Monthly Archives: June 2019

Where We Come From


shoppingA timely tale about a family living in Brownsville, Texas and their involvement with immigration. Nina takes care of her invalid mother, for whom she gave up an independent life, her job and the house she had worked so hard to buy. It all began quite innocently when her brother, Beto, called to ask if she would do him the favor of checking in on Mom on her way home from work, which, of course, she did. And then, one day years later, when Nina found her mother on the floor in the kitchen, unable to get up to turn off the screeching kettle, Nina’s fate was sealed. She sold her home, took early retirement from her teaching job and moved into the family home to care for her mother. Beto stopped in every now and then, and tried to insert himself into her life by constantly telling her what to do. When her nephew Eduardo called to ask if his son, her godson, Orly, could spend a couple of weeks with her in the summer, she was thrilled. But things got complicated when a favor she had done for her housekeeper a few weeks before Orly’s arrival, changed and complicated her life. Suddenly she had her mother, Orly, Daniel and countless others relying on her, and noone knew her secret.

This entirely plausible story was heart-breaking on so many levels. Nina was a good woman whose kindness got her into all kinds of trouble when what she truly deserved was uncomplicated happiness. The stories of the refugees fleeing Mexico and Central America were also disturbingingly sad and their situations infuriating. I’m reading another book on immigration during WWII when America was reluctant to get involved in the European war, and the consequences that had for Jews running for their lives to the remarkably few places that would take them in. Immigration is a serious subject that should be overseen by coalitions, rather than individual countries. The real question is, why aren’t there more safe places to live in the world?

THE BEAUTY: I’ll have to look back among my blogs to see if I’ve written about this before, I suspect I have: the beauty that is family. In this story, Orly asks Nina if they can keep in touch with Daniel (Daniel is on his way north to be reunited with his father). Orly makes the case that Daniel was like his brother or cousin for a time, and Nina was like his mother. Nina, tired from daily trips to the rehab center where her mother is recuperating, says the they’ll talk about it more in the morning. But the gesture she makes before going to bed that night was truly touching. You’ll have to read the book to find out what Nina did.

Of all the dishes that Nina makes Orly’s favorite is fideo, tomato soup. Have I mentioned how much I love soup?

Traditional Mexican Sopa de Fideo Recipe
yield 4 bowls

8-ounce package of “fideo” noodles (angel hair pastas would have worked fine)
2 plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic
¼ medium white onion
4 limes
1 ripe avocado (optional for garnish)
8 C chicken broth
3 T vegetable oil
Salt to taste (about 1tsp)

Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Puree the tomatoes, onion and garlic and set aside.

Preheat 3 T of vegetable oil to medium hot. Add the noodles and stir to coat with oil. Continue stirring until the noodles have started to brown. The browned noodles add depth of flavor to the soup.

Strain the pureed tomatoes, onion and garlic into the noodles.Add the chicken broth and stir. Bring the soup to a boil. Cover and reduce to low heat. Cook for 10 minutes.

Check the salt and adjust to taste before serving.

Serve  with a couple of lime halves. A squirt of lime brings the flavors together. Garnish with chopped avocado.







The Flatshare


9781250295644_p0_v2_s550x406This was a delightful love story. An introvert and an extrovert are an unlikely couple, especially since they’ve never met each other face to face, and yet… When Tiffy realizes the true nature of her relationship with her ex, she begins to see the world, and her past, differently. Tiffy has answered an ad to be the flatmate of Leon, a palliative care nurse  who works nights in a hospice. Tiffy is an assistant editor at a crafts publishing company and works days. They’ll never even see each other! It’s like living alone.  Perfect arrangement. They communicate with each other through post-it notes left throughout the apartment. The way the personalities of Tiffy and Leon were revealed through the notes was well done. I found myself caring about the characters, and kind of mentally coaching each of them. I wanted them to find their respective happiness, and it was very gratifying when they did.


One of Leon’s patients, Mr. Prior, reminisced about an old love with whom he lost contact after the war. Leon began searching for this person, hoping to bring a bit of joy to    Mr. Prior before he died. The gesture was very touching- and time-consuming, as Leon traipsed all over England on weekends, trying to find the person. It is an example of beauty that happens when someone like Leon extended himself beyond the parameters of his job, to bring some joy in the life of  dying man. Beautiful.


Tiffy is a “panic baker.” When she’s sad or has a bad day, she bakes away the negativity with delicious, calorific goodness, some of which she, of course, leaves for Leon to enjoy.  Leon’s been eating it all, and feeling a little guilty for not reciprocating. In one of their ubiquitous Post-its, he thanked her for the oat bars he finished, and invited her to have the leftover mushroom stroganoff that he made.

