Monthly Archives: October 2017

Little Fires Everywhere


efjsffslfI was so excited when I heard that there was going to be a new Celeste Ng book in 2017, so when I finally got it, I devoured it. Thank goodness for lousy weather so I don’t have to feel guilty about spending all my waking hours indoors reading. This book is similar to Everything I Never Told You in that it explores relationships among family members, friends, and the larger community. People present themselves to their world in different ways. We can be charming and delightful to the rest of the world, while at the same time being angry and resentful to our family. And then, there’s the notion of what we think we show to other people about ourselves in contrast to how they interpret what they see. So everyone’s reality is very fluid and unpredictable, begging the questions, do we every really know another person, let alone do we ever really know ourselves?

Shaker Heights outside of Chicago is a planned community that was originally the North Union Community of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as Shakers. The colony eventually faded away and closed in 1889. Shakers, after all, were celibates, with no steady stream of potential acolytes to increase their numbers. When the Van Sweringen brothers bought the land in 1905, their vision was the first garden style suburb in Ohio. Strict building codes and zoning laws have helped maintain the community’s identity over the years.  The author mentions rules that the color of the exterior of different styles of homes are allowed to be painted; there are fines for not mowing your lawn in a timely fashion (good thing we don’t live there); the driveways are designed so that garbage is never in the front of the house. Order and rules rule! We are introduced to the Richardson family: Elena and Bill, and their children, Lexie, Trip and Moody. Things start to get interesting in the community when Mia, an artist, and her teen-aged daughter, Pearl, rent a duplex owned by the Richardsons. Essentially, a contest ensues between order (Richardsons) and free-spirited living where the rules that govern behavior are more gray than black and white (Mia and Pearl). It is very telling that the Richardson’s matriarch, Elena, is referred to as “Mrs. Richardson” throughout the narrative.

When I finished the book, I still wasn’t finished with the book. It stayed with me and I found myself wondering about Izzie (youngest Richardson), and how her relationship with her mother set her on a dangerous, perhaps lonely path. Bottom line, I love that this book made me think about my own relationships after experiencing the conflicts in this book. Again, I can’t wait for the next Ng book. Keep them coming, please!


This was a tough one. I thought about Shaker Heights being beautiful, but the thought of it oppresses me and makes me feel claustrophobic and short of breath. But when I thought about the origin of the place and how “Simple Gifts” was taught in their schools so that students would make the connection to those who had founded the community, I thought I might be onto something. When I typed in “Simple Gifts” one of the first links to come up was to the video below. I love Yoyo Ma, and the Silk Road, and Alison Krauss’s voice is delicately, simply, beautiful .

This video was put together on April 29, 2014 by Vicki Burns. It features photography of Oregon.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.


Mia worked at the Lucky Palace Chinese restaurant. She was able to make ends meet to feed Pearl and herself with the leftovers that the restaurant would have discarded at the end of each day. The recipe below for repurposed lo mein is not Mia’s. She added Ragu spaghetti sauce and who knows what else, and THAT did not appeal to me. This is actually pretty good, and I started with leftovers from our local favorite Chinese restaurant. (Finally, a simple recipe! See what I’ve done there, referencing the song above?)

Repurposed Lo Mein

Leftover lo mein
Frozen broccoli, peas and carrots, or whatever vegetables you choose
Olive oil
Crushed red pepper flakes

Chop up garlic, and defrost some broccoli in the microwave. Drain the water from the broccoli. Saute garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil in a frying pan for a couple of minutes until the garlic is fragrant and softened. Then, add the defrosted broccoli to the pan.

Once your broccoli is sautéed through, add the lo mein and continue to sauté until the lo mein is warmed all the way through. Serve with condiments of your choice, like soy sauce or sriracha.

