Monthly Archives: August 2018

Crazy Rich Asians


16085481Rachel and Nick are an ordinary (if living comfortably in New York City is ever normal) couple. Two years into their relationship, never having shared anything about his family, Nick invited Rachel to attend his best friend’s wedding and spend the summer in Singapore, which would, of course involve meeting his family- who are: CRAZY RICH ASIANS. This is another version of the “haves and the have-nots;” about who we are better than and who we suppress without ever really examining what makes a person worthwhile. Your clothes are better than mine. Does that make you better than me in any meaningful way?

Nick and Rachel are equally good people, but Nick’s family, believing that wealth must insulate them from ordinary people, throws up a roadblock to sabotage their relationship. We have all aspired to wealth at some point in our lives. As Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were wealthy man?”

It’s a fun, funny, and entertaining book. The movie has just opened and I can’t wait to see it.

THE BEAUTY: The pictures of Singapore are stunning. This one from shows the Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel in the background. The spaceship-like structure on top connecting the three buildings is the Skypark, with an infinity pool, garden walk, and restaurants 57 stories above street level. In the foreground is the Esplanade-Theater of the Bay along the waterfront.

THE FOOD: According to this book, every Singaporean has an opinion about where to get the best satay, and differences of opinion can lead to heated debates. As Rachel explained to her mother, “Let them be, Mom. Let them be. This is just how they all are.”

Singapore Satay
serves 4

1 large red onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 stalks lemon grass, chopped
1 T peanut oil
1 T ground turmeric
1½ tsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
salt and black pepper to taste
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – pounded thin
12 wooden or bamboo skewers

In a large nonreactive bowl, stir together the onion, garlic, lemon grass, soy sauce, peanut oil, turmeric, brown sugar, cumin, ginger, salt, and pepper. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of marinade in a small bowl, and refrigerate until cooking time. Mix the chicken breasts into the remaining marinade, stir to coat well, and marinate in refrigerator overnight.

About 30 minutes before serving, soak the skewers in water. Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil the grate, or cook on a stovetop griddle, getting the griddle very hot before spraying with cooking spray.

Remove the chicken breasts from the bowl, and discard the used marinade. Cut each chicken breast on the diagonal into 6 long strips, and thread a chicken strip onto one of the soaked skewers. Grill the skewers on the grill, turning frequently and basting with the reserved marinade, until the chicken is cooked through with brown, crispy edges, 5 to 8 minutes per skewer. On the stovetop, turn the heat down to medium-low when you put the skewers on the griddle, cooking low and slow until the chicken is cooked through, but not overcooked, 5-8 minutes per skewer.



The marinade was delicious, not too spicy. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce, soy sauce or Sriracha. (When it rains, we grill inside.) Because I’d never made satay before, this was a fun one for me. I don’t think I pounded the chicken enough, so be careful to pound your chicken evenly and thinly.

The Story of Arthur Truluv


UnknownI had never read Elizabeth Berg, but a friend has read a lot of her, so I was hoping that I would like this book. I did! Like A Man Called Ove, it had the potential to be cloying, but also like Ove, it wasn’t. Ove was a curmudgeon, Arthur is not. He’s a mensch. A widower, still missing the love of his life, Nora, he lives a quiet, somewhat lonely life with Gordon, the cat, who Nora adopted from the shelter. When she first brought Gordon home, she called him Precious! When we first brought Mary home, I kept calling her “Precious,” (because she was) Finally, Jim said to me, “We’ve got to get a name for this cat. I can’t keep calling her Precious,” just like Arthur said to Nora. Throughout the book, I kept remarking out loud, “Oh, my, that’s just like us, (or me).” Like when on page 18, Lucille the neighbor gives Arthur a tin of snickerdoodles. There was a book for children called Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, that we used in our 6th grade literature class. Set in Philadelphia, there was a mention of snickerdoodles, which my Philadelphia teacher friend knew how to make, so when we finished the book, we’d serve snickerdoodles. One more personal connection, although there were many more: There was a a forty-ish character described as “a kind of blowsy-looking blonde named Trudy.”

