Monthly Archives: August 2016

Dinner with Edward



Sweet without being sentimental, this memoir about moving forward from loss, reminds us of the importance of friendship. Sometimes the friend that we most need at a particular point in our lives is the one we would least expect. Instead of marginalizing her friend Valerie’s 90-plus recently widowed father, Edward, Isabel listens to him, drawing on his wisdom to bolster her own crumbling sense of self at a low point in her personal life. As their relationship blossoms with each exquisite dinner Edward prepares, despair and loneliness are overcome by companionship and hope. The message is lovely, and the dinners, described with a foodie’s attention to detail, make one’s mouth water.


Edward and Isabel were each at a low point in their lives. Edward’s loss of the love of his life left him wishing to die himself, but for a promise he made to his beloved Paula on her deathbed, that he would go on living. Isabel’s marriage was foundering, and she struggled to get her groove as a reporter in her new job at the New York Post. When Valerie, Isabel’s friend visiting from Canada after her mother’s death, tells Isabel that she’s worried about her father, she suggests that Isabel have dinner with Edward, as a distraction for him. He’s quite a good cook. And so, several months after that meeting with Valerie, Isabel has her first dinner with Edward. The beauty here is how these two hurting people, in the communal sharing of Edward’s delicious food, put their pain on hold for a bit, and enjoyed each other’s company. Multiply these experiences, and soon you have two people transformed, hopeful, different from who they were before they knew each other. I wish that some of Edward’s poetry had been included in the book. But alas. It wasn’t.


While all of the food in the book sounded wonderful, the recipe that intrigued me the most was the apricot souffle. Edward got the recipe from the New York Times in the early 1990’s. This from the book:

“Edward had made us individual souffles in little ramekins, putting them in the oven as we began our main course. He served them immediately after they were done, their puffy meringue swirls tinged golden brown and looking like the whimsical domes of some dreamy cathedral from a fairy tale, dusted with confectioner’s sugar and topped with freshly whipped cream. There was magic in Edward’s confection. That first time-and every time he made it for me- I savored each spoonful as the swirl of cream, meringue, and apricot melted in my mouth.”


The recipe below was based on the apricot soufflés served by Sally Darr at her former New York City restaurant, La Tulipe. This recipe calls for five large egg whites. When separating your eggs, reserve the yolks for the accompanying crème anglaise.

6 ounces dried apricots  (1½ cups)                 1 T dark rum if desired
1½ C water                                                             ½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ C sugar plus additional                                  pinch of salt
sugar for coating ramekins                                ¼ tsp cream of tartar
1 T fresh lemon juice                                             5 large egg whites, pinch of salt

Vanilla rum crème anglaise                                 ¼ C sugar
2 C half-and-half                                                    1 T dark rum, or to taste
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
5 large egg yolks

To make the apricot soufflé:
In a heavy saucepan simmer apricots, water, and 1/2 cup sugar, covered, 20 minutes. Transfer hot mixture to a food processor and purée until very smooth. Force purée through a fine sieve into a bowl and stir in lemon juice, rum, vanilla, a pinch salt. Cool purée completely. Purée may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered,. Bring to room temperature before proceeding. Transfer purée to a large bowl.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 7-ounce (3 1/2- by 1 3/4 – inch) ramekins and coat with additional sugar, knocking out excess.

In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat whites with pinch of salt until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar and beat whites until they hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, a little at a time, and beat meringue until it just holds stiff peaks. Whisk about one forth meringue into purée to lighten and fold in remaining meringue gently but thoroughly. Ladle batter into ramekins and bake soufflés on a baking sheet in middle of oven 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown, and just set in center.
Remove ramekins from oven. With 2 forks pull open center of each soufflé and pour some crème anglaise into each opening. Serve soufflés immediately.

To make the vanilla rum crème anglaise:
In a small heavy saucepan bring half-and-half just to a boil with vanilla bean and remove pan from heat. Scrape seeds from bean with a knife into half-and-half, reserving pod for another use if desired.

In a bowl whisk together yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt and whisk in hot half-and-half in a stream. Return custard to pan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened (170°F. on a candy thermometer), but do not let boil. Pour sauce through a fine sieve into a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally. Stir in rum. Chill sauce, covered, until very cold, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Makes about 2¼cups.






Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy



After a slow start, I became invested in Turner’s story when he began to grow into himself. Roughly based on an actual episode on Malaga Island in Maine in the early 1900’s, the story is a great starting point for a discussion with Middle School students because their sense of justice is finely tuned, even though most of them are guilty of having already given in to peer pressure to preserve their own dignity and cool factor at some point in their young lives. The community on Malaga Island was founded by former slaves. Turner’s family moved to Phippsburg, on the mainland across from the island,  when his father was appointed pastor of the First Congregational Church. Turner is immediately homesick for Boston, until he meets Lizzie Bright, an orphan who lives on the island with her preacher grandpa, Reverend Griffin. The Phippsburg town fathers have decided that they need the tourist trade to jump start their economy, and Malaga Island is too much of an eyesore, so its inhabitants must go. Pressure is applied to the islanders and anyone who doesn’t support the will of the powers that be. Turner has an ambivalent relationship with his father early on, because of his many youthful missteps that reflect poorly on his father.  Eventually, Turner must decide for himself with whom he wants to interact in his new community. Watching Turner grow up in this story, and the intimations of the kind of man he will become, was joyful.


Schmidt’s descriptions of the natural world of Maine evoke vivid mental pictures and memories of salty air, low tide, pine trees and sea breezes. Turner and Lizzie spend a lot of time together exploring the bay area in her grandpa’s dory. One day, Lizzie fell into the mud flats and hit her head on a rock. Turner helped her back into the boat, but Lizzie, injured and nodding, could not captain as she usually does, so it’s up to Turner to man the dory and get her safely back to the island, even though he’s never rowed a boat before. It is during this journey to safety that Turner has a magical first encounter with whales. A whale five times the size of the boat rode quietly alongside them. When the whale flipped its tail and began to roll side to side, so did the dory.When the rocking finally stopped, Turner quietly slipped the oars into the water and rowed forward, hoping the whale would wait on the surface. It did. And when the boat reached the front of the whale, they looked at each other a long time-two souls rolling on the sea under the silvery moon, peering into each other’s eyes. Turner wished with a desire greater than anything he had ever experienced that he might understand what it was in the eye of the whale that shivered his soul. While this might have been a harrowing experience, through the entire episode, Turner remained calm, unafraid. And through his travails in the future, he comforted himself with the thought, “I have looked into the eye of a whale.”


Much of the time when Turner meets Lizzie, she’s digging clams. The first time Turner went to Malaga Island and met Reverend Griffin, he made chowder for Lizzie and Turner and all the Tripp children, which they all ate outside on the rocks in the sun. Turner wasn’t sure if it was the scent of the chowder or of the sea that filled him, but to him, it was as good as any baseball game played on Boston Common.

New England Clam Chowder
serves 4

2 qts. littleneck clams, well-scrubbed            2¼ C clam broth
1 C water                                                                    1  can fish stock (15 oz.)
1 clove garlic, minced                                            1 lb. potatoes, peeled and diced
2 ounces salt pork, finely chopped                   ¾ C light cream
1 C onion, chopped                                                 oyster crackers
2 T all-purpose flour


Bring the 1 cup of water to boil in large covered saucepot. Add the clams and garlic. Cook 6-10 minutes over med-high heat, or until all the clams have just opened. Discard any that didn’t open.  Drain clams, reserving the broth. Strain the broth through coffee filters or cheesecloth to remove grit. Remove the clams from their shells, chop finely.

In a large heavy saucepot, cook the salt pork over low heat until the fat is rendered and becomes liquid. Using a slotted spoon, remove the “cracklings” and reserve them.
Add the onions to the fat and cook over med-high heat for 5-7 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add in flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the reserved clam broth, the 2¼ C of clam broth and the fish stock; whisk to remove lumps. Bring the liquid to a boil; add potatoes, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

Stir in the clams, salt pork and the light cream. Heat chowder to desired temperature.
Serve with oyster crackers.



