Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Rosie Project


the_rosie_projectI had read this book several years ago when it was first released and loved it. I particular enjoyed the humor, which was due in great part to the main character, Don Tillman’s voice. His approach to the world and life was logical, linear, and frequently hilarious. And yes, sometimes, I was laughing (only in my mind, of course) when he wasn’t. Don is a genetics professor at a university in Melbourne Australia. At the age of 39, he decided that it was time to get married, so he began what he called “The Wife Project.” Don recognized his social awkwardness and developed strategies to help him navigate ordinary social situations. The following passage illustrates his thinking when he shares his first meal with Rosie:
I remembered the basic rule of asking a woman to talk about herself. Rosie had already raised the topic of dealing with difficult customers in a bar, so I asked her to elaborate. This was an excellent move. She had a number of hilarious stories, and I noted some interpersonal techniques for possible future use.

What becomes troubling to Don after he started spending more time with Rosie, was the frequency with which he began to act driven more by instinct than logic. His life became chaotic as he attempted to fit those instinctual responses into his very logical life. For example, when he and Rosie were drinking at Jimmy Watson’s (a real place near the campus of the University of Melbourne) and he saw Gene, his best friend, with a woman who was not his wife, he became rattled. So, when the waiter offered him a table, instead of saying no, as he should have, he accepted it, resulting in him having to freeze the food he had bought at the market that morning for his dinner, and deal with the resultant loss of nutrients caused by freezing fresh food. As troubling as illogic is to Don, ultimately, it saves the day.

There were a couple of scenes that didn’t ring true, like Don and Rosie’s visit to Max Freyburg’s office in New York, and the scene at the ball where Rosie “… pointed at me [Don} in a stylized manner…It was the signal that Olivia Newton-John gave to John Travolta in Grease to commence the dance sequence…” But overall I laughed a lot and was completely charmed by Don.


When Rosie doesn’t recognize a line from the movie “The Bridges of Madison County” that had brought her to tears on the plane from New York, it reminded me of this very beautiful song from the musical version by Jason Robert Brown, one of many men with three names with whom I’m infatuated. We saw it a couple of summers ago in Williamstown and Jason Robert Brown was in the lobby after the performance. I was too star struck to speak to him, but if I remember correctly, my lovely husband got his autograph for me. Kelli O’Hara, who was slated for the role of Francesca was pregnant and could not fulfill the commitment to Williamstown, but Steven Pasquale played the photographer, and Kelli opened with him on Broadway.

from YouTube


It has to be lobster salad, right? According to Don’s “Standardized Meal System,” every Tuesday dinner is lobster, mango and avocado salad with wasabi-coated flying fish roe and crispy seaweed and deep-fried leek garnish. Fortunately, I am typing this on a Tuesday, so there’s a kind of neat symmetry going on here. The author kindly included these remarks at the end of his Acknowledgments:

“Don’s lobster salad is based on a recipe from Teage Ezard’s Contemporary Australian Food. Perfect for a romantic evening on a balcony with a bottle of Drappier rose Champagne.”

I googled “Teage Ezard” and his website came up, with the following:

Graeme chose the recipe because he and his wife have made it on several occasions: “it’s probably the most complicated thing we’ve ever cooked more than once – but the results are worth it.” Graeme is a founder of wine distributor Pinot Now and recommends a wooded Sauvignon Blanc, like Domaine A from Tasmania, as a great match.

Crayfish, Mango and Avocado Salad with Wasabi Flying Fish Roe, Soy and Bonito Dressing and Crispy Seaweed Salad

1 live medium crayfish (about 1.5 kg, or 3.31 lbs.)
Peel of 1 orange, roughly sliced
Peel of 1 lemon, roughly sliced
½ head celery, sliced
1 teaspoon white coriander seeds
½ bunch of coriander
½ bunch dill
1 cup rice wine vinegar
Sea salt to taste

Mango and Avocado Salad
1 large or 2 small heads of white witlof (endive)
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
Salt and pepper
1 large ripe mango
1 ripe avocado
Squeeze of lemon juice
100g (3.9 oz.)somen noodles
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Soy and Bonito Dressing
½ tablespoon dried dashi (cooking stock, buy instant dashi)
2 tablespoons dried bonito flakes
1 tablespoon very hot water
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
40ml  (1.35 oz. or 2.7 tablespoons) Japanese rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
150 ml (5 oz.) peanut oil
Juice of ½ lemon

Crispy Seaweed Salad
1 L vegetable oil (for frying)
2 leeks (white part only) cut into 6cm (2.36 inches) lengths
1 sheet nori seaweed
3 teaspoons tobiko (wasabi flying fish roe)