The Glass Flame


s-l500I wanted to love this book. Last fall, when I was sorting through some boxes that I had taken from my mother’s house, I found a list of the books she had read from 1986 to 1990. This was the first on the list. I hadn’t read but a few pages when I realized how much I was loving the size and shape of the book. Even though it’s a hardcover, it fit perfectly in my hand and I could put my left thumb in the binding between the two pages and steady the whole thing with my right hand! (FYI: the book’s dimensions are 6″ wide by 8½ ” high.) That was an auspicious beginning to my read. Phyllis A Whitney wrote more than 70 books for children and adults, characterizing her adult books as “romantic suspense novels.” This one certainly falls into that category. Karen Hallam has been called to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for her husband’s funeral. Although they were estranged, divorce proceedings had just begun when David took an assignment in Tennessee. Letters to Karen from him revealed his anger about the split, and also a request if something untowardshould happen to him. Karen was staying with David’s brother, Trevor, a celebrated architect whose work Karen had photographed in the past for her magazine, although Trevor didn’t know that. There is an interesting array of characters including Lori Caton, Trevor’s wife, and their 10 year-old son Chris. Nona Andrews, Trevor’s wheelchair-bound aunt, who lived with him and his family in the gorgeous house he designed, much in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright where the structure blends beautifully into the natural landscape. Add in neighbors Eric (Lori’s uncle) and Maggie Caton and their grown son, Gifford, and other assorted characters, and the reader ends up with many possibilities as to who is responsible for David’s death. I didn’t figure it out, but that’s part of the fun for me, the surprise at all I missed or misinterpreted. Phyllis Whitney skillfully transported me to another place and time, and left me feeling  a part of the suspense. An enjoyable read. Well done, Mom!
IMG_4075Yup. My mother’s list. I don’t know how far along I’ll get, but I’m glad to have begun. Looking forward to the Shana Alexander book next.


Trevor insists on taking Karen for a drive in Great  Smoky Mountain National Park to Clingman’s Dome before she heads back to New York after the funeral. He wanted to share with her the beautiful views, and hopefully an element of peace after all the family had been through. On an April vacation trip to Myrtle Beach somewhere around 12 years ago, we had decided to take the interior western route back to Massachusetts rather than eastern coastal route.  We were in the Great Smokies only briefly before crossing into Virginia, But I remember being moved by the beauty, and hoped that someday we could do the whole route. Haven’t yet, but there’s still time.

adam-jones-autumn-view-of-fog-from-morton-overlook-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-tennesseeThe photo above is from


There had been a lot of eating, but no accounting of what was consumed, so when Nona talked about a dinner party she wanted to host, I was hopeful that, at last, I was finally going to find the food for this entry. Predictably (yes, I tend toward pessimism) Karen, from whose perspective the story is told, could remember nothing of what was served that night! Thanks a lot, Karen. So it was back to the potato salad Nona had served on the deck after Karen returned from a disturbing encounter with Maggie in her studio. Nona was reputed to be a good cook, so I thought maybe her potato salad might be something special. When I googled “Tennessee Potato Salad,” a number of recipes came up for Carolina BBQ potato salad, but the one that caught my eye was called “Tennessee Que Potato Salad.”  The commentary with the recipe said that Tennesseans like their mustard, and that this recipe used Palmetto Gold Bar-B-Que Sauce. I found a recipe for Golden Carolina BBQ sauce, and combined them to make the salad recipe here, with modifications on quantities to suir my personal taste.


3 lbs golden potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
½ C diced celery
½ C diced red onion
½ C sliced green onion
½ C chopped sweet pickles
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
¼ C Golden Carolina BBQ Sauce (recipe below)
1 C mayonnaise

In a large pot, cover potatoes with cool water. Add a tablespoon of salt, place on high heat and bring to a boil. Boil potatoes until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Place potatoes in a colander and spray with cold water to stop cooking. Transfer to a large mixing bowl once potatoes have cooled and refrigerate for at least a half hour. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cover potato salad with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Golden Carolina BBQ Sauce

½ C mustard
¼ C apple cider vinegar
¼ C brown sugar
½ T tomato paste
½ tsp salt
⅛ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp white pepper
⅛ tsp cayenne

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer on low heat until warmed through and bubbling around the edges. Make sure to stir sauce often to prevent burning. Once cooked through, remove from heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature before using. If making ahead of time, cool completely, place into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week after preparation. The sauce can be stored in the same manner in the freezer for a few months.

*After having this for lunch, we decided to throw away all our old potato salad recipes and keep just this one. It was absolutely delicious.



The Japanese Lover


the-japanese-lover-9781501116971_hrI had wanted to read this book for a long time, although I’m not sure where the recommendation came from. I kept looking for it in used bookstores, until finally, at the September library book sale, I found it. This is the story of an enigmatic, aristocratic and aloof elderly woman, Alma Belasco, whose relationship with Irina Bazili, a young Moldovan caretaker at the unconventional senior residence Lark House, began when Alma asked her to be her assistant. Irina had her own lion’s share of tragedy and shame in her life, but in spite of that, through caring for Alma, she learns to forgive and accept herself. This is also the story of the shameful  period of America history during WWII that saw 127,000  Japanese Americans relocated and incarcerated for the duration of the war. Ichimei Fukuda’s family were among them. The patriarch of the family, Takao, worked as a gardener on the estate of Alma’s uncle, Isaac Belasco. The family lost everything- their home, their property, their business- when they were moved first to Tanforan, a racetrack in San Bruno, south of San Francisco, and then, six monthes later, to Topaz Relocation Center in the desert of Utah. Finally, this book is also about multiple love stories, some of which are so intense, so magical, so full of raw emotion that the reader has to pause, for a sigh and to take a deep breath. It is beautifully written. Allende is known for her magical realism, which made its appearance so subtly, that I was not only charmed, but taken aback as well. Full disclosure, I’m one who has no problem with fantasy or magic or the supernatural as long as the story has initially drawn me in and engaged me.


