Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with recipes) by Luisa Weiss

The name Luisa, in any language, is the same.  That fact would at first seem to serve her well with such a multi-cultural upbringing.  When Luisa's American father, a mathematician and her Italian mother, an interpreter from Rome met, the couple moved to West Germany in the early 1970s.

Luisa Weiss was born in Berlin, a city divided, before the fall of the wall.  She spent much of her time while her parents worked with her tangesmutter (German for nanny) Joanie, or as Luisa describes her, her guardian angel.  Joanie, a United States expat married to a German sculptor, had an easy way with children.  The young Luisa loved their warm and inviting home so much that she often did not want to leave when her mother would come to collect her.  At age three Luisa's parent's marriage unraveled.  Her father returned to the states settling in Boston, her mother stayed on in West Berlin.  She was raised shuttling between her two parents and her beloved Joanie and summer holidays spent in Italy.  Through an early love of cooking and collecting recipes, she could conjure up the home she was missing with the tastes and smells of the favorite dishes of each country. This helped to ease her homesickness and celebrated her many cultural diversities while bridging the gap between continents.  

We all carry a certain amount of baggage from our childhood and as she became an adult, Luisa's would be not to know which country to claim as her own.  She found after returning to Berlin with her college degree it was difficult to find a job and returned to New York to work in publishing.  In embracing her own destiny she would leave a first love behind.  

As she established herself in her career, making friends, a new love and countless recipe clippings later, she created a food blog to cook her way through the clippings and report her progress online.  With the blog success of The Wednesday Chef, a book deal followed,which would chronicle her efforts in the kitchen. She seemed to have it all, but something was not quite right.  Like the nationality evasiveness in the translation of her name, the confusion she felt about which country to lay claim to was brimming to the surface.  She loved New York but longed for a life in Berlin.

Family and food traditions have a lot of power to inspire reflection and longing.  It is the reason we trot out those favorite family recipes during this sentimental time of year... passing along to our family members new traditions and reliving a bit of our own past.  Luisa shows real courage stepping aside from a comfortable life and leaping for something uncertain.  This book takes real willpower to not flip through to the end and find out if she can learn to accept life in the land of her birth.

Follow this link to find My Berlin Kitchen on the card catalog.  If you liked this book or are a food blog enthusiast, you will appreciate The Smitten Kitchen (blogsite by the same name as the book) by New Yorker, Deb Perelman.  Someone, like Luisa, who loves food and found a voice online to chronicle her cooking adventures that has recently turned book author.  Though it is more a traditional cookbook and not food memoir, it is full of wonderful recipes, each with delightful personal introductions.  For food memoir lovers, I would highly recommend A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table by Molly Weisenberg, creator of the foodblog, Orangette.

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