Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Sleepwalker


9780385538916This is my least favorite cover of the year so far, but not my least favorite book. This was one of those reads that was hard to put down. A mystery, Bohjalian managed to baffle me so that until the very end, I did not know how the mystery would be resolved. Having been disappointed by the endings of a couple of books I have read recently, this was a most satisfying conclusion. I would love to see how Bohjalian maps his plots, because the details here add up to a narrative that is completely believable, and even though, as the reader, I’ve had most of the information necessary to solve the mystery all along, I was surprised by the ending. In a positive way. We know from the start that Annalee Ahlberg went missing from her home while her husband, Warren, a professor at a local college, was at a poetry conference in Iowa City, and her two daughters, Lianna and Paige, were asleep in their rooms, not far from her bedroom. We know that Annalee suffered from somnambulism, but since spending time at a sleep clinic years before, had not had any recent episodes. I believed at various times throughout the book that a couple of completely innocent characters (I later found out) were up to no good. As one can imagine, having been in the house at the time of her disappearance, both daughters felt guilt and  remorse for not waking up that night and saving their mother. The worst part for everyone involved was not knowing where she was, what happened to her.


The beauty in this story is that a family can suffer a tremendous trauma, spend time in an awful limbo of pain and remorse, as separate individuals, all while going through the motions of living, until finally, each one in their own way comes out on the other side. Changed, but moving forward.


The recipe I’ve chosen is from a significant day in the life of Ahlberg family. A lot of the food mentioned was prepared food from the local Bartlett General Store, like potato salad and Mexican wraps. I got the sense, however that this was a dish that Annalee actually prepared herself. And, since it’s something I’ve be wanting to make and had already researched some recipes, it was the perfect blend of opportunity and research that made sampling this dish easy. I’ve become interested in curry dishes since reading Eight Flavors where I learned that curry had a history in England that found its way to America before any major Indian/Pakistani migration. A dish called Coronation Chicken was served at a luncheon in 1954 celebrating Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne. It was based on a recipe called Jubilee Chicken that was served for Elizabeth’s grandfather, George V’s celebration of his Silver Jubilee. About as royal as it gets in my house however, is four-legged “Prince George,” who would probably love it, but would get very sick from the mayonnaise.

Curried Chicken Salad

3 C cooked rotisserie chicken cut into bite size chunks
¾ C mayonnaise
2 T dry white wine
⅛ C Major Grey’s chutney
1½ T curry powder
½ tsp salt
¾ C medium-diced celery
¼ C chopped scallions, white part only
For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt in bowl. Stir until smooth.

Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten it well. Add the celery and scallions and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Serve on naan with some lettuce or mixed greens.



The Bertie Project


61NgAD-m5KL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_It’s no secret that I love the writing of Alexander McCall Smith. Having begun with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series; I moved on to Portuguese Irregular Verbs, the Professor Dr. von Igelfeld series; then the Sunday Philosophy Club series with Isabel Dalhousie and company. But my favorite of all is the 44 Scotland Street series, of which this book is the most recent addition. I love the cultural reflections, the digressions and ruminations about friends and loyalty and topics in the day’s current events. I love the way the characters love Edinburgh and Scotland and each other. I also love the way each book ends in a poem by Angus Lordie. The poems celebrate the uniqueness of Edinburgh and the common culture shared by the group of friends gathered around Domenica and Angus’s dinner table. The last stanza of the current one:
“What we lose, we think we lose forever,
But we are wrong about this; think of love –
Love is lost, we think it gone,
But it returns, often when least expected;
Forgives us our lack of attention, our failure of faith,
Our cold indifference; forgives us all this, and more;
It returns and says, “I was always there.”
Love, agape, whispers: Merely remember me,
Don’t think I’ve gone away forever:
I am still here. With you. My power undimmed.
See. I am here.”


