Monthly Archives: April 2018

Born a Crime


UnknownIf I hadn’t already seen Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show, and laughed at his wit and marvelled at his intelligence, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this book, other than it being the selection for my book group this month. This is a series of essays that together form a jagged picture of a life, forged in circumstances that are so foreign to me, this was a real eye-opener. The title refers to the fact that when the author was born, it was against the law for people of mixed races to be together, and a crime for bearing children as a  result of such a union. Had he not been carefully sequestered as a young boy, he might have been taken away from his parents. Astounding, but made very real by the anecdotes Noah related in the book. His father was Swiss, and white and laid back. His mother was Xhosa, and black, and defiant and rebellious. Because he was born under apartheid in South Africa, his story illuminates what life was like to be colored in a racially charged and oppressive environment.

Noah explained that apartheid, perfect racism, started with the Dutch in 1652 in Cape Town when the colonists warred with the natives, and developed a set of laws to enslave them. When the British took over, the descendants of the original Dutch settlers moved inland and became the white tribe of Africa, the Afrikaners. Then the British empire fell, and back come the Afrikaners to claim their inheritance. To control the black majority, the government knew they needed newer tools. “They set up a formal commission to go out and study institutionalized racism all over the world. They went to Australia. They went to the Netherlands. They went to America. They saw what worked, what didn’t. They came back and published a report, and the government used that knowledge to build the most advanced system of racial oppression known to man.” I don’t know what about this shocked me so much. Perhaps the fact that a more studied and systematic approach to oppressing a particular group of people implies the deliberateness of the effort. It wasn’t like, things just happened, and suddenly, “oh, my goodness, what have we created? We didn’t mean for this to happen!” This was a deliberate, conscious, ruthless undertaking. And yet, people survived. Trevor Noah survived. His mother, his friends, his family, survived.

In the same way that Barbara Lynch’s memoir Out of Line taught me about what it was like going to school during busing in South Boston, this book taught me about growing up black under apartheid in South Africa. I am so glad I read this, and now how even more respect for Trevor Noah and his indestructible mother.

THE BEAUTY: When people have no legal options, they still have to survive, so they do what they have to to feed themselves and their families. There weren’t enough jobs for blacks and coloreds, and the government made no provisions for people who were out of work, so it stands to reason that the threat of being arrested was a daily possibility. The beauty of the people who survived apartheid and came through on the other side, was their resilience and ingenuity. Trevor, had nothing to recommend him in high school, he wasn’t cool and he was poor. But he was fast on his feet, in part from learning to run away from situations that could potentially land him  in trouble. So at school, when the bell rang for lunch, Trevor was always the first in line. After a while, he learned to leverage that ability to his advantage. Those who were slower to get to the truck, had less time to eat their food, so Trevor began buying their lunches each day in return for a cash tip. He built up quite a business, and was able to upgrade the equipment he used to make pirated cd’s of American hiphop music, selling to his customers at both at school and in the neighborhood. The business grew and grew, and was the start of his later success that placed him behing the desk at The Daily Show.


IMG_4341 2Trevor’s father was a presence in his life, even though he couldn’t live with him and his mother, until Patricia married Abel. Then Robert moved to Cape Town and they grew apart, mainly because of the geographical distance. When Patricia hounded Trevor to go find his father, because she believed he couldn’t truly become the man he’s supposed to be without knowing him, Trevor does. On that first meeting reuniting them, even though he was a young adult at the time, his father prepared his favorite meal from childhood, rösti with meat and gravy. Don’t be intimidated by the length of the directions. After you grate the potatoes, it’s really easy, and the resulting rösti is so deliciously crispy, it’s worth it.

Crisp Rösti Potatoes
Yield: one 8-inch potato pancake or three to four 4-inch ones.

1 lb potatoes (Yukon Golds or russets are best)
1½ tsp salt
Generous ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 T vegetable or olive oil for frying; more as needed

Peel the potatoes and grate them, using the large holes of a hand grater or a food processor. Put the potatoes in a large bowl, add the salt and pepper, and toss to coat thoroughly. Let the potatoes rest for at least 5 minutes, and then, working with a fistful at a time, squeeze as much liquid as possible out of them and transfer to a second bowl. (The potatoes will start to discolor, but that won’t really affect the final results.)

Large holes mean faster work, better texture. A very finely grated potato could turn
mushy during cooking. To make one large rösti—Heat a heavy-based skillet that
measures about 8 inches across the base over medium-high heat. Add the oil (it should come to a depth of about ⅛ inch; add more if necessary.) When the oil begins to ripple slightly, test it by dropping in a potato shred—it should sizzle
enthusiastically. If not, wait a few more seconds. When the temperature is right, take a fistful of potatoes, wring it out once more, and let it fall loosely from your fingers into the center of the pan. (Be careful because the oil will spatter; getting hit by a few tiny droplets is inevitable.) Fill the pan gradually. Adding just a small amount at a time makes it easier to get an even layer. Working quickly, repeat until you’ve got enough potatoes in the pan to cover the bottom. With a fork, gently spread out the shreds of potato to make a layer about ½ inch thick, trying to distribute them evenly, avoiding dense or thin patches. If there are straggly potatoes around the edges, tuck them in with the fork also so they don’t burn. Adjust the heat so that you hear a lively sizzle but the bottom isn’t browning too rapidly. Cook until the underside is a deep golden brown and the potatoes on the top are starting to look translucent, 12 to 16 minutes. 