The book is about the unlikely relationship of Arthur, Maddy and Lucille. Arthur is very intuitive, inventing biographies of people about whom he knows very little. He’s also kind and friendly and matter of fact. Maddy isn’t afraid to befriend people much older than her, and Lucille is one heck of a baker. The book ends with a heart-warming scene, one that makes you feel really good. One that makes you wish the book were a little longer.

THE BEAUTY: It seems that I’ve read several books recently where the protagonist has recently lost a spouse, and the will to live. What the books have in common is that the way through grief is by maintaining connections to other people. There is healing power in taking care of someone else. I turned to Google for songs about friendship and since there was one by Bruno Mars, I chose it.


You probably though it was going to be snickerdoodles, but surprise! It’s not. There’s an important scene in which white chocolate pudding with blackberry curd plays a role. Also, the dessert is very impressive looking. Also, even though there was a lot of delicious food mentioned throughout the book, this is the recipe my husband chose when given the choice of hamburger soup, snickerdoodles, or the pudding.

White Chocolate Pudding with Blackberry Curd
Serves 4

For the pudding:

3 T cornstarch
1 T sugar
½ tsp table salt
2¼ C whole milk
6 oz white chocolate, chopped
½ tsp vanilla

For the blackberry curd:

½ C fresh blackberries
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ C sugar
Pinch of salt
1 large egg
2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

To make the pudding, combine the cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a heavy bottom saucepan. Whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan with a heatproof spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over low heat and stir constantly, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary, should lumps begin to form. After about 15 minutes, when the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, add the chocolate. Continue stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thickened.

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl with a spout, and pour into individual serving dishes. Chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, purée berries in a food processor or blender until as smooth as possible. Press through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds. You should have between 3 and 4 tablespoons of purée.

Whisk together the blackberry purée, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and egg in a heavy 1-quart saucepan. Stir in the butter, and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until the curd is thick enough to hold the marks of the whisk, and until the first bubble appears on the surface, about 4 to 5 minutes. Divide the curd among prepared cups, gently spreading it on pudding surfaces.

Let chill for 1 hour before serving.


My dessert cups held 8 ounces and were too big because the pudding is so filling. In the future I would use champagne flutes with iced tea spoons to serve. It really is a beautiful presentation, and the blackberry curd is like nothing you’ve tasted before. If you can’t get blackberries, any berry will do. It’s just that the blackberry has such a distinct color, it’s the preferred berry.

The House of Broken Angels


UnknownSometimes I really struggle with a book, and yet I persist, for whatever reason- in this case, because the reviews were so consistently positive. And sometimes, I’m rewarded with something beautiful, something that puts everything that I struggled with before in context, and my feelings do a 180º, and I love the book. This happened on page 252. I don’t care how long it takes to get there, as long as I get there.

There were several things that I struggled with, primarily, the male voice of the protagonist. I know that was not the author’s problem, but mine, because his characterization seemed to be consistent with what I know of male Latino values. Next, there were the Spanish words, most of which I could ignore, getting the meaning from context, but being somewhat OCD when it comes to words, I just had to keep looking up the translations. Again, my problem, not the author’s. The third barrier to me really connecting with the book was the slang, or gang-speak, or, I don’t know what to call it. I literally dropped the book at page 73, thinking, “How is a sixty something white woman supposed to understand WTF this means?” Here is the passage: “His ‘stache drooped a little, and the soul patch under his lower lip looked bandido as hell.” (I know that’s tame, but I gave up on the more arcane ones that followed.)

This is a family saga, condensed. The patriarch is ailing, and his daughter has planned a 70th birthday party to celebrate his life, but his mother dies a week before, so the two events are scheduled back to back to accommodate out of town guests. The family has its array of characters: the prodigal son, the dutiful daughter, the son escaping his family to breathe and find himself, jealous in-laws, and on and on. But the patriarch is larger than life, and at first, I didn’t see that, but when I did I was totally won over.

When the ending of a book can bring the almost physical sensation of my heart filling up in my chest, I have to acknowledge that this was a very good book.

THE BEAUTY: “…when I’m gone and you see a hummingbird, say hello. That wil be me.”

Bumblebee hummingbird, found in Mexico. Image from The Internet IBC Bird Collection.

Hummingbirds are important to me. When I see one at our feeder, it makes my day. I don’t know why. I’ll probably never see this one in the wild, but I love this picture. I wonder which one Big Angel pictured when he made the comment above?


