SASHA: Wife. Mother. Lover of Peace

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.

Life from Scratch by Sasha MartinI 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?

recipe.salt.cod.fettucine.img_7170I 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…

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.

I collect…

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.

Sasha with flower crown

24 Comments

  1. Lynn Jarrett says

    I am so disappointed that I did not get to meet you yesterday at Full Circle bookstore. I look forward to the signing being rescheduled soon. I have shared your book and website with my coworkers at the library where I work.

  2. Linda Robb says

    Just finished your book. I was particularly touched by the passages involving your brother’s suicide. As a family we experienced the suicide of a young man, so I found the your writing a poignant retelling of a family’s coping.

    Thank you for the delicious variety of recipes and the way you interspersed your personal stories.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Linda, thank you for letting my and my brother’s life into your heart. Sending a kind word for the loss you experienced.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thank you, Jeanna! Best wishes on the writing of your memoir. Don’t be afraid to “go there.”

  3. Denise says

    Our family has now done 7 countries, and Armenia is up for Saturday. (We skipped Angola because the banana leaves in our own yard aren’t big enough to use yet and I really want to use the ones from our yard). I have LOVED learning to use new spices and foods, shopping in grocery stores I have never been to, having conversations with strangers who hear me searching for the Bulgur wheat…it’s changed how I think of dinner time and meal planning. Some of the dishes have already been served multiple times in our house (that chickpea soup!) and some will never be served again (turns out I don’t really like leeks), but I am so thankful for the work you put into this. Our whole family (Mom, Dad and two boys 3 and 1) and a couple of friends are looking forward to the rest!

    • Sasha Martin says

      This is fantastic, Denise!! How cool that you’ll be able to use your OWN banana leaves 🙂 Please extend a warm hello to your entire family. Happy cooking.

  4. Cindy Cole says

    I’m about 2/3 through your book. Wow. What a story you have. I’ve shed a few a tears for sure for you and Michael. I’m so excited about finding your book and your website. Blessings to you and your sweet family.

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  6. Dino Romano says

    Just read “Life From Scratch.” Extraordinary. B.T.W. your most accurate insight into Sicilian cooking — NEVER MIX GARLIC AND ONION — is brilliant in its simplicity. Even though you admit to breaking the rule you offer recipes that ring authentic. Your personal revelations were truly moving. Best of luck.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Dino – Thank you for reading and your lovely compliment – I served the meat sauce to a friend once and they were shocked I didn’t include garlic. I explained this philosophy and it was their turn to be shocked 🙂

  7. Linda Bladholm says

    Hi Sasha, Congratulations on your book! I hope you remember me from a few years back, I sent you copies of my Demystified books. I just saw the Food & Wine article and hope to get your book soon. I was hit by a speeding car walking across the street a year ago and am still recovering from multiple broken bones but I am thankful to still be alive as my doctor has said it is a miracle I was not killed. Please note my e-mail has changed to [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you. This has been a hard year…

    Glad things are going good for you…

    Linda

    • Sasha Martin says

      Oh my goodness – such a terrible accident. I’m glad you made it through. Sending love.

  8. Janice Nierstedt-Keegan says

    I just finished your book. I was completely enveloped in it and consequently nearly missed my bus stop, a metro, and a job assignment! I truly feel honored to have gotten to know you through your book. I love reading memoirs to learn about how others live and grieve and get through hard things in life. I applaud you for forgiving and befriending your mother despite her painful choices. My life has also been affected by suicide, so I am so sorry for that tremendous loss as well. I am inspired by how you gathered your strength and found a life that is good for you! I was so happy that you found love and became a mother!I am not a chef or a baker (just an eater of international food!), but my sister bakes for therapy and it also was a part of how she grieved the loss of her wonderful son, my nephew, who was 16 years old when he died. I am hoping she will also read your book. I love the lyrical, descriptive way you write.
    I am truly a fan!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Janice, thank you for writing. Please accept my condolences both for you and for your sister… she will love the bread recipe. Peace to you both.

  9. Sheryl says

    Hi Sasha – I just finished reading your book in one day. What a fun read! I picked it up because I’ve lived in Boston and Tulsa too. Now, how often do you find ANYONE who has made that kind of location boomerang?!?! Best wishes for all the success “in the world” with your new book.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Sheryl, that’s wild! Membership in the Boston-Tulsa club is very small 😀

  10. Lucy says

    Your book was gifted to someone at our December book club meeting during the gift exchange. It was such a hit (by the gift giver and receiver) it’s now the April discussion while we enjoy a pot luck – each of us will be bringing a dish from your book. Let us know if/when you’re in the NYC area.

  11. Doug Symington says

    Both my wife and I have now read your book it was engrossing and hard to put down. Truly one of the best stories I have read in ages. So glad I caught Chris Kimball’s note about you and your letter to him

  12. Shelley says

    Hi…I stubbled upon this site and I was wondering if you are THE Sasha Martin as in Dean? If so, I believe we both attended Gold Arrow as kids…however, I was a bit older. So, food from all over…very cool! Recipes abound! Cheers!

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