To turn the pancake, carefully slide the rösti out of the pan onto a dinner plate and return the pan to the heat. Put another plate on top of the rösti and, holding tightly, flip the plates over. Slide the inverted rösti back into the pan and continue cooking until the new bottom is browned and the potatoes feel really tender in the middle when poked with a knife, another 6 to 8 minutes. 

Slide the rösti onto a cutting board. Blot the top with a paper towel to remove any excess oil. Cut into wedges and serve as soon as possible.






UnknownHaving taught ancient Greece to eager (kidding) sixth graders, I have had an interest in Greek mythology for quite some time. I remember reading Greek myths as a child, but more vividly as a teacher, I remember an oversized book with a bright yellow cover called D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I loved the stories and back then, had quite an extensive catalog of gods, goddesses, demigods, naiads, nymphs, rivergods, monsters, etc. in my head, but alas, you do lose it if you don’t use it. So when I heard about this book, I immediately put it on hold at the library. What a book. Miller gives the gods life like no author I’ve read. The gods of my youth were remote, distant. These characters pulse with life. This Circe starts out as a somewhat naive good girl, trying to please her daddy, Helios. Always telling the truth, her siblings and cousins see her as guileless. She was content to be alone, but didn’t know what she was looking for in life, unlike her siblings who blatantly schemed and did whatever needed doing, in order to grab more power. For example, Circe was punished by her father for doing exactly the same thing that her brother and sister had done, except that Circe told the truth about it, and they did not. When her brother Aeetes visited her in her room after her father had announced to the court what her punishment was to be, he accused her of being a fool for admitting what she’d done to their father. In anger she said, ” I suppose I should take you as my tutor and deny everything.”
“Yes,” he said. “That is how it works, Circe. I tell Father that my sorcery was an accident, he pretends to believe me, and Zeus pretends to believe him. And so the world is balanced. It is you own fault for confessing. Why you did that, I will never understand.” (and this was the sibling she genuinely loved and felt close to!)

This was yet another book, where a woman was marginalized because she had power that frightened the estableshment, in this case, the gods. That power was  pharmakeia, (witchcraft, sorcery) the knowledge of plants and herbs and the proper way to mix them to make powerful draughts and tinctures. When her father found out that she had and used this power, Circe might have gotten away with it had she played the game like her brother, Aeetes, but she chose a different path, making her an enormously sympathetic and interesting character. I really loved this Circe, the flawed goddess who was destined to pay for her honesty into eternity. I intend to make a concerted effort to find out more about modern herbalism, starting with a book by Rosemary Gladstar (great name!) who, in addition to writing books about the subject, runs an herbal retreat center in Vermont. Not quite ready for that, but who knows? Maybe someday.

THE BEAUTY: Circe’s island, Aiaia, sounded very beautiful. Of course, noone really knows where it was, but it is suspected to be Ponza in the Tyrhenian Sea, vacation location of Romans in the know, and home to Pontius Pilate. Circe supposedly spent her winters in a grotto on Ponza, now known as “Grotta della Maga Circe,” and the summers on Mt. Circe on the Italian mainland.
Mt. Circe photo from

ponza 144                                 Grotto photo from


IMG_4348Circe had her hands full with her son, Telegonus when he was, literally, a wild child, but he grew up to be a thoughtful and wise young man, who had a passion for adventure. After not speaking to one another for several days, Circe finally relented, allowing him to pursue his passion, even risking a showdown with one of the more powerful Olympians to secure her son’s safety. The night before he was to embark on his journey, she prepared his favorite meal: fish stuffed with roasted herbs and cheese. Not much to go on, but I had to eliminate all the recipes I found that had tomatoes in them, because the ancient Greeks didn’t have tomatoes. But they did have cheese, so I’m thinking feta. This recipe, simple as it is, fits the description as much as it can all these centuries later, and is really delicious.

Greek Baked Fish
Serves 4

4  pieces of haddock
salt and pepper
2 C loosely packed, coarsely torn breadcrumbs or chopped peasant-style bread
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stem fresh oregano, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried
generous handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 roasted red pepper, homemade or store-bought, patted dry and chopped
 handful of pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
½ medium or ¼ large red onion, finely chopped
about ⅓ to ½ C EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1 cup Greek Feta, drained and crumbled
Lemon wedge

Preheat oven to 400 ºF. Arrange fish in a baking dish. Lightly dress with EVOO; season with salt and pepper.

Combine bread, garlic, oregano, parsley, red pepper, chili, olives and onions in a bowl and dress with just enough EVOO to lightly coat. Arrange topping all over the top of the fish and around the dish. Scatter feta around and over the bread layer. Bake fish 20-25 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges alongside.








