Coming in August from Ballantine Books

All over my office: pictures.

Stacks, everywhere.

On a cold night in 2017, I carried out of my mother’s apartment an old brown and gold vinyl club bag — the kind one might bring to the gym in 1976 — filled with curling photos, papers, report cards, publicity clippings (hers), letters home from camp (mine). I don’t know when she had done this — methodically stuffed the bag full of the detritus of our life — but she had, and when it could hold nothing else, she zipped it closed and shoved it into the back of the closet in the den where after college graduation I had slept on a bad pullout sofa for two years until my doctor, alarmed by my blood pressure and the regularity of my burst ocular blood vessels, wrote me a prescription that said MOVE OUT.

The bag had become a filing cabinet of sorts, and over the last few years, I spent hours and days pouring over its contents, trying to create some kind of order: photos from the sixties and seventies in one pile, crayon drawings in another, letters back and forth in another. I was trying to make sense of us through a taxonomy of our lives, mother and daughter, middle class, comfortable: the former, a professional television singer and model, so glamorous she nearly shimmered, addicted to makeup, suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The latter, different, reserved, the opposite in every manner of the woman who bore and raised her. The images were familiar: mother and daughter posed on the marble steps at Caesar’s Palace in 1970. The mother poured into a slender black sheath on a Saturday night in 1965. Mother and father amidst the scrub pine in Big Sur, in a stunning photo taken by their seven-year-old daughter with her father’s heavy medium format camera. 1970.

Here, he said: Point the camera, and squeeze the trigger.

My father and mother, Big Sur, 1970.

In 1974, the pictures suddenly stop.

The letters back and forth stop.

The drawings and the postcards stop.

What happened to us?

What had I been looking for in the bag? What story was I trying to piece together? When did my life with my mother — my beautiful, tempestuous, addicted mother — begin to shred into pieces? Attempting to apply order to chaos is what storytellers do; it is why we are here. To make sense of the narrative of our lives and the lives of others. When my mother suffered a catastrophic fall in 2016 that required my return to her side — I had fled our codependent life nearly twenty years earlier — the roles reversed. With my mother, now in her eighties, and me faced with being her caregiver after more than half a century of enmity and fury, I wanted to understand exactly who we were. How we got to this place.

I wanted to know whether or not healing would ever be possible.

With more than 43 million Americans, most of them women, now in the role of inadvertent caregiver to a parent — half of those parents are mothers — a vast number of us are stumbling around in the dark, not only finding our way through the morass of caregiving bureaucracy for which there exists no instruction book and even less money, but also faced with the unthinkable yet karmically inevitable: taking care of an older parent with whom our relationship has been, as they say, complicated.

Motherland is my story and also the story of millions: the universal mother/daughter conundrum that defines who we are as women, as daughters, as mothers.

Motherland: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing, is now available for preorder wherever you buy your books:

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound

Ten years ago, when I launched Poor Man’s Feast, I could not have dreamt the places it would take me; since 2008, there have been two memoirs with (mostly) food at their core and, coming in 2019, a third, the catalyst of which was a yearlong column I wrote for the Washington Post. I have traveled from the Balsamico Tradizionale cellars of Emilia Romagna to the salmon farms of Tromso, Norway, four hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. I have ghostwritten a celebrity cookbook (not telling, then I wouldn’t be a ghost), acquired and edited scores of others, and become an adopted member of the Edible Communities consortium of hyperlocal food magazines. I have spoken  about the language of food — its poetry, its magic, and its place in our culture — alongside some of my heroes, including Molly O’Neill and Carolyn Forche. I have taught the craft of narrative food writing in Ireland at Lens & Larder with my dear friend Diana Henry, and at the Loft Literary Center the day after an election that would push the world off its axis and send many of us scrambling for comfort. I have spent much of the last decade immersed in a rapidly changing food culture, one that is inextricably bound up with politics, war, celebrity, scandal, and heartbreak. It is a world that is simultaneously nurturing and utterly withering.

Over time, how I talk about the narrative of food and this mundane act of creating sustenance has taken a turn for the contemplative. I believe that feeding oneself and others is an inherently meditative and spiritual practice that extends far beyond the confines of the hottest new restaurants, the edgiest new chefs, the trendiest new techniques, the most stunning new kitchens. This is not a revelation: watch the opening scenes of Il Postino, and see Massimo Troisi slurp a bowl of soup with his father, and know that you are witnessing a true poor man’s feast. Read the story of La Cocina, a San Francisco not-for-profit food business incubator for low income, largely immigrant women and the impetus behind Refuge, a storytelling project focusing on the role of food during times of crisis, war, loneliness; this is an idea born of hope, history, and sustenance.

Wherever I’ve traveled and to whomever I’ve spoken over the last ten years has brought me to the understanding that humans are naturally drawn to what the late food writer Marion Cunningham called The Modern Tribal Fire. The quality of the food itself is important, but it’s not the focus here; that’s reserved for the sharing of table stories — the storytelling that goes on around the place of nurturing. Table stories bind us together in joy and sorrow. They are the human connective tissue possessed of the quiet power to transcend politics, war, religion, socioeconomics, family dynamic. Table stories can be meditative, therapeutic, heart-filling. They form the basis of our individual narratives of sustenance and nurturing that extend beyond the walls of our homes and deep into our communities. Table stories make us who we are: each one of us, regardless of our background, can write, share,  contemplate them.

Many of you have reached out to ask me about upcoming writing programs that marry contemplative practice to the personal narrative of sustenance. I am delighted to announce that this November, after Thanksgiving, I will be launching my program, Writing Your Story, Feeding Your Soul, at the beautiful 1440 Multiversity, located in the Santa Cruz mountains amidst the majestic redwoods. Together, during a two-day post-holiday retreat, we will break bread, read, write, and examine the stories we tell around the table, and how our modern tribal fire connects our past to our present, to inform the way we think about nurturing and sustaining ourselves, our families, and our communities. While this will be a generative food-related writing workshop, it will require no prior experience beyond the willingness to recognize the healing nature of sustenance and storytelling. Yoga and meditation will be included, as will delicious meals created by the amazing Chef Kenny Woods of 1440. Some scholarships will be available.

Please join me. For more information, feel free to contact me at, and at

Writing Your Story, Feeding Your Soul





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