Monthly Archives: November 2019

The Snow Child


Unknown Mabel and Jack moved to Alaska to escape from their sorrows in Pennsylvania, perhaps underestimating the potential toll that living in the wilderness might take on their bodies and spirits. Jack worked long hours clearing land for a cabin and a field to grow crops. Mabel took care of the domestic side of life and baked pies for the restaurant in their little “town,” to make some extra money, but she felt more distant than ever from Jack because of his long hours and the effect of the punishing labor on his aging body. One night, during the first snowstorm, the two went out to celebrate the event, by building a snow girl, replete with mittens and scarf. Days later, they noticed a little girl in the woods, alone and shy, wearing their mittens and scarf. Gradually they were able to draw her closer to their house, until finally they spoke to her. She was a wild little thing, accompanied only by her friend, the fox, surviving in the wilderness.

This book is a love letter (and a love story) to the wild beauty that is Alaska and to the hardy souls who make it their home. The harsh winters provide a context for people to help their neighbors in ways that are unimaginable in suburban life in the lower 48. Adversity can bring out the best in people, as it does here, and enriches the lives of all involved.

THE BEAUTY: Mabel had a relationship with a river otter that she kept  a secret from everyone, including Jack. She liked watching his antics from afar, and it was during one of these sessions with him that she felt a soaring sensation in her heart, that she knew to be love. Her otter helped her fall in love with the wild place that had been her home for eight years.



When the land softened in the Alaskan summer, Mabel and Jack would have feasts with the Bensons, their closest neighbors, where the men built an alder fire early in the morning to roast the meat of the black bear that Garret Benson had shot. Esther would bring potato and beet salad and Mabel baked fresh rhubarb pie. We’re fresh out of black bear meat, and rhubarb season is over, so it had to be potato salad.

Russian Beet and Potato Salad

2 beets
4 small potatoes
2 small carrots
3 small dill pickles, diced
¼ C vegetable oil
2 T champagne vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
salt to taste
3 green onions, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook beets until tender, about 30 minutes. Bring a separate pot of water to a boil and cook potatoes and carrots until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain vegetables, cool, and remove skins. Dice and place in a large bowl.

Place the diced pickles in the bowl with beets, potatoes, and carrots. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt. Sprinkle with green onions. Chill completely before serving.

Ate it all before remembering to take a picture!








The Truffle Underground


9780451495693I was interested in truffles because of their mystery and inaccessibility. Many years ago I had lunch at Cafe Boulud in Manhattan during restaurant week. Thinking that my three-course meal was going to be thirty dollars, I ordered the white truffle risotto. When it was served, the waiter kept shaving the fungus on my plate until my eyes grew wide at the extravagance. To say that I thoroughly enjoyed that lunch is an understatement. I was like the cat that swallowed the canary, having a great time until the bill was delivered, and my risotto had cost $103.00! Apparently, I should have read the menu more carefully. When I read in the book about suppliers mixing inferior Chinese truffles with bags of the highly prized French Tuber melanosporum,  I wondered if what I was served was the real deal, or a Chinese fraud. Daniel Boulud is  quoted in the book. “Right after Christmas I started getting some truffles that I thought were overripe at first… “they were very hard and had very little veining. They smelled of benzene and tasted like cardboard. Then I began hearing about the Chinese truffles.” It’s amazing how quickly shady characters infiltrate an up and coming market, finding a way to cheaply produce something that can be passed off, at least for a time, as a real luxury product. One of the fascinating things I learned was that at an auction in 2010, Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho bid $330,000 for 2 pieces of white truffle, the rarer, smoother-surfaced species with pale yellow-brown skin that can only be found in a few places on earth and cannot be cultivated. The average life cycle of a truffle-producing tree is 30 years, and green oaks are better at producing truffles than white oaks. Saboteurs who try to keep night truffle hunters away from their property will slash tires, smash windshields, blow up cars, and kill truffle dogs. That was the section of the book I couldn’t read, not being able to imagine or stomach a human who would kill a dog. As a result of the fraud and corruption in the industry, neither desert nor Chinese truffles can be legally sold for consumption in Italy.

THE BEAUTY:  Photo from







The glorious white truffle of Alba, found in the Piedmont region of Italy. The most prized truffle is the guest of honor at the 89th annual International Alba White Truffle Fair, from October 5 to November 24, 2019. The market varies, but these beauties might sell for $4,000 per pound.

THE FOOD: Acknowledging that purchasing an actual truffle is not in the family budget, I moved on to finding a recipe that called for truffle oil.

Yield: 4-6 Servings

1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp dried thyme
2-3 small carrots, medium dice (~1 cup)
2-3 stalks celery, medium dice (~1 cup)
1 lb. (16 ounces) baby bella mushrooms, stems trimmed, halved and sliced
¼ C dry sherry
1 C par-cooked pearled barley
5 C chicken stock
leftover parmesan rinds (optional)
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp white truffle oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil and butter in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent.

Add garlic and continue cooking for an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add dried thyme.

Add celery and carrot together and cook over medium-low heat for an additional 3-5 minutes.