Takao and Heideki Fukuda’s fourth child was born prematurely, and was so weak that he wasn’t expected to live, so, for the first few months of his life he had no name. When he began to thrive, his parents gave him a Japanese name, unlike his older brothers who were given easy to pronounce American names. They called him Ichimei, whose name means “life, light, brilliance, or star.” The beauty of his survival and flowering into a gifted gardener, bringing life and beauty to the landscape, is embodied in the Japanese ideogram of his name:



Alma and Irina were having lunch at Neiman Marcus in Union Station under the historic stained glass cupola. While  enjoying popovers and pink champagne, Alma told Irina about her husband, Nathaniel. Through relaxed, intimate conversations like this, Irina began to see a pattern of kindness and goodness in three generations of Belasco men, all of which seemed to contribute to Irina’s growing ease with the family in general, and Alma in particular. And who doesn’t love popovers? And Neiman Marcus?


3½ C whole milk
4 C all-purpose flour
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
6 large eggs, at room temperature

For the Strawberry Butter: (a must)

1½ C butter, room temperature
1 C of your best quality strawberry preserves

Place milk in bowl and microwave on high for two minutes, or warm to touch. Sift flour, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Crack eggs in another large bowl with an electric mixer and whisk for on medium for about 3 minutes, until foamy. Turn down mixer speed to low and add warm milk. Gradually add flour mixture and beat for about 2 minutes. Let batter rest at room temperature for about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 450º. Spray popover pan generously with nonstick spray. (or place 1 T of pan dripping or butter in pan, then heat till piping hot.) Fill popover cups almost to the top with batter and place popover pan on cookie sheet. Transfer to oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 375º and bake for 30 to 35 minutes longer, until popovers are deep golden brown. Remove from oven and pop out popovers on a cool rack. Serve hot with the Strawberry Butter: To make butter, place in bowl and beat until smooth, add preserves and beat until fluffy.


The Children Act


51K5N5cjUYL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_What strikes me about this one in particular and McEwan’s books in general is how concise they are, but also, how complex. As I read the protagonist, Fiona Maye’s thoughts about the cases she was working on as a Family Court Judge, juxtaposed with her thoughts about her marriage, I marvelled at how on the one hand, she could be objective, logical and confident, but in the very next moment, vulnerable, emotional, and insecure. McEwan’s ability to convey a lot of content in a short space leads me to believe he’d be a wonderful poet. (I checked, but could find no poetry by Ian McEwan.) This is a book about a marriage, and a career. Fiona and her husband, Jack, have grown apart. When the book opens, Fiona is still reeling from a conversation she just had with Jack, about how to fix their foundering marriage. At the same time, she was pondering the cases she would address on behalf of the children caught up in their parents’ divorce, at work the following day. While her work was challenging, and often grim, she felt that she brought reasonableness to otherwise hopeless situations. Reading Fiona’s thoughts about her work made me realize how difficult and important the work of a Family Court judge is. And then there’s the key “decision” that Fiona makes that nearly unravels her professionally and personally. I do love McEwan.

One of the Fiona’s cases involved a gravely ill 17 year-old boy hospitalized by a rare form of leukemia. She had to make a ruling on treatment because his parents disagreed with the hospital. Before making her judgment, Fiona wanted to meet the boy so that she could ascertain his degree of understanding of his medical condition and the consequences of the hospital’s treatment plan in contrast to his parents’ preference. Adam had been learning to play the violin while in the hospital, and was eager to play his latest piece for Fiona. When she recognized it, she began to sing along with his playing. This YouTube clip was among the most beautiful I found.

Down by the Salley Gardens
by William Butler Yeats

Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.

In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.

Before relations between Fiona and Jack had become strained, they used to relish their Saturday mornings together, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, reading the newspapers and listenings to Radio Three. Accompanying coffee, there was warmed pain aux raisins from Lamb’s Conduit St., which is apparently a toney street of upscale stores and bakeries.