Three Things About Elsie


33229395I was loving this book and saved the last 50 or so pages so that I could approach the ending with a fresh view and savor it when I had an uninterrupted hour to finish it. Now, two days later, I’m still trying to figure out the ending. (BTW- I had figured out the third thing about Elsie by page 40, so that wasn’t what I didn’t get.) I’ve been skimming the book looking for clues to explain the things I didn’t feel were revealed by the ending. If the third thing about Elsie was the big reveal, then I get it, done! But Florence says, “I never did tell anyone my secret. It’s strange, because I told them everything else. I just couldn’t tell this. In those days, you couldn’t say a word, and then it became too late. Elsie had found her Albert, and I had to use up the remnants of other people’s lives to decorate my own. I didn’t mind so much, as long as we could be friends. As long as she didn’t leave me. It’s strange, isn’t it? How love paper-aeroplanes where it pleases. I have found that it settles in the most unlikely of places, and once it has, you are left with the burden of where it has landed for the rest of your life.” I think I understand now. But to share it, would be to spoil it for you. How I wish I could talk to you after you read it. To see if we agree, and to ask you, “Who bought the brooch?”

Florence is 84 and living in an assisted living facility, flirting with dementia. She is a lovable, if somewhat socially awkward character whose best friend, Elsie, of course, grounds her and keeps her in touch with her former self by reminding her of the many kindnesses Florence acted upon in her youth. As Elsie tells it, Florence couldn’t help herself, always driven to help out, to steer people toward happy endings. At one point in the story, Florence finds herself crying, something she hadn’t done in years, because of a small act of kindness by one of the staff. “It’s strange, because you can put up with all manner of nonsense in your life, all sorts of sadness, and you manage to keep everything on board and march through it, then someone is kind to you and it’s the kindness that makes you cry. It’s the tiny act of goodness that opens a door somewhere, and lets all the misery escape.”

My story. Not long ago, I was in the Bob’s Red Mill section of the supermarket (for those of you who’ve been there, you can understand how difficult it is to find things), scanning the shelves methodically back and forth, looking for potato starch flour to make vanilla wafers. A woman stopped and asked what I was looking for. When I told her, she asked if I would like some help, an extra pair of eyes. I said yes, and we looked together for a few minutes until we were joined by an employee who asked if she could help us find something. When I told her what we were looking for, she said, “I know we sell it, unless we’re out of it.” Seconds later, my new friend found it! I thanked her and we went our separate ways. As I made my way down the aisle, I began to tear up, not knowing until that very moment that I had really needed a random act of kindness that day. I later wrote in my journal, “Such a simple gesture meant so much to me. Thank you, lady, I wish you all good things.”


I read the Acknowledgments at the end before I started the book, and was so glad I did, because it allowed me to focus my attention on a place that the author loves while I was reading. Joanna Cannon spent childhood holidays with her parents climbing the abbey steps, wandering around Woolworth’s, going on ghost walks in Whitby, and she acknowledges that her book is a love letter to it.


The whale bones with the abbey in the distance, and the North Sea beyond. Florence remembered driving into Whitby as a child, getting the first glimpse of a sliver of the North Sea beyond the Abbey.  Photo by      interior-bothams-tearoom-3-870x490

Botham’s Tea Rooms on Skinner Street. Picture from their website.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                    coming-down-199-steps.jpg
photo from whitbystoryteller.UK


IMG_4346 3

Florence has a thing for Battenberg cake, named for the town in Germany where Princess Victoria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, married Prince Louis of Battenberg. Does this photo remind you of anything related to the book?



6 oz butter (10 T)
6 oz sugar or ⅞ C (measure out a cup and remove ¼ C)
6 oz flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 medium eggs
1 tsp  vanilla extract
red food coloring 

to decorate
4-5 tablespoons apricot jam
2 packages marzipan dough (Whole Foods)
icing sugar for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 350º . 

Make an aluminum foil strip to fit the pan, to keep the plain dough from mixing with the pink dough. Grease the whole pan, sides and bottom, insert a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom, and grease that. The foil probably won’t stand up until you put one of the batters in.

IMG_4347I wish I had taken a picture of the pink and plain  batters in the pan before putting it in the oven, because it was cool looking, but I was pretty covered with batter at that point, as was every counter space in the kitchen. I’m a very messy baker, but a pretty neat cook.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream it until light. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and flour and mix until smooth. Divide the mixture into two and add the red or pink food colouring into one half and mix well. (I weighed the whole batter, then took out half by weight to divide the batter into equal halves. Spoon the mixtures into the prepared tin.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, test with a toothpick to see if it is ready. Allow the cakes to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes.  If the tops are not even, cut the domes off to level the cakes before turning them onto a cooling rack and peeling off the baking paper to cool completely.

Roll out the marzipan onto baking paper sprinkled with icing sugar into a rectangle approximately 8” x 12”. This was work. I don’t know how old the dough was, but it was a little hard to knead, and I didn’t want to knead too much, not knowing if that was going to affect the texture when I rolled it out.

Warm the apricot jam and then spread on one of the long sides of the plain cake and join it to the pink cake and place it on top of the marzipan. Spread more jam on top of the cakes and put the pink cake on top of the plain one and the plain one on top of the pink one.

Now brush the jam all over the cake including the sides and top. Roll up the cake in the marzipan and trim off any excess.

Mine was not nearly as pretty as the photos you’ll see online, but it still was pretty impressive, don’t you think?

