In order for you to understand why I’m about to give this book the rating I am giving it, I need to divulge a bit of my own background and a significant experience that happened to me no less than one year ago. Forgive me if any of this strikes you as boring! I was born in Canada and in my 22 years of life I have lived in Toronto, Mumbai (India),New Jersey, back to Mumbai, Indiana, Chicago, and have come full circle back to Toronto. My religion is Zorastrian, my beliefs are personal, my race is Parsi, my roots are Indian, and my nationality is Canadian. Throw in the fact that I somehow have a Spanish last name (no idea how), and you’ve got quite the combo. Granted I know people who have way more than that to their backgrounds, but it makes me who I am and influences how I feel about this book.
About two months before graduating from Indiana University, I made the impulsive decision to be brave and follow my heart—decline law school (and all the $$ to come with that career) and enroll in a publishing program. My parents knew that the chances of me going back to live in India were…well…zero. I’m an only child and we’re a close family, so plans had been in motion for my entire college career for my parents to move to the West. Due to various circumstances, it fell that they would settle in Canada. Given this opportunity, I decided to pursue a publishing degree in Canada, making up for the time I missed with my parents for four years. So it was settled. The paperwork was done, I had been accepted into a school, and plans were made for all of us to move to Toronto in mid-May, 2011. I graduated in the first week of May and my parents flew out to celebrate with me and brought the love of my life, my little dog Minx with them! They had to return almost immediately afterwards to finish packing the house, etc. but decided to leave Minx with me since it was only going to be a couple of weeks.
A couple of weeks turned into 8 months. 8 months may not seem like a long time, but it is when your parents officially have no home and have to move into a cramped two bedroom apartment with your grandparents; you and your dog are imposing on your boyfriend’s family for an uncertain number of weeks which turn into months; and then you finally have to move all alone to a country where you know absolutely no one. Dear readers, living out of a suitcase and hearing your mother cry with stress and guilt over the phone daily, and feeling a constant sense of “what now” is not fun. I am utterly and irreversibly grateful for what my boyfriend’s family did for me and Minx. They took me into their home no questions asked, supported me, and treated me like a daughter. As long as I live, I won’t forget it.
Still, the days were long. I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t know if tomorrow would be the day my parents would fly to Canada and have me to join them. My student visa expired and I was suddenly in America as a tourist. My friends were scattered across the country doing internships and going on vacations, my boyfriend & his family all had full-time commitments. The weekends were filled with amazing activities and fun, but on weekdays I found myself alone in the house with two dogs from 7am to 5 or 6 pm mostly everyday. That sort of thing can make you go stir-crazy…especially when you’re like me and need to be constantly productive at all hours of the day. Then cooking stepped in and saved my life.
Everyday, the primary source of joy I got was in mixing the ingredients together just right and creating masterpieces. I never cooked the same thing twice. I felt satisfied and fulfilled when the family tucked into the food and wouldn’t stop till it was all gone. Leftovers were a concept we didn’t really explore that summer. To hold on to that happy, glowing feeling of pride, I blogged about what I cooked, how I cooked it, and how it was received by my ‘guinea pigs’. I didn’t have a massive following, and still don’t, but my mother and father commented regularly, sending me love and support from across the oceans. If a meal failed disastrously (the time I made spicy Thai curry and it turned out to be sweeter than buttermilk), my heart would break but I would blog about the funnier aspects of making it. Somehow, everything in life was okay as long as I got the onions to brown just so and the risotto to thicken just right. By trying new and bolder recipes every day, I wasn’t just calming myself—I was making myself stronger. I was holding myself together with breadcrumbs and meatballs and gooey cheese. When Luisa Weiss shared this almost identical aspect of her life in My Berlin Kitchen, I had to hold back tears because I knew exactly where she was coming from. Luisa and I both found comfort, solace, and a sense of bravery in the kitchen. I cannot tell you how important those recipes were to my life, but somewhere out there Luisa Weiss knows just what I mean. Can I indulge in saying I found a kindred spirit? Someone who understands? I’m going to.
There’s a significant part in the book where Luisa feels torn. Torn between two worlds,New York and Berlin, and torn between wondering whether the man she’s pledged to spend the rest of her life with is really the man for her. The feelings I had from the age of 13 to 17 were ones of constant confusion and ache—I hungered to be back in America. I didn’t care where (although a piece of my heart will always be shaped like New York). I just wanted to be ‘home’. In a place where people understood me and where I understood and loved the culture. I suffered a tremendous deal of bullying in high school, from teachers and students alike, because I was different and I chose to remain so rather than to conform to certain troubling aspects of Indian culture. A teenager pays the price for having her heart torn between her roots and her loves. Luisa taught me that adults do as well. Thus began another bond which pulled me closer to this book.
Relationships are always bumpy roads to travel. How does one ever really ‘know’? Is the one you’re with really just “the one before the one”? Or is he the one? Obviously, if you’ve put two and two together by now you’ll note that my boyfriend and I are doing the long distance tango. It ain’t no picnic. In fact, there are days where it sucks so bad that doubts creep into every aspect of our relationship and eat away at it. That coupled with interests in other things and completely opposite careers makes for a scary peek into the future. Which is why we take things one day at a time. Looking any further brings about too much fear. There are days when I lie in bed wondering if it’s worth it and whether or not it would hurt less to stop now rather than continue only to be defeated later. I know he feels the same. I could hug and kiss Luisa dearly, because not only did My Berlin Kitchen address all these fears, but she proved that things really do end “okay”. Yes it sucks and it hurts like hell. Everything you love loses its taste. She could no longer cook well and she had no appetite for food. I’ve been there done that. Luisa shared her pain but then gave nuggets of advice. It felt like I was just in conversation with an old friend. Her writing told me how she felt and how she began to cope. One small bite at a time. One dish at a time. One day at a time. That reassurance in writing from a woman so familiar to me makes me feel brave for continuing this scary, unsure road right now and braver about how I will cope, no matter what lies ahead.
I can guarantee every single one of you that this will be the most tattered book on my shelves as the years go on. This is a book I’m going to turn to—for strength, for memories, for someone to share heartache with, for recipes, for solace, and most importantly for the reminder that life goes on. We need to follow our guts. We need to “be brave”. I don’t like tattoos either Luisa, mainly because needles and any form of pain freak the hell out of me. But if I did have to ink myself up, I’d follow your lead and say “I’m not one for tattoos, but if I were, that’d be my ink: Be brave”. Maybe with a pair of cooking tongs encasing the words.
That’s right. Count those snitches. 10.