Monthly Archives: July 2016




This book was on many bookseller’s and bloggers most anticipated of 2016 books list, and for that reason, it has been on mine. Fortunately, I must have put in my library hold before anyone else in town heard about it, because it was released in June, and I just finished it this morning. It is rumored to have received a seven figure advance for 25 year-old Gyasi, and in my opinion, it was worth every penny. Each chapter tells a story of Ghanian half-sisters Effia and Esi, and their progeny through the generations. Effia’s side remains in Ghana, while Esi’s family winds up in America. Most of the book was difficult to read because of the brutality of the slave trade, wars between the Fante and the Asante, Jim Crow, plantation slavery, and miner’s working conditions, to name a few. Having just finished an amazing book about heroism in WWII, my spirit is weighed down by man’s inhumanity to man, and yet, I know these stories are important, and, as in Gyasi’s case, I am drawn to them because of the promise of the beauty of the prose. The scene where Yaw takes Esther to Edweso to visit his mother is achingly beautiful. He weeps, she comforts, he begins to forgive. She tells him his family history. “What I know now, my son: Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home…When someone does wrong, whether it is you or me, whether it is mother or father, whether it is the Gold Coast man or the white man, it is like a fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.” This is so reminiscent of the Native American parable of the two wolves that live inside you, hate and evil and love and forgiveness. The one that lives is the one that you feed. (This was from the book,  Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project.)


Trying to find the beauty for this book was hard because of the cruelty that was leveled upon, and propagated by, in some cases, generations of this family. I then turned to the last pages of the book that were very satisfying to read, and I found it there: home. Marjorie has encouraged Marcus to join her in the water, and despite his fear of it, he does, and when he does, she says, “Welcome home.” Home has so many meanings. It can be the place where you grew up, or where you currently reside, or a place that brings you joy, even if you don’t spend much time there. It can mean being in the company of those who make you feel safe and loved. For Marcus, it was finding his heritage, connecting the disparate dots of information about his ancestors in their homeland, Ghana with the woman he loved.

Image from

This is a beach outside Cape Coast Castle to which, in the final scene in the book, Marcus flees from “The Door of No Return.” It is the beach where Marjorie’s grandmother took her on her annual visits to Ghana. It is where Marjorie welcomed Marcus home. Cape Coast Castle was where slaves were held before being shipped off to America. They were held in the very bottom of the castle, the dungeon. They were packed in so tightly, they could not move. There was no bathroom, no food, just bodies piled in a dark cramped space. When Marjorie and Marcus visited the Castle, Marcus was overcome by the horror of those conditions in the place where his ancestors were once held.


There was a lot of food mentioned in the book, but the recipe that made the most sense to represent it was groundnut, or peanut, soup, as illustrated by the simile in the passage that follows. James, Effia’s grandson, gets a lesson about politics in the Gold Coast, when he learns that the Asante king, Osei Bonsu, his grandfather, has died.
“The Asantes are saying we killed their king to avenge Governor McCarthy’s death.”
“And did you?” James asked, returning the man’s stare with force, anger beginning to boil up in his veins. The white man looked away. James knew the British had been inciting tribal wars for years, knowing that whatever captives were taken from these wars would be sold to them for trade. His mother always said that the Gold Coast was like a pot of groundnut soup.  Her people, the Asantes, were the broth, and his father’s people, the Fantes, were the groundnuts, and the many other nations that began at the edge of the Atlantic and moved up through the bushland and into the North made up the meat and pepper and vegetables. This pot was already full to the brim before the white men came and added fire. Now it was all the Gold Coast people could do to keep from boiling over again and again and again.”

Peanuts were introduced into West Africa from South America via the Portuguese and replaced the native bambara groundnuts. Meanwhile, in much of Ghana, the prevalence of the tsetse fly made cattle-rearing impossible, which led to a diet without milk or dairy products. In order to make rich, creamy soups or stews, thickeners like ground legumes, nuts, melon, sesame seeds, pureed vegetables, okra, palm butter or ground peanuts were used.

Groundnut soup is made from a basic chicken stock and is very flexible: one can use more or less peanut butter, or add a variety of vegetables from eggplant to mushrooms. Also, the recipe can be easily adapted to a vegetarian version by substituting fish stock or vegetable stock for the base. However, besides peanut butter, the holy trinity of Ghana’s cooking, tomatoes, peppers, and onions, are necessary ingredients. Serve with cooked rice or rice balls, or boiled potatoes.

Only use peanut butter that has no additives, and especially no sugar! I used Teddie because it contains only peanuts and salt.

