Monthly Archives: March 2019

The River


The RiverI came to The River having loved Celine, also by Heller. Then there was the Kirkus starred review, Book Cougars and Book Riot recommendations, and 4.08 star rating on Goodreads. I was pretty confident that I would enjoy this adventure story, and I did. What I did not enjoy was the extensive descriptions of the day-to-day routine of trekking in the wilderness, so I admit to having skipped long passages in an effort to get back to the plot. What did I expect! It was clearly stated in the summary what this was about… so I recognize that this was not a flaw of the book, simply a point where my interests and the book’s narrative did not intersect. The story itself was a page-turner. Two friends with a love of the outdoors and the challenges of hiking in the wilderness, Wynn and Jack, were on their dream canoe trip in northern Canada, when multiple circumstances added up to disaster. When disaster struck, their almost polar opposite views about the situation, began to drive a wedge between them. Some of the calamity might have been avoided, had they opted for simple things, like bringing a GPS device along. Other challenges could not have been anticipated, and their skills at orienteering and survival served them well. It was hard for me to believe that anyone could have survived what they endured, but I trust that Heller knows what he’s talking about. Pretty much devoured this thing in one sitting.


One cold night, Jack was standing watch at the campsite, on his back, looking up at the sky when he saw: “…a pale cloud that drifted and elongated and accordioned into a high curtain of softest light, and as he watched, it spread silently across the northern sky. It pulsed with inner radiance as if alive and then poured itself like a cascade to the horizon and shimmered with green… It was like a portent– more: a preview–and it was as if every cantlet and breath of the night was filled with song– and silent. It was terrifying and unutterably beautiful.”

Aurora borealis.

The photo was taken in Iceland, credit arnakristjans_photograph


The first part of the trip was going well, and when they found blueberries in great abundance, they supplemented their diet with massive quantities of them. While they lacked the resources to make delicious blueberry muffins with theirs, I do not, and have the blueberries I picked last summer in the freezer, so at the very least, I can share this little bit of adventure with them.

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins

Makes 12 regular or 24 mini muffins

Baker Nick Malgieri came up with this formula for Boston’s beloved blueberry muffins, sold at a bakery in the now defunct department store Jordan Marsh.  Many recipes have circulated over the years, but none that capture the true taste. This does. 

2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter
1¼ C sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ C buttermilk
2 C fresh or frozen blueberries
flour to coat the frozen berries
extra sugar for muffin tops

Slide a rack in the middle of the oven. Set the oven at 375°. Line a regular muffin pan or two minis with paper liners.  

In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.  

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs one at a time until the batter is smooth. Blend in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the batter alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, mixing only until incorporated.  Do not overmix or the muffins will be tough.  

Remove the bowl from the stand. Fold in the blueberries.  

Spoon the batter into the liners.  A regular sized ice cream scoop makes a perfect size  regular muffin. Sprinkle a bit of sugar on top of each muffin.

Bake regular muffins for 40 minutes, turning the pan halfway through baking, until well risen and golden. Bake minis for 15 minutes checking after 10, or until golden. Keep muffins loosely covered at room temperature on the day they are baked.      


A Student of History


UnknownThe Book Cougars recommended this one, so it went to the top of my library holds list. I suggest that editors refrain from making comparisons to books like The Great Gatsby in the jacket information because it sets an unreasonable expectation in the mind of the reader before even reading a single page. I understand the similarities, but it’s too high a bar. That said, this was another book where I got to use my map of Los Angeles a lot in plotting Rick’s travels about the city. Rick was a starving PhD candidate at USC, which he referred to as the “University of Spoiled Children.” He had reached an impasse in his dissertation and avoided meeting with his advisor because she intimated that if she didn’t get some more promising writing from Rick, she was going to have to pull the plug on his grant, rendering him even more poor than he already was. When his friend had to give up her job because she was moving, she offered to put in a word for him with her employer, a wealthy widow from one of the colossally rich founding families of Los Angeles. Rick recognized that this was a job he simply couldn’t pass up, even though it sounded terribly boring.


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Rick used to escape from the city with his then girlfriend, Chloe, to Cambria, California. They took leisurely walks on Moonstone Beach and watched the seals. Moonstone Beach figures into the plot later in the book, and is where Rick’s life begins to unravel.


One of the many ways that reminded Rick how far out of his league he was with Mrs. W– and her social group is the restaurants that he went to with them. One of them was the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel where Mrs.– W had a lunch was meeting with the head fundraiser for a children’s hospital. The fact that he was late and unaccompanied by the director did nothing to endear him to Mrs. W– and she let him know exactly how she felt about that. At this uncomfortable gathering, all present had the Polo Lounge McCarthy Salad. This chopped salad was created for polo player Neil McCarthy and has been served there continuously since the 1940’s.