To kill the crayfish, place it in the freezer for one hour, where it will go to sleep. Place the orange and lemon peel, celery, coriander seeds, fresh herbs, vinegar and salt in a large 5 litre (1.3 gals.) cooking pot. Fill three-quarters full with water and bring to the boil. Plunge the crayfish into the rapidly boiling stock, then cover with a lid and turn off the flame. Let the crayfish sit in the hot stock for 25 minutes, then drain and allow it to cool. Once the crayfish reaches room temperature, refrigerate it until completely chilled.
When the crayfish is cold, pull the tail section away from the head. Use a pair of sharp scissors to cut the inner shell of the tail to get to the meat. Carefully draw out the tail flesh in one piece and reserve. Remove the legs from the body. Break each joint then pick out the meat using a skewer or crab-pick. Cover and refrigerate both tail and leg meat until ready to assemble the final dish.
Mango and Avocado Salad
Slice off the base of the witlof then pull away the individual leaves, discarding any which are damaged. Finely slice each of the leaves lengthwise and place in a mixing bowl. Dress lightly with hazelnut oil and season with salt and pepper.
Slice off each mango cheek and use a large spoon to carefully scoop out the flesh. Dice into bite-size pieces and reserve. Slice the avocado in half lengthwise, remove the stone and carefully scoop out the flesh. Dice into bite-size pieces, toss in a little lemon juice to stop it browning and reserve.
Bring a small pot of salted water to the boil and cook the somen noodles until al dente (about 3-4 minutes). Tip into a colander and refresh under cold water to stop the noodles cooking further. Drain well, then tip into a bowl, toss with peanut oil and reserve.
Soy and Bonito Dressing
Dissolve the dashi and bonito flakes in the hot water to form a paste. Allow to cool completely. Place the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, sweet soy sauce and prepared dashi paste into a food processor. Blend to a puree, then slowly add the peanut oil until the mixture emulsifies and thickens, Stir in the lemon juice and reserve.
Crispy Seaweed Salad
In a medium pot or a small deep fryer, heat the vegetable oil to 180 degrees. Cut the leek in half, lengthwise, then shred it finely into hair-like strands. Fry in the hot oil until it turns golden brown, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Allow to cool, then season with salt and store in a dry place until needed. Cut the nori sheet in half and shred it finely into hair-like strands. Reserve until needed.
To Serve
Using a very sharp knife, slice the crayfish tail meat into rounds. Depending on size, it should yield between 18-24 slices. Roughly chop the crayfish leg meat and put in a large mixing bowl with the witlof, mango, avocado and somen noodles. Pour over dressing and combine gently. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place three Chinese soup spoons on each plate and divide the salad equally between them. Top each little mound of salad with a slice of crayfish tail meat followed by a teaspoon of wasabi flying fish roe. Finish with a pinch each of fried leek and nori.
Serves six.

I will not be making this dish. Good luck to those brave enough to hunt down all the ingredients. I did make the conversions from the metric system in parentheses.

A Man Called Ove

a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_hrOne of the first things we learn about Ove is “He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.” It really describes Ove and his wife Sonja perfectly. They’re so fundamentally different and yet their relationship works because they love each other. Ove yells a lot, enjoys confrontation and polices his residential community to make sure everyone is following the rules. So why did I not hate the guy? In the hands of a less competent writer, I might have. This could have been a really tacky book. But it wasn’t. It was true. Maybe I could understand the narrowness of Ove’s psyche. Maybe his decency allowed me to look beyond his anger. Whatever the reason, I loved spending time with these characters. Having just attended the wake of a friend whose sudden death rocked my husband and me, the portrayal of grief in the book seemed very real. Ove, thinking of his wife, “And one Monday she was no longer there.” Only for us, it was one Sunday, and he was no longer there. Scary, but real life. If there’s one thing that novels about grief teach, it’s that after the loss of a loved one, you’re meant to live- even after bone-crushing grief- until you die.


I found it beautiful that the author, who was thirty-one when the book was first published, has such a grasp of human nature that he could write a moving narrative in which people who are very different from one another come together to form a family. Family, whether it be the one you were born with or the one you choose, is one of the great gifts of life. Well done, Fredrik Backman.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Andries van Bochoven Portrait of the painter Andries van Bochoven and his family 1629
Those van Bochovens have mastered the head tilt.


After the debacle with Patrick and the trailer and Ove’s house and mailbox, Ove’s doorbell rings. There are two young children with dark eyes and dark hair who hand him a warm plastic container. “Rice!” yells the littlest one. “With saffron and chicken,” adds the older of the two. After determining that the Foreign Woman next door sent it over, he asks why. “Mum said you were “‘ungry,” says the little one. Ove later learns from Patrick why Parvaneh, his wife, keeps sending food to Ove. “She’s Iranian, you know. They bring food with them wherever they go.” I wish I knew more Iranians.

