The Measure of my Powers, A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris
This memoir from Jackie Kai Ellis takes the “Eat, Pray, Love” genre to a new level, surpassing even Elizabeth Gilbert’s original. It’s a warm, relatable story about love—with food, with passion, with life, and with self.
The book’s cover makes a strong first impression. The richly colored roses, arranged mindfully with succulent fruit on a dark moody background, clearly set the stage for the reader by illustrating the contrast between light and dark. Inside, Ellis’s essays and short stories are interspersed with similarly inspired photography – of a single, extremely well-lit egg; perfectly square and clearly melt-in-your-mouth-amazing macadamia nut bars; a tumbling stack of the ever-elusive perfectly flaky croissant. Each one somehow magically captured my imagination, drew me in, and invited me to build my own narrative.
Even though I was expecting a through-written memoir, I was pleasantly surprised at how well all the tales wove together. Short stories and essays alike were lyrical and made me feel intimately connected to Ellis as her story unfolded. Emotional without being overwrought, she hit exactly the right notes for me throughout. As a delightful bonus there’s a personal recipe with each chapter. I’m not sure that I’ll ever make a batch of three hundred dumplings or attempt croissants at all, but I was fascinated with the level of detail and instruction she included and will definitely try out the eggplant bharta and “good” granola.
So it’s inviting and beautiful, but what is it actually about? The stories cover Ellis’s childhood devoid of sweets entirely until she learns she can satisfy her sweet tooth under the guise of teaching herself to bake (at the ripe old age of seven, no less). She shares tales of her sometimes fraught, sometimes heartwarming relationships with family, particularly the roles her mother and grandmother played in her life. She shares a very raw and inward-facing account of her struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide. She recounts the slow and painful death of her marriage. And throughout, she shares memory after memory of the role that food played along the way, whether making pork and chive dumplings with her grandmother, exploring the delights that Paris had to offer, or patiently testing and retesting recipes on her way to opening her own (now famous) Beaucoup bakery. The kitchen becomes a place of spiritual retreat, mindfulness and contemplation for her.
One anecdote that really stuck with me, however, didn’t happen in the kitchen. It was a confrontation between Ellis and her then husband while she was in a period of severe depression. He gave a brilliant analogy for how to prevent our own pain and suffering when we interact with others. Ellis was frustrated and despondent at the nature of her relationships, especially with her family. Her husband’s advice was, “Think of your mom as a lion. You want her to be a dog, so each time you see her, you try to pet her, but lions bite. Respect that the lion will bite, and change your expectations and the way you interact with it.”
Whether you are looking for inspiration in the kitchen, tips on opening a successful bakery, or spiritual lessons from someone who’s made the most of their journey, I wholeheartedly recommend finding a copy of “The Measure of My Powers”.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.