Alternate Side


36525343On the very first page, Manhattan makes an appearance as Nora recalls the crowded Village bar where she met her husband, Charlie, twenty-five years before. From then on, New York City is a powerful presence on nearly every page. Nora had one ambition after college, and that was to live in New York. Her husband, Charlie, however, was more of a country mouse, providing there was a golf course. So Nora was living her dream in a Queen Anne style townhouse on the upper east side on one of the very few dead end streets in New York. A little bit of research led me to an article in Curbed New York called “20 of NYC’s Shortest Streets, Mapped,” where I found #16, Henderson Place between east 86th and 87th. “Henderson Place is a charming cul-de-sac that many New Yorkers have probably never heard of.”  Only it wasn’t the actual dream she’d had in college, when spending a weekend at her friend’s parents 5th Ave. apartment. “… and she recalled how, entering Missy’s parents’ duplex from an elevator that opened directly into it, she had seen the living room with its pale yellow sofas and apple-green drapes, Central Park a decorative accent through the enormous windows, and thought, This is what it is like to live in New York.” I, too, have a fantasy of having a penthouse in New York, and I, too, will never realize it. But, I did have the same experience as Nora, years ago, in New York with friends, when my husband and I were included in a dinner invitation to their cousin’s penthouse on 5th Ave. The elevator opened right into their foyer, with the living room and grand view of Central Park behind. We were treated to delicious Chinese take-out and bottles of Veuve Clicquot. He was such a gracious and interesting host! The restaurant was called Our Place China Chalet on E. 79th St. We liked the food so much, we kept going there on subsequent NY trips. Jim remembers having Szechuan eggplant for the first time at the penthouse. He loved it, researched a recipe, and it’s now a staple in our house in the summer when the Japanese eggplant are harvested from the garden.

THE BEAUTY:IMG_1129 New York, of course. You either love it or hate it. What is there to love? The energy, the movement, the pace, the bustle – all of that hits you in the face the moment you step out into the street. Learning to walk the sidewalks and not look like a tourist takes some observation and concentration, but when mastered, you feel like you belong. I love the corner bodegas where flowers are sold all year, and we always buy a bunch for the room. The ubiquitous Duane Reade, where in the one on 8th Ave. we saw the unofficial mayor of New York, Fran Lebowitz, on the arm of a very handsome, very tall young man. And of course, the obvious reason to love New York is Broadway! There is no other theater (well, London’s west end is pretty good) but Broadway. And that leads me to the image above, taken on our return walk to the hotel after seeing Side Show at the St. James Theater on New Year’s day a couple of years ago. Aaah, Central Park at night.


IMG_4321At a work luncheon where unknown to Nora, her career path was about to change, Cobb salad was served. “When did Cobb salad become the official lunch food of New York City women?” When, indeed?







Cobb Salad
serves 2

For the dressing:

2 T water (optional depending on the desired
degree of oiliness of the dressing)
2 T red wine vinegar
⅛ tsp sugar
½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce
⅛ tsp dry English mustard
1 small finely minced garlic clove
2 T extra virgin olive oil
¼ C plus 2 T canola oil

Blend all ingredients together except oils. Add olive and salad oils. Mix well. Blend well again before mixing with salad.

For the salad:

2 C iceberg lettuce
½ bunch watercress (reserve half for garnish)
¾ C chicory
1 C Romaine
2 medium peeled tomatoes
4 strips crisp bacon
2 C rotisserie chicken
2 hard boiled eggs
1 avocado
½ C Roquefort cheese
2 T chopped chives

Cut the greens in bite-size pieces and arrange on 2 plates, reserve half the watercress. Cut tomatoes, bacon, chicken, eggs and avocado in small pieces and arrange, along with the crumbled Roquefort in strips on the greens. Sprinkle with chives and garnish with some watercress. Dress and serve.






He Said/She Said


51C2M6jShgL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_No matter how painful it is, if a relationship is going to survive the long haul, truth must be told from the start. This is the story of lies concealed over time, lies that festered and grew, until protecting them became the raison d’ etre.

Kit and Laura found with each other a golden love that is so palpable, other people can see it, like a shining aura enveloping them. Kit is an eclipse chaser, starting in his youth when he and his twin, Mac, accompanied their alcoholic father chasing eclipses around the globe. The first one was in Chile, 1991. Laura is a fundraiser, and loves her job, supporting agencies whose work she believes in. When training fundraisers, she tells them that they have to believe in their cause and have a plan ready before they make that important telephone call.

In 1999, when Laura went to her first eclipse with Kit, the zeitgeist of the moment was freewheeling festivals surrounding the cosmic event. Kit, Laura, Mac and Laura’s best friend, Ling (also Mac’s girlfriend) attended the one at Lizard Point, the southernmost spot in Cornwall. They planned on setting up a concession to sell tea to make some money while they were there. Things got complicated when they meet Beth.

This many-layered story was expertly revealed. I did have an inkling of one of the plot points early on, but abandoned it because I had no evidence to support it. Consequently, the reveal at the end did surprise me. Excellent writing, intricate plot, well-drawn characters.


Even though the sky was overcast during the eclipse, Laura and Kit experienced something really special. They were viewing the phenomenon somewhat removed from the crowd, atop a van overlooking green hills in the foreground with the sea in the distance.
“There.” Kit nodded to his left, and pointed his camera. I followed his gaze and lost my breath. A wall of night pressed in towards us from the Atlantic, a black veil being dragged across the sky. I gasped like I was falling…”I didn’t know the darkness could be so beautiful,” said Kit, aiming his lens at the horizon. As if he had summoned it, at that moment, a hole was torn lengthways through the cloud and the sun was partly visible, a sooty black disc surrounded by a ring of pure light… there were none of the phenomena I’d hoped for, no shooting corona, no sun leaking through the moon’s crater to create the diamond ring effect, and in a few seconds it was gone, but still I felt changed, as if a giant hand had reached down from the sky and touched me.”

amercian-eclipse-01.ngsversion.1503324054000.adapt.1900.1An onlooker watches an annular solar eclipse from New Mexico. Photograph by Colleen Pinski, National Geographic Your Shot.