The Noise of Time



I looked forward to the release of the latest from Julian Barnes after reading The Millions’ recommendations for books coming out in June 2016, of which this was one. This is Barnes’ stream-of-c0nsciousness imagining of Dmitri Shostakovich’s reflection on his life during a particularly dark time in 1936 when Stalin had taken an interest in his work. In Shostakovich’s case, that was not a good thing. What struck me the most about poor Shostakovich, was how Fascism ruled his art. How fear ruled his life. What might he have written had he not been ordered to represent Soviet values to the exclusion of his own musical sensibility? This book, and Barnes’s writing, more than any other of the same period, left me feeling uneasy, claustrophobic and unable to breathe as I sympathised with Shostakovich and his artistic dilemma. Without spoiling the book, I offer just one example of how he was under Stalin’s thumb, and how it pained him to have to put forward the party line. Shostakovich loved Stravinsky and considered his “Symphony of Psalms” to be one of the most brilliant works in musical history. Hoping to meet him in New York at the Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace in New York City in 1949, he was disappointed when Stravinsky sent his regrets, stating in a telegram that “[he would] not be able to join welcomers of Soviet artists coming [to] this country. But all my ethic and esthetic convictions oppose such [a] gesture.” Then, at a press conference where Shostakovich was required to read a prepared speech, Nicolas Nabokov, (a Russian born, U.S. citizen, composer, writer and cousin of Vladimir) aware that Shostakovich was not able to speak his own mind, publicly asked whether the composer supported the denunciation of Stravinsky’s music in the Soviet Union. Shostakovich had to answer in the affirmative. (He never forgave Nabokov for this episode of humiliation.) All of this begs the question, why didn’t he leave the Soviet Union? Apparently lacking in self-confidence, was he also a coward, or lazy? Why was he content to loathe himself privately, instead of finding a way to write the music of his heart, the music that he wanted to write? There is a lot of wisdom in this book, and being by Julian Barnes, of course it’s well-written.

One final personal connection. At one point, Shostakovich wonders whether irony might enable him to preserve what he valued. Could irony protect his music? This struck me because I had just read that Shostakovich loved Shakespeare. “How was it possible not to love Shakespeare? Shakespeare loved music.” Ironically, I was reading, concurrently with The Noise of Time, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and NOT loving it. Ultimately, I ended up enjoying the play, once I sort through all the characters and plot lines, but at the point where I read about Shostakovich’s (and Russians’ in general) love of Shakespeare, I was feeling personally very un-Russian, yet somewhat ironic.


Of  course the beauty had to be Shostakovich’s music. Not being familiar with it, I took to the Internet to find music that is accessible to me. (Yes, my blog, my musical sensibility!) While there is plenty of beauty in the dissonant, mournful, and melancholy, I searched for something more upbeat, so here it is: Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Opus 67, Second Movement, Allegro Non Troppo.



There was little specific mention of food that I recall. When Shostakovich made his trip to New York for the Soviet dog-and-pony show in 1949, he is surprised by American journalists who wanted to know trivial details, in his opinion, about the Soviet delegation. They went so far as to interview the stewardess who had served them on the plane, and then duly reported in the New York Times that the Soviets chatted and drank dry martinis and Scotch and soda.

According to Shostakovich, “There is only good vodka and very good vodka-there is no such thing as bad vodka. This was the wisdom from Moscow to Leningrad…But there was also American Vodka, which, he had now learnt, was ritually improved with fruit flavors, with lemon and ice and tonic water, its taste covered up in cocktails. So perhaps there might be such a thing as bad vodka.”

So, here is my challenge to that thinking. When I make raspberry jam every summer, I use the leftover pulp and seeds I extract from the crushed berries to make – (wait for it) – flavored vodka! Before you judge, make it, taste it, and then tell me it’s not delicious!

Raspberry Hooch

raspberry seeds and pulp
1.75 liters vodka

I used 5 pints of fresh raspberries, but you could probably use frozen. (If you use frozen, you’ll need less overall, because you’ll use all the juicy pulp rather than straining it for seedless jam.)  I put the whole, washed berries through the KitchenAid stand mixer attachment for fruits, using the juice and pulp for jam and reserving the seeds and leftover pulp for flavored vodka. After making the jam, I divided the leftover seed and pulp mixture among three quart mason jars, and then filled them with vodka. I shake them and store them in a cool, dark place (basement) for about 6 weeks, or longer. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing out as much liquid as you can. I like my hooch very clear, so I then strain it through a coffee filter-lined strainer. Be patient. This could take some time, but it’s worth it in the end. Once you have your strained raspberry vodka, add  simple syrup to taste. You can use commercial or make your own by warming equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Serve in cordial glasses. Na zdorovye!




Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project



What makes memoir/non-fiction great is that because the events described really happened, you don’t have to suspend belief, no matter how much you may want to. Some of the things in this book left me feeling astounded that people can be so cruel, so inhumane.  What makes this story even scarier is the context in which I read it now, as the race for the presidential candidates heats up in 2016. The demonizing of Jews and Poles in this WWII story was the environment in which such atrocities seemed  inevitable. Sadly, the foundation upon which such horror was built was xenophobia and nationalism. Similar rhetoric has been making the news here. Build a wall!  Restrict Muslim immigration! Make America great again! This rhetoric keeps the power and the money where it currently lies, and makes America great for the privileged few. These are not the ideals upon which our country was founded. They are not mine.

This was such a difficult and depressing read, but with an important message. Irena Sendler was a Catholic Polish social worker in Warsaw during WWII. Her goal initially was to provide food and shelter for the Jews of the ghetto who were her clients. Later, her goal was to find safe harbor for as many Jewish orphans as she could. Irena’s Jewish friend, Ewa, asked her to bear witness to the atrocities committed against their neighbors and friends. And that is what she did, many times, watching her neighbors being marched to their demise, until finally she witnessed the Nazis marching her friend, a Jewish doctor and savior of orphans, to the depot where he would be forced into a train for passage to a death camp. As students of history we are taught to believe that we have a chance to prevent things like the Holocaust from happening again if we learn from the past.What made Irena Sendler risk her life to save Jewish orphans was her upbringing. Her father had taught her when she was very young and reinforced it throughout her life: when you see someone drowning you must save them, even if you can’t swim. You must do something. When that is repeated regularly to you as a child, that becomes your moral compass. It explains, why, when asked how she found the courage to do what she did,  Irena said, “It was a need of my heart.” This brave woman, very simply, did what she had to do. She did not think she was a hero. Her only regret was that she couldn’t do more, save more children. Extraordinary story.


While she still had a radio, Irena found some comfort in the beauty of the music of Chopin. From another book I’m reading, I just learned about Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who played piano on Polish Radio until it was bombed in September of 1939 after Szpilman’s last Chopin concert aired. His remarkable story of survival at Treblinka is the subject of his biography, The Death of a City by his friend, the writer Jersy Waldorf, and the Roman Polanski film, The Pianist. That last Chopin piece was Nocturne in C sharp major, played here by Janusz Olejniczak in The Pianist.



Food was rationed in Warsaw during the war, and if you were Jewish, you were surviving on under 300 calories per day. Frequently, Irena’s main meal consisted of black bread and soup (euphemism for broth), or bread and jam, or just bread. The recipe for Polish Black Bread below comes from a YouTube video “How to make Polish Black Bread.”


2-3 tsp. dry yeast                              3 T unsweetened cocoa
3 T vegetable oil (not olive)            1 ½ tsp. salt
2 T molasses                                        1 ½ C lukewarm water (105º)
4 C all purpose white flour

To proof the yeast, place it in a bowl with the lukewarm water. Stir gently to mix. Gently stir in molasses. Set aside for 10-15 minutes until surface is foamy. (Longer if needed) Place dry ingredients in another bowl: flour, cocoa powder, salt. Mix with spoon until the color is even throughout.

Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir to mix and add 3 T oil. Stir to mix. Knead dough on floured surface by flattening, fold over, flatten, turn dough ¼ turn. Repeat several times. Form dough into ball and place in a bowl. (You can oil the bowl to prevent sticking, but I haven’t found it necessary.)  Cover bowl with a light towel and let it rest in a warm place until dough has doubled, 45 minutes to one hour. To test for  readiness, poke the dough with your index finger. If the indent remains, the dough is ready.

Grease and lightly flour a baking sheet, or cover with parchment paper. Sprinkle dough with flour. Flatten, fold in left and right sides, then top and bottom sides. Bring the seams together and pinch to close the seams. Shape into an oblong or round loaf. Place on prepared baking sheet, cover, and let rise again, 45-60 minutes.

After 45 minutes, check to see if dough has risen. Preheat oven to 350º. Make 3 slits evenly spaced across the top of the loaf using a sharp knife. Cover dough until oven has come to 350º. Place loaf in oven and bake for 45-60 minutes.

Remove bread from oven and let cool on a rack.