After having visited the Scottish Portrait Gallery with his Granny, Bertie developed his  own prefererences for Scottish painters. On an outing with his mother, they pass the gallery and Irene says, “Remind me, Bertie, to take you to look at the Poussins.” Bertie tells her that he’s not sure he likes the way Mr. Poussin painted. He goes on to say that he likes the way Mr. Raeburn painted, expressing a preference for portrait of The Skating Minister, the Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddington Loch.


Poussin on the left, Raeburn on the right. Are you in the Bertie camp, or Irene’s?


When Matthew learns that Bruce’s new girlfriend Clare, was looking for a position, and Elspeth had just fired the Danish au pair and her assistant, he invited Bruce and Clare to meet Elspeth at their home at Nine Mile Burn. When they arrive, Elspeth invited them in for tea and scones, and a philosophical discussion ensues about one’s individual attitudes being determined by one’s cultural background. Moving the concept along further, Elspeth pronounces that food, even scones, carry cultural symbolism, and says, “They’re rather a polite food. Bourgeois? Lace doilies? Edinburgh?” After further discussion, Matthew concludes, “Perhaps everywhere in Scotland is… is prone to scones. Maybe it’s just part of our inheritance.” My husband and I too, are prone to these scones.

Scottish Scones

1½ C  all purpose flour                                ½ C currants
1 C quick cooking oats                                 1 egg, beaten
¼ C  white sugar                                           ½ C unsalted butter or margarine, melted
4 tsp baking powder                                     ⅓ cup milk
½ tsp salt                                                        zest of 1 orange (optional)

Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, and currants and zest, if using, in a large bowl. (I ran the oats through the food processor to make its texture more flour-like.)
Mix well. Make a well in the center.

Beat egg until frothy, and mix in melted butter or margarine, and milk. Pour into well. Stir to make a soft dough. If the dough is too dry, add more milk.

Pat dough into two 6- to 7-inch circles. Transfer to greased baking sheet. Score each top into 8 pie-shaped wedges.

Bake at 425º for 25 minutes, or until risen and browned.

Serve warm with butter and jam.


A Monster Calls


a-monster-calls-watch-online-full-movie-dvdrip-download-coverI wish I could remember where I got the recommendation for this book, so that I can file for future reference that it is a source I should pay attention to. I loved the book. I hope that the fact that it is categorized as a Young Adult book will not put some off from reading it. It packs a very powerful emotional punch, worthy of any “adult” reading. In the author’s note, Patrick Ness explains that he was asked to take on the writing of an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who died before she was able to complete the work. All he had was the characters, a premise, and a beginning. He was an admirer of her previous books, but had not met her. I think it was very brave of him to take this on, and can’t imagine that it could have been any better in any other writer’s hands. Consequently, I have put both Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd of my list of authors to read. This is a terrific story.


Without giving away any plot details, the beauty of this book is a simple universal truth: the power of forgiveness. There are times in our lives when we have to consider forgiveness in one of its many forms. The thought process that preceeds the act can be grueling and painful, but ultimately, liberating and life affirming.


Conor had a fond memory of how much fun he and his mother had together in the recent past. She had taken him to his favorite Indian restaurant, and let him order as much vindaloo as he wanted. Then, instead of going home afterward, she took him to see a movie he’d already seen four times, even though he knew she was sick of it, and it was a school night! The recipe below recalls that happy day.

Vindaloo Vegetables

1 T olive oil                                   2 small carrots, chopped
½ tsp dry mustard                   4 C cauliflower cut into small florets
1 tsp ground coriander             1 small red bell pepper
¼ tsp cardamom                       2 small zucchini cut in ¼ inch slices
½ tsp cayenne pepper             1 C diced tomatoes
½ tsp turmeric                          ½ C chicken broth
1 tsp ground cumin                   1 15.5 oz can kidney beans, drained
¼ tsp cinammon                      salt, pepper to taste
½ tsp paprika                            1 T white wine vinegar
1 large onion, chopped            chopped cilantro for garnish
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T chopped ginger
2 chopped serrano peppers, seeds removed

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add spices and stir for 30 seconds to allow spices to bloom. Add onion and saute until it begins to turn translucent (about 5 minutes), then add garlic, ginger and serrano peppers and saute for another minute. Stir in white wine vinegar and ½ cup of chicken broth, then add add the carrots, cauliflower and red pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in zucchini, tomatoes, kidney beans and ½ cup chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Serve over rice, garnish with chopped cilantro.

