Monthly Archives: May 2017

An Invisible Thread


9781452675879Laura Schroff was a successful advertising executive for the start-up national newspaper, USA Today, in Manhattan when Maurice, an eleven year-old panhandler, approached her for money on 56th St. and Broadway one Sunday afternoon. Initially she ignored him, walking right past. But then, for some reason, unknown even to her, she turned around and offered to buy him lunch at McDonald’s. That encounter was the start of an unlikely friendship that lasted for more than thirty years and is still going strong. Maurice’s  is a story of survival. His father was abusive at first, then mostly absent from Maurice’s life later. His mother was an addict who was never a caregiver, but someone who needed to be looked after herself. There were his sisters who were older and wrapped up in their own lives,  and a string of uncles with colorful nicknames who were all physically present in Maurice’s life, but there was no one to provide for his basic needs. So Maurice spent most of his time on the streets, finding ways to feed himself. Laura and Maurice soon fell into a routine where they met every Monday. As they spent more time together, Laura tried not to interrogate Maurice too much about his home life, so she never really knew just how tenuous Maurice’s domestic situation was. For his part, Maurice was curious about what Laura did all day. When she explained her job to him, he was amazed that she did nearly the same thing every single work day. Not only did his mother not work, no one in his family had a conventional job. Growing up in an environment like that, there was so much that Maurice didn’t know that Laura took for granted. Take for example, the first time Maurice came to dinner at Laura’s tiny apartment she asked him to set the table. When she noticed his hesitation, she showed him where the knives, forks, spoons and napkins, etc. were placed on the table.  Laura worried about crossing a line with Maurice. She wanted to be his friend, and to be there for him, but she also recognized that she was not his family, and most of all, she did not want to give him expectations about his future that were unattainable. So, while she dispensed wisdom about living life in the way that a teacher or parent might do, she also tried not to preach, and took her cues, instead, from Maurice.

This was a heart-warming story about two people of vastly different ages and backgrounds forging a lifelong friendship that enriched both of their lives. I loved the pictures of Maurice and his family, and I loved this book.

The Beauty:

Maurice’s extended family


The first meal Laura and Maurice shared was at McDonald’s, and was probably the most important meal, but I’m not going to make a copycat recipe of a McDonald’s burger with fries. So another important meal was their fourth together, when Laura invited Maurice to her apartment for a home cooked dinner. Before she started cooking, she initiated an important conversation with Maurice. She said that she considered Maurice a friend, and that friendship is based on trust. After making sure that he knew what she meant, she promised never to betray that trust and said that if he betrayed her trust, their friendship would have to end. Maurice was amazed that all Laura wanted was to be his friend. In his experience, adults usually wanted something from him. He was so relieved! So on this important evening, Laura made broiled chicken and pasta with vegetables. Not much to go on, so I had a lot of leeway. This meal took place in 1986. Since Laura was a busy working girl, I’m guessing she would have taken advantage of some corner-cutting these days by purchasing a pre-cooked “trustworthy” rotisserie chicken. Here is my version of that trust-enhancing meal.

Rotisserie Chicken with Roasted Vegetables, Linguine and Aglio e Olio Sauce
Serves 6

4 C small broccoli florets (about 6 ounces)
4 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large onion, large chop
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces linguini (break linguine in half)
8 cloves of garlic, sliced into large chunks
¼ C olive oil
3T flour
½ C dry white wine
1½ C chicken stock
1 rotisserie chicken, meat cut into small chunks
½ C grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place broccoli, carrots and onion in a small bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat vegetables evenly. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until browned and soft, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to the package directions.

Saute garlic in ¼ cup olive oil until soft, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2- 3 minutes until the roux begins to turn golden. Add the white wine and chicken stock, stirring until smooth and simmer to reduce by half, about 10 minutes.

Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Return pasta to the pot. Add chicken, the vegetables, sauce, and cheese. Reheat over low heat if necessary, adding some reserved pasta water if it seems dry.


Exit West


30688435._UY1200_SS1200_This is the love story of two young people living in an unnamed oppressive, volatile, and unstable city. In spite of the various restrictions on their lives, the two are relatively light-hearted and hopeful, just as any other young couple falling in love might be. Nadia is estranged from her family, having chosen to live alone in a culture where unmarried young women just don’t do that, but Saeed is close to his parents. When his mother is randomly killed in her own yard by militant gunfire, Saeed brings Nadia to live at his father’s house. They become like father and daughter quickly in those dangerous and uncertain times. When war breaks out, Saeed and Nadia have to decide whether to stay, or try to find access to the “doors” that are rumored to provide access to unknown locations, possibly thousands of miles away in another country. There were so many uncertainties when the couple made the decision to leave: can the person they’ve paid be trusted; where will they end up and will it be safer than where they are; will they make it to the designated door location without being apprehended by the police or the militants or the army; what will happen to them during the actual passage through the door? So many questions. Losing his mother, and leaving his father changed Saeed. He began to pray more, laugh less and lost his playful optimism. The rest of the story is about their literal journey, through the doors to new locations, and the journey of their relationship as their love grows and changes.