Makes about 1¼ pounds

For starter
1 tsp sugar
¼ C warm milk or water (105°F)
1 (¼-ounce) package active dry yeast (2½ teaspoons)
½ C sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)

For dough
¼ tsp salt
3 T sugar
1 T hot milk or water
3 large eggs
1½ C sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1½ sticks (¾ cup) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch slices and well softened

Special equipment: a standing electric mixer with whisk and dough-hook attachments

Make starter:
Stir together sugar and milk in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir flour into yeast mixture, forming a soft dough, and cut a deep X across top.

Let starter rise, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature, 1 hour.

Make dough:
Combine salt, sugar, and hot milk in a small bowl and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved.

Fit mixer with whisk attachment, then beat 2 eggs at medium-low speed until fluffy. Add sugar mixture and beat until combined well. With motor running, add in order, beating after each addition: ½ cup flour, remaining egg, ½ cup flour, about one fourth of butter, and remaining 1/2 cup flour. Beat mixture 1 minute.

Remove bowl from mixer and fit mixer with dough-hook attachment. Spread starter onto dough with a rubber spatula and return bowl to mixer. Beat dough at medium-high speed 6 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Add remaining butter and beat 1 minute, or until butter is incorporated.

Lightly butter a large bowl and scrape dough into bowl with rubber spatula. Lightly dust dough with flour to prevent a crust from forming.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature until more than doubled in bulk, 2 to 3 hours.

Punch down dough and lightly dust with flour.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough, punching down after first hour, at least 12 hours. Dough may be chilled up to 3 days. Punch down dough each day.

Raisin Brioche Pastries (Pains aux Raisins)
Makes 11 buns

1¼ pounds cold Brioche Dough

1 C raisins
1 C boiling-hot water

For pastry cream
1 C whole milk
3 large egg yolks
⅓ C sugar
1½ T cornstarch
½ tsp vanilla
½ T unsalted butter

¼ C apricot preserves
2 T water

Make brioche dough the day before making pastry and chill. Just before making pastry cream, soak raisins in boiling-hot water until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, pressing out excess liquid, and cool to room temperature.

Make pastry cream:

Bring milk to a simmer in a 1½-quart heavy saucepan. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl and gradually whisk in hot milk. Return mixture to pan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture begins to boil. Simmer, stirring, until thickened and smooth, about 3 minutes.

Transfer to a clean bowl and stir in vanilla and butter. Cover surface with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature.

Make pastries:
Roll out brioche dough on a well-floured surface into an 18- by 11-inch rectangle with a short side toward you. Spread pastry cream evenly over dough, leaving a ½-inch border at top edge. Sprinkle raisins evenly over cream. Roll up dough, starting from bottom, to make a log 11 inches long and about 3½ inches in diameter. Moisten top edge with water and press to seal closed.

Transfer to a cutting board or baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. This step was not easy. The dough was so soft and filled with cream and raisins, I couldn’t pick it up, so I coaxed it little by little off the pastry cloth onto a baking sheet.

Cut chilled log into 11 (1-inch-thick) rounds and arrange about 2 inches apart on 2 buttered baking sheets.

Let pastries rise in a warm place, uncovered, 1 hour. (They will increase slightly in size and feel very tender to the touch.)

While pastries are rising, preheat oven to 425°F.

Bake in batches in middle of oven until tops are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer pastries to a rack.

Simmer preserves and water, stirring, 1 minute. Pour through a sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids. Brush glaze onto pastries.

Cooks’ notes:
Uncut log can be chilled overnight if desired.
Pains aux raisins can be frozen 1 month, thawed, and reheated in a 350°F oven. However, the pastries really are best when eaten the day they are made.

IMG_4072    IMG_4073
The 11″ by 18″ rolled-out pastry with the pastry cream spread on it and the raisins distributed evenly. On the right, the rather uneven log that was so difficult to move. After I cut the individual 1 inch rounds and let them rise, they were the round shape you see below.

IMG_4074The finished product, and yes, I am very proud of this. It tasted like it came from a bakery. It was a lot of work, and while I’ll save the recipe, I’m not sure when I’ll be in a hurry to make it again. Unless Jim begs. Or requests. Also, I planned my time so poorly that the second batch came out of the oven at 11 PM. Bakers need to schedule carefully so they’re not up all night.



celineI had The Painter by the same author on my TBR list, but when I finally started to read, I couldn’t get into it, and abandoned it. I wasn’t writing down where the  book recommendation came from in those days, but I imagine it was from a book podcast. When my friend offered me this book, I was skeptical, and then pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The title character is a 68 year-old society woman whose work as a PI aims to unite children with their birth parent(s). It’s never revealed in the book where Celine learned many of the skills she exhibits in her job, particularly those that involve firearms and intimidation. Celine’s latest undertaking has her and her husband Pete borrowing their son, Hank’s camper and pickup in Denver, and driving to Yellowstone, where her client’s father had disappeared more than twenty years before.