NOTE: This dish was seriously better the second day. The flavors were evenly blended and there were layers of taste complexity missing from the night before’s servings.




Circling the Sun


23995231Beryl Markham was a woman who chose her own path in life, often acting outside of the social norms of the time, leaving her frequently alone and friendless, and bringing truth to the phrase “well-behaved women seldom make history.” She was the first female licensed horse trainer in Africa, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, an adventurer and author. Her path frequently crossed that of Karen von Blixen, who was 17 years her senior. Beryl played a very small role in Blixen’s memoir Out of Africa. Her story, however, is one that very much needed to be told, if only as a reminder of what American women today take for granted relative to their antecedents around the turn of the twentieth century. This book is rich in its description of the landscape of Africa, and conveys the love that those who have lived there, have for the land and its people.


McLain mentions many animals in her descriptions of landscape, some of which I had heard, but was unclear on what they looked like. Here are a skink, vervet, hyrax and foam-nest tree frog.

african-fire-skink-6c361ca2 This is a fire skink, a reptile that lives in tropical forests in Western Africa. They love to burrow and hide and are relatively shy and reclusive, but can become tame in captivity, although not in this house!

vervet-monkey-face-web620This lovely creature is a vervet monkey, groups of which have been studied in an attempt to understand certain genetic and social behaviors of humans.They have been noted for having human-like characteristics, like  hypertension, anxiety, and social and dependent alcohol use. When I saw that sweet face, I had to include it here.

266f5065fa42bbf82fe010ba4b28b2d4 Next comes a hyrax,  a small, thickset, herbivorous mammal. Hyraxes are sometimes described as being the closest living relative to the elephant, because their incisors are tusk-like, but this is currently a matter for debate. From this angle he looks harmless, but head on, his continuously growing incisors look menacing.

shutterstock_64062523-ecoprintThe last animal is a foam-nest tree frog.  It lives in subtropical or tropical dry forests and dry savanna. In the dry habitats the seasonal rains prompt the females to come together with sometimes multiple males. They will mate and at the same time create a large frothy nest by thrashing their hind legs. This overhangs a pool of water that the tadpoles can drop into.


I usually choose a food that relates to a significant event in the story, which was difficult in this case. For example, the day Beryl received her trainer’s license was a very celebratory occasion so Lord Delamere had his cook prepare thick gazelle chops over an open fire. Hm. The local butcher was fresh out of gazelle chops, so on to another momentous occasion. On Boxing Day at Berkeley’s brother Galbraith’s estate there was roast suckling pig, which was doable by using some form of pork, but without more description, I had no recipe. So the occasion I chose was Beryl and Markham’s honeymoon in Europe, including some time in Paris where they had escargot. One of the first things my now husband ever made for me when we started dating, was “Escargot a la Me.” I had never had it before, believing that I wouldn’t like it, but I had to sample it in order to save face. To my great surprise, it was delicious, and is still a favorite all these years later. The purchase of a set of French porcelain escargot dishes not only improved the presentation, but makes clean up really easy. (He renamed the recipe as a warning to those with whom we share it.)

Heavy Duty Garlic Escargot

2 dozen snails, rinsed                                              2 sticks salted butter
8 cloves garlic, minced                                            ½ C panko
2 medium shallots, minced                                    toasted French bread slices for dipping
4 T vermouth                                                               lemon wedges for serving
4 T chopped parsley

Melt butter in a frying pan on medium low heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook until translucent. Add wine and parsley, increase the heat to medium and add the snails. When hot, place snails in escargot dishes and cover with the butter mixture. Sprinkle panko on top and broil for 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and slices of a baguette for sopping up the butter mixture.

img_3198 This escargot dish is by Revol. It made serving much nicer.

