Annia Ciezadlo, author of Day of Honey* (Free Press, 2011) , isn’t the first person to cook her way through trying times. Nor will she be the last.
But the makeshift kitchens where Ms. Ciezadlo peeled purple eggplant or stirred onions caramelizing for Mjadara Hamra (Lentils with Bulgur Wheat) happened to be in a couple of war zones, neither one in a New York high-rise or a Tuscan olive grove. No, unlike the heartbroken cook in Lily Prior’s La Cucina or journalist Regina Schrambling** after 9/11, Ms. Ciezdlo used cooking as a way to cope with the daily stress of living in Baghdad and Beirut with bullets spinning by and bombs exploding at random.
In Day of Honey, comfort food takes on many new meanings.
Up for a well-deserved James Beard Award in 2012, Day of Honey offers far more than memories interlaced with food. It is not just another food memoir focusing on the inner life and stomach of some famous food person.
This complex memoir, onion-like, reveals layers and layers of meaning; food stands in as the metaphor to serve it all up. Like all good memoirs, it offers more than a “me-me” recital. The major layers include a love story and the problems and joys of inter-cultural marriage, a detailed analysis of how war affects civilian populations, a history of the Middle East conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon, and a paean to the little-known or understood food cultures of the Middle East.
Ms. Ciezadlo, a journalist, and her Lebanese husband, journalist Mohamad Bazzi, ended up honeymooning in Baghdad, because Newsday appointed Mr. Bazzi bureau chief there in 2003. But before that, the couple spent time in Beirut, where Ms. Ciezadlo met her in-laws – Umm Hassane and Abu Ibrahim – and began learning about cooking under the watchful eye of Mr. Bazzi’s somewhat domineering mother.
Day of Honey showcases Ms. Ciezadlo’s razor-sharp observations, spun into unforgettable anecdotes and stories oozing with fresh metaphors and just plain clear language. She renders the adrenaline rushes, the food shortages, and the panic of living in uncertain circumstances into almost real, palpable sensations. Ms. Ciezadlo includes an index, a glossary, and an excellent bibliography, too.
At times, reading Day of Honey seems akin to listening in on a conversation between friends.
That morning, Mohamad and I woke up to smell, now as familiar as an old friend, of burning metal. … We went downstairs to visit our neighbor Rabih Dabbons. He was a tall, mustachioed rascal who ran a Yamaha dealership in the ground floor of our building. (p. 287)
And in other moments, when Ms. Ciezadlo writes about the history of Iraq or Lebanon or any other topic, her journalistic voice honed by assignments for The Christian Science Monitor and