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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

The Measure of My Powers

A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris

by (author) Jackie Kai Ellis

Random House Canada
Initial publish date
Mar 2018
Personal Memoirs, Culinary, Essays
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2018
    List Price

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INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER AND SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 TASTE CANADA AWARDS AND THE RAKUTEN KOBO EMERGING WRITER PRIZE. For fans of Eat Pray Love, Wild, and H is for Hawk, The Measure of My Powers is the story of one woman's search for self-love, experienced through food and travel.
"With searing vulnerability and unflinching honesty, Jackie Kai Ellis takes us on an intense and immersive journey from her darkest moments to the redemption she finds through her love of food, Paris, and ultimately, herself."
--Jen Waite, bestselling author of A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

On the surface, Jackie Kai Ellis's life was the one that she and every woman wanted. She was in her late twenties and married to a handsome man, she had a successful career as a designer, and she had a beautiful home. But instead of feeling fulfilled, happy, and loved, each morning she'd wake up dreading the day ahead, searching for a way out. Depression clouded every moment, the feelings of inadequacy that had begun in childhood now consumed her, and her marriage was slowly transforming into one between strangers--unfamiliar, childless, and empty. In the darkness, she could only find one source of light: the kitchen. It was the place where Jackie escaped, finding peace, comfort, and acceptance.

This is the story of one woman's journey to find herself. Armed with nothing but a love of food and the words of the 20th-century food writer M.F.K. Fisher, she travels from France to Italy, then the Congo, and back again. Along the way, she goes to pastry school in Paris, eats the most perfect apricots over the Tuscan hills, watches a family of gorillas grazing deep in the Congolese brush, has her heart broken one last time on a bridge in Lyon, and, ultimately, finds a path to life and joy.

Told with insight and intimacy, and radiating with warmth and humor, The Measure of My Powers is an inspiring memoir, and an unforgettable experience of the senses.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Taste Canada Awards - Culinary Narratives
  • Short-listed, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

Contributor Notes

JACKIE KAI ELLIS is the founder of Vancouver's Beaucoup Bakery, the owner of The Paris Tours, and a travel and lifestyle writer. She lives in Vancouver and Paris.

Excerpt: The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris (by (author) Jackie Kai Ellis)

From "Farmers' Market, Vancouver"

Markets flooded me with life. Their colorful produce, the growth in each season on display, vendors selling flowers relaxed in full bloom, little pots of demi-glace, imported cheeses, and pecan shortbread that melted in my mouth. Around Easter, the local charcuterie would post fluorescent reminders to preorder hams, and I fantasized about baking them with honey and grainy mustard or brushing the top with a sticky, sweet pineapple-soy glaze, allowing the crust to caramelize and crys­tallize into a meaty lacquer box.

I would walk past each brightly colored stall, dawdling under the pretense of “grocery shopping” but secretly playing hooky from work, concocting imaginary meals with cans of smoky peppers in adobo sauce, white onions, cilantro, and masa flour, or sniffing varieties of Italian oregano like little green pearls still on their stems or bright green olive oils, and tasting the slow pro­gression of a tomato sauce in my mind.

I watched old movies about food, like Big Night and Mostly Martha, while I scoured blogs and websites in different languages for obscure recipes. I took on one recipe and then the next, madly working my way through countless books. My shelves were full of Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart, Maida Heatter, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Julia Child, Pierre Hermé, Dorie Greenspan, and Patricia Wells. I took books out from the library like when I was a child. I cooked from Deborah Madison’s vegetarian tome, got an Italian education from Marcella Hazan, and read books on canning, making jam, and growing food, poring over every­thing I could about those topics. I carried in my purse books by Michael Pollan and Margaret Visser, biographies on Jacques Pépin, and The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. But most importantly, it was M. F. K. Fisher who fed me stories that made me laugh, dream, wonder, and remember again what it felt like to be alive.

I searched for the perfect everything, from pound cakes to roasts, sour cherries to pork bellies. I was insatiable, and when I had consumed every bit of information that books and the internet could provide, I saved for weekend courses at local cooking schools. With textbooks in hand, I was both challenged and lulled to sleep as I read, cradling their weight in my lap before bedtime.

In the quiet church of my own kitchen, I cooked with the intensity of prayer as G looked on, uninterested. He didn’t care much about food, but that didn’t stop me. And when I shared what my hands had made, I saw that my friends and family tasted joy in my pies and passion in the glazes on my cakes. Although their hungers were different than mine, I understood them all the same and it gave me much pleasure to satisfy them too.

I knew, though, that they didn’t fully understand how urgently I was tied to food, and I was always aware of that strange separa­tion. It was faint, and if you didn’t know it was there, you might not think to ask. But I noticed it when I spoke of chocolate and the fine nuances in it: fruity, smoky, red or green. They could taste the flavors, but we did not taste the same thing. I would look longingly into their faces, searching their expressions and hoping to recognize myself in them, but I never did. I accepted that I never would, but I wasn’t sad; it was enough for me just to know I’d had a hand in feeding them in any way at all.

Editorial Reviews

“Open, raw and honest. . . . Tender and authentic tales of a woman coming into her own.”
—The Globe and Mail

“With searing vulnerability and unflinching honesty, Jackie Kai Ellis takes us on an intense and immersive journey from her darkest moments to the redemption she finds through her love of food, Paris, and, ultimately, herself.”
—Jen Waite, Internationally Bestselling Author of A Beautiful, Terrible Thing
“This inspiring memoir digs deep into one woman’s struggles to overcome her depression. A writer, baker, woman of the world—Jackie Kai Ellis stars in all these roles.”
—Lucy Waverman, Award-Winning Author of The Flavour Principle
“An uplifting memoir that’s taught me the importance of valuing yourself, and not being afraid to ask for the things you want in life.”
—Joann Pai, Food and Travel Photographer, @sliceofpai

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