Laura planned to take her father to a new ocakbasi restaurant that had just opened in her neighborhood. In Turkey it is called mangal, but a very specific type of charcoal barbeque called ocakbasi is also very popular. Ocakbasi translates to ‘fireside’ or ‘stand by the grill’ and ocakbasi restaurants typically have one or more large hooded charcoal barbeques in the center of the restaurant.

Kanat (Turkish Chicken Wings)

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T Turkish hot red pepper paste (biber salcasi)
2 T Greek yogurt
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp sumac
½ tsp Urfa pepper flakes
2 tsp Kosher salt
3 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, hot red pepper paste, yogurt, garlic, cumin, sumac, pepper flakes, and salt. Place wings in a large Ziploc bag, pour in marinade, and seal bag, removing as much air as possible. Place bag in refrigerator and marinate overnight.

Grill on low temperature for 25 minutes, turning often. Raise the heat to medium and cook until brown and crispy, turning often.


Transfer to a platter, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve immediately. Repeat with
remaining skewers.

This is a keeper!


An Unnecessary Woman


UnknownThe way this book is constructed is a marvel. It rambles like stream of consciousness writing, then catches itself, while the narrator, in whose head  we reside for the duration of the book, reminds us that she has digressed, and brings it all around to where she originally left off, having shared some facet of her personality that illuminated who she is. Although it doesn’t sound like it, the book follows a linear track as the narrative goes back and forth in time, with her memories, to flesh out the details of her life, helping the reader understand, and ultimately empathize with her.

Aaliya is a 70-ish woman living in her beloved Beirut. She lives alone and prefers  solitude to the company others. The reasons for that are understandable, given her past interpersonal relations. Aaliyah’s whole life is lived in books. To say that she is well-read is an understatement. Many of the authors she cites are obscure, or at least unknown to me. I began the book by writing down every author and title, but I had to give that up when it took me 2 hours to read 40 pages. Finally, on page 62 where she named 14 writers in one paragraph in an attempt to explain why she can’t translate their work, I gave up the obssesive recording. Aaliyah loves books, loves the characters in her favorite books, and loves her authors. Naively, I thought I might attempt to read all of the works she cites, but realistically, with my penchant for contemporary fiction, that’s not going to happen. So I settled on 3 books that I will try starting with Aaliyah’s favorite Holocaust book, Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald. Next is Memoirs of Hadrian, her favorite novel, by Marguerite Yourcenar, and finally, the philosopher Spinoza. Having left philosophy behind 50 years ago after an introductory course, I’m going to need Spinoza “lite.” I found Spinoza: A Very Short Introduction by Roger Scruton.


ed79c42b6cd30fc0b6c3809ca6fa9e39--pre-raphaelite-greek-mythologyIn addition to being a self-taught “learned person,” Aaliyah was also a student of classical music, and mentions many of her favorite pieces as she makes her way through the local record store, 2 records per month – all that her limited budget will allow despite her obsession. So I thought about using either Lizt’s Etudes or Chopin’s Ballade #1 in G minor, but I kept thinking about a scene she described from the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982. Three Israelis in combat fatigues broke into  her apartment in the pre-dawn hours. She grabbed the AK-47 that was on the bed beside her (don’t ask, read the book, it’s a good story) and without having to fire a single shot, sent those 3 intruders scrambling out of her apartment and into the street. Needless to say, her reputation in the neighborhood as a “crazy lady” went a long way in the future toward keeping her safe. But the image of crazy ladies reminded her of the Maenads, the female followers of Dionysus (Bacchus is Roman mythology) whose name translates as “raving ones.” They reached a frenzied state with the help of dancing and intoxication. When I searched the web for images of Maenads, this picture by Frederick Leighton, called “Bacchante,” came up. Unfortunately, the caption said that it was in a private colection, making the original inaccessible to me, although there was a link to purchase a print. I just love this picture. Not sure why. Wildness? A girl and her greyhound – goat – sheep? I don’t know. I just can’t stop looking at it.

THE FOOD: When Aaliyah and her husband first moved into the building where she still lives, the landlord turned out with his family to welcome them with rice pudding with rosewater. Since my husband is a fan of rice pudding, I thought I’d try a Middle Eastern recipe.

Easy Middle Eastern Rice Pudding Recipe
Yield: 4-6

2 C milk
1 C half and half (or heavy cream, if you prefer)
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
1 C medium grain rice (or Basmati)
3 T sugar
2 tsp rosewater (or to taste, add more as preferred)
½ C water, more as needed
⅓ C evaporated milk
2 T unsalted butter, room temperature
ground cinnamon for serving
honey for serving
crushed pistachios and walnuts for serving

Place the milk, half and half, cinnamon sticks and cloves in a medium saucepan. Heat on high and watch carefully. Just before the milk mixture boils, remove from the heat. Cool completely and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight so that the flavors develop and intensify (if you don’t have time, you can proceed from here).