Reason number one to love Celine: her favorite road trip foods are jerky and marzipan. She hates vegetables, but indulges her husband by partaking of a proffered lettuce leaf here and there. Reason number two: “In the World According to Celine and Pete the very best part of every town was the library.” Reason number three: on the drive through some very beautiful landscapes, Celine wondered again “what it was about beauty, and what it had to do with love.” Reason number four: she tells that story about the Harvard upper classman wearing argyle socks meeting the freshman from Arkansas in the yard. Reason number 5: Seeing a young woman in running gear sitting on a park bench with tears streaming down her face, Celine diagnosed the problem, and offered solace that had to make that girl feel like a million bucks! And that’s just a few of the many reasons I loved this character. If I could find Peter Heller on Twitter, I’d beg him to write another novel with Celine at its center.


I kept looking on the internet for pictures of all the places Celine and Pete traveled through on the way to Yellowstone and beyond. I pinned more pictures from this one book than any other I’ve written about in BBF. I thought it would be hard to narrow down to one, but it wasn’t. What a gorgeous country this is! I hope I live long enough to visit every place Celine went. The image below is Mt. Moran in Wyoming, among the Grand Tetons. Stunning!



Easy. Jerky!


3 lbs london broil or flank steaks (½ inch thick)
¾ tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper, more if you like it hot
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp liquid smoke
¼ cup soy sauce or ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
½ cup (scant) Frank’s red hot sauce

Trim all fat off meat.
Cut steak in to 4 inch strips. It’s easier to cut meat partially frozen. Pound meat lightly, you don’t want it too thin.

Add all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight (8 hrs).

Line cookie sheets with tin foil. Place steak strips on sheets, don’t overlap meat. Set oven at lowest temperature. (150-175°F). Bake six hours, turning after three hours. Jerky is done when meat is dried out, depending on your oven.

Surprisingly easy and good. You have to be careful not to bake it too long, or it gets tough like shoe leather. Also pieces on the thicker side (¼ inch) are easier to chew.


What We Lose


01-zinzi-clemmonsThandi grew up middle class, with a South African mother, and a father from New York city. Her parents met on a volunteer trip to Botswana, and later settled in Pennsylvania where her father was a mathematics teacher for many years before being promoted to head of the department of the college. The story that unfolds is Thandi’s journey through her mother’s cancer diagnosis, and the subsequent caretaking that it eventually entails. As Thandi becomes further and further unmoored by her mother’s decline, she seeks refuge in boyfriends, looking for an anchor to tether her to the world of the living, and distract her from her mother’s inevitable demise. There are many musings- some about South Africa after apartheid, and American Blacks, who were the epitome of cool to teenaged Thandi and her best friend, Aminah. When Aminah and her high school boyfriend, Frank’s relationship grew stronger in college, even though they were separated by hundreds of miles, “… I (Thandi) realized that the divergence between our love lives- which had begun in high school- would be permanent.” There is one heartbreaking passage when Thandi awoke in the middle of the night at her parents’ house to find her bald mother hovering over her. “I want to go home,” she said. As Thandi reassured her that she already was  home, it suddenly occurred to her what was really going on, and she once again felt helpless, small and worthless, because of that one thing she could never do for her mother. So much of this story rings true to me about losing a loved one, particularly your mother. I could also relate to the young adult woman trying to find her own way, her own voice, in the shadow of the mother she loved so very much.


Thandi reveals a secret she has kept from her family: South Africa terrifies her- because of the violence. Although she herself had not been victimized by it, her mother had her purse stolen once in a smash and grab and never drove alone again. So while most of what Thandi knew of violence was secondhand, through her family or the news, “Together, the stories and pictures constitute a vision of death and carnage that is overwhelming, incongruous to the plainspoken beauty of the country.” The image below is from iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a world heritage site for its biodiversity due to a variety of ecosystems. As I look at this picture, and imagine myself in the landscape, I, too feel the beauty of South Africa, a place that could put me so close to these magnificent creatures. The word “iSimangaliso” means “a miracle” or “something wondrous” in Zulu. Well-named.



Thandi spent the last Christmas with her mother (and father) in Johannesburg. At her grandfather’s for dinner one night, they had beef tongue, fish biryani, and trifle. Before everyone went home, the family gathered for a prayer of departure. Her grandfather thanked God for all his family, and for Thandi’s family’s safe flight home, and then with a quavering voice, he asked God to heal his daughter, Thandi’s mother.