Eight Flavors


eight-flavors-9781476753959_hrWhat do you get when you combine American history, food and an engaging writing style?  Eight Flavors. I knew this book would appeal to both my husband and me when I heard the author on a podcast last December, and I was not disappointed. Sarah Lohman developed her thesis that in order to define American cuisine, it had to be broken down into the basic flavors that we all use. Her research focused on the frequency that flavors appeared in our cooking over time. She then narrowed the common flavors down to eight of the most cited using some Google algorithm. Those eight are pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. The delight in reading this book was the surprising things I learned about American eating habits. For example, I had assumed that curry was a relatively modern addition to the American palate, based on Asian Indian immigration  to the US, when in fact, the colonial English brought with them a taste for curry, as curry dishes were served in English households. An English cookbook printed in 1747 called The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy contained basic recipes for Anglo-Indian curry dishes. Later in the US, Mary Randolph’s 1824 book, The Virginia Housewife, contained 6 Anglo-curry recipes. Curry grew out of favor here due to racist and anti-Hindu political sentiment and policy that was rampant prior to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, making it easier for Asians to gain entry. Unfortunately, American history once again revealed its dark side in another chapter of “what minority shall we blame for the ills of our society?”

Some random fun facts about flavors in America. We owe a debt of gratitude to the state of Texas where the entrepreneurial women called the Chili Queens made inexpensive chii con carne available from the precursor to food trucks, and a German immigrant invented chili powder looking for a shortcut in the preparation of the dish. The first soy sauce in the western hemisphere was produced in Thunderbolt, Georgia in 1767. Another ingredient to suffer from prejudice was garlic because if its association with Italian immigrants. Garlic only began to be respectable in America after World War II when returning GI’s who had been stationed in Provence wanted to experience at home the flavors they had enjoyed there. A misconception led Americans to eschew Chinese food because of the presence of MSG in those dishes that they believed caused headaches. It has been scientifically proven that MSG does not cause migraines. Again, mistrust of Asians, in this case, Chinese, perpetuated that myth. If you check the ingredients on packages of processed food, you will find MSG used as a flavor enhancer. People who believed that their headaches came from the MSG in Chinese food were at the same time consuming MSG in processed food unknowingly, yet not reporting experiencing headaches from those foods.


Thomas Jefferson started a trend for ice cream that increased demand for vanilla beans during his presidency, when it was served at White House state dinners. As a result, the demand for vanilla beans increased. Because cultivating vanilla is an intricate and laborious process, it is the second-most expensive spice in the world. One of the reasons for the failure of vanilla cultivation outside of Mexico, where the Spanish had a monopoly on trade, was discovered by a Belgian botanist who detemined that the natural pollinators of the plants don’t live in other parts of the world. Enter Edmond Albius, a 12 year-old slave who had learned the principles of botany from his master. Through experimentation, the young man discovered that the plants, vanilla orchids, could be pollinated by hand. He used a thin stick like a toothpick to split the tubelike side of the flower, exposing the anther sac and the stigma. Then he lifted the membrane separating the anther and stigma which caused the anther to touch the stigma. Just to be sure they connected, he pushed the two together with his thumb and forefinger. His method is still used today. Pictured below are the vanilla orchid blossom and a worker hand pollinating the flower. What makes this process even more incredible is that the flowers open for only day, starting  early in the morning and closing by early afternoon. So the window of opportunity is well-defined, but narrow.

07_jan_vanilla_planifolia_grossman                  vanilla-1


The chapter on MSG identifies its flavor as savory, or “umami,” identified  by Dr. Ikunae Ikeda, an organic chemist. While studying in Germany, he sampled new foods, including tomtoes, cheese and asparagus, noting a commonality of taste in them. When he got back to Japan, he recognized the same taste in Japanese foods like bonito, dried mushrooms, miso and soy sauce. He noted it especially in a dish called yudofu, tofu simmered in a broth called kombu dashi. Kombu dashi is a broth made from kelp (kombu in Japanese) or seaweed. He began to experiment with kombu dashi to find the chemical source of its taste. He boiled down the kombu dashi until nothing was left but its solids, a white powder. Its taste was savory, particularly in combination with the natural sea salt attached to the kombu. He had discovered MSG. He needed to find a word to capture the qualities of the taste of this savory stuff. Combining the Japanese words umai (delicious) and mi (essence, taste or flavor), he came up with umami. We now refer to umami as the fifth taste: savory. Lohman includes a recipe for homemade MSG, included here.