Remove the milk mixture from the fridge and set in room temperature for a few minutes. Add the rice, sugar, rosewater and water. Bring the mixture to a boil on high heat, then simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring regularly.

As the rice cooks, keep stirring regularly. The rice mixture will dry, add a little water (a tablespoon or so at a time) to help it cook. Continue to stir and add water as needed until the rice cooks completely. The rice mixture should be moist, and the rice should be fully cooked but maintain a little bite.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter and evaporated milk. Carefully remove the
cinnamon sticks and cloves, then transfer to small serving bowls or even 3-oz mason
jars. At this point you can cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready, add a little evaporated milk to each bowl to loosen the rice pudding, if you find that it hardened in the fridge. Heat briefly in the microwave, then top the rice pudding bowls with a pinch of ground cinnamon, honey, and the crushed nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_4312My husband likes dried cherries, so I added them, warmed the pudding and drizzled it with honey.


White Houses


Unknown I heard an interview on a podcast, probably Just the Right Book, with the author, Amy Bloom. She said she relied heavily on Eleanor Roosevelt’s correspondence in crafting her fictional account of Eleanor’s relationship with Lorena Hickok. Perhaps that is why the dialogue rings true, Eleanor’s remarks more than Lorena’s. Eleanor was a much more accessible character than Lorena in this book. She comes across as vaguely saintly without ever a hint of “poor me,” although if what I’ve read here and in other books is true, Sara Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor’s mother-in-law, was a force of nature, like a tornado or a hurricane or blizzard, or some other natural destructive event. The collateral damage she  effected was Eleanor’s relationships with her children. The children were always jockeying for their father’s love and approval, while oblivious to their mother’s unconditional love. It was Sara who had created the environment in which Franklin was the sun, moon and stars, and Eleanor was, just there. While the book is about Eleanor and Lorena, the main character really was Franklin. A selfish, egotistical man with a wandering eye, everyone, whether they loved or loathed him, was taken in by his charm, personality and drive. It was Franklin who made things happen, who could rally the troops, reassure a frightened citizenry that all would be well in the end. People were drawn into his vortex whether they intended to or not. Franklin was yang to Eleanor’s yin, opposites that more often than not, functioned as a cohesive whole: Franklin’s energy to Eleanor’s reflectiveness. The fact that I’ve said very little so far about Lorena is idicative of the book. In the first half where we learn of Lorena’s childhood struggles and eventual departure from her home, Lorena is a fully realized person, but as the book moves on toward the end, Lorena becomes a more shadowy figure, a hanger-on, who I really didn’t much care about.

THE BEAUTY:  Early in their relationship, Eleanor and Lorena take a trip that they refer to as their honeymoon. They drive, without secret service, (I know, shocking, right?) to Vermont, Quebec and northern Maine, immersing themselves in each other’s company, as only two people in the throes of the beginning of a love affair can. They revel in simple pleasures – a cup of tea on a veranda, walks on the beach, star-gazing. On a magical night, they see an aura borealis. “Neon-green streaks and bolts of flamingo pink blow up the sky on a winter night in Maine and we think- oh, we will never forget these northern lights, but we do. What we remember is only the curling picture in the left-hand drawer (Presque Isle, Maine, 1934) or a gorgeous half-page photo in an old travel magazine, but what we saw when we held hands, lifting our chins to the sky as if we could leap into the jagged, jewelled brilliance above us, was seen for ten seconds only, and never again.” But they saw it. Not everyone does.


THE FOOD: While in Presque Isle, the couple share a lunch of tuna sandwiches on the beach. Knowing what I do of Eleanor’s culinary tastes, their sandwich was probably a great deal scaled down from the one I share here. I am a fan of Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry (Napa Valley) and Per Se (New York). Fortunately, my husband and I were able to eat at the French Laundry in 2003 on a trip to Napa, back when we could afford a destination dinner like that. So when Keller opened Per Se at Columbus Circle in New York, we were, yeah, sign us up. That is, until we saw the menu. No way were we going to pay that much for one dinner. After some research, I found that Kelleher had also opened a sandwich shop in the same complex, called Bouchon Bakery. The tuna sandwich there was reported to be fabulous. So that became our new destination restaurant. However, every time we happened to be in New York on subsequent theater trips, Bouchon Bakery was closed! I don’t remember when we finally had that sandwich (I think it was 2011, because that’s when I printed this recipe from the web), but it was worth the wait. I haven’t always been successful with the confit garlic aioli, so when it fails, I throw it away, take out the Hellman’s and add a little garlic to it, and voilà, almost homemade garlic confit aioli!

Thomas Keller: Tuna Nicoise Tartine 
Adapted from the Bouchon Bakery recipe

4 thick slices Pain de campagne (if unavailable, use sourdough)
4 butter lettuce leaves
2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
4 radishes, thinly sliced
8 Nicoise olives, pitted (couldn’t find them, used Kalamata)

Confit garlic aioli
3 garlic gloves, peeled
1 C extra virgin olive oil, divided
¾ C canola oil
1 egg
1 T lemon juice

Tuna salad
2 tsp each flat-leaf parsley, chervil, finely chopped
1 tsp chives, finely chopped
1 tsp each cornichon, shallot, capers, finely chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
5 oz tuna

For confit garlic aioli, combine garlic and ½ C olive oil in a small bowl and microwave for 10 seconds at a time, until garlic is soft, maybe 30 seconds total. Reserve the garlic and combine the garlic oil with canola oil and the remaining ½ C of olive oil, set aside. Process egg, lemon juice and reserved garlic in a small food processor until smooth (1-2 minutes). With motor running, gradually add combined oils and process until thick and emulsified. Season to taste, adjust consistency with a little water, if necessary, and set aside.