Serves: 6-8

3 T olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
4 cardamom seeds
4 whole cloves
2 pieces cinnamon sticks
1 tsp fresh gingerroot, minced (or 1/2 tsp ground, dried)
4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp garam masala

2 lbs fresh hake, diced ( or any firm, white-fleshed fish, like tilapia, haddock)
1 tsp garam masala
6 small potatoes, peeled (I cooked them slightly in the microwave for 5 minutes)

1 cup long grain rice ( uncooked)
1 tsp turmeric
½ C red lentil ( uncooked)
4 hard-boiled eggs (optional)

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion, cardamom seeds, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and garlic until the onion is tender and all the flavours have blended. Add the fennel seeds, cumin, coriander, garam masala and a little water. Simmer until an aromatic paste has formed. Remove the cloves, cinnamon and cardamom seeds before the next step. (I didn’t and later, the experience of the whole clove in my mouth was jarring.)

Season the fish with salt and 1 tsp garam masala and add to the paste, along with the potatoes. Fry until the mixture is a nice yellow color. Cover and braise until cooked. The potatoes should be tender but still whole (about 15-20 minutes). Add extra water if necessary.

Put the lentils in plenty of boiling, salted water and cook 5 minutes. Add rice and turmeric to water and continue boiling until done, about more 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Arrange the fish mixture in rice in a saucepan. Add a little water, cover, and steam for about half an hour. Garnish with quartered hard-boiled eggs.


A Duty to the Dead


6093438A friend told me that she saw an interview with Hillary Clinton who revealed that her favorite mystery writers are Donna Leon, Louise Penny and Charles Todd. I loved the first two, and didn’t know about the third, so I quickly put this book on hold at the library. Charles Todd is actually a pen name for the writing duo of mother and son, Caroline and Charles. This book is first in the Bess Crawford mystery series.

The book begins with Bess on the Britannic (fleet mate to Titanic) which had been commissioned as a hospital ship in 1916. She nursed a gravely wounded Lieutenant Arthur Graham, and despite her training, which exhorted nurses to distance themselves emotionally from their patients, Bess agreed to carry out Arthur’s death bed request to take a message to his brother Jonathan in Kent. Predictably, Bess gets caught up in family intrigue, and ultimately uses her sleuthing ability to sort things out, not without some harrowing experiences along the way, and an awful lot of tea.

While I was reminded of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, the writing here isn’t as stilted, proper, perhaps because the authors are American. I liked the character Bess. Her manner is direct, forthright. She tells the truth, even if it’s an uncomfortable one. She’s tough and cool under fire. Despite this taking place during the early twentieth century, Bess is not unduly hampered by the restrictions imposed by society on young women. Perhaps this is a factor of the world having been turned upside down by the war, although “Maisie” takes place during a similar time period, and she faces more of that than does Bess. The upshot is that the narrative is less oppressive in this book. The ending was unexpected and delightful.


On the train journey to Kent to Arthur’s family home, Bess looked out the window at the passing scenery: rolling downs, farms and the houses of the villages. At this time of year, the fruit trees were bare, but Bess remembered a journey years before, coming up from Dover with her parents after her father’s last posting in India. It had been spring then, and the clouds of blossoms on the fruit trees had taken her breath away after the dry, featureless Northwest Frontier of India.



Bess went out to the local bakery for buns for tea, and to see if a suspicious character who had detained her landlady minutes earlier followed or accosted Bess as well. He did not, so she continued her course for buns. Everyone was doing without the niceties in the war effort, and most of the baker’s supplies went for bread, but there was an occasional surprise with the leftovers, like the Sally Lunn’s on sale last week. The reference was so casual in the book, it seemed that, of course, everyone knows what a Sally Lunn is. Sally Lunn had its origins in either France or England, depending on which story you believe. One legend has it that Sally Lunn, a Huguenot (French Protestant), left her native land to settle in England’s West Country, where she sold her rich, buttery cakes in the streets of Bath. The other tale says that Sally Lunn is actually a corruption of the French soleil lune, sun and moon, and refers to the bread’s golden color and round shape.

Little Sally Lunns

1 C whole milk
6 T butter
¼ C sugar
⅛ tsp lemon oil or 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest; or 2 teaspoons vanilla
1½ tsp salt
3½ C unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 T instant yeast

Combine the milk, butter, and sugar in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl, or in a saucepan. Heat to lukewarm, stirring to soften/melt the butter. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl, and let it cool until it’s below 120°F, about 15 minutes.

Add the lemon or vanilla, salt, 2 cups of the flour, the eggs, and yeast. Beat the mixture on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour to the mixture and beat for about 3 minutes, until it becomes a soft, cohesive dough. Note: This is a very sticky, wet dough; it’s too sticky to knead, so has to be beaten to develop its gluten.

