Monthly Archives: December 2017

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race


41-sLrUCUgL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_This was an important book to me, because it clearly articulated questions I’ve had about race in America. Eddo-Lodge is British, born and bred, but in contemporary Britain, marginalized as an outsider. “What history had I inherited that left me an alien in my place of birth?” There is no summary I can write that would do justice to her narrative about race in Britain. What I can say is how convincing her writing is in supporting her assertions, mainly, that racism is structurally embedded in British society. “I choose to use the word structural rather than institutional because I think it is built into spaces much broader than our more traditional institutions… Structural is often the only way to capture what goes unnoticed- the silently raised eyebrows, the implicit biases, snap judgements made on perceptions of competency.” Reni Eddo-Lodge stopped talking to white people about race, because, even when she found like-minded white people in the context of feminism, for example, she always hit a wall when the white person tried to change the course of the narrative to black people’s failure to assimilate, or black people’s inability to demonstrate equal capabilities to their white peers competing for the same capital. In short, even sympathetic white people could not see that white privilege had afforded them a leg up that was not available to people of color. Simple. And profound. I urge you to read this book with the caveat that if you are white, prepare to be uncomfortable.


In “The Feminism Question” chapter, Eddo-Lodge recounts an interview with Naomi Campbell in 2013, where she was using her voice to get more models of color on the runways of Fashion Week. At that time in 2013, 82% of the models were white. She was confronted by a Channel 4 news reporter who told her, “you have a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being quite an angry person.” The phrase “angry black woman” resonated with me, in part because I remember something like it from Americanah. I had written a note when I read that book that said the best parts  were in the blogs, where Ifemelu mused about being an African black woman in America. She said, “strong-minded black women are scary.” At the time it made me laugh, but in the context of this book, I realize its power. So here’s to “angry black women.” Keep on being angry. May you use your power to effect change.


There was no food in this book, but plenty of food for thought. I hope that these thoughts out of context don’t mislead or lose their power. I wrote them down as I was reading because they seemed relevant or important to me. You’ll have to form your own opinions when you read the book yourself.

The author began researching the history of black people in Britain when she was nineteen, in an attempt to uncover the historical context of Blacks in Britain, and found a history of slave trading. Most of the slaves were in colonial West Indies where they were put to work on sugar and cotton plantations, for no pay, of course. With the intimation of political reform on the islands in return for their service, thousands of West Indian slaves signed up to fight for Britain in WWI and WII. When many of these soldiers chose to settle in England after the wars, racial unrest reached explosive levels, revealing a tradition of suspicion of black people in England. The author was surprised that she had never heard about this in her history classes.

Some random statements:

“Prejudice needs power to be effective.”

70% of the professors in Britain are white men.

We don’t live in a meritocracy, and to pretend that simple hard work will elevate all to success is an exercise in willful ignorance.

Seeing race is essential to changing the system.

Home Fire


6f22783c7b09c7755750ce7735930807This is the story of a Pakistani family living in London. They try to fly under the radar because their father was a terrorist, even though they never really knew him because he was not a part of their lives. When their mother died, the eldest daughter, Isma, put her education on hold to support her two younger siblings by working at a dry-cleaner’s shop. The book begins with Isma, detained for questioning at Heathrow and consequently missing her flight to Boston, where she would then travel west to Amherst to begin a PhD program, now that the twins were grown and going off to pursue their own careers. In Amherst, Isma met Eamonn, son of Karamat Lone, a Muslim MP recently elevated to Home Secretary. Isma concealed the fact that their lives were loosely connected until just before Eamonn returned to London, where their lives became inextricably connected. One of the themes of the book is “like father, like son,” relating to both Eamonn and his father, and Isma’s younger brother, Parvaiz and their father. Aneeka, Isma’s younger sister and Parvaiz’s twin, completes the cast of main characters. The more I think about this book, the more I love it. This one is so different from Burnt Shadows, the other book I read by this author, but equally as compelling. This was Shamsie’s retelling of Antigone. I wondered how she was going to incorporate the “enemy’s” refusal to return the body of a brother for burial in a modern retelling, and was not disappointed by her device.


The last sentence of the book was stunning, evoking the image below.

An ancient banyan tree in the dappled sunlight.


When Parvaiz texted Aneeka that he was coming home, he wrote, “I’m going to the consulate now. Will be home soon- biryani when I get there? Page 131 of the recipe book.” I understood why this is what he wanted when we had it for dinner the other night. Oh my, my, it’s good.

Chicken Biryani – Instant Pot
Servings: 6 -8

2 tsp garam masala (add 3 tsp for spicier Biryani)
1 T ginger grated
1 T garlic minced
1 T red chili powder
½ tsp turmeric
¼ C of chopped cilantro
2 T lemon juice
¾ C plain yogurt
2 tsp salt
2 lb whole bone in chicken skinless cut into 12 pieces (If using chicken breasts cut into 2 inch pieces)

Remaining Ingredients

1 C Basmati rice
3 T ghee divided
2 large onions thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
6 boiled and shelled eggs (optional)
1 jalapeno sliced into 8 wedges optional for extra spicy **

Make the marinade by mixing garam masala, ginger paste, garlic paste, red chili powder, turmeric, half of the chopped cilantro, lemon juice, yogurt and salt. Add chicken and coat evenly with the marinade. Keep in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

While the chicken is marinating, wash and soak the basmati rice in water. Keep aside for 20 mins.

