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Garlic and Gratitude 

Tullia Barbanti’s new book looks back on 50 years of cooking in Spokane

click to enlarge Tulia Barbanti at work. - MIKE MCCALL
  • Mike McCall
  • Tulia Barbanti at work.

Tullia Barbanti came to America in 1958 with dreams of a rewarding career, a large home with eternally sparkling floors and an easier life than post-war Italy offered.

“Getting to Spokane was the easy part. Staying would pose the challenge of a lifetime,” Barbanti writes in her recently released book, Tomatoes Are My Tools.

For more than 50 years, Barbanti has been a beacon of Italian culture in Spokane, teaching Italian language and cooking classes, distributing her own brand of pasta sauce and publishing her first book, Al Dente, a collection of recipes passed down from her mother and grandmother.

Barbanti’s latest book isn’t a cookbook, although it does contain recipes for a traditional Italian dinner. The book is an expression of gratitude to Barbanti’s adopted homeland.

“I wanted to thank them (residents of Spokane) for respecting me, for treating me like a native person,” she says. “I am what I am because of the opportunities people gave me.”

Tomatoes Are My Tools tells the story of Barbanti’s life, focusing on the trials and triumphs of her new home in west central Spokane. The story of heartache, joy, and determination is not just Barbanti’s story.

“Whatever I went through then, every immigrant has gone through. You never know what life will bring. But if you dig, you’ll find something that offers you joy and prepares you for the future,” she writes.

Barbanti found her joy in tomatoes – the tools she used to find meaning and happiness in her new life by cooking for friends, testing recipes and selling her sauce.

Barbanti hopes sharing her story will encourage others to reflect on their heritage.

“It could be a word of the language or bringing back the traditions with cooking,” she says. “It’s what shapes us — it shows who you are.”

Tomatoes Are My Tools is available at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave. $20

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