By her own admission, Annia Ciezadlo is "always, always hungry." A journalist who spent years covering the Middle East, she once scuttled along the floor to stir a pot of pasta as bullets whizzed by her window in Beirut. She braved the streets of Baghdad for a taste of masquf, roasted fish she describes as "a giant, edible fishy halo." In "Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War" (Free Press, $26), Ciezadlo finds that food -- both the cooking and the eating -- is one of "the millions of small ways people cope" during times of war.
"Food can provide a purpose and structure to your life when you don't feel like you have one," Ciezadlo says during an interview at her home in New York City, where she lives with her husband, journalist Mohamad Bazzi.
The couple, who met in New York, were married in 2003 and moved immediately to Iraq, where Bazzi was assigned as the new Middle East bureau chief for Newsday. They spent their honeymoon in Baghdad and the early years of their married life in Beirut, the city where Bazzi was born.
Over six years, Ciezadlo, 40, found freelance work writing for publications including The Christian Science Monitor and The New Republic, covering the wars, the assassinations and the violence that have helped shape the main narrative of the Middle East.
"Other people saw more, did more, risked more," Ciezadlo writes. "But I ate more."
Her writing about food is both evocative and loving. Upon tasting makdous, which are pickled and stuffed baby eggplants, she writes: "What god leant down and whispered in what mortal ear to put walnuts inside an eggplant? And then to eat it with wine? I wanted to cry."
Focusing on food gave her the welcome opportunity to show that there is more to the Middle East than conflict. Inspiration struck one day as she stood at the sink of a tiny kitchenette in the Berkeley Hotel in Beirut, washing dishes and trying to think up something to make for dinner.
"You can say the inspiration for the book literally came from the kitchen sink," Ciezadlo says, thinking back on the mounds of food she kept in her humble hotel room: zaatar (a blend of herbs, sesame seeds and salt), wild fennel, garlic, Swiss chard and piles of cherry tomatoes. "I wanted to show that there is this lingering hangover from the war, but there is also this amazing generosity and culture and vibrance."
Unlike his wife, Bazzi had no interest in expanding his palate. A partial listing of the foods he refuses to eat includes fish of any kind and "beef that hasn't been cooked to resemble linoleum." Ciezadlo took solace in cooking, but he refused to eat her "fancy food." "You may love somebody," she says, "but nowhere does it say that they have to love everything that you love and eat everything that you eat."