Add sliced mushrooms, stir, and allow to cook over high heat for 5-7 minutes, or until mushrooms begin to release their liquid. Allow liquid to evaporate before adding dry sherry.

Reduce sherry until barely any liquid is left in the pot. Add the pearled barley, parmesan rinds, and chicken stock and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until barley is cooked through.

Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Finish by stirring in truffle oil and lemon juice. Serve piping hot.


This was good, but probably would have been better without the white truffle oil. In the list of ingredients was “truffle flavor,” which turns out to be no truffle at all. Most truffle oils are made with the chemical 2,4-dithiapentane. So, after we ate this for dinner, I threw away the rest of the bottle, still yearning for the real flavor of truffles.  Good news! Urbani makes both black and white truffle oil with real truffles, 3.4 ounces for $19.97 online.


Celestial Bodies


celestial-bodiesThis was the winner of the International Booker Prize for 2019. Books that are translated into English from any language are eligible. What makes this unique is that Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani, to win. I can say that the structure of this book presented some problems for me. Each chapter was told from a different character’s perspective, and although there was a family tree at the beginning of the book that helped me keep the characters straight, I still had to stop and page back through the chapter to connect who I was reading about with what had come before. None of this is a criticism of either the writing or the translation, simply my inability to quickly navigate through unfamiliar culture, and unfamiliar names and pronunciations. And yet, those are all of the things I love about reading books from other countries! This story takes place during a time of great change in Oman. Women were gaining independence and technology was changing the fabric of Omani life. There was also more western awareness, culturally. With this backdrop, three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla, come of age, marry, and raise families, each one finding and expressing love on their own terms with varying degrees of success. While it was a tough read for me, it was well worth it.


Camels! They hold a special position in Omani culture and there is a camel race that takes place annually, supported by H.M. Qaboos Bin Said, the leader of the country. I’ve loved camels for most of my adult life, having ridden one on two separate occasions.

Unknown                                            Picture from

THE FOOD: Dates appear to be important in Omani cuisine. So important that a crushed date was put into a newborn’s mouth! I wanted something sweet for a dessert, so I found a couple of recipes for date balls and voila, the following recipe.

Yield: 20 small balls

1  C seedless dates
¼ C almonds
¼ C cashews
⅛ C walnuts
⅛ C pistachios
⅛ C sunflower seeds

Grind all nuts separately to a powder. Place powders in a bowl. Grind half the dates to  a paste and the other half to a very small dice. Place in the bowl with the nut powders and mix well. Roll the mixture into small balls. If the mixture is not sticky enough to bind, add 1 tablespoon of honey. Store in an air tight container.


Britt-Marie Was Here


9781501142536Initially I found the cover off-putting, probably because so many books with a female protagonist show a woman’s back on the cover and it just seemed cliche. When I saw the book at the library book sale, however, the rat and the sensible shoes won me over. Having read A Man Called Ove, I knew that there would be something I could relate to in the book, so I took the plunge. I loved Britt-Marie, although her relationship with Kent, her husband was stifling, in that she subjugated herself to his needs, and was happy to do it, but Kent never really saw her. Sadly, Brett-Marie spent most of her adult life hoping to be seen. “You are here,” was a revealing scene early on in the story when Britt-Marie took a position as the caretaker of the recreation center in tiny, run-down Borg. The girl in the wheelchair whom Britt-Marie called “Somebody” hung a map, rather low on the wall because of the wheelchair, that marked the location of the center with an arrow and the words “you are here”. Britt-Marie found that comforting because, “Sometimes it’s easier to go on living, not even knowing who you are, when at least you know precisely where you are while you go on not knowing.”  Despite her social awkwardness and rigidity of habit, Britt-Marie forged ahead to do her job, and in the process discovered that she was more than just, “here.”

THE BEAUTY: Sven, the local policeman, was such a good friend to Britt-Marie, finding her a place to stay and helping her move in. A bit shy, Sven was often tongue-tied in Britt-Marie’s company, yet, it was important to him to share with her his favorite place in the whole world. He took her down a secluded road  to a lake surrounded by trees, no people about. In my mind’s eye, I pictured Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, because it’s serene and quiet and intimate in scale. 18aa17dde38dc8a47b90b842a76c849c-walden-pond.jpg
Photo by Lonely Planet

THE FOOD: The children at the recreation center needed a soccer coach, and since the pool of adults to meet that challenge was shallow, Vega invited Britt-Marie to dinner at her house with Sami, her older brother and chef, and younger brother, Omar. The tacos Sami served, which Britt-Marie had never had, were intended to soften her up so that she’d accept the position. She found a kindred spirit in Sami when she saw that his cutlery drawer was perfectly arranged.

Ground Beef Taco

1 lb. ground beef (70-80% lean)
½ C onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T chili powder
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
1 C tomato sauce

Saute the ground beef and onion in a saute pan, adding the garlic when the beef is nearly cooked.  Drain the grease, then add the tomato sauce and seasonings. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Add mixture to taco shells and garnish with sour cream, lettuce, jalapenos, and salsa.

IMG_1684A simple, yet filling meal.