Cover the dough and allow it to rise for 45 to 60 minutes, or until almost doubled in bulk.

Lightly grease the cups of two standard muffin pans, 24 cups total. Divide the dough among 18 cups of the muffin pans, filling each a bit more than half full. Cover the pans, and let the rolls rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until they’re noticeably puffy. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the rolls until they’re golden brown and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of one reads at least 190°F, about 15 minutes.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and turn them out of the pan onto a rack. Brush with melted butter, if desired. Wrap completely cooled rolls airtight, and store at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

We loved these, and I will definitely make them again, serivng them at high tea on Sunday.




euphoria1-lily-kingThe book was inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, author of the unsettling (for the time, 1928) book Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization. Her writing made the point that the way things are is not the way they must or should be: we can choose to live in ways that make us happier and healthier. This then, is the story of husband and wife anthropologists Nell Stone and Schuyler Fenwick studying a blood-thirsty tribe in the Territory of New Guinea in the early 1930’s. They happen upon another anthropologist, Andrew Bankson at a Christmas party in Angoram, and from then on, their stories intertwine. Andrew helps Nell and Fen find another tribe to study after the Mumbanyo. Though separated by a boat trip of seven hours, Bankson visits often enough to make the interactions among the three interesting. The epigraph gives a hint to one of the themes in the book: “Quarrels over women are the keynote of the New Guinea primitive world.” – Margaret Mead

I loved Nell. She was passionate and enthusiastic about her work, but she also had insight that made her a valuable person to bounce ideas off when studying a primitive tribe. When Andrew tells her that his work with the Kiona has been stymied because one woman who could be a valuable resource won’t talk to him, she asked why. “A white man killed her son,” was the explanation. Nell asked if he had made offerings to the woman for the mistake of his kin. Bankson replied, “Those pigs are hardly my kin,” but added that he had given her salt and matches, to no avail. Nell then wanted to know of there was a formal amends ritual. When he said he didn’t know, exasperated, she replied, “You can’t afford to have someone so set against you. Everyone will know it and measure their response to you against it. She’s skewing all your results.” And in this brief exchange, Nell had set Bankson on a course that could open up communiction valuable to his data collection. Nell does things like this repeatedly throughout the narrative. Ultimately, Fen’s frustration with Nell’s fame for having written an award-winning book, leads him to take risks to ensure that he is Nell’s equal in the field of anthropology, and that leads to their abrupt departure to Australia.

Although the tribes and villages in the book are fictional, the author used details from the real tribes Mead studied, making for an interesting look at the life of an anthropologist and the way the natives lived.

The last chapter was very satisfying.



The bark on the cover looked like the trees I saw at the rainbow eucalyptus grove at mile marker seven on the Road to Hana in Maui. It’s relevance to the story is that Bankson’s house was built around a rainbow gum tree (another name for eucalyptus) which came up through the floor and out the roof. Nell was quite taken with it when they first saw Bankson’s house. Who wouldn’t be? Is life not exotic enough living among the Kiona?


When Bankson returned from the Tam village after having been nursed back to health by Nell, he had a note from his friend and lover, Bett. After their initial “greeting ritual,” she grilled barramundi (sea bass) on the bow of her pinnace which they ate with mustard and a bottle of champagne.

Grilled Honey Mustard Sea Bass
Yield: Serves 4

1½ pounds sea bass fillets, about 1 – 1 1/2 inches thick
¼ cup white cooking wine
2 T Dijon mustard
2 T extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients, except fish, in a large mixing bowl. Add sea bass, making sure to coat very well.

Preheat grill for high heat. Remove fish from marinade.

Place fish on the grill. Brush the marinade on top of the fish and cook for 5-7 minutes.

Turn the fish over and apply the marinade and cook for  5-7 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

When done, remove from heat and serve.

Tin Man


41ekh1tUirL.SX316Here’s yet another book I pre-ordered well in advance of its US release, based on Simon Savidge’s recommendation, calling it a perfect book. It is the story of three friends. As I think back on the story from the distance of several days since finishing it, the word that comes to mind about their friendship is “sacred.” Because of what they shared, and who they were, individually and collectively, they connected on the very deepest level. It was as though they were never really apart, even when they were, because each person had a little bit of the other two in their heart.

Ellis was at Mabel’s the night Michael came to Oxford after his father died. They were both twelve, and became friends that first night. Ellis worked in Mabel’s greengrocery, as did Michael. The narrative goes back and forth in time, fleshing out the histories of Ellis, Michael and Annie: the three devoted friends. When the novel begins, Ellis is forty-five and working in the local car factory as a tin man, someone who finesses the dents out of the metal panels of cars. Ellis’s artisty, using the sensitivity of his hands to locate infinitessimal creases, defies vision. Gradually we learn about Ellis’s dreams as a young man, Michael’s increasingly secret life, and Annie’s entry into Ellis’s, then Michael’s, life.