Polo Lounge McCarthy Salad
Serves 4

½ C extra-virgin olive oil
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

12 oz iceberg lettuce, finely chopped
12 oz hearts of romaine, finely chopped
2 oz watercress, finely chopped
½ lb red beets, roasted and finely diced
½ lb aged Cheddar cheese, finely diced
½ lb applewood-smoked bacon, cooked and finely chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
½ lb grilled chicken breast, finely diced
1 large vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 avocados, peeled and sliced

Combine first 5 ingredients in a measuring cup; whisk to combine.

Combine iceberg, romaine and watercress. Divide among 4 large salad bowls. Arrange beets, cheese, bacon, eggs, chicken and tomatoes artfully on each serving. Drizzle with dressing. Top with avocado and serve with extra dressing on the side.



My version does not have hard boiled egg in it, and I seriously cut down on the bacon, using it as a garnish instead of one of the building blocks of the salad. It didn’t suffer with those changes at all. You can’t see the lettuce mixture under the other goodies, but the mix was very tasty. The balsamic vinaigrette complemented all the flavors, making for a delicious midday meal. 



The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine


UnknownOne of the book podcasters I follow recommended Bronsky’s latest book, Baba Dunja’s Last Love. When I looked it up on Goodreads, I found that another person I follow loved this one, so I decided to give it a try. The protagonist, (with an emphasis on “agonist”) Rosa, is living with her daughter, Sulfia, and her husband, Kalganow in a small apartment in Russia. As the title indicates, Rosa was proud of her Tartar heritage and made no secret of it– unlike her husband, who wanted to assimilate completely into Russian culture. Rosa was iron-willed with a healthy ego, constantly “advising” her daughter, to such an extreme that Sulfia had to completely avoid her mother in order to maintain her sense of self. You see, Rosa was disappointed that Sulfia wasn’t more like her. When Sulfia’s daughter, Aminat, was born, Rosa took charge of the infant as though it was her own. An attractive baby, Aminat grew to be quite a handful, despite her good looks. The novel details the struggles between Rosa and Sulfia, Rosa and Aminat, Rosa and Kalganow. And they are just the people who loved her! As bossy and blunt as she was, she had an indomitable spirit, a practiced self-confidence and a no-nonsense view of the world that was hard to argue with.

THE BEAUTY: When Rosa finally saw Sulfia for who she really was, that was beautiful. Sulfia had so many friends because she always knew when someone was hurting, when someone needed something, and when to insert herself into their life. She needed very little herself, her joy was in helping others. When Rosa recognized all this, she, too, saw the beauty that was Sulfia!

THE FOOD: When Sulfia first acted out against her mother, Rosa indignantly asked Kalganow what he was going to do about it. He was eating stuffed cabbage at the time, and took a moment before answering. When he did finally answer he said they must hide Sulfia’s absence, or risk losing their apartment. That did nothing to appease his already livid wife, but if his stuffed cabbage was as good as this recipe, he was a contented man.

Stuffed Cabbage

1 cabbage head (3-4 lbs.)
1 lb ground chuck (london broil, butcher ground for me)
1 lb ground Italian sausage
1 med to large white onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1 or 2 eggs
1 C cooked rice
½ C Italian bread crumbs
1 family size can Campbell’s Tomato Soup (23 oz)
3 oz tomato paste
pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt adjust to taste
1 T pepper adjust to taste
3 C white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350º degrees F.

Core the cabbage by removing the stem.

Fill a large stock pot with enough water to cover the cabbage. Bring the water to a boil and add the white vinegar. Put the cabbage in the boiling water, stem side down, return to a gentle boil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove cabbage head from pot and put in a colander to drain and cool. Save the water in the pot to use if the center leaves of the cabbage are not fully pliable.

When the leaves have cooled enough to handle, take a paring knife and shave the vein that runs down the center of the leaf. You’re just cutting off the top portion of the vein, and not creating a hole in the leaf. This vein is very tough and needs to be pared down. It will make it much easier to roll the meat mixture in the cabbage leaf. Continue to do this until you remove as many leaves from the cabbage as you can. If the center leaves need more cooking, return them to the pot and boil until tender.

In a saucepan, heat 1 T olive oil and saute the onions until transparent and slightly brown. Add the minced garlic and stir for another minute or so until the garlic blooms.
In a large mixing bowl combine the ground chuck and sausage and mix thoroughly. Add the onion and garlic mixture, egg, rice, bread crumbs and finally add the salt and pepper. Make certain to thoroughly combine the ingredients together. The “meat” mixture will be a similar consistency to meatloaf. It should be nice and moist. If it seems dry, add an additional egg.

