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Alice’s Kitchen press reviews & excerpts

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Aramco World, Jan/Feb, 1997
Memories of a Lebanese Garden
by Linda Dalal Sawaya
When Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking was barely made into a first draft, 100 copies of a 64-page booklet printed at Kinko’s (he’s Lebanese!) for Christmas gifts to family and friends in 1992,  I had no idea what was to follow a few years later, when the little book was excerpted by Saudi Aramco World magazine and published as a cover story in Jan/Feb 1997. This amazing opportunity launched the publication of my little project to 150,000 readers all over the world. And I was offered the opportunity to paint illustrations to accompany the article as well, which included a half dozen recipes.

This publication drew hundreds of “love” letters from amazing people all over the world who wrote to me how much the images, the stories, the recipes resonated with them, reminded them of their own  loved ones, and brought tears to their eyes. Some of them shared their own family stories with me in letters that reached 6 pages of handwritten love, and these brought tears to my eyes as well.

At a time in the world, especially the U.S., when images of Arabs are portrayed mostly negatively, this story of food, culture, and love was a powerful antidote and a blessing to all.

I feel so blessed to have participated in this, in the opportunity to have worked with my mother to preserve our family stories and recipes and food made with love. It has expanded my horizons, my world, my family to far beyond my biological family of origin and has connected me to many most cherished “cousins” around the world, to whom I am so grateful for reaching out and connecting with me. Ahlan wa Sahlan! Welcome to Alice’s Kitchen, where if you make it with love, it will be delicious!
• click for the Aramco World (Jan/Feb. 1997) article excerpt of ALICE’S KITCHENillustrated by Linda Sawaya


The Los Angeles Times, Sunday, November 11, 2007
A recipe for forming a Middle East identity
by Therese Watanabe

womansjournalcoverInside the UCLA exhibit case, the family cookbooks offer generations of recipes and traditions that have persisted beyond place and time in America’s Middle Eastern diaspora communities. There is “Assyrian Cookery: Exotic Foods that Outlasted a Civilization” and the “Iraqi Family Cookbook: From Mosul to America.” There are Palestinian cookbooks from 1960s Detroit, and Armenian cookbooks from 1920s Boston. “Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking” by Linda Dalal Sawaya offers a treasury of her mother’s recipes, including spinach pie and sesame cookies.

The most extraordinary thing about the cookbooks, however, is that they are housed together in one glass exhibit case. They are part of a groundbreaking exhibit at UCLA that seeks to present a pan-ethnic identity for Middle Eastern Americans though a collective display of their literature, media, scholarly works, memoirs and other written material. Whatever political, religious and ethnic differences divide ethnic Armenians and Turks, Arabs and Israelis, Iranians and Assyrians, exhibit organizers say, commonalities also bind them — like shared spices and dishes in their cuisine, such as cardamom, falafel and hummus.

Consider Sawaya’s book. It might focus on growing up Lebanese American in Los Angeles, but it contains scenes that might resonate with an Armenian or Arab — memories of community picnics, visiting family vineyards, curing olives and cooking with three generations of women…
(for continuation of article click here)

Copyright © 2007 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved


• Wednesday, August 18, 1999
COOKBOOK WATCH The Los Angeles Times
Lebanese Grandmother Cooking
by Charles Perry
Arabs have lived in this country since the 1870s, but Arab Americans have always been considered peculiarly foreign (insofar as other Americans knew they existed, that is), so the first generation has keenly felt the usual immigrant alienation. Their children and grandchildren, in turn, are often somewhat ambivalent about their roots.
Because of this, Arab American writers have started reexamining the lives of their remarkably determined ancestors. “Alice’s Kitchen: My Grandmother Dalal & Mother Alice’s Traditional Lebanese Cooking” by Linda Dalal Sawaya is both a cookbook and a part of this literature.
The author grew up in Los Angeles in the ’50s among neighbors who had never heard of hummus, tabbouleh or pita bread although her family had been here since the ’20s, when her father owned a downtown dry-goods store on Los Angeles Street. Part of the book is her family history, and part represents a dialogue with her tradition in which pride alternates with passionate nostalgia and a certain poignant distance. She is enough of an American girl to be shocked by the sight of her grandmother slaughtering a chicken for dinner, for instance.
But most of the book is recipes. The title says it all—this book grew out of the author’s desire to cook the dishes she grew up on. The strength of the book is this tight focus. The carefully written recipes represent a very clear aesthetic.
If you have a Lebanese cookbook, most of the recipes will look familiar (the spellings will differ; cookbook writers have no concept of spelling Arabic consistently), but in the Middle Eastern tradition, every cook has a subtle touch of her own. And some recipes may be new to you, such as the potato salad dressed with parsley, mint and lemon juice.
This book covers some very basic procedures rarely described elsewhere, such as curing olives, baking paper-thin marouq (marqu^q) bread and making Arab-style cheese. There’s even a recipe for arishe (qari^sheh), a sort of tart ricotta made from the whey you get when you make “yogurt cheese” by draining yogurt overnight.