4 Servings

8 ounces medium pasta shells
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ lb cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large shallots, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2½ T all-purpose flour
2 C beef stock
1½ tsp Dijon mustard
¾ C sour cream
⅔ C freshly grated Parmesan
2 T chopped fresh parsley leaves

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions; drain well.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and shallots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender and browned, about 5-7 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in garlic and thyme until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk in flour until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in beef stock and Dijon. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced and slightly thickened, about 4-5 minutes.

Stir in pasta and sour cream until heated through, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in Parmesan until melted, about 1 minute. Stir in parsley; season with salt and pepper, to taste.




This was delicious! Will definitely make it again and again.




The Cruelest Month


91PQ9jb0fXLI’ve read the last two Gamache books, the first two, and one in the middle, so with this book, I attempt to read the rest of her books in publishing chronological order, this being number three. What I love about these books is so similar to why I love Donna Leon’s Commisario Brunetti books. Both men are intelligent, well-read, reserved, confident, they love their wives and their family, and they have an unwavering sense of justice that does not always fit into the bureaucratic morass that is their respective law enforcement agency policies. In addition, I always learn something— and there’s food!

In this installment, Gamache is called once again to the rural village of Three Pines to investigate a murder. A small group of villagers held a seance in a deserted, haunted house where the murder took place. Most of the characters are recurring, making each new installment an opportunity to get to know more about these characters who feel like friends. I love when Gamache imparts wisdom to his junior staff, like giving Lemieux a crash course in catching killers. “There are four statements that lead to wisdom. I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help. I was wrong.”


During the murder investigation, Inspector Beauvoir and Gamache are looking at a high school yearbook, trying to make a connection between the picture of a lovely young cheerleader and the mousy woman seated on the other side of the Bistro. If the cheerleader is indeed the same woman, she may be the murderer. Beauvoir looked at Gamache and said, “You think maybe she magically transformed herself from a beautiful cheerleader into that?” Gamache replied, “I have seen flowers come in stony places, And kind things done by men with ugly faces.”

An Epilogue
John Masefield

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.





Slow cooker Quebec-style baked beans




Everyone handles grief differently. When Beauvoir went to question Hazel Smyth in her kitchen after the death of her best friend and roommate, every pot was out, either in use, or in the sink. On the stove there was a brown jar filled with a classic Québécois dish, baked beans. Since my husband loves baked beans, this had to be the dish for this book. The slow cooker made it easy.

Quebec Maple Baked Beans
Servings 5 cups

1 pound dry beans (navy, great Northern) 2-1/3 cups
water for soaking and precooking
1 medium onion
¼ lb salt pork or bacon
¼ C pure maple syrup
⅓ C brown sugar
2 T unsulfured molasses
2 T tomato paste
2 tsp dry mustard
3 C water for cooking
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Rinse and sort the beans; remove any pebbles or debris. Place the beans in a large bowl. Fill with water in order to submerge the beans by at least two inches of water.
Soak overnight (8-12 hours).

The next day, transfer the drained and rinsed beans to a large pot. Re-fill with water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and rinse again.

Transfer the rinsed precooked beans in your slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir together and place the whole onion in the center.

Cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours or until the beans are tender. If the mixture appears dry, you can add some water.

Serve immediately or refrigerate and served reheated the next day. The baked beans can also be frozen.

Save Me the Plums


cuozzo-ruth-reichl-plums-1aI have not read any of Reichl’s books, of which there are quite a few, but I have heard several reviews on the podcasts I follow, and have thought that I might enjoy her writing. When this book came out, it had everything I love in a book. (It seems that I am quite a fan of memoir, if I look back at the number of books I have read in that category.) Reichl grew up in New York, one of my favorite places, so there promised to be a lot about the the city I ❤️. She was something of a hippie, with a laid back attitude, untameable hair, and a disregard for fashion. She loved food! She was a food critic for the New York Times so she dined at some memorable places on both sides of the approval spectrum. And the pièce de résistance, she was the last editor of Gourmet Magazine, a periodical I devoured monthly in the 80’s and 90’s. I made my first standing rack of lamb using a Gourmet recipe, and years later decided to forego a Bermuda vacation in order to buy bone flatware for a scary Halloween dinner that was featured in an October issue. And there are recipes! I really enjoyed the book and the writing and the insider look into the world of magazine publishing in its heyday. I still miss Gourmet.