Lay a cabbage leaf down on a flat surface. Take some of the meat mixture and form into a large meatball. You may make these as large or as small as you want. Place the meatball in the center of the cabbage leaf. Wrap the cabbage leaf around the meat mixture. Fold the leaf over to cover the meat, then tuck in the sides and continue rolling until the leaf completely envelopes the meat mixture. Place the stuffed cabbage in a roaster with the wrapped edges down. Repeat this process placing the rolls next to each other, until all of the meat mixture is used up.

Mix tomato soup, tomato paste and a pinch of sugar. Pour tomato soup mixture over the top of the stuffed cabbage and reserve a small amount to be used in the next step.

If you have cabbage leaves remaining, cover the entire top of the stuffed cabbage in the roaster. Pour remaining tomato soup mixture on top of the cabbage leaves that cover the  stuffed cabbage. This step will help steam the rolls that lie below and therefore will keep them nice and moist. Put a lid on top of the roaster and bake for 1½ hours.

Allow the stuffed cabbage to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

To freeze rolls for later, allow them to cool then put dinner size portions in freezer bags.  Pour a little of the tomato juice into each bag and freeze.

To reheat place frozen rolls and their frozen tomato juice into a saucepan, cover, and simmer until heated through. Probably about 30 minutes. It’ll go faster if the cabbage rolls are thawed before reheating. Alternatively, place the thawed rolls into a casserole dish, pouring the tomato juice on top. Cover the pan and bake in a 350º degree oven for 30-45 minutes, until heated through.



Golden Child


UnknownIt’s been a couple of weeks since I finished this book, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. Although it had all the elements that I love: taking place in a foreign country with a culture that was unfamiliar to me, I had trouble warming to the characters, particularly Clyde, the father of twins Peter and Paul. Paul, the second born, had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck at birth and suffered oxygen loss, making him “retarded” in his father’s eyes. Clyde was hard on Paul, who was not an easy child, throwing tantrums or acting in the extreme to unexpected stimuli. He also had trouble in school, and consequently hated it. So, guess who the golden one was. Peter was an exceptional student and athlete, and his entire extended family had great plans for him in the form of a college education. I finally really got into the book in Part 3, which was told from Paul’s point of view. Paul’s life was so joyless that he literally folded into himself in most situations, to make himself smaller, invisible. One teacher, Mr. Kavanaugh, saw something more in Paul, and became an ally, but without his father’s support, Paul couldn’t find a reason to value himself . As a teacher, I wondered how Paul’s life would have been if his school had been equipped to handle a student with disabilities. I also was reminded of the tremendous power educators have in making a difference in the lives of their students. While sad, the novel provided a powerful reading experience. The author, Claire Adams was born and raised in Trinidad where the novel was set. Having set foot on Trinidad on a Caribbean cruise, I was struck by how little I got to know about that island. Reading expands my world and takes me to places that, even having been there, I can’t truly know.


Paul recalled a trip to Mayaro on the coast, taken the previous year during Carnival to escape the noise and general debauchery of the season in Port of Spain. His daddy, Clyde, was in a good mood on the drive, heading to the place where he grew up, near the beach. Since his wife, Joy had stayed behind to help someone with a new baby, Clyde was free to sit out during the evenings with the men having a little drink. The men told stories about the mischief Clyde used to get into when he was little. At sunset when the fishermen came in, they all gathered at the beach to help pull in the seine, and the Paul and Peter ran with the other children to catch the little fish that had gotten caught, throwing them back into the water. Paul had such a fine time, he hoped they could go back to Mayaro for Carnival this year.

Photo from


When the story begins, Clyde has just arrived home from a long day at work to find that Paul has not yet come home, and there’s been no water in the house since around lunchtime, leaving the sink filled with dirty dishes and an army of flies buzzing around. Since Joy couldn’t cook the curry she had planned to make Clyde had some eggplant with garlic and onions, a roti from the freezer and some cucumber salad.

Spicy Cucumber Salad
Yield: 2 servings

1 cucumber cut into thin slices (use any kind you like, peeled or not)
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 scallion sliced thin
1 hot pepper seeded, thinly sliced (Habanero or Scotch Bonnet)
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 T olive oil
Juice of 1 – 2 limes
1 T cilantro to garnish

Place the cucumber slices in a large bowl with the garlic, scallion, hot pepper and cherry tomatoes. Add salt, pepper, olive oil and lime juice. Gently mix well. Store in refrigerator until serving time.

Bring to room temperature and serve.



Unless you are someone who really, really loves, hot, hot, hot, do not eat the scotch bonnets. It seasoned the other ingredients sufficiently so that there was mild, but tolerable heat. Delicious.