You know how there are books that grab you from the first page? You think to yourself, This is me. I see myself in this story. This was my experience with Luisa Weiss’ memoir My Berlin Kitchen. I was so enthralled that I actually read the book as slowly as possible rather than zipping through it, in hopes of soaking up every word and turn of phrase.
Weiss is the creator of the popular Wednesday Chef blog, and in this memoir she recalls growing up in Boston and Berlin, splitting time between her divorced parents. Her childhood gave her a perpetual sense of homesickness, and as she learned her way around a kitchen, she began cooking as a way to reconnect with the people and places she loved. She writes simply and beautifully about trying to find her way in the world after college: her difficulties living in Paris, settling down to a publishing job and a fiance in New York, only to realize that she really wanted to be back in Berlin, where her life began. With incredible courage she said goodbye to her fiance and returned to Berlin. There she rekindled a relationship with Max, a former love who truly understood how torn she was between cultures.
My Berlin Kitchen tells a sweet and heartfelt love story, but at its core it’s about belonging and how food can help create a sense of place. I recognized Weiss’s decision to make Depression Stew when she felt so alone in Paris, a sort of home remedy against loneliness. I smiled at her dilemma over what to make for breakfast–cereal, pastries, or open-faced sandwiches? (Though my dilemma is not brought on by a jet-setting childhood, merely the inability to choose between so many delicious options.) And when she bought a goose for her first full German Christmas, I cheered along with her when she roasted a perfect bird.
Sometimes I feel torn between my Ohio hometown and my adopted home on the East Coast, and I’ve spent plenty of time working out strategies to prevent homesickness in one city or the other. My first year out of college, spent in New York City, was particularly brutal. But like Luisa Weiss, I found that cooking actually helped assuage some of that loneliness. For me it was less about recreating the tastes of home and more about keeping myself company; I could put on a DVD and cook an elaborate dinner, just for fun. Since I’ve started this blog, though, I’ve been discovering the ties between family and food. Baking a pie will remind me of my dad’s stories about exploding pumpkins, or frying fish will make me think of my grandmother’s careful instruction on gutting fish. Making something delicious in the kitchen can bring you closer to the people you love.
I had the great pleasure to see Luisa Weiss in person when she did a book signing in Boston, and she’s just as charming and genuine as her writing. If you have a chance to pick up her memoir, do. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year.