For tuna salad, combine 4 T garlic aioli, herbs, cornichon, shallot, capers, and lemon juice in a bowl. Add tuna and mix until just combined, season to taste.

To serve, spread two bread slices with a little garlic aioli, top each with two lettuce leaves, layer with tuna salad, egg, and radish slices. Garnish with olive, chives and paprika, drizzle with oil, top with remaining bread slices and serve.

IMG_4308  IMG_4310
A success! Garlic aioli!                                The finished sandwich- delicious.

The Idiot


30962053Selin is a college freshman, longing to be a writer, longing to find her way. Along the way, she fell in love. Perhaps love, although at times it seemed more like infatuation, or obsession. Ivan, the object of her desire, was kind of a free spirit, and I wondered throughout the book what he really wanted from this relationship with her. She sought a summer internship in Hungary at his suggestion. She was to teach English in small villages near Szentendre. Although Hungary was Ivan’s home, he only planned to be there briefly that summer, before traveling to Thailand. When Ivan drove Selin back to the campground in Szentendre after spending a couple of days with him, they said their goodbyes, and Ivan went on his way, leaving Selin reluctant to rejoin her group, needing some alone time to compose herself after his departure. She tried call her friend Svetlana, but was told, “All the lines to that country are busy,” so she called her mother, telling her that Ivan had left for Thailand. Her mother understood just how Selin felt, and told her to go see some beautiful things. Beauty encouraged the production of of endorphins, which helped make you feel better and prevented inflammation. This completely encapsulates how I feel about beauty, and why I, too spend time searching for it wherever I am. Perfect comment for this blog.

The author has captured beautifully, the aching torment of first love. I loved Selin, who was uniquely herself, very smart, very literate and very funny. She went shopping with her friend Ralph at Copley Plaza in Boston. He needed suspenders that had to go with khaki pants, a navy jacket and  a burgundy tie. They both like the red suspenders, but not with the burgundey tie.
“Like a fool, I asked Ralph the color of his shoes. “Black,” he said. “Black shoes, navy jacket,” I mused. We looked at each other with identical stricken expressions: “Brown shoes.” We went to the shoe department. This was the beginning of the end, not just becasue shoe shopping was always sad- what was Cinderella, if not an allegory for the fundamental unhappiness of shoe shopping?- but because the shoes were past the pajamas and underwear. The pajamas were where we really lost everything-our sense of purpose and of who we were. The shoes had at least been related to the suspenders. Here, colors were irrelevant-or not relevant, but bearing different meanings. There were boxers printed in red, NO NO NO, with green glow-in-the-dark letters that spelled YES YES YES.”


3-Le-buffet-de-Vauvenargues-1959Svetlana, Selin’s friend, had terrible anxieties at the Louvre when they visited Paris the summer after their freshman year, disturbed by the sheer number of works of art. She was able to control it by focusing monomaniacally on one painting per visit. After staring at a 15th century illumination of a Madonna in a lime-green robe confronting a silver whale, apparently, indoors, Svetlana said she identified with that Madonna more than any other woman in any other painting. Svetlana kept bugging Selin about paintings that she identified with. Selin didn’t identify with anyone in any paintings. Until … “I finally identified with a painting in the Picasso Museum. Titled Le Buffet de Vauvenargues, it showed a gigantic black sideboard scribbled over with doors, drawers, pigeonholes, moldings and curlicues. Two roughly sketched figures, one big and one small, flanked the sideboard. The sideboard was the thing between them.” Svetlana said it wasn’t okay to identify with furniture. I’m no psychologist, as you will quickly see as you read further, but I think  that the figures in the painting are Selin and Ivan, with Ivan being …….(wait for it) the bigger of the two. The sideboard represents the many-faceted, complicated reasons that they aren’t together.

THE FOOD: When Selin is in Hungary for the summer, teaching English, she particularly enoyed a uniquely summer food. “I could have eaten a bucket of those cucumbers, which had been pickled in the sun, without vinegar.” I too, am a fan of pickles and grow cucumbers in the summer for that purpose. This recipe really intrigues me, but it’s March, in New England, and it just snowed and is supposed to snow again in a couple of days, so, I’ll post the recipe now, and will update the post when I’ve had the chance (and the sun, of course) to make them. 

Hungarian Summer Dill Pickles Recipe

These Hungarian summer pickles are fermented by the heat of the sun, so they should be made in the summer or in warm climates. It’s from Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling” (The Harvard Common Press, 1998), and it’s one of the easiest ways to pickle cucumbers.

1 quart pickling cucumbers (3 to 5 inches)
1 T pickling salt or kosher salt
2 T white vinegar
1 fresh dill head
1 frond of dill
2 C water

Gently wash the cucumbers, and remove the blossom ends. Using a knife, slit the cucumbers through lengthwise just short of the end, so they are still attached. Place pickling salt or kosher salt, white vinegar, and dill head and dill frond into a narrow-mouth quart jar. Pack cucumbers tightly into jar so they won’t float, leaving 1 inch headspace. Pour in water to cover and can the jar with a nonreactive lid.