The family was crazy about pancakes. No hidden meaning. Just crazy about pancakes. They were, indeed, fluffy.

Fluffy Pancakes

¾ C milk
2 T white vinegar
1 C all-purpose flour
2 T white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 egg
2 T butter, melted
cooking spray

Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to “sour”.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into “soured” milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.

Dear Mrs. Bird


UnknownAnother debut novel, this one grew from an article in a 1939 women’s magazine that Pearce happened upon. Emmeline Lake and her best friend, Bunty, were working girls in 1940’s London. Emmy dreamed of becoming a war correspondent, while Bunty worked in the War Office. When Emmy spotted an ad for a Junior at Launceston Press, she believed this to be her ticket to a correspondent’s life. Reality, of course, finds her doing clerical work, eventually typing Mrs. Bird’s responses to her advice column. Mrs. Bird was a very traditional woman and makes it clear that some subjects will not be addressed in her column, some of which are: marital relations, premarital relations, extramarital relations, physical relations, sexual relations, illegal activities… and on and on. As Emmy read more and more of the letters, she began to feel sorry for the letter writers, and at first, tried to subtly urge Mrs. Bird to extend a few words of kindness and encouragement. But Mrs. Bird had her rules and would not yield: nose “to the grindstone” and all that. She gave no thought to the living conditions in London during the Blitz. Daily raids and bombings were the norm, absolutely everyone had someone they knew and loved in the fight, women were doing jobs that the men had done before they were taken into service, in short, times were difficult and everyone, whether they knew it or not, was looking for comfort, however small. Without saying more, I think you can figure out where the story headed. A key event in the book was based on a historical fact. The Cafe de Paris was night club made popular by the Prince of Wales. On March 8, 1941, it was bombed by the Nazis, killing 34, injuring 80. Ken Snakehips Johnson, a bandleader, was one of the 34. More on him later.

While the plot is predictable, the reader comes away feeling hopeful, for this is a story of people pulling together in adversity, supporting one another in small ways. In life, there are no small kindnesses. In life, it’s really all about kindness.

THE BEAUTY: Kenrick (Snakehips) Reginald Hijman Johnson was born in British Guiana to wealthy parents. At 15, his parents sent him to school in Buckinghamshire, England, before studying medicine at Edinburgh University. At University he pursued his love of music and dance, and sought dance lessons with Buddy Bradley, the man behind Fred Astaire. In 1934, on a trip to New York, he went to Harlem and saw Cab Calloway. On this trip he was inspired to become a bandleader himself and back in England, he became a leader in the Black swing movement. His band, initially called Ken Johnson and his Rhythm Swingers, later changed the name to West Indian Orchestra, and played at the Cafe de Paris. He was 26 years old when 2 German bombs fell through the roof and onto the dance floor on March 8, 1941.

I include a clip of him dancing rather than a recording of his orchestra because I wanted to show a living man, and the music clips were only audio. What would he have accomplished musically in his life, had he had the gift of it?


Ths being a book about the British experience, a lot of tea is consumed, and along with tea, we must have biscuits. At one teatime, Emmy had Garibaldi biscuits. I toyed with making them myself, but then I had an epiphany! I don’t have to make everything in this portion of the blog, if I can buy the actual product mentioned. There’s a little shop called the The Best of British Fine Imported Goods in Newburyport where I bought this package for $3.95, along with the shortbread and Cadbury biscuits. I didn’t have to make anything at all! It was all store bought.

IMG_4633                             IMG_4674




Tea time really is a lovely and relaxing way to refuel in the middle of the afternoon. Even on a hot August day, it was the pause that refreshed.




The Last Equation of Isaac Severy


515uNP74klL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I picked up three books from the library the other day when I was already in the middle of a book I had bought, but when I was ready for the next book, this was the one. What a treat! A debut novel, it sets a high bar for Nova Jacobs’ future work. Once I started reading, I blew off all other activities on a beautiful summer day and read the whole thing in one sitting. It is a mystery that starts with the apparent suicide of Isaac Severy, a renowned mathematician, and professor at the Sloan Laboratory of Mathematics and Physics at California Institute of Technology. As the family gathers for his funeral, we learn that one of them received a letter from Isaac written the day before his death, the first of many secrets to be revealed. We quickly learn that the equation is so very valuable, extreme measures must be taken to protect it. There were twists and turns, and things I didn’t figure out, but the characters were compelling and the family drama felt real. There’s even a transgender character. Well done, Nova Jacobs.

