Made From Scratch
by Sandra Lee

Meredith Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0696239191.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 11/08/2007

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

Sandra Lee's memoir, Made From Scratch, makes the powerful statement that if a child has just one stable, nurturing adult in her early years—even if that adult is banished when a natural parent returns—it can make all the difference. Lee was born in 1966 in Los Angeles to a 16-year-old mother and teenage father. When she was two, she and her younger sister Cindy were dropped off at her paternal grandmother's house, following her parents' break-up.

During the four years she lived with her Grandma Lorraine, Lee was a "happy child, living in a warm, carefree, and loving home. By the time I started talking, I was calling Grandma Lorraine 'Mommy.' She was the only mother I had ever known. Vicky [Lee's birth mother] was a distant memory."

Lee's grandmother provided wise, loving guidance to her small granddaughters. Her kitchen, the center of their home, became a fascinating haven for Lee as she helped with the made-from-scratch creations Grandma Lorraine devised for her granddaughters, her church, and her friends. While Grandma Lorraine's resources were modest (the little family made trips to the Salvation Army for clothing and clipped coupons for grocery shopping), she provided many riches: consistency, faith, love, and a deep devotion to family. "I wanted to be just like her when I grew up," Lee tells us.

But four years later, Vicky and her new husband appeared unannounced on Grandma Lorraine's doorstep and took back the girls, completely severing Lee's relationship with her grandmother. Paralyzed at first with grief and fear, Lee gradually began to feel that life with the hip and handsome couple might become "a great adventure." But as another sister was born, followed by two brothers, life became increasingly topsy-turvy. As Vicky's and Richard's marriage disintegrated, Lee became a surrogate mother to her siblings, doing the best she could.

Lee has been silenced and deeply worn by her profoundly difficult life with Vicky and Richard (Lee never calls them "mother" or "step-father;" nor do they ever appear among the many family photos in the book). But one morning Vicky says to her daughter, now fifteen, "You are going to be so much more than I am when you grow up." In the tension of that moment, her years of suppressed anger erupt and Lee breaks her silence. "You're right," she says. "I am going to be more than you."

She then recalls: "In all the years I spent on the receiving end of Vicky's and Richard's aggression, I never once fought back. Grandma Lorraine raised me to believe a child should never disrespect her parents. God would think that was horrible, and I never wanted to shame myself in God's eyes. So I never lashed out. But this particular day was different. This was the last time Vicky came after me." Beaten, bloodied, and bruised, Lee left the house that day and, on her own, began her long journey to the woman she is today.

I particularly enjoyed Lee's very human portrayal of her years alone. Never afraid to work hard, she supported herself, finished high school, went on to college, and established her own successful first business venture. I was impressed by her remarkable ability to make good decisions and to learn from the ones that weren't in her best interests.

As she slowly healed, matured, and began to forge a new path, Lee began to understand that, while women want to prepare good meals for their families, they often do not have the time. Thus was born the "semi-homemade" concept that earned her a significant niche in the food world: combining fresh, healthy food with carefully selected, ready-made products, resulting in a delicious, easy-to-prepare meal.

Lee's kindness, tenacity, and deep commitment to her family, herself, and to those who struggle with life are readily apparent and highly inspiring. Lee's childhood wish to become like her Grandma Lorraine has surely come true.

Born in Los Angeles, CA in 1966, Sandra Lee is best known as a Food Network star and for her "Semi-Homemade" cooking concept. She has appeared in numerous shows, published thirteen cookbooks, four holiday cooking and decorating magazines. Visit her website.

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