Monthly Archives: March 2021

Genghis Khan and The Making of the Modern World

THE BOOK: First of all, I have to comment on the character of the author, Jack Weatherford. Most writers are passionate about their subjects. They’d have to be, to spend so much intellectual energy and time on one thing. Without passion the work is just assembly line labor. Weatherford has taken passion to a whole other level, however, by not just researching this material, but living it! He retraced the steps (on the steppes!) of the great Khan without the benefit of speaking the native language. He lived as the Mongols must have, in yurts and on horseback in the heat of the blazing desert sun and the cold of the Siberian winter. Bearing that in mind as I read, put me in the setting in a way that I haven’t experienced in other nonfiction reading. So kudos to Weatherfield for that aspect of this book.

Early in his career, Temujin, later called Genghis Khan, established a pattern of warfare that made him unbeatable. When he attacked Bukhara, for example, he surprised them by coming in from the Red Desert. He had waited for the coldest months so that his army would need less water and the dew stimulated the growth of grass to feed the horses. Instead of transporting a large supply of necessary goods, he brought along a corps of engineers who built whatever they needed from available materials. In addition, he captured several small towns on the way, allowing refugees to flee to Bukhara, thereby increasing the level of terror in anticipation of the advancing Mongol army. Using catapults, trebuchets and mangonels, Genghis Khan and his army forced the city of Bukhara to surrender. The great Khan’s next target was Samarkand, but they had heard about the defeat at Bukhara and surrendered.

Genghis Khan changed the manner in which the Mongols fought and distributed the booty of the conquered. Only after the opponent was soundly defeated did the looting take place, and then, Genghis Khan controlled the allocation of the looted goods. The family of a soldier who died in battle received his allocation of loot. When a city was conquered, only those showing loyalty to Genghis Khan were rewarded and advanced, the leaders were killed and everyone else was accepted. GK did not advance family members, which later proved problematic, but that was left for his heirs to sort out. He abolished inherited aristocratic titles, sort of outlawed adultery, made all children legitimate, forbade selling women into marriage, made animal rustling a capital offense, provided religious freedom, adopted a writing system, and banned hostage-taking. In addition, the rules applied to everyone, including the great Khan! A Khan could only be elected by the “khuraltai,” a gathering of Mongol chiefs and khans. GK also started a communication system of fast riders called “arrow messengers.” Postal service stations were positioned 20 miles apart, and required 25 families to maintain each of them.

Genghis Khan’s reliance on discipline and loyalty; his indifference to inherited aristocracy; promotion of equality through religious tolerance and some rights for women; and propaganda, reminded me of Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. I’d love to ask George R. R. Martin if he based the character on Genghis Khan.

THE BEAUTY: Throat singing! Years ago I went to the Saunders Theater in Cambridge to hear the Throat Singers of Tuva. The scenery in this clip is remarkable.

THE FOOD: At one point when food was scarce, Temujin and his men ate boiled horseflesh, which they considered a divine intervention as they would have died of starvation without it. It goes without saying that there wasn’t much I could do with that, culinarily speaking, so I googled Mongolian food and found a recipe for “buuz,” (I loved the name). I’m not a fan of lamb, but I thought I might like ground lamb. So off to the market, where, to my relief, there was no ground lamb, so I was going to have to use ground beef after all! Just then, a butcher came by and asked if I needed any help. (Divine intervention?) I asked if they had any ground lamb, and he led me to the section where it would be, but alas, there was none. He was apologetic and said that he had some lamb legs that he could grind up for me, so at this point, how could I say no thank you after he had been so helpful?So here’s my “buuz” in the steaming basket. I wish I could say I loved it.

In Mongolia, buuz is prepared for special occasions, celebrations or honored guests

Mongolian Buuz

1½ C water
1½ lbs. ground lamb
1½ C onion
3 pieces scallions
4 cloves garlic
3 T ground coriander
3 T salt for filling
1 tsp ground black pepper

In a medium size bowl mix together flour and salt. Make a well in the center and gradually pour in water. Pull in flour from the side of the bowl until well mixed in and you have formed a dough.

Place dough on a clean work surface and knead with your hands until dough is smooth. Add more flour or water if necessary.

Place dough in a bowl, cover and allow dough to rest for one hour in the refrigerator before using.

In a large bowl, combine lamb, onion, scallions, garlic, coriander, salt and pepper. Mix until everything is well combined.

Remove dough from refrigerator, knead for about a minute then roll it out into a log about 1-inch in diameter. Cut the roll into 1-inch slices. Roll slice into a ball and lightly dust with flour. Flatten it a bit, then roll it out into a circle about 4-inches in diameter. Make the center slightly thicker than the edge.

Hold one dough circle in your hand (left hand for righties and vice versa for south paws) and place about a teaspoon of filling in the center. Pinch the edge on one side, then create another fold next to it. Continue this way while rotating the buuz as you go along. If done correctly there will be a small opening in the center of the top.

Dip the bottom of each buuz into a bit of oil, or line a steamer rack with lettuce or parchment paper so that buuz does not stick to the rack. Arrange buuz on rack so that they do not touch. We used a bamboo steamer. If you don’t have one, a flat pasta strainer or even a cake rack would work just as well.

Place the steamer in a pan or wok that has about 2-inches of water in the bottom. Water should not touch the dumplings.

Bring water to a simmer, place steamer into the pan and put the lid on the steamer. Steam for 20 minutes without removing lid. Serve hot.