THE BEAUTY: My favorite chapter was called Severine. Gourmet had decided to do an entire issue on Paris, and sent the editors to scout out interesting things for its readers to see, do and eat. Ruth passed a dress shop, and on an uncharacteristic impulse, she went in. The sales person was very helpful, showing Ruth a little black dress that made her feel beautiful. It was a 1959 vintage St. Laurent with a price tag equivalent to $6500.00! The tag at the neckline read “Severine.” When Ruth passed on the dress, the salesperson cautioned her that she would regret walking away. Ruth thought about that darned dress all day, and couldn’t decide if she really wanted to walk away or take the plunge and buy it. She thought back to when she had visited Paris as a 17 year-old. She had desperately wanted to eat at Caviar Kaspia, and saved up her money to do just that. When she got to the maitre d’ station to be seated, Yves St. Laurent walked past, she lost her nerve and left. All these years later, she decided to treat herself and think about the dress during a fabulous meal. She ordered the lobster bisque, and relished it as she usually did with fine food, eating slowly and deliberately and savoring every morsel. An older gentleman seated at the table next to her, excused himself to comment on how much he had enjoyed watching her eat. He said that Ruth reminded him of his late wife, and reminisced about his wife’s quirky and mysterious ways. He offered Ruth some of his caviar and a glass of Krug ’66 champagne, which he said was the perfect wine for caviar. They ended up spending a companionable evening together, and when they parted company, he thanked Ruth for allowing him to recapture a bit of his vibrant youth by talking about his past. Ruth asked what his wife’s name is. You guessed it: Severine. You’ll have to read the book to find out if Ruth bought the dress.


The Reichl’s were not rich, but they managed to dine at Luchow’s, which was in their neighborhood, once a week. Ruth and her father were adventurous eaters, eventually sampling everything on the Luchow’s menu, but Ruth’s mother always ordered the same thing every week.




Husband-tested, he declared them outstanding. Here’s one sans flambé and maple syrup.





German Apple Pancakes
Serves: 3

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
1 lemon
½ stick (4 T) unsalted butter
¼ C brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
small grating of nutmeg
3 eggs
¾ C flour,
pinch of salt
1 T sugar
1 C milk
sugar for sprinkling
Rum or cognac (optional)

Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Shower them with about 2 T of lemon juice.
Melt half the butter (2 T) in a medium skillet and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the apple slices and cook over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, until they’ve become quite darkly caramelized and smell impossibly delicious. Remove them from the heat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs, add the milk, gently whisking, then add flour, salt, and sugar, whisking until blended. The batter should be thin.

Melt a couple of tsp of butter in an 8 inch frying pan to coat bottom. When hot, pour in a third of a cup of batter, turning the pan to make the batter spread to form large, thin, flat pancake.

Cook until just set, about 2 minutes. Evenly distribute a third of the apples over the crepe, pour another third of a cup of batter over the apples, then turn the pancake (this is easier if you have two pancake turners) and allow the bottom to brown. Turn out onto a large plate, sprinkle generously with sugar, and roll the pancake up like a jelly roll. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar, and, if you like, a splash of lemon juice.

Repeat this until you have three plump rolled pancakes. If you want to flame the pancakes, lightly warm a few tablespoons of rum or cognac for each pancake in pan, add the pancakes, spoon the liquor over the top, and set the pancakes on fire.


Miracle Creek


shoppingAnother highly anticipated debut that I read about at the Kirkus website’s “buzzed about books,” Miracle Creek is an immigrant story, a mystery, and a courtroom drama. The Yoos had come to the United States from Korea so their teenage daughter, Mary,  could have a better life. Pak, the father had worked in Korea at a hyperbaric oxygen therapy facility, and with the financial backing of friends, was able to set up his own HBOT business, “Miracle Submarine,” in rural Miracle Creek, Virginia. The family  lived modestly, saving as much as they could to pay back their investors. Plagued by demonstrators who daily showed up with signs reading, “I’m a Child Not a Lab Rat,” and “Quack Medicine = Child Abuse,” Pak worried that they would ultimately sabotage his facility in an attempt to put him out of business. When the chamber suddenly exploded, many were convinced that it had been at the hands of the protesters, but Pak’s wife and daughter, had their own secrets and suspicions. The courtroom drama is deftly drawn by the author, herself a former trial lawyer. I went off on several red herring tangents until I finally figured out what had actually happened, at the very end. A book I could not put down, and another long night of reading.

THE BEAUTY: Finding beauty was a challenge in this book where terrible things happened to change lives forever. What I was left with was the beauty of the human spirit, that can forge its way back from the depths of despair, and make peace in a world so different from the one in which they had been living in. Many of the characters in this book did just that, not alone but with the love and support of people who had shared their experience. Survival is a beautiful thing.

