I’m a creative spirit who loves cooking, food photography and writing. Family is everything to me – and making our home a place of love and light is my goal and privilege.
Today, I’m a National Geographic author and obsessive home cook. But my life took many twists and turns before I began cooking the world.
As a child, Mom taught me to be creative in the kitchen despite challenging circumstances and a shoestring budget. She knew that there’s a difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit – she scrimped and saved so that we could create the feasts of our imaginations, like a 19-layer German Tree Cake. But challenges soon piled up and Mom sent me to live with family friends in hopes of offering me a better life. What followed was a heartbreaking cocktail of estrangement and loss. Still, my new family instilled in me a love for travel, taking me to 12 countries before the age of 19, including class trips to Tunisia, Greece, and Norway.
I returned to the United States a young woman, still hungry (both in spirit and body). I wrote 100 pages about my love of French bread as an honors thesis for Wesleyan University (CT). A few years later I attended the Culinary Institute of America as a M.F.K. Fisher Scholar. But halfway through the program I took an internship in Tulsa, Oklahoma and decided to stick around, trading a diploma for my first-ever mortgage. It was a risky move that turned out for the best: Tulsa is where I met my husband, Keith and my stepson. Keith and I were married in 2008 and our daughter Ava was born a year later.
I started Global Table Adventure when Ava began eating solid foods at 7 months old. I was missing the adventure of exploring new countries, Keith was turning out to be a real Mr. Picky, and I wanted to raise my daughter with an appreciation of her global neighbors. I figured the game of eating the world would be good for all of us.
While the experience certainly added adventure to our meals, cooking the world turned out to be about much more: The walking meditation of cooking one country week after week for nearly four years not only helped me find my footing as a new mother and wife, it gave me the sense of belonging I’d craved since early childhood. This culinary journey helped me make peace with my past and accept the simple truth that true happiness comes from within.
I share all these stories (as well as a behind the scene look at what it was like to cook the world) in my book: Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food Family and Forgiveness (National Geographic, 2015). Curious to learn more? Watch the trailer.
Sasha: How has cooking the world changed your life?
I started one simple habit in the winter of 2010: cooking something from a new country every week. Within the first year I saw a dramatic change in our family – not only were our meals more interesting (and yummy!), but conversation was more animated and we’d regained our sense of adventure. Family and friends started asking about the glittering world map we had hung by our dining table (we use gemstones to mark each country – they’re hard to miss).
In the early days of the blog I had no idea how to take a good picture and my writing was all over the place (that’s part of the process). But more than anything, I was dismayed by how hard it was to find reliable recipes for all the countries. Determined to celebrate food from every country, no matter how remote, I spent lots of time at the library, on Peace Corps web sites, and emailing locals. Today, I’m thrilled to bring you more than 650 recipes from 195 countries – all adapted and available on this web site for free.
Cooking these recipes gave me a sense of belonging and connection, both within my family and the world. As for our friends? They love joining in the adventure. One dinner is often enough to inspire them to host their own global potlucks – even our vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free friends take part (I’ve included hundreds of recipes to accommodate special diets).
As a busy mom, I’m not interested in trying cobra hearts or petrified shark flesh. Such extreme meals turn all but the most adventurous eaters into rubberneckers, rather than participants. Plus, I don’t want to cook up something my family is going to reject. I’ve tried that route and it’s a recipe for frustration. But I do want us to branch out and explore new foods.
Today, I prepare fun, interesting recipes that utilize easy-to-find ingredients (we “cook global, shop local” whenever possible). These recipes are bridges to other cultures – dishes my family will actually enjoy and that make them hungry for more. Here’s the important point: if my daughter loves a country’s food, she will naturally think of the people with goodwill.
What a gift.
There are several global favorites we make time and time again. Even when the week is busy, these simple additions make every day feel like a vacation.
My 3 favorite global recipes for a busy weeknight are…
- Zimbabwe’s roasted acorn squash stuffed with corn and cheddar cheese
- Argentinian Roasted Squash salad with arugula and goat cheese
- Mongolian Carrot Salad
I make these favorites for my family all year-round, at the kitchen counter, in the oven or on the grill. They’re beautiful, healthy, and the whole family loves them.
Old books and fresh spices.
I’m addicted to
Yard sales. I love the thrill of a good find. Ten years ago I bought an ice cream maker with a built-in freezer for $2 (a $348 savings). I still smile when I think of it.
My guilty pleasure is…
Dark chocolate covered almonds, kettle chips dipped in plain yogurt, and raspberry lime Rickeys. Oh, and a glass of Port is always welcome.
I am happiest when…
I’m outside on a picnic blanket. I could be drawing. I could be writing. I could be eating. It doesn’t matter where in the world I am: Feeling the breeze on my face, and enjoying the company of my family is enough. There’s a lovely poem by Anna Akhmatova that captures the sentiment:
“Summer’s ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I’ve foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.”
And, yes, I wear every wildflower crown my daughter makes me. I always will.