Place the jar outside in the sun or in a sunny window (place a saucer under
the jar to catch any drips). Bring the jar in at night. Within 3 days, you
should see tiny bubbles, indicating the cucumbers are fermenting. When
the tiny bubbles have stopped rising (around 5 days), place in refrigerator.
They will keep about 2 weeks, refrigerated.


Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions


PoldiAuntie Poldi was at a crossroads in her life at 60, looking for a home.  She decided to leave Munich to settle in Sicily near her late husband’s family. She enlisted Martino, her sister-in-law, Teresa’s, husband, to drive her around looking for the perfect property. Being an intuitive type, she couldn’t define exactly what she was looking for, she only knew that when she felt the energy of the right place, she’d know it. And it needed a sea view.

After settling in at 29 Via Baronessa in Torre Archirafi, Poldi was immediately drawn into local intrigue when the young man she hired to help with household repairs turned up dead on her favorite beach. With hints of Mafia, the word that Sicilians are not supposed to say, (like Voldemort) corruption, romance, betrayal – Poldi, with a taste for the hunt, promised Valentino, posthumously, that she would find his killer. Consequently, her meddling into police affairs created tension between herself and Vito Montana, the Commissario Capo of the State Police assigned to the case.

This whodunnit is filled with food, drink, history, landmarks and a sense of the Mediterranean lifestyle that Sicilians enjoy. In the background of it all is majestic Etna, the still active volcano that commands attention with its enormity. Reading this made me want to hop on a plane and visit the beauty of this island. There were intimations in the story of things in Poldi’s past that she’d rather not think about, like her time in Africa, but I think more will be revealed as this is the first book of a  series. I hope that author keeps the characters I’ve just met in future books. I love that aspect of a series – looking forward to spending time with old (be they fictional) friends.


Mount Etna dominates the landscape of Catania. It is a very active volcano with 5 craters at the top and vents on the sides. The last eruption on March 16, 2017 injured   10 people including a BBC News television crew. There is something endlessly fascinating to me about volcanoes. On our first trip to Hawaii, to the Big Island, I couldn’t get enough of the volcano, with a helicopter ride, trips to the caldera, and writing my name on the black lava rock with white stones. The hotel we stayed at had an outdoor shower made of lava rock that was decorated with native plants. It was so beautiful. That bathoom will always be my dream bathroom.

Study Suggests Mt. Etna Is Just a Giant Hot Spring Not a Proper Volcano (1)__1516198770_161.202.39.248
Photo from


When Poldi has a guest, (potential lover) for dinner, he arrived with chocolate and pistachio gelato and a bouquet of white roses with olive sprigs. This charmed her because that is the bouquet she carried the day she married Peppe. How the man ever figured that out is beyond me.


From what I understand, the very best pistachio paste is made with Sicilian pistachios. The paste online was well over what I wanted to spend, so I made my own using roasted pistachios, as that was all I could find. I will make this again, using raw pistachios that I’ll have to buy online. My husband loved the roasted flavor of this gelato, but it didn’t impart the green pistachio color that I like. (Using food coloring is cheating!)
Makes 1 quart

4 large egg yolks
¾ C sugar
2 C milk
1 C heavy cream
¾ tsp. kosher salt
6 T pure pistachio paste (not pistachio cream)

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Whisk in the milk, cream, and salt until combined.

Set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking frequently, until a thermometer inserted into the mixture reads 170°. Remove from the heat and whisk in the pistachio paste until well combined.

Set a fine strainer over an airtight container and pour the mixture through. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days (this helps cooked custard bases achieve a stable consistency).

In the bowl of an ice cream make churn for about 15 minutes, until it’s firm and billowy, and a spoon dragged across the top leaves a lasting impression. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until hardened, at least 4-5 hours. Later on, if it’s too firm, thaw it in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes before scooping and serving. For best results, eat within 2 days of freezing.

Pistachio Paste

1 C unsalted, unroasted raw pistachios
¼ C almonds or almond flour
⅓ C granulated sugar
2 T water
1 or 2 T peanut or sunflower oil

To remove the pistachio skins, bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in the pistachios when the water comes to a rolliing boil. Let them boil for 1 minute or so, at which point you will see the peels lifting off. Strain the nuts, drop them into an ice bath immediately to chill them. When the pistachios are thoroughly chilled the skins should lift off. Air dry the skinless pistachios on a rack. When thoroughly dry, place them on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and toast them, at 300º F for 15 miinutes. Then let them cool down.

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan on medium heat. When the sugar syrup reaches 300º F throw in the pistachios and stir for a few seconds. The pistachios will crystalize. When they are covered in sugar and almost no syrup is left in the saucepan, remove them and scatter them on parchment paper to cool down slightly.

Place the pistachios, the almonds or almond flour in a food processor. Mix for about 2 minutes until you obtain a coarse mixture. Add 1-2 tablespoons of peanut or sunflower oil.

Keep mixing for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture becomes a thick paste.

IMG_4281                IMG_4288               IMG_42966 tablespoons pistachio               ready for the freezer             guess which bowl is mine