1 onion, finely chopped
1 13 oz can of chopped tomato
1 1/2 C creamy peanut butter
4 C boiling chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water, divided
1 red pepper, chopped
2 C mushrooms, quartered
2lb cooked chicken, shredded

Liquify the tomatoes (in a blender) or with immersion blender in a large pot. Mix in the chicken with about a cup of stock, and bring to a boil.

In another bowl mix the peanut butter with 1 1/2 cups stock. Stir until you have a creamy sauce.

Put the peanut butter mix in the tomato and chicken mix. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir together. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.




I’m Glad About You



When I heard about Theresa Rebeck’s new book, I was excited because I loved the TV show “Smash” about the making of a Broadway musical starring Debra Messing, Brian d’Arcy James, Anjelica Houston, and others. I was prepared to love it and raced through the book.   I was surprised by the way it ended, and had to read the last chapter a couple of times to fully take it in. Alison and Kyle, are high school sweethearts, in an on-again, off-again relationship. He dreams of opening a clinic in some remote part of the world where he can care for sick children, and she longs to be an actress. Neither one really ever gets what they were looking for, and both end up reinventing themselves by the end of the book. How different the Midwest is made out to be from New York in Alison’s musings. She couldn’t wait to get out of Cincinnati, but finds that she doesn’t really fit in in New York, in a kind of “you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl” way. Kyle is a practicing Catholic, and although Alison doesn’t believe in organized religion, the two used to get into heated discussions when they were teenagers when Kyle would read aloud to Alison from whatever he happened to be studying at the time. For example, Kyle enjoyed the writing and philosophy of Thomas Merton, an American mystic and Trappist monk who lived at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. (The Abbey figures prominently in the plot and in Kyle’s spiritual life.) Merton wrote his autobiography Seven Storey Mountain and about 60 other books and is considered the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. Alison preferred Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit who was exiled to China by the Church where he played a part in excavating Peking Man.

In a scene where Alison reveals to Kyle’s wife and friends what his heart’s desire was professionally when they were teenagers, we learn  what the title of the book means. Although I was completely charmed by the revelation, subsequent googling failed to support the idea that there is no Navajo way of saying “I love you.” (Ayoo anii nishni) Nor could I find evidence that the Navajo people don’t believe in possession. I will acknowledge that a cursory search and subsequent reading of articles about Navajo culture and language was not an exhaustive process and that I might have missed something had I explored in more depth.

I love this sentence fragment from page 140: “…but an answer to their yearning for relief from the exhaustion of what it means to be human.” Some days, it truly is exhausting to be human!

Serendipitously, this book takes place primarily in Cincinnati, as does Eligible from my previous post. I’m not sure what that means, if anything, but it struck me that two randomly selected books would be about a midwestern city I knew nothing about. So what does Cincinnati, the word, mean? I conjectured that it was of Native American origin, and I was wrong. Cincinnati was originally called Losantiville when it was founded in 1789. A year later the name was changed by then governor Arthur St. Claire in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, a fraternal veteran’s organization founded by former  Revolutionary War officers, of which St. Claire was a member. The organization was named for Lucius Quinctius  Cincinnatus, a Roman hero who saved the city and then retired to his farm rather than rule Rome. His name roughly translates to “with curly hair.” Losantiville means “the city opposite the mouth of the Licking River.” It was named by the original surveyor, using four terms, each from a different language: “ville” is French for city, “anti” is Greek for opposite, “os” is Latin for mouth, and L was included for Licking River. When I consider all of things I don’t know, it’s no wonder I’m no Jeopardy champ!


Since I have already written about the beauty of Cincinnati, and since Theresa Rebeck currently lives in Brooklyn and is an honored Broadway playwright, I have posted an excerpt from her play “Seminar,” starring Alan Rickman, Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Jerry Connelly and  The production premiered at the Gold Theater on November 20, 2011 and closed on May 6, 2012. Four young writers in New York City have paid $5000 each for a ten-week seminar with Leonard, played by Rickman and held in Kate’s (one of the writers) Upper West Side apartment. Rickman gets to eviscerate not only their writing, but the very core of their existences. And it’s Alan Rickman. Long live Snape!

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The food comes from a dinner party hosted by Susan, Kyle’s sister, during which discussion turns to Alison’s upcoming debut on a popular TV show. Van, Kyle’s wife, raises the tension around the dining table with her persistent questions about Alison. I loved how Kyle’s father brought the discussion to a close with his final remarks during “Grace” before dinner: “Look kindly on us as we gather in your name, and keep an eye on your daughter Alison, who has run off to the big city to follow her dreams. Some of us think that may have been a mistake and that she will need your guidance there, as we need it here. Amen.”

When Van compliments Susan on the chicken, she remarks that she always thought it was a Southern dish.  Bill, Kyle’s father, says that Cincinnati really is a Southern city, as it is situated across the river from Kentucky and was one of the first stops on the Underground Railroad.