Turn IP to Saute (Hi). After the ‘hot’ sign displays, add 2 tbsp of ghee and thinly sliced onions. Cook, stirring frequently for 15 mins or until the onions are golden brown and caramelized. Take out half of the onions and keep aside for garnishing the biryani.

Add 1 tbsp of ghee to the IP with half of the caramelized onions already in the pot. For extra spicy Biryani add sliced jalapeno. Add bay leaves and marinated chicken. Mix well, deglazing the pot with a spatula to take out any browning of the pot from sautéing the onions.

a) For Chicken on bone – Close IP and turn pressure valve to sealing. Set IP to Manual mode for 4 mins. Follow with Quick release. Give the chicken a quick stir. or
b) For Chicken Breasts – Mix well and cook on Saute mode 3 minutes.

Drain the rice and gently pour over the chicken. Add 1 tsp of salt. Add one cup of water or chicken broth. Close IP and turn pressure valve to sealing. Set IP to Manual mode for 6 mins. Follow with Quick Release.

Gently fluff and mix the rice with the chicken on the bottom of the pan.

Garnish with the remaining caramelized onions and cilantro.

Serve with Raita, hard boiled egg and lemon wedges.

** This recipe makes medium spicy Biryani. For extra spicy add jalapeno. OR add another tsp of garam masala to the chicken.

YIELD: Makes 1 cup

½ C plain yogurt
½ C chopped seeded English hothouse cucumber
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp chopped green onions
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cumin
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt. Chill raita, covered, until ready to serve.





Killers of the Flower Moon



In the 1920’s in Osage County, Oklahoma, the richest people were being murdered. They were Osage Indians, wealthy due to shrewd negotiation with the Federal government over mineral rights: oil that was beneath the surface of their land. While they had power in the form of great wealth, there were unscrupulous people, mainly white men, who ruthlessly plotted to get control of that money, stopping at nothing, not even murder, to achieve their goal. This was also J. Edgar Hoover’s opportunity to make a name for himself as director of the fledgling FBI, and dignify the work of the orgnization by solving these murderers. This put a lot of pressure on the man whom Hoover assigned to solve the case, Tom White, in a time when systematic investigation of crimes was just beginning. Prior to this, ordinary citizens assumed the burden of investigating crimes and maintaining order. When a crime was discovered, a coroner’s inquest, led by a justice of the peace, convened at the scene of the crime. In the case of the Osage murders, the people who came to investigate were largely white men. The justice of the peace selected the jurors from those gathered at the scene. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century, after the growth of industrial cities and urban riots, that police departments emerged in the U.S. The book details all of the players involved in those early inquests, Tom White’s later FBI investigation, and the author’s own research, creating a narrative of criminality that is both infuriating in its racism, and shocking in its portrayal of the length to which people will go to satisfy their greed.


Since this was nonfiction the author didn’t wax poetic on the beauty of the landscape, so I took the liberty of looking up places of interest in Osage, Oklahoma, and found the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Images of bison like the one below appeared. My husband was fortunate enough to have seen them up close and personal on a cross country trip in his youth. He has talked about their size and power so enthusiastically that I hope one day to see them myself. Currently their stable population renders their conservation status as “near threatened.” I hope that it stays that way or improves so that I, too, can be impressed by these truly American behemoths. Bison in burned prairie. Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.


There was no food in Killers of the Flower Moon, so I googled Osage Indian recipes, and found my way to an article about a restaurant called Tocabe in Denver, Colorado. It is owned and operated by a member of the Osage tribe and his partner. The restaurant was featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. Using the information from that video, other Osage recipes, and a little experimentation, I came up with the following recipe. It looks more intimidating than it is.


Osage Fry Bread
Makes 8 breads

2 C all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1 T honey
1 C milk
Canola oil for frying

Heat milk and honey in a small saucepan or in the microwave until lukewarm.

Sift flour, salt, and baking powder into mixing bowl. Stir in the milk-honey mixture and stir until dough is formed. Do not overwork the dough. Roll out dough on a lightly floured board. Cut into 8 equal pieces and form into a round ball. Let set for 15 minutes on counter.

Roll each piece into a flat round and cut a small slit in the center.

Heat the oil in a fry pan to 370º. Fry 2 to 3 pieces at a time until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Hominy Salsa

2 C hominy, drained and rinsed          ¼ C lemon or lime juice
½ red onion, finely diced                      1 T canola oil
2 tsp cumin                                              1 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp mild chili powder                         ¼ C finely chopped cilantro
2 tsp sugar                                                ½ C dried cranberries
1 serrano chili, seeds removed            salt
and finely minced                                   pepper

Add all ingredients and stir well to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Achiote Marinated Grilled Chicken

*2 oz. achiote paste (ground annatto)          ½ tsp ground cloves
seed paste)                                                       2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T vinegar, white or red                              1 tsp kosher salt to taste
2 T canola oil 1 tsp                                          freshly ground pepper
1 T honey

mayonnaise, 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, water

Put all ingredients in except salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix to combine. Then add salt and pepper. Add mayo and water and stir to mix. Put thighs in marinade and refrigerate for 24 hours.