Umami Finishing Salt
Makes about ½ cup

2 oz. kombu (kelp)
½ C table salt

Gently wipe the combo with a damp paper towel. Place in a pot with 4 cups of water. Allow the kombu to soak for 3 hours.Add salt and simmer over gentle heat for about 30 minutes, then discard the kombu.

Raise the heat to medium-high and reduce dash until about 90 percent of the liquid has evaporated, about 60 minutes, scraping down the salty residue from time to time. You should have about 3½ ounces (a scant ½ cup) of sediment with a bit of liquid.

Pour the sediment and liquid into a shallow glass baking dish and place in a 250º oven. The finishing salt is done when the salts crystallize and all the liquid has evaporated. The size of the baking dish will determine how laong evaporation and crystallization take. The larger the dish, the greater the surface area, and the quicker the evaporation. An 8 X 8 bkinf dish took about 90 minutes.

img_3187    img_3189  img_3194

I got the kelp at Whole Foods. Prepared the (broth). The final product on the right took about 2 hours in my oven. I made MSG!



41zo3etzpml-sx316I loved this book from the first sentence, “So here I am, upside down in a woman.” Never did I question the brilliance of an 8 ½ month old fetus as narrator, I only loved his voice, as when he said, “But I don’t whine in the face of good fortune. I knew from the start, when I unwrapped from its cloth of gold my gift of consciousness, that I could have arrived in a worse place in a far worse time.” He explains from whence his knowledge comes: his mother listens to a lot of podcasts, especially during bouts of insomnia. He listens closely to analysis and dissent. He admits that, “In the middle of a long, quiet night, I might give my mother a sharp kick. She’ll wake, become insomniac, reach for the radio. Cruel sport, I know, but we are both better informed by the morning.”

The fetus is quite a wine connoisseur, enjoying it “decanted through a healthy placenta.” He likens his first experience of it to a summer’s breeze. But he is not without caution.”I know that it will lower my intelligence. It lowers everybody’s intelligence. But oh, a joyous, blushful Pinot Noir, or a gooseberried Sauvignon, sets me turning and tumbling across my secret sea, reeling off the walls of my castle, the bouncy castle that is my home.” I couldn’t agree more. About the wine.

There were many literary references that I recognized, and I’m sure, many more that I did not. I had to look up some French and Latin phrases, not because I couldn’t figure out the meaning in context, but because I wanted to know precisely what they meant. There was one I couldn’t find a translation for, “coup de verite,” so I don’t know if McEwan made it up or if it’s just obscure.

One final example of why I love McEwan’s writing. The fetus reviles his uncle, Claud as a dull man, who is constantly whistling jingles and ringtones, and knowledgeable only about which stores to shop for clothes and the kind of cars to drive and “Whose repeated remarks are a witless, thrustless dribble, whose impoverished sentences die like motherless chicks, cheaply fading.”


Shoreditch, when his father lived there, was a nondesirable part of town. Now, it has undergone gentrification and is fashionable and hip, say s the internet. The images below illustrate its appeal.


I’m assuming that this photo was taken in the Cereal Killer Cafe that serves more than 120 different kinds of branded cereals. These twins are the owners, Alan and Gary Keery. The photo comes from Time Out London.





This mural by Ben Eine is in the tunnel archway of Rivington Street.


Are you ever really too old to be hip?


After a tense interchange with Trudy (mother of the narrator), Claud was hungry and intent on ordering Indian takeaway, but changed his mind enroute to the phone, and ordered Danish open sandwiches instead. The only Danish restaurant in London according to their website is Snaps & Rye. I learned on their website that cheese Smørrebrød are Danish open-faced sandwiches that are eaten to conclude a meal. Here is my version of one.

