A James Beard Award–winning food blogger’s account of growing up in a family with conflicting attitudes toward Judaism.
Though Jewish by culture, Altman’s (Poor Man's Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking, 2013) parents never pushed her to explore the religion. Her stylish mother scoffed at Talmudic teachings she believed were “designed for people living five thousand years before Pucci and Ella Fitzgerald.” But her advertising executive father, the son of an abusive “fire-and-brimstone Orthodox cantor,” had a far more complex relationship to Judaism. Though apparently uninterested in the Jewish religion, he still emanated a “primal yearning for spiritual connection.” Feeling left out of the rituals that marked the lives of her more devout friends, Altman decided that she wanted to attend Hebrew school, where she felt the first stirrings of lesbian desire for a beautiful teacher. Meanwhile, her parents’ difficult marriage foundered and failed. Her father returned temporarily to his mother’s apartment, the very place he had sought to escape as a young man. By contrast, the apartment became a haven for Altman, whose grandmother joyfully cooked meals for her there. Years later, when her own life fell apart, the author returned to her grandmother’s home, which her father told her was the place she would “bring my husband and raise my children.” While she cooked meals that healed her soul and brought her closer to her beloved grandmother, she finally learned to embrace her homosexuality. Eventually, she married a Catholic woman she loved with—to her surprise—her father’s approval. Like him, she was treyf—imperfect and rule-breaking—and in that commonality, the two finally bonded. In this richly textured narrative, Altman not only reveals how she learned to interweave the contradictory threads of her life into a complex whole. She also gives eloquent voice to the universal human desire to belong.
A poignant and life-affirming family memoir.