Annie had me with this sentence: “Annie loved her books.” And it didn’t hurt to know that she used to sing – somewhat off-key according to Michael – while she cooked, particularly “Fly Me to the Moon” (Frank Sinatra). There are several examples of how the writing moved me to an emotional response, but they would include spoilers, so in the spirit of not ruining the book for those who haven’t read it, I’ll leave them out, and you’ll just have to trust me. You’ll know them when you read them.

There was a point in the story where Michael has taken a trip, and muses, ” I come across signposts to towns and hotels and could easily divert and seek comfort, but I don’t. I’m forcing myself into this solitude and keep on walking. There’s something about movement – the necessity of movement – to deal with trauma. Academic papers have been written about it and I’ve read them. How animals shake to release fear in their muscles. I do that too. Under the sun amidst the scrub, I shake, I shout, I scream.  So I keep to the track, transfixed by the motion of walking, trusting in an invisible remedy that will make me feel human once again.” I can relate. Not only does my poor dog suffer and shake at thunder and fireworks, I too, have experienced the healng power of walking. I remember thinking about just that not long ago when my walks took me on increasingly longer routes when I was grieving over the loss of a friend. And I wondered, as I age and loss becomes more a part of my life, will walking continue to help me feel human again? I know, dark thoughts.

This was a quiet book, but when I put it down at its conclusion, I had goose bumps, a shiver down my arms: a physical response to a beautiful book.


Dora’s declaration of independence in her marriage was a picture, a copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” It was “A celebration of the transcendent power of the color yellow.”  Two years ago on a girl’s weekend in Maine, I fell in love with a yellow and blue vase. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, and it was like nothing else I’ve owned, but I just loved it and had to have it. It sat in the basement until this summer, when I brought it upstairs and placed it on the hearth with some silk hibiscus flowers in it. I still haven’t found the proper place for it, but looking at it makes me happy, so upstairs it stays. (It’s September now. The hibiscus has been put away for another year.)



Ellis delivered Christmas trees for Mabel’s Greengrocer. His last delivery on a day shortly before Christmas was to a Miss Anne Cleaver. When Anne opened the door when he rang, she was eating a crumpet. So crumpets it had to be.

YIELD: 20 crumpets

This traditional British teatime treat is midway between English muffin and pancake. Like an English muffin, it’s full of holes, perfect for collecting rivulets of melted butter. But it’s also moister and thinner – more like a small pancake.

These are best enjoyed toasted, and spread with butter, jam, and/or clotted cream. Since their holes reach to the outside crust, there’s no need to split them before toasting. This recipe came from King Arthur Flour’s website.

1½ C lukewarm (105º) water
1 C lukewarm milk
2 T melted butter
3½ C Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2½ tsp instant yeast
1 tsp baking powder
1¼ tsp salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, and beat vigorously for 2 minutes. A stand or hand mixer, set on high speed, works well here.

Cover the bowl, and let the batter rest at room temperature for 1 hour. It will expand and become bubbly. Towards the end of the rest, preheat a griddle to medium-low, about 325°F. If you don’t have an electric griddle, preheat a frying pan; it shouldn’t be as hot as the temperature you use to cook pancakes.

Lightly grease the griddle or frying pan, and place well-greased 3 3/4″ English muffin rings in the pan, as many as will fit. (If you don’t have English muffin rings, use well-cleaned tuna cans, from which you’ve removed the top and bottom.) Pour the sticky batter by the scant 1/4-cupful into each ring; a muffin scoop works well here.

After about 4 minutes, use a pair of tongs to slip the rings off. Cook the crumpets for a total of about 10 minutes on the first side, until their tops are riddled with small bubbles/holes. They should be starting to look a bit dry around the edges. Their bottoms will be a mottled, light-golden brown. Note: They probably won’t be as full of holes as store-bought crumpets.

Turn the crumpets over, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, to finish cooking the insides and to brown the tops gently. This isn’t traditional; “real” crumpets are white on top.

Remove the crumpets from the pan, and repeat with the remaining batter, until all the crumpets are cooked. Serve warm. Or cool completely, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature. To eat, warm them in the toaster. Serve with butter, or butter and jam.

I made my first batch too thick, so it took forever to cook, so, do use a ¼ cup scoop, and expect the finished crumpet to look like a pancake, not an English muffin. My husband split the too thick ones and toasted them, eating them slathered with homemade jam. He loved them.