Alice’s Kitchen is available from the author.
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved


foodday98•Tuesday, February 3, 1998 • FOODDAY, The Oregonian

Cookbooks from HOME
by Barbara Durbin

“Author explores Lebanese roots in ALICE’S KITCHEN/Family cookbook is as much about love as food”

For author Linda Dalal Sawaya, a Portland free-lance graphic artist, “Alice’s Kitchen: My Grandmother Dalal & Mother Alice’s Traditional Lebanese Cuisine” is a culinary trip down memory lane.
For those who love Lebanese food, it’s a handbook for good eating.
For those who have no connection to Lebanese food, it’s a blueprint for putting together a recipe collection that spans several generations.
As Sawaya explains in her book, “in the late 1800s when my grandmother, Dalal Hage Ganamey, whom we always called Sitto, was sent as a child to the convent school in her Lebanese mountain village of Douma, she was taken not into the classroom, but into the kitchen to cook. As a result, she didn’t learn to read or write–instead, she became an incredible cook.”
…Sawaya recalls her southern California upbringing, the youngest of Alice and Elias Sawaya’s five daughters. Linda Sawaya’s reminiscences of cooking with her mother and of her grandmother make the book both personal and homey. Because of the anecdotes, the book is a tribute to the centuries-old tradition of mothers handing down a love of cooking to their daughters, rather than simply a chronicling of recipes.
Sawaya has lived in Portland for 20 years. In addition to her graphic arts work, she paints and has illustrated two children’s books–the bilingual “The Little Ant/La Hormiga Chiquita” and “How to Get Famous in Brooklyn.”
Sawaya started the core of what developed into the cookbook about the same time she settled here, transferring family recipes from scraps of paper onto index cards, and eventually onto computer.
Recipe testing required multiple calls home to mother Alice, interspersed with personal visits, plus transcribing the family’s oral history onto paper. Old and newer family photographs are sandwiched among the recipes, giving added dimension.
The author includes recipes not found in many other Lebanese cookbooks–such as for curing olives, pickling vegetables and making quince jam–in addition to the ones cooks have come to expect, such as for hommous, tabbouli, kibbe and baklawa.
Her basic bread dough, which can be made into pocket bread, is “also nice substitute for pizza,” Sawaya explains, particularly when converted to tilme b’kishk—small circles of bread topped with a mixture of olive oil, onion, tomato, and bulgar kishk–or tilme b’zaatar–bread topped with an olive oil, sesame seed and zaatar seasoning mix.
Juggling making two of these “pizza” varieties and an omelet (ijhee) at the same time in her tiny kitchen, Sawaya says, “I cook like I paint, I always have too much stuff out.” The omelet makes a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner—warm, at room temperature or cold, Sawaya notes. And because it’s heavy on minced parsley, mint, onion, and zucchini but light on the eggs, it’s also a healthy dish.

© The Oregonian 1998


•Santa Cruz Sentinel, March 1998

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Kitchen Memories: Daughter keeps legacy of Lebanese cooking alive
by Janet Blaser

When Linda Dalal Sawaya was a little girl growing up in Los Angeles, she and her sisters brought lunch from home like all the other kids. But their lunches were different. Instead of bologna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they had hummus, lentil stew, and yogurt and cucumber salad—traditional Lebanese foods made by their mother and grandmother, Sitto.

Eventually the girls begged their mom to give them more “American” lunches to avoid being teased by their school mates. Meals at home, though, were a smorgasbord of delightful tastes, textures and ingredients that were as familiar to Linda as they were exotic to her friends.

Tabbouli, falafil and kusah mahshi (squash stuffed with lamb and rice) graced the table, with many of the ingredients coming out of the kitchen garden growing outside. Linda, as the youngest child, often helped the women in the kitchen after school, making flat bread, curing olives, chopping herbs and stuffing savory pastries…

…Readers find the book ties together food, ethnic heritage, and nostalgia in much the same way as “Like Water for Chocolate”, “Soul Food”, and “The Big Night”…”

—excerpt from the entire review in the Santa Cruz Sentinel


Al Jadid, a Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts, Vol. 4 No. 25 Fall 1998 review of ALICE’S KITCHEN, 3rd ed.

Art of the Cookbook
by Judith Gabriel

This earthy, almost fragrant book is “self-published” in the same way that homemade bread is a “self-rising” mound of leavened flour. When you smell it baking, you can only be grateful someone did the kneading. (And the writing.) And then hope they give you a slice while it’s still hot. Especially if it’s khoobz marouq . . .

Linda Dalal Sawaya . . . is also a writer, and the pages of this very special cookbook contain not only recipes, but evocative descriptions of how her grandmother, Dalal, prepared the traditional dishes back in her Lebanese mountain village, and how her mother, Alice, followed the time-tested formulas in her American kitchen, making adjustments that Sawaya passes on . . . a highly useful reference . . . A truly literary picture emerges of such commonplace dishes as Lebanese pickles and kibbeh, which one would expect to find in such a setting. What makes the entries stand out is the context of descriptive nostalgia and culinary refinement that frames them.

© Al Jadid 1998


•Dennis Stoval good reads review (4 stars)
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/18328848

Portlander Linda Sawaya’s wonderful book captures the recipes of her Lebanese family, along with lovely short stories, art by Linda, and family photos. I’ve made many of the recipes over and over. One of my favorite foods (the other is calamari) is tabouli, and Linda’s recipe is one of my favorites. It’s become a point of departure for experimentation.