What made reading this book so enjoyable was the beauty of the writing. Hamid’s prose is meticulous and precise and I was left feeling that each word was carefully chosen in constructing sentences that sometimes felt like poetry. In his writing, Hamid managed to convey joyfulness when Saeed and Nadia first met; grief when Saeed lost his parents; and tension in the uncertainties that the couple faced as they migrated through space and time. Suspension of belief about the doors was easy, I simply accepted that something as mundane as a door in an ordinary house could be the route to another geographical location, like “beam me up, Scotty,” in Star Trek.


The doors, if one was lucky enough to find one and be able to afford passage, provided an opportunity to escape from one reality into another, so there was a  lot of uncertainty and risk involved, but also a lot of hope. You didn’t know where you would end up. It could be wonderful, but it also could be more dangerous and hostile than the place you left. The doors are metaphors for the choices we make in response to how good a fit exists between where we are and what we want in life. When the circumstances of your daily existence are so difficult that choosing to move on to an uncertain future is the only avenue that allows you to pursue the life you want to live, then you make that choice and hope for the best. That is the basic story of refugees all over the world, making difficult choices to pursue a better life. But as the old woman in Palo Alto thinks near the end of the book:
“…and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.”

A complex book about love, family, refugees,


While there were plenty of scenes that took place in restaurants or cafes and other more domestic settings, food was mentioned in a generic way. When Saeed and Nadia went to a Chinese restaurant early in their relationship, the only details given were that they had water and tea to drink, and used forks instead of chopsticks. In one location various groups were giving out free bread and soup. In another, there is a gifted cook who is using local whole foods to create a taster’s paradise because the world’s foods were coming together and being re-formed into something new and wonderful. In that spirit, having just made and tasted kimchi for the first time in my life, I found this Michael Symon recipe from the TV show “The Chew,” while searching for recipes using kimchi. You can use supermarket kimchi if you don’t want to make your own. The best part about this was the pickled hot dogs! I love, love, love hot dogs. My favorite day of the month at school was the day the cafeteria served hot dogs, and all the children knew it. It was also the day I had to say “yes” repeatedly to the question, “Are you having a hot dog today?” I pickled my own, because they’re ready overnight and I had them in the freezer, but a short cut if you don’t have pickled digs is to add 3 tablespoons of pickle juice to the food processor before pulsing all the ingredients.

Kimchi Potstickers

½ C kimchi, drained and excess liquid squeezed out, finely chopped
1 C pickled hot dogs, sliced
¼ C scallions, finely sliced
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1 T cornstarch
1 package potsticker wrappers
3-4 T peanut oil (for pan frying)
(3 T pickle juice if your dogs aren’t pickled)

for the dipping sauce
2 T chinese hot mustard
2 T water
1 T soy sauce
1 T honey
1 T rice vinegar

In a bowl of a food processor, add the kimchi, hot dogs, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch and pulse until coarsely chopped. Refrigerate until ready to use. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Keeping your potsticker wrappers covered with a damp towel, work with one or two at a time and add about one tablespoon of filling to the center. Brush the perimeter with water, then fold in half, crimping and sealing the edges. Place on the parchment-lined baking sheet and keep covered with a damp towel until all of the wrappers and filing have been used.

Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add peanut oil and half of the potstickers. Cook, without moving, until golden brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, add 1/3 cup water to the pan and cover. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove to a platter, wipe out the pan and place back over the heat with more oil. Repeat with remaining potstickers. Serve with the dipping sauce.

For the Dipping Sauce: In a medium bowl add the mustard, water, soy sauce, honey and rice vinegar and whisk to combine.

If you can’t find pickled hot dogs use regular hot dogs and add 3 tablespoons of pickle juice to the kimchi mixture.

NOTE: We absolutely LOVED this recipe. The dipping sauce is fabulous and we’ll use it in place of the other one we’ve been using for Asian-style dishes. This was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. The only dilemma now, is I have leftover pickled hot dogs, and I promised myself that I would never eat more than one hot dog per month. Can’t freeze, as they were previously frozen. Dilemma!