Where is home? What does "home" mean, anyway? And is it true that you can never go home again?
I spent my childhood in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, until my family left for Texas in 1981. I was in elementary school at the time, and even though I was hiding under the bed every night to block out the sounds of shelling, and my family had to camp out for days in a basement bomb shelter, I never wanted to leave Beirut.
Fast-forward to my 20s and 30s: Now living in New York and working as a writer and editor, I had a nagging urge to move back to Lebanon and see what would happen. Yes, the country was still a political hellhole—not technically at war, and definitely not at peace. But after all these years, I still missed living along the Mediterranean, and missed my extended family and childhood friends in Lebanon, and craved the za'atar bread from the bakeries in our Beirut neighborhood. More than anything, I missed the sense of belonging to a place—rooted, rock-solid. Home.
But was Beirut still home? Had it changed too dramatically since I'd left? Was I crazy to think I could go back and restart the life I'd left behind?
After years of wrestling with those questions, I finally worked up the nerve to pack my bags and move back. So...what happened in Beirut? My return played out in a way I could never have imagined when I hopped into the cab to JFK. Jasmine and Fire tells the story of what it was like to try to go home again—to a city as thrilling, wildly unpredictable, messy, and heartbreakingly gorgeous as Beirut. Click here for a brief excerpt (on the travel site Fathom) from a chapter of Jasmine and Fire in which I'm walking around Beirut again, trying to reconnect with a city that now felt in many ways like a lunar landscape.
Glamour magazine once published a recipe for roast chicken—nothing terribly complicated, just an excellent, reliable, somewhat basic recipe. And then letters started pouring in: from readers (women mostly) who made the chicken for their boyfriends and ended up with a marriage proposal. So Glamour published the recipe again, and again, and the same thing happened every time.
The bizarre story of the chicken—the very good, oddly life-changing chicken—led the Glamour editors to publish a cookbook and give the chicken recipe an even wider audience. The initial idea was to call the book something along the lines of Engagement Chicken, but after the editors brainstormed a list of 99 other recipes that would run alongside the chicken—recipes that would come in handy for anyone needing a basic primer on how to cook well, impress friends and dates, and have some fun—the title changed. Hence 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know.
What was my role in all this? I was a Contributing Editor, brought in to help choose the recipes for the cookbook,
and oversee the recipe-testing process, and write parts of the book. Some of my own recipes are in there too. And so are the stories of some of the people whose lives changed thanks to that mysterious chicken recipe. One of those women was Howard Stern's now-wife; make of that what you will.
There's lots more in this cookbook besides recipes; you'll find tips on how to throw a killer party without much effort, and how to pull together a super-quick, super-cheap weeknight dinner from scratch. And by the way, this cookbook isn't just for women—although granted, guys who find it useful might want to put it on their bookshelf with the spine facing in.
Whether or not you're a woman, and whether or not you even want to get engaged, this is a terrifically handy, fun, user-friendly little cookbook.