(Published by the San Jose Mercury-News and its affiliates on April 8, 2014.)
(See an earlier, more lengthy post on this topic here.)
Lauri Pastrone’s charity cookbook isn’t another well-meaning project that ended up piled on the sale table.
The photographs, prose and irresistible recipes are just some of the elements that have catapulted “Share: The Cookbook that Celebrates Our Common Humanity” onto several “best-of” lists, earned it five stars on Amazon and pushed it into three reprintings in less than a year.
It all stemmed from the passion of a Los Gatos do-gooder who wanted to step up her support of a cause that will break your heart.
For years, Pastrone had donated $30 a month — “That’s less than my latte budget,” she says — to Women for Women International (WfWI) for a year-long sponsorship of a woman victimized by war, who is helped to create a new life through skills training and other assistance.
On her 50th birthday, she decided to launch a cookbook as a fundraiser for the charity helping these women, who aren’t just driven from their homes but are often attacked, raped and forgotten.
She and a small team of other volunteers had more in mind than a quick-printed compendium of favorite casserole recipes for their cookbook. Rather, they sought involvement from a blue-chip list of celebrities, famous humanitarians and notable chefs.
“We thought, naively, that this was such an amazing cause and as long as we explain it well, who can say no to us?” she recalls.
The answer: Pretty much everyone.
But Pastrone and her fellow volunteers didn’t give up. “We came to feel that we had a responsibility to finish what we were doing for these women,” she says.
As the months and then years ticked by, the team painfully assembled a breathtaking list of participants: Paul McCartney, Emma Thompson, Robin Wright, Alice Walker and Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi — and a lineup of star chefs from the Bay Area and around the world that includes René Redzepi, Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi.
The little victories were sweet. “Getting Meryl Streep,” Pastrone says. “There were moments when I sobbed and that was definitely one of them.”
Besides contributing a flavorful wheatberry salad recipe — her favorite lunch fare while shooting “Mamma Mia” in Greece — Streep wrote the book’s forward.
Four intense years in the making, “Share: The Cookbook that Celebrates Our Common Humanity” (Kyle Books, $40, 256 pages) not only has 100 unfussy, delicious recipes but includes hair-raising statistics about females in war-torn parts of the world and heart-rending profiles of some of the women helped by the charity.
The physical abuse they endure isn’t the only horror; sometimes these women are ostracized by other villagers after their ordeal. But as the book demonstrates, the resilient women aided by WfWI nonetheless emerge as inspiringly courageous. Palo Alto chef Jesse Cool, who worked with Pastrone on the book, says, “It isn’t about despair, it’s about food and it’s joyful.”
Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters, who contributed a lentil and shrimp dish, believes that the book enables “women and men from around the world to share their stories through the universal language of food.”
The delectable recipes include a luscious gluten-free orange-almond cake from Nell Newman of Newman’s Own that “is my new go-to whenever I need to make a dessert,” reports Pastrone. Another of her favorites: “fantastic” spicy lentil fritters from Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who brought microfinance to the third world.
Ashley Judd shared a Chocolate Layer Slice cake. Robin Wright brought Thai-inspired Lettuce Wraps to the table. And America Ferrera didn’t just contribute a quick, colorful fajita recipe — she added her poignant view on WfWI’s one-woman-at-a-time approach:
“Sometimes the problem seems so big that changing one life doesn’t feel like enough. But it is.”
A few recipes from the cookbook are available through the links on this page.