Blue Cheese, Pear and Hazelnut Sandwich
Makes 2 sandwiches

2 slice rugbrød (dense Danish sourdough rye bread), about 1/3-inch thick (I substituted a    dark, whole grain rye)
1 tsp unsalted butter, softened slightly
½ pear, cut thinly lengthwise
¼ C  Danish blue cheese, crumbled
4 tsp toasted hazelnuts, chopped

If not already trimmed, cut rye bread to a 3- by 5-inch rectangle and lightly toast. Spread butter evenly all over top side of bread. Arrange pear slices on bread so that they overlap slightly. Top with crumbled blue cheese and finish with toasted hazelnuts. Serve right away.





Sisters One, Two, Three

The Book:

51qbwooweil-_sx331_bo1204203200_Sisters One, Two, Three is about many things: family, secrets, the unknown effect of our behavior on those who love us, disappointment, and allowing things to happen to us instead of making choices in our lives. It also is a cautionary tale about finding a balance between paying attention to loved ones and being stiflingly overprotective. The Tangle family consists of Glory, the flamboyant, beautiful, and aptly-named mother; Solly, the gracelessly-aging, but dear husband and father; and the children, Ginger, Mimi, Callie, and Charlie. The book was a compelling read and hard to put down. I kept reading another chapter to uncover the secrets and also  hoped that some plot points that were troubling me would come together in a way that made sense. Without disclosing the ending, I’ll just say that once revealed, Glory’s secrets didn’t seem plausible to me. There was no reason for them. Finally, that so many people contributed to keeping Glory’s secrets for so long didn’t ring true, either. I enjoyed the book right up until the end.


Martha’s Vineyard was a large presence in this story. Many of the characters spoke of their love for the place and of how friendly and accepting the people are there. The author made reference to the fact that many of the people who lived there signed, as in American Sign Language. My research revealed that there was indeed, a large population of deaf people in the past. The original founders carried a gene for deafness, and because of the relative isolation of island living, there was a lot of intermarriage, increasing the deaf population. That population has dwindled in modern times because of mobility. Young people now travel off-island for college and work, and tend to marry people from those locations. The connection to the book is that outsiders or minorities, like the deaf, like Callie, can be accepted into the community there. The photo below is a couple of the gingerbread cottages in Wesleyan Grove in Oak Bluffs. This is the site of the first summer religious camp in the country, Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. It is a National Historic Landmark. What reminded me of it was the description in the book of the community that all looked out for Callie.

gingerbread-house                         This photo is from a September 7, 2013 entry on blog.


For Ginger’s 13th birthday dinner, a significant event for the whole family, as well as for Ginger herself, Glory made “Tuna Tempter,” a casserole that she made with wagon wheel pasta and condensed mushroom soup. It reminded me of a dish I made in sixth grade on an environmental camp trip, but ours was called “Tuna Wiggle.” We arrived at camp mid-morning, and after an introductory activity where we were arranged in small groups, those groups then put together a casserole which was cooked over an open fire. At the time, the whole experience, including the finished product, impressed me. I was eleven.


12 oz. pkg. egg noodles                                   2 C  frozen peas
2 cans tuna, drained and flaked                   ½ C grated parmesan cheese
2 cans cream of mushroom soup                 bread crumbs
1 ¼ C milk                                                           butter

Preheat oven to 400º
Undercook noodles (package instructions said 9-11 minutes, I cooked them for 7). Drain. In large mixing bowl, combine noodles, flaked tuna, peas and parmesan. Mix cream of mushroom soup and milk together until smooth. The noodles will absorb the liquid, so you want it watery. Add soup to noodle mixture and stir to mix evenly. Fill a greased 13 X 8 X 3 inch baking dish with noodles mixture. Cover tightly with foil. Place in oven for 15 minutes. Remove dish from oven, remove foil. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Return to oven for another 20 minutes. Let the casserole rest for 10 minutes before serving.