Serves: 4-6

3 lbs of chicken (tenders and thighs), thighs have skin on
Some extra virgin olive oil for braising chicken and for rice (butter can be substituted for topping rice)
1 white or yellow onion, diced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 cups basmati rice
½ tsp ground saffron mixed into ¼ cup hot water

For the Rice:
Boil water in a large pot and add plenty of salt (just as you would if you were cooking pasta) and 4 cups rinsed rice. Put stove on med-high heat. Don’t let it over-boil. When the rice is just hard in the middle and soft on the outside (al dente rice!), turn off the burner and drain the rice into a colander, about 7 minutes.
Add olive oil to the large pot to cover the bottom of it and put on medium heat. Add the rice to the pot, poke some holes with the back of a spatula almost to the bottom of the pot to release steam, and cover.
When steam rises to the lid of the pot (this is easy to tell with a clear lid, otherwise wait about 5 minutes) remove the lid and drizzle 2 tbsp of melted butter/olive oil along with most of the saffron-water mixture to the top (the small remainder will be added to the chicken). Replace the lid with a large folded napkin or kitchen towel placed directly and tightly underneath it to catch the steam.
After about 5 min, put on med-low heat for ~30 minutes or until the pot sizzles when you splash a couple drops of water on side of it—whichever happens last. You can either carefully flip the rice over onto a serving platter so that you can see the beautifully crisp tahdig (crispy rice at the bottom of the pot) or just serve yourself directly out of the pot, but make sure to dig for some tahdig at the bottom.

For the Chicken:
In a large pot on med-high heat, add a splash (or approximately 1 tbsp) of olive oil. After oil is hot, swirl it around the pot and add in chicken thighs, skin down. Let them cook for a few minutes and then they should be easy to lift up when they’re ready to flip. Cook for a few more minutes on other side and remove them from the pot and onto a plate.
Cook the chicken tenders the same way and then add back in the chicken thighs and add the onion. Place on medium heat and add turmeric powder, salt, and pepper and move everything in the pot around to coat.
Add about 3 cups of water to the pot to keep it from burning, mix ingredients around, and place lid on top.
After 20 min, place on med-low and cook for about another 20 minutes or until chicken is tender.
Add a bit of the saffron-water mixture on top of the chicken while it’s simmering.
If the liquid in the pot starts to evaporate, don’t let it dry out. Add more water to replace liquid loss.
When plating, add this liquid/broth to your chicken and your rice for added flavor.

When I first made this, I was using up some frozen chicken wings. It was delicious, but would have been better with the meatier thighs and tenders. I used only 2 cups of rice and had plenty left over. The rice took about a third of the time and yielded a very crunchy layer at the bottom. The leftovers the next day were as good as the first time. This recipe is a keeper.


We Have Always Lived in the Castle



I have recently been fascinated by Shirley Jackson. I think it began when a podcast I listen to reported that this is the 100th anniversary of her birth. Upon discovering her, I first read, the short story “The Lottery,” realizing that I had read it before when I got midway into it. My research revealed that Shirley was somewhat of a disappointment to her parents, who expected her to participate in activities that would land her a suitable husband. Instead, Shirley was a solitary girl, preferring reading and writing to dancing and socializing.  She was a rebellious teen who later flunked out of the University of Rochester. When she transferred to Syracuse, she met young, aspiring literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. He couldn’t have been farther from the match her parents had hoped for, and they opposed the marriage, as did Hyman’s family. When the two graduated in May, 1940, they married and moved to New York. So Shirley was an outsider, which, considering her body of work, comes as no surprise.

When I googled “Shirley Jackson Syracuse University,” I found a paper that she had written for an English class in 1940! Her professor praised her writing, considering it far beyond that of the average student. Her thesis was about the ambiguity around gender roles in Hemingway’s work.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a dark tale about class, outsiders, and the contempt between the haves and the have-nots. The youngest daughter of the Blackwood family, Merricat, believed that she had the ability to control her environment using a number of methods, including the use of talismen and magical words and thoughts. At one point in the story, she senses that a change is coming. She doesn’t like change, so she thinks of three powerful words for protection. She wrote the first word, “melody,” on toast in apricot jam, and then ate it, satisfied that she was now one-third protected. She worried over the second word, “Gloucester,” that Uncle Julian might “take it into his head to say almost anything and no word was truly safe when Uncle Julian was talking.” Merricat rejected “digitalis” for the third word because it was too easy for someone to say, replacing it in her thoughts with  “Pegasus.” 

When I Googled, “meaning of melody Gloucester Pegasus,” this clip came up. It is from a Schumann work entitled Kinderscenen, meaning “Scenes from Childhood,”Opus 15. In the repeating phrases, you can hear how”melody Gloucester Pegasus” would fit after the first 6 notes. Beautiful.