* I couldn’t find commercially produced achiote paste, so I used the recipe below.

Achiote Paste Recipe

¼ C annatto seeds* (found in the Goya section of my supermarket)
1 T coriander seeds
1 T dried oregano
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 tsp salt
5 cloves garlic (peeled)
½ C bitter orange juice (or 1/4 cup regular orange juice plus 1/4 cup Mexican lime juice or ⅓ cup white vinegar)

Grind the annatto, coriander seeds, oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and cloves in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. (You also can use a coffee grinder to do this, but as it will leave the seasoning flavor behind, make sure you do not plan to use the grinder for coffee again.)

Place the ground spices and the salt, the garlic, and the bitter orange juice in a blender and process until it is smooth.

Store your achiote paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Grill chicken on medium high heat to sear, and finish in a 350º oven for 15 minutes.


fry bread                             hominy salsa
black beans                        green chilis (canned)
grilled chicken                   chopped red onions
chopped lettuce                  chopped tomatoes
grated cheddar cheese      diluted sour cream to garnish

Assemble ingredients in the order above. Put a half cup of sour cream in a small bowl and mix with a couple of tablespoons of water to thin it. Put in a squeeze bottle and drizzle thin lines of sour cream over the filled taco.


Yes. This was a lot of work, but fun in exploring new tastes and cooking techniques. And it was like nothing I’d ever tasted before.



The House of Unexpected Sisters


9781101871379One of the things I love about this series is the reflections that Precious Ramotswe makes about life in Botswana, its traditions, and the way that people around her choose to live their lives. Frequently, in conversation, Precious’s thoughts will stray, based on something that was said, and she will completely lose herself in that train of thought until someone brings her back into the conversation by saying her name. The best digressions are the ones where something has amused her, and everyone wonders why she’s smiling, since what they had been talking about was rather serious. These are quiet books about everyday life, but infused with so much warmth and wisdom, that they function, for me, anyway, as a trip to a spa (although I’ve never actually done that!) for my soul. AMS’s books bring me to a place of peace and comfort, humor and compassion, in the company of like-minded friends.


When Mma Ramotswe was trying to get information about what sort of person Mingie was, she engaged Mingie’s neighbor in conversation. The neighbor was hanging clothes to dry when a hoopoe paused on the grass not far away from the two women, watching them. The neighbor  said that she knows someone who believes that our ancestors take the form of hoopoes to come and visit us. While both women acknowledged that they did not believe the superstition, Mma Ramotswe said, “And sometimes I think it’s a pity that we can’t believe things that would make us feel better.” When I googled “Botswana hoopoes,” I found a piece about a shaman who expressed the opinion of his people that the hoopoe is a symbol of a loyal friend or a good visitor. It is said that if you hear this bird sounding off in the bush, it means that you’re going to have an important visitor who will bring much prosperity to the family. This bird’s wing and tail feathers are black and white; night and day, darkness and light, pleasure and pain. So, if you see this bird, it is believed that you will have a visitor or a friend coming to you, who will stand by you, by night and by day, through suffering and through joy, perhaps toting a six pack! The bird’s general color is like the color of beer, which is why this bird is associated with celebration, and with drinking. I like this bird.



It’s no secret that Mma Ramotswe loves Mma Potokwane’s fruitcake. In book after book, Precious spends a fair amount of time on the page thinking about it, in anticipation of a visit to her friend’s Orphan Farm. The following passage captures Precious’s feelings about the fruit cake:
“She closed her eyes as she took her first bite of cake: Mma Potokwane’s baking, she found, was strangely therapeutic. You might be very tense, you might have all sorts of worries, and then you popped a piece of cake into your mouth and all your issues seemed to disappear- as if they had never been there in the first place.”

Mma Potokwane’s Fruitcake

9 oz dried mixed fruit (cherries, raisins, sultanas, apricots, cranberries)
9 oz soft butter or margarine
4 eggs
4 oz corn flour
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 oz chopped almonds
7 oz sugar
11 oz flour
3 tsp baking powder
icing sugar to dust

Grease a 10-inch baking tin with some butter. 
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Cream butter or margarine in food mixer or large bowl and add sugar. 
Add eggs one at a time, mixing in thoroughly before adding the next 
egg and continue until all the sugar has been blended in.

Sift flour, corn flour and baking powder over the butter mixture.
 Once the flour mixture has been incorporated, add fruit mix, almonds and lemon rind.
 Pour batter into baking tin and smooth over the top. Bake cake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove from tin and cool on a rack.

Before serving, dust cake generously with sifted icing sugar.