true in the photo above, which mentions that decades of study does not guarantee a master.

I’ve noticed a quickening among the youth around me. I see that they are so eager to get in the workforce and to be valued, both by the dollar and their title. But with this rush comes impatience – as though there is no time for mastery, only success. The parent’s job is to continue teaching, even after their child turns 18. And some of those lessons, I assure, will have been taught many times before. Repetition gets the child to mastery.

4. Don’t try and give your child every opportunity

Accidental lessons in parenting from Japanese Culinary Masters

One of the most important aspects of being a shokunin is the ability to specialize in one thing. The shokunin is an artisan “deeply and singularly dedicated to his or her craft.” You make ramen. Or you make sushi. You forge knives. Or you work buckwheat into soba noodles. The master knows they can never be best at everything so he or she CHOOSES.

So many of our children are driven around from activity to activity, like so many worker bees, moving too quickly to settle into any one activity. But even bees are focused on one thing: making honey. In our fear that our children don’t have every opportunity they become generalists. This is not, in and of itself, a terrible thing. Not everyone in Japan is a master, nor should every person be a master.

But what happens when an entire culture – a.k.a. ALL THE PEOPLE – rely too much on speed and productivity (MORE, MORE, MORE!) and not enough on taking time to develop a deep understanding of their craft?

Automation. Disintegration. That’s what.

I say it’s time to return to artisan ways. To learning something really well, from someone who knows it really well.

And, hey! What if we let our children’s natural abilities guide what activities they choose? Any given season of a young child’s life, let them focus on one, maybe two activities. Fall could be ballet. Spring could be softball and theater. When we limit our children’s options, we give them time to learn at a deeper level.

We also make time for mud pies and impromptu puddle stomping.

5. That means you, too

Let’s return to our sushi master from #1. His desire to offer the best possible sushi leads him to serve only 12 people each day, at a bar that seats six. Get this: he used to seat 8 people, but felt that was too much. He gets up at 6 am and goes home at midnight. All to make sushi.

Sound crazy?

Or does that sort of devotion seem somehow magical?

Here’s something to consider:

Where are you, the parent, spending your hours?
Who are you serving with your time?

Is your job draining your energy? Are you involved with too many groups? Or do you need to get out more, so that you can be refreshed when it comes to the family? Emotionally, you might be trying to “serve 8” and finding that something has to give. Parents are as likely to overexert themselves as their children… so do take the time to remove a couple extraneous “seats” in your life if you find you are overdoing it.

What it all means

Look, I know a book on Japanese food is probably not where you want to get your parenting advice. And I know Matt Goulding had no intention for Rice, Noodle, Fish to be used in this way. Writing this post, I thought, more than once, that I might be crazy.  But I honestly think the premise applies.

Here’s the bottom line:

We can all use a little more devotion in our lives – not to become more devoted to our children, because goodness knows we wouldn’t be shuttling them from activity to activity if we weren’t – but to actually model devotion as a choice to DO LESS with MORE PASSION.

I, for one, am willing to try.

Thanks, Matt.

And thanks to the shokunin for showing the way.

Rice, Noodle, Fish by Matt Goulding

Photos from Rice, Noodle, Fish.

Maori Fish Salad | New Zealand

Māori Fish Salad & the legend of New Zealand | Ika Mata

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

One of the largest fish ever caught is the stuff of Māori legend. Today, this fish is known as New Zealand’s north island.

The fisherman able to haul in such a prize?  Māui, the mythological hero.

As the story goes, Māui paddled his canoe far out into the ocean in search of a big catch. He used his ancestor’s jawbone as a fish hook, coating it with blood from his nose.

Fishing hook, bone, Maori culture, 1800-1900. In the exhibition "Maori, their treasures have got a soul", in the Musée des Arts Premiers in Paris, from the end of 2011 to the begining of 2012.

Fishing hook, bone, Maori culture, c.1800-1900.

Down, down, down went the hook, into the depths of the deep blue waters.  After some time, the slack line tightened. It took all Māui’s strength to reel in the heavy fish. Stumbling under the effort,  Māui had to brace himself on the edge of his canoe as he pulled the line up, up, up.

When the fish finally rose out of the water, Māui gasped. It was the largest sea creature he’d ever seen, big enough to blot out the horizon, with shiny green scales.

"New Zealand - Maori rowing - 8452" by © Jorge Royan / Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Maori rowing ceremony in New Zealand” by Jorge Royan

Māui decided to leave this precious prize with his brothers while he set out in search of a priest to bless the catch. No sooner was he out of sight than his brothers began to grab at the fish, each scrambling to get the best parts. Large though it was, the creature was no match for Māui’s brothers. Writhing in agony, the great fish succumbed, tearing at the flesh.

Legend says that the great fish is New Zealand’s north island and that the brothers’ greed created the island’s mountains, valleys, and cliffs (earning the north island the name “Te Ika-a-Māui“, a.k.a. The Fish of Māui). Māui’s canoe became the south island (earning it the name “Te Waka-a-Māui” – the canoe of Māui).

"Satellite image of New Zealand in December 2002" by Unknown - Taken from NASA's Visible Earth: [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

And the spot on the canoe where the young man braced himself?

That’s Banks Peninsula.

 This satellite image shows Banks Peninsula, including Lyttelton Harbour and Akaroa Harbour, and the city of Christchurch, in Canterbury, New Zealand.

My retelling is based on the popular Māori Mythology of Māui.

Our efforts don’t always reap what we might expect.

Can we back up for a minute? Māui went fishing and ended up creating an island. An island!