Much adaptation has been done of this book. It was a radio broadcast in 1951; a ballet in 1953; a short film in 1969; a TV movie in 1996; and it was on an episode of the  Simpsons. Filming began in Ireland last August for a new movie version that will be released in 2017.

The clip below is from a Yale Repertory Theatre premiere of the musical “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” in 2010; book and lyrics by Adam Bock, music and lyrics by Todd Almond. from YouTube


The Blackwoods, a wealthy family in a small town owned a big house and a lot of land that was safeguarded against intruders by gates and fences. When we meet them, their numbers have been reduced to three. Merricat, the youngest daughter, made twice weekly forays into town for food. People in town quieted and physically withdrew at the grocery store when Merricat walked in to ask a for leg of lamb or roasting chicken, or whatever else older sister Constance had put on the list. The dish I’ve selected is one that Uncle Julian spoke of when reminiscing about the family’s last meal together. He proclaims that he personally never cared much for rarebit, but this recipe is delicious. I’m going to try it over puff pastry next.

Welsh (actually Vermont) Rarebit
2 servings

2 T unsalted butter
2 T all-purpose flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ C porter beer
¾ C heavy cream
6 ounces (approximately 1½ cups) shredded Cheddar (I used Cabot extra extra sharp)
2 drops hot sauce
4 slices toasted rye bread

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour. Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Add hot sauce. Pour over toast and serve immediately.

I added about a cup more cheddar, and used whole milk instead of cream. It was very rich and filling.




I was looking forward to this book for two reasons: first, because it was part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project where distinguished contemporary authors were asked to revisit Shakespeare’s works, and second, because I had never read Margaret Atwood before. I know. How can I call myself a reader if I’ve never read the goddess of fiction?

All I can say is, “Wow!” This was masterful from start to finish. While I thought I knew where the plot was headed, I was skeptical about whether or not Atwood was going to surprise me. I’m not sure how, but surprise, she did. The structure of the book modeled the play, The Tempest, perfectly! There was so much content in here, it would be a great book for a discussion. While I was reading I kept thinking, who do I know who might have read this, or might want to read it who would be willing to talk to me about it? I usually don’t like to know much about a book before I read it, so while I was curious about the title, I figured Atwood would clue me in in her own time. When she did, I was glad that I hadn’t researched it in advance. There was one detail in the story that I thought was genius that had to do with profanity. That’s all I’m going to say. If you’re not already an Atwood fan, this possibly might make you one!

The plot in more than 140 characters: Felix, the protagonist, has fallen from glory as an innovative director in a local theater. After laying low for a time, he gets a job teaching English at a correctional facility. One of his terms of employment is that his students will perform a Shakespeare play after studying it in the class. The play is, of course, laden with personal meaning to Felix, The Tempest.


In a book where Shakespeare features heavily, the beauty simply has to be the language. The Bard was such an inventive flinger of invective, I’ve included my favorites here, along with a couple of memorable phrases. Happy Birthday, Will.

Hang cur, hang, you whoreson insolent noisemaker.
Hell is empty and all the devils are here.
Toads, beetles and bats light on you.
Most wicked sir, whom to call brother would even infect my mouth.
Watch out he’s winding the watch of his wit, by and by it will strike.

Good wombs have borne bad sons.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
What’s past is prologue.
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in’t.
Now I will believe that there are unicorns.


Felix wasn’t a big eater, so food played a minimal role in the book. Felix regularly had a boiled egg and soda crackers for breakfast, but that was too boring. While he had lunch at a restaurant a few times with Estelle, they drank martinis and once ordered “deep fried calamari,” but I’m not a fan of calamari, nor was it significant to the book. So that left me with potato chips, which were significant. What follows is a healthier take on one of my favorite snacks. Can’t say no to a chip, and though time-intensive with the microwaving, they were worth it. If you’re sharing them, DO NOT SAMPLE as you cook them. You literally cannot eat just one.

Microwave Potato Chips

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Yukon gold potato, sliced paper thin 1/16 ” (peel optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Use a mandoline to cut uniform slices of potato, or carefully slice with a sharp knife. Place them in a cold water bath and agitate the water to release starch. Rinse and repeat until the water is clear. Lay the slices on a kitchen towel and blot to dry. The drier the better.

Mix the salt in the vegetable oil and pour into a plastic bag. Add the potato slices, and shake to coat. Arrange potato slices in a single layer on a microwave safe dish.

Cook in the microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly browned (if not browned, they will not become crisp). Times will vary depending on the power of your microwave. Remove chips from plate, and toss with more salt to taste, or other seasonings. Let cool. Repeat process with the remaining potato slices.