THE FOOD: Pak’s favorite meal, although they rarely had it because of the expense.

Korean Barbecue Ribs (Galbi) 

2 lbs. beef short ribs, cut flanken style or boneless short ribs sliced ½ inch thick*
*A rule in my house is, when we make a new recipe, we always prepare it exactly as written. When I initially had trouble finding flanken cut short ribs, I decided to use boneless short ribs, as I had just made them recently in a successful recipe. My usual butchery (2 actually) didn’t even have boneless. After many calls, I ended up at Whole Foods, where, to my surprise, they had flanken cut short ribs. The butcher had already packaged my boneless ribs, and I didn’t like the look of the flanken, so I went with the boneless, flaunting our house rule. Since I have nothing to compare it to, I have no idea if it was mistake.


If you look closely you can see the bone on the right of each strip.





6 oz. pineapple juice
3 T chopped garlic
½ C chopped onion and scallion (food processor)
1 C soy sauce
3 T honey
1½ T sesame oil
¼ C Mirin
¾ C rice wine
½ C dashi
1 small Asian pear, finely grated

Mix together all marinade ingredients. Place beef and marinade in a zip lock bag and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Remove the meat from the marinade and set aside to grill. Grill for about 20 minutes until desired doneness is reached.

Pour the marinade in a saucepan, bring to a boil. Add 3 more tablespoons honey, Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain solids from the sauce. Make lettuce wraps  with grilled meat, boiled rice, lettuce and sweet slaw.

Sweet Slaw

1 carrot
1 cucumber
1 apple
1 red pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced
¼ tsp lemon zest
1 T lemon juice
1 T vinegar
2 T honey

Julienne carrot, cucumber, apple, and red pepper, and add to a salad bowl. Stir in scallions and lemon zest. For the dressing, mix together lemon juice, vinegar, and honey in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over slaw, mix, and let sit for about 20 minutes.


I served this as a lettuce wrap, starting with a leaf of Romaine, on top of which I put a couple of teaspoons of a combination of white and brown boiled rice, meat, marinade, and sweet slaw. It had a very distinct flavor, sweet, and unlike anything I had tasted before, but good. The whole meal was labor intensive, and even though we got three more meals out of it all, I won’t be making it again. However, I am on the prowl for a good Korean barbecue restaurant!

Hotel Du Lac


UnknownThis is my third, and favorite, Brookner. Although an extremely quiet read, where the action takes place in a hotel during the off-season, I enjoyed the surprises (to me, anyway) in the plot.  I also enjoyed the writing, at times witty, at times wry. While I can’t imagine the color of “over-cooked veal,” (how Edith describes the furnishings her friend encouraged her to purchase for her bedroom) I thoroughly enjoyed the description. Another example of the writing was, after witnessing an unpleasant encounter between two of the female hotels guests, Edith thinks, “The company of their own sex… was what drove many women into marriage.” I don’t share the sentiment, but I was amused by the thought.

While the women in this novel are mostly wealthy, except for Edith, who is not poor, but doesn’t have a husband to support her, they are all living in metaphorical cages. Edith has settled for a limited life because she doesn’t believe herself worthy of anything more. Monica, exiled to Hotel Du Lac to heal, so that she can bear an heir to a husband she loathes, is caged by loneliness and anger at her circumstances. Jennifer’s cage is her mother, Mrs. Pusey, who probably fares the best among the women, narcissist that she is. I can only assume that the tone of the novel is at least one accurate depiction of society in male-dominated England of the mid-1980’s.


One of the characters, Mr. Neville, bragged about owning a complete set of famille rose dishes. Research revealed that famille (family) are groups of colors used in the palettes of  painted Chinese porcelain starting in the late 18th century. Rose is pink, although there was also black, green, yellow. As a lover and collector of dinnerware, I appreciate the beauty of this porcelain. It’s pricy, though, so I won’t be owning a set anytime soon. Maybe one plate? Like this one! Maybe a different color.



There is a wedding in the novel and of the foods mentioned, asparagus rolls were the only appealing things that I hadn’t made before. Since no description was given, and since the novel is set in England, this recipe came up, among others, when I googled “British recipe for asparagus rolls.”

Asparagus and Puff Pastry Cigars

5oz ready-made puff pastry
flour, for dusting
1oz cream cheese
10 asparagus spears
1 free-range egg, beaten
2 T freshly grated parmesan (or a similar vegetarian hard cheese)

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

Roll the puff pastry out on a floured surface into a 6 in x10 in rectangle and spread all over with the cream cheese. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 10 long, thin strips. Wrap one pastry strip in a spiral around each asparagus spear and place onto a baking tray. Lightly brush each with beaten egg then scatter over the parmesan.