THE BEAUTY: Well, it had to be the math, but I’m so math-challenged, I have no way of approaching its beauty, but I’m guessing it’s something akin to reading the Aeneid in Latin, which is also something I can’t do! So I wrote down Mandelbrot from the book, and in researching it, found that there is also a twice-baked cookie called Mandelbrot. Food, I get. Fractal geometry- not so much. A little aside here, my mother had a meeting with my sophomore geometry teacher a million years ago, concerned that I wasn’t doing well. She wanted to take me out of drama and put me after school for one-on-one time with this teacher. In his infinite wisdom, Mr. Trout told her, “Don’t take her out of what she’s good at. We’ll work around drama, and she will pass geometry.” God bless you, Mr. Trout! So, back to the Mandelbrot set. The word fractal was first used by Benoit Mandelbrot and it has something to do with chaos theory which says that a chaotic system will either emerge or collapse. Fractals are a geometric thing that always have the same shape whether you look at them close up or from far away. That’s about as far as I can take it. The image below is from Wikipedia and shows a Mandelbrot set.

The video version was too big a file, but if you google it, you’ll see the zoom in close- up that goes on for quite awhile. I certainly hope no mathematician reads this post, although if one does, and you can expand my fractal knowledge in “Fractal for Dummies” language, have at it.


My husband has a lot of influence on this part of my blog and I frequently give him choices, as I did for this one. Me: If you had to choose between a pastrami sandwich and biscotti, which would you prefer? Him: No contest. Pastrami.

The connection to the book is, Gregory invited his sister Hazel to lunch at Langer’s Delicatessen in LA, and they are famous for their pastrami.  I googled to find out that Langers gets their pastrami from RC Provisions. Unfortunately, the quantity I would have had to order was so large, we’d never have been able to eat it all. So, instead, I went to several local markets on the hunt for the best pastrami. Boar’s Head was the one I chose for this, but next time, I’d have it cut thinner and I’d get the wider cut.

Langer’s Original No. 19 Hot Pastrami Sandwich
Makes 4 sandwiches

8 slices seeded rye bread
2 lbs pastrami cut into ¼ inch slices
4 T Russian dressing (recipe follows)
4 slices Swiss cheese
1 C coleslaw (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 300º F. Wrap the bread in aluminum foil; bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the bread is warmed through.

Meanwhile, to steam the pastrami, bring a pot of water fitted with a steamer basket to a boil. Wrap the pastrami in aluminum foil and place in the basket; cover and allow to steam for 15 to 20 minutes, until all the slices are thoroughly heated.

To assemble each sandwich, spread Russian dressing on one slice of warm rye bread. Add ½ pound of hot pastrami to the same slice, overlaying the Russian dressing. Top the hot pastrami with 1 slice of Swiss cheese and ½ cup coleslaw. Spread Russian dressing on the other slice of rye bread and place it on the sandwich. Slice in half. Garnish with the pickle of your choice.

Russian Dressing
Makes about 2 cups

1 C mayonnaise
1 C sweet pickle relish
¼ C ketchup
1½ T  buttermilk

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, relish, ketchup and buttermilk. The dressing can be made in advance. Leftovers will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 6 cups

1¼ C mayonnaise
½ C sour cream
¼ C plus 2 T granulated sugar
1 T white vinegar
2 tsp salt
¼ C water
1 small head cabbage, shredded (about 2 pounds)
½ red bell pepper, julienned
½ carrot, julienned

Whisk the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, salt and water in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise mixture with the cabbage, bell pepper and carrot and stir to combine. The coleslaw can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.



This was quite delicious. I made the Russian dressing and the cole slaw the day before I was going to serve. Assembling the sandwiches and warming everything took about 20-25 minutes, so plan accordingly. The bread I used was a bit too dense, but still tasty. With good pastrami and good seeded rye, this is worth the effort, although, by all accounts, Langer’s #19 Pastrami Sandwich is somewhere this side of heaven.