3⁄4 C pecans                             1⁄4 tsp dry mustard
2 T cornstarch                        2 T fresh parsley, chopped
3⁄4 tsp dried thyme               1 egg
1⁄2 tsp salt                                4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper         2 T vegetable oil

In food processor, finely chop pecans, cornstarch, thyme, salt cayenne and dry mustard. Whirl in parsley. Transfer to shallow bowl; set aside.

In separate shallow bowl, beat egg. Dip each chicken breast into egg,
then into pecan mixture, coating both sides well. (Make ahead:
transfer to platter and cover loosley with plastic wrap;
refrigerate for up to 2 hours.)

In large nonstick frypan, heat oil over medium heat; cook chicken,
turning once, for 15 to 20 minutes or until no longer pink inside.

Sauce: Meanwhile, in small bowl, whisk together sour cream,
Dijon mustard, sugar and salt. Serve with chicken.






Never having been on the Jane Austen bandwagon, I had to read the Sparks summary of Pride and Prejudice to familiarize myself with the book, despite having seen at least one film version. Sittenfeld appears to have remained true to Austen’s intent, and this was an enjoyable read, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. I loved learning a bit about Cincinnati, and its decline as railroad travel took a backseat to air travel. In this version of the Bennet family, older sister Jane is a yoga instructor while Liz , closest to her in age, is a magazine writer in New York city. Both women are approaching forty when they return home after their father’s heart attack to help with his care. Liz is very quick-witted with a sharp tongue and keen observational skills. Prejudice is alive and well in “Queen City” society as Mrs. Bennet looks forward to meeting “Eligible” Chip Bingley, a newly transplanted doctor, who is rather publicly looking for a wife. At the introductory barbecue at Dr. Lucas’s home in the posh Indian Hill neighborhood, Liz overhears Fitzwilliam Darcy, Bingley’s good friend, severely disparage the women of Cincinnati and thus begins their hate fest. I had never heard of hate sex before, but I am seriously afraid to google it, so I’ll just have to accept that there is such a thing in this modern era of which I am so not a part! Mr. Bennet is rather disengaged from the family, but has a reasonably close bond with Liz as she takes charge of family business. Younger sisters Kitty and Lydia are remarkably crude and jobless. Mary, the middle daughter is working on her third Master’s degree and won’t reveal to the family what she does every Tuesday night.

People who know me will understand why I particularly like the following passage from page 29:
“That her mother devoted extensive attention to housewares was not news …
So, no, it wasn’t a secret that her mother fetishized all manner of domestic decor, but the sheer quantity in Jane’s former bedroom, plus the fact of so many boxes being unopened, raised for Liz the question of whether some type of pathology might be involved.”

The book came to a satisfying end but was a puzzlement for me about why the conclusion was so focused on Mary. Having just read chapter 61 of Pride and Prejudice, I still don’t get it.


When I started thinking about images to represent beauty in Cincinnati, I settled on Liz’s running route: past the country club, right onto Madison Rd., right onto Observatory Ave., right onto Edwards Rd., and back to Grandin Road. Then I googled Cincinnati, and the first thing that came up was that Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren were having a rally at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. Further googling revealed these stunning images of a beautiful public space.

View of the rotunda from the Cincinnati Museum website.

Segment of the history of Cincinnati mural from


Detail of the portrait of Blackfoot Mike Little Dog from The Wolfsonian–Florida International University, Miami Beach, Florida, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection. URL: 84.12.2.JPG

Winold Reiss created two 22 foot high by 110 foot long color mosaic murals depicting the history of Cincinnati and a timeline of U.S. history for the rotunda. In addition, he created twenty more murals for other parts of the building, and a large world map.


Members of the Bennet family continually reported seeing Darcy at Skyline Chili on Madison Rd. in Oakley. I am a hot dog lover and purist who would never defile a dog with chili, but since this was the perfect food to represent this book, defile I did, and it was good!

Copycat Skyline Chili
2 lbs ground beef (I used flap meat [steak tips], cut into 1 inch chunks, frozen for 15 minutes, ground in food processor)
2 cups chopped onions
4 cups beef stock
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 -3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate or 2 3⁄4 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons instant minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground red pepper or 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 bay leaves or 1⁄8 teaspoon bay leaf powder

chopped onion (optional)
finely shredded cheddar cheese (certainly NOT optional)
kidney bean (optional)


Brown ground beef and onion. Drain. Add beef stock to beef mixture and simmer 10 minutes. Add remaining 13 ingredients, simmer uncovered 1 hour.
Remove bay leaf, skim off extra fat.
Serve over hot spaghetti, or hot dogs in buns for chili dogs.
Top with plenty of cheese and other optional toppings.