Few of us dare to think we can effect much change in this world. We eke out our daily existence, eyes firmly focused on the next task: go to work, go to the grocery store, make dinner, clean up, repeat.

But think about Māui: all he did was go fishing. Essentially, he went to the original “grocery store.”  This is quite a normal – dare I say mundane – activity, which makes it all the more important that he reeled in an entire island – a place where people can live and eat and love.

By Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand - On the Quartz Hill track, Wellington, New Zealand, 7 September 2006, CC BY 2.0,

Quartz Hill, North Island, New Zealand, by Phillip Capper.

Tremendous surprise can wait on the other end of the mundane.

The key to this “big fish” story is trapped in the details: Māui used his ancestor’s jawbone and his own blood to catch a fish as big as an island – in other words, he used the strength of his ancestors, while putting himself into the effort with unflinching passion. This is what it takes, my friends.

That’s heavy duty.

A lesson for creatives

"MURCHISON (5374787569)" by Paul Nelhams from Shannon, Ireland - MURCHISONUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Murchison, New Zealand” by Paul Nelhams

Māui’s story reminds me of what Red Smith said when asked about writing: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” *

While it might seem glorious to write a book, the daily act is rather mundane. It goes like this: show up, stare off into space, and – if you’re lucky – tap, tap, tap at the keyboard until coherent sentences result. Turning this mundane activity into something glorious relies on putting ourselves fully into our work. We have to show up if expect some sort of mythical “big fish” to show up.

The start of something

Maori Fish Salad Recipe

Sometime last summer my daughter asked me to write a book “just for her.” Around that time the ink on my memoir was still wet; as much as I wanted to accommodate my daughter’s wish, I was tired of writing. As a distraction, I started to sketch again (something I hadn’t done much since college). On the first page of my giant, brand new, beautiful sketch book I made… a terrible sketch of a teacup. I moved on but every time I looked at that first page of my sketchbook I’d cringe a little.

One day I was rather bored and decided to improve on the drawing. I added some weird details which, in turn, sparked an idea for a story. After spending more than a year completely uninspired to write another book, this unexpected inspiration was huge.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the writer’s block she experienced after Eat, Pray, Love, stating that she found her way out by “following her curiosity.” Instead of a memoir, she ended up with the massive novel Signature of All Things. In other words, out of the mundane activity of following our curiosity, we can, sometimes, eventually, possibly, pull out a BIG FISH.

Now that I find myself once again curious, once again willing to “show up” and write, I find myself struggling with joy as I reel in my unwieldy story. Every day I sit and stare at the screen. On good days I come up with an exciting plot twist. My daughter has taken to sketching the characters for me, so I can see what they should wear.

Maori Fish Salad Recipe

It’s still early in the game, but the book seems to want to be a fantasy involving good versus evil, otherworldy adventure, with – of course – a helping of delicious food writing.

I don’t exactly know where this story is taking me. I don’t know if it’s just a fun idea or if it will result in a BIG FISH. All I know is, right now, I’m throwing everything into the process and enjoying the challenge.

For your BIG FISH: a meal worthy of Māui

Maori Fish Salad | New Zealand

We all have our challenges. I’m sure there’s something you have been trying to “reel in.” As you work on your BIG FISH, consider trying Ika Mata. Ika Mata is a Māori dish of fresh fish “cooked” with lemon juice and marinated in seasoned coconut milk.

There’s a garden’s-worth of fresh vegetables in the dish, including spicy radish, chopped tomato, sweet slivers of carrot, and bright green onion bits.

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

You can prep them while you wait for the tuna to “cook” in the lemon juice.

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

The dish is most popular on Cook Island (a territory of New Zealand). This is something like ceviche, but with a tropical spin. The tuna’s high protein and rich coconut milk will nourish you while you work (or play).

See how pretty?

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

A little coconut milk binds all the ingredients together.

It’s great on a salad…

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

Or as an appetizer…

Maori Fish Salad and the legend of New Zealand

(Pro Tip: if you don’t have any crostini, a bagel will do the trick in a pinch!)

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

Also: My daughter is a decided vegetarian – she enjoyed her dish by subbing tofu for the tuna. (Hey if tofu ceviche good enough for Ellen Degeneres, it’s good enough for us).

Maori Fish Salad Recipe & the legend of New Zealand's North Island

The cat seems to approve.

Maori Fish Salad and the legend of New Zealand


More Maori Recipes
Maori Cooking Show, including a demonstration of Ika Mata
Māori mythology (of Māui)

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The dish is most popular on Cook Island (a territory of New Zealand). This is something like ceviche, but with a tropical spin. The tuna's high protein and rich coconut milk will nourish you while you work (or play). While I've used tuna here, you can also use grouper or snapper. You can easily make 75 small appetizers on crostini or serve 6 people a good, lunch-sized portion.Ika Mata Fish Salad and the legend of New Zealand
Servings Prep Time
6people 20minutes
Passive Time
Servings Prep Time
6people 20minutes
Passive Time
  1. In a medium nonreactive bowl (glass, ceramic, or melamine): stir together the diced tuna and lemon juice. Set in the fridge for a few hours, stirring once or twice.
  2. When the tuna is "cooked" on the outside and pink on the inside, drain off the lemon juice and add the remaining chopped vegetables and coconut milk. Season well with salt.
Serving Options:
  1. For a meal: Arrange a large scoop onto a bed of lettuce and garnish with parsley. Serve with crackers or crusty bread.
  2. For an appetizer: Heap a small spoonful onto crostini or small appetizer spoons. Garnish with parsley.

Recipe Copyright Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure. For personal or educational use only.