Bake the cigars in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and is golden-brown.



I loved the way these looked and crunched. The outside needed more salt, or more parmesan. The cream cheese was just bland. I will make these again because I love wrapped asparagus, but I’m going to try Boursin instead of cream cheese, or make an herbed cream cheese and use that. This is a keeper appetizer.



The Muse


UnknownIn 1967, 26 year-old Odelle Bastien was unhappily working in a shoe store in London, dreaming of becoming a writer. An immigrant from Trinidad, she had spent the last five years applying for all manner of jobs, only to be turned away when she showed up for the interview. Then, one June day, a letter changed Odelle’s life. Marjorie Quick of the Skelton Institute not only offered her a job as a typist, but acknowledged the accompishments listed in her curriculum vitae. Finally, Odelle felt that she was coming closer to what she had been taught were Important Things: culture, history, art. Odelle was reserved, living simply with her college roommate, Cynth. In the workplace, she was quiet, suspicious even, of her employer’s motives, so she kept the details of her life to herself. As the title suggests, a muse can be the difference between creating art or not creating it. A muse can be inspiring or encouraging, helping the artist find their voice and the confidence to keep making art. There were several muses in the novel, highlighting how important it is to have someone believe in you, and believe in your work, but Odelle’s muse was the most interesting part of the story.


One of the characters, a female artist, admired the work of Gabriele Munter, a German expressionist, who lived from 1877 to 1962. After her parents died, she and her sister spent 2 years visiting extended famiy in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, before returning to Germany to study art. Because she was wealthy, she lived a free life unrestricted by the conventions that constrained other women of her era. She initially had a professional relationship with Kandinsky that later blossomed into a personal relationshp that lasted a decade. This work, entitled “Breakfast of the Birds” is in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.



The action alternates between 1967 London and 1936  Spain. The Schloss family met brother and sister Isaac and Teresa Robles in the Spanish countryside, when Harold brought his wife and daughter there at first to get away from the bustle of the city to help his wife, and later to escape the political madness enveloping Europe at the time. Harold owned a gallery in Paris, and Isaac was a painter, so an alliance between the two was quickly formed. Teresa cooked and took care of the house. One afternoon, Isaac joined Herr Schloss, Harold’s wife, Sarah, and Olive, the Schloss’s 19 year-old daughter, for tea to celebrate Isaac’s success in Paris. Teresa served polvorones, a kind of shortbread cookie.

I’m not a confident baker, primarily because I don’t have much success with recipes that call for creaming butter and sugar. This recipe claimed to be really easy, so I took a deep breath and googled “how to soften butter in a cold house.” Since the recommended method was to bring it to room temperature by putting it on the counter for about an hour, I put the heat up to warm the house. After an hour, the butter wasn’t soft, so I beat the butter with the paddle on my stand mixer. Better, but still not creamy, so I beat it some more, and some more. Finally added the sugar, made the dough, and continued to follow directions. The cookies were supposed to be golden brown on the bottom and just pale golden on top after 18 minutes in the oven. They weren’t. I kept checking them and putting them back in the oven for an additional 18 minutes before cranking the heat up to 350 for 6 more minutes. They still weren’t pale golden on top, but out they came. I nudged one with the spatula to see the color of the bottom, and the cookie fell apart. So I just let the cookies sit on the pan until they cooled a bit. Bottom line- they were fabulous! I went from I’m-never-making-these-again to OMG-these-cookies-are-soooo-good. in just one delectable bite.

Don’t give up. These things are worth the effort.

Yield: makes about 4 dozen

1½ C walnuts, divided
pinch of fine salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
½ C granulated sugar
½ C confectioners’ sugar, plus more for serving
Ground cinnamon, for garnish (optional)

Put ½ cup of the walnuts and the salt in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup walnuts.

Position two oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325º F.

Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the flour, then the ground and chopped walnuts. Divide the dough in half, forming each half into a ball. Wrap separately in plastic and chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Put the confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl.

Working with half of the chilled dough at a time and keeping the rest in the fridge, roll the dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between your palms into balls. Arrange the balls on a large baking sheet, spacing them ½ inch apart.

Bake the cookies until golden brown on the bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool the cookies for 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Toss the warm cookies in the powdered sugar. Transfer the sugar-coated cookies to a rack to cool completely. The cookies can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Once cooled, store them in an airtight container. You need to make sure they are cooled before storing them, otherwise they will get soggy. Sift additional powdered sugar and cinnamon over the cookies if desired before serving.




A great success!