Illumination in the Flatwoods

THE BOOK: Since we moved to our new home almost a year ago, I have developed an interest in the behavior of wild turkeys. We’ve named our property “Turkey HIll” because of the frequent visitation by a gang of turkeys that forage in our neighborhood. I’ve done some research online and found a bit of very clinical information about the birds: like the names of the different types of vocalizations they make, their home range (generally 370 to 1360 acres), and that turkeys will “rubberneck” when they’ve spotted you, by stretching up their necks and staring at you. But I wanted to know what people who’ve studied turkey behavior up close had to say. I couldn’t have found a better book than this one!

Joe Hutto is a naturalist whose story of raising turkeys was depicted on a show in the PBS series, “Nature.” He has also used the method of “imprinting” to study mule deer as documented in his book, Touching the Wild. In this book, he almost becomes a turkey as he develops a great fondness for his “gang.” His story begins when a neighbor left a bowl of turkey eggs on his front steps. Hutto had to scramble to borrow an incubator from another neighbor to quickly get the eggs warm. He had no idea how old the eggs were so he had to guestimate when certain behaviors on his part should stop, so that hatching could proceed. Joe spent a lot of time with the eggs, talking to them and making turkey sounds so that they would, hopefully recognize him when they hatched. After they hatched, he, literally lived with them, letting them climb all over him, rest in his cupped hands, and later, roost and forage with them. The tone of the book is reverential, as Hutto communes with his natural surroundings in the Flatwoods of the northern part of Florida near the Apalachicola National Forest. The only criticism of the book I have is that Hutto is fond of poisonous snakes. Snakes! If there is one thing in the universe I hate, it’s snakes. Consequently, I took no notes about the rattlers and coral snakes, etc. that get frequent mention in these pages. But I wrote lots of notes about the turkeys. They have strong opinions about color. They loved Joe’s blue shirt, but tried to peck a brown one off him. There is humor here, too: “The old anthropocentric notion that human beings somehow are distinctly removed from the rest of the animal kingdom was a poorly conceived vessel that will no longer float.”

The title of the book comes from a Joseph Campbell quote, “Illumination is the recognition of the radiance of one eternity through all things.” It saddened me to learn that I’m never going to experience illumiation because you have to release yourself completely from desiring the goods of this world and fearing their loss. I like my stuff too much! I think the closest I can get to illumination happened a couple of days ago when I observed a (redtailed ) hawk soaring high above me at the end of the day when then light is exceptionally luminous. Every time he flew toward me, the sun lit up his chest and made him glow like a god, and left me with a twinge in my chest that made my heart grow lighter and brought a tear to my eye.

THE BEAUTY: Baby anything is beautiful. But these turkey poults intuitively know stuff about being a turkey at a very young age, and they’re SO VERY CUTE!

THE FOOD: Joe Hutto foraged with the birds every day, and found that his food distracted them to a degree that interfered with their eating, so he learned to eat what they were eating- except for the insects: the beetles, grasshoppers and larvae. So Joe ate the berries that the turkeys ate and brought the occasional apple with him that didn’t distract the “gang.” The turkeys especially liked gallberries. When I googled gallberries, somehow I wound up at the website of Classic City Bee Company in Athens, Georgia where they package gallberry honey. It is delicious, and as a fan of the wildflower honey that my neighbor sells (tastes like flowers!), I consider myself something of a honey connoisseur. The gallberry honey doesn’t go into my daily smoothies, no, no. This honey is savored on a spoon, directly from the jar. It is really something something special.

All the Devils Are Here

THE BOOK: Chief Inspector Gamache’s family has gathered in Paris in anticipation of the birth of their daughter Annie’s second child. Instead of a peaceful family reunion, tragedy prevailed on the first night of their visit when Armand’s godfather, Stephen Horowitz, was struck by a hit and run vehicle, sending him into a drug-induced coma, and Armand into a murder investigation. One of the roadblocks he and his son-in-law, Jean Guy Beauvois, come up against is the French police’s disdain for their Canadian colleagues, dismissing them as backwater rubes.

THE BEAUTY: The locale sent Armand down memory lane as he reminisced about the trip thirty-five years prior when he brought Reine-Marie to Paris to propose marriage. He remembered the moment along the Seine at dusk, when he turned her around to catch her first glimpse of the Eiffel Tour all aglitter for its nightly light show. A beautiful and romantc memory.

THE FOOD: The hostess gift from Madame Dussault, the wife of Armand’s good friend, Claude, who happened to be the Prefect of Police, was a box bearing the logo of Patiserrie Pierre Herme. “Is it…?” queried Reine-Marie, and indeed it was! An Ispahan confection from Patisserie Pierre Herme. My version is more modest, but good. The word “ispahan” comes from a variety Damask rose, Rosa ‘Ispahan’, a type of garden rose introduced from the Middle East to Europe during the crusading 13th century. Apparently, Herme became obsessed with it, creating a recipe book full of ispahan delectables.


For the cake batter
160 g unsalted butter, softened
110 g powdered sugar
170 g almond flour
3 large egg yolks
1 whole large egg
80 g all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
2 ½ T granulated sugar
5 tsp whole milk
1 T rosewater or rosewater syrup

For the white chocolate and dried raspberry glaze
7 oz white chocolate
1 ½ tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 oz chopped freeze-dried raspberries

Preheat oven to 355º F. Sift almond flour and powdered sugar into a medium bowl and set aside. Sift all-purpose flour into another bowl and put aside as well.

To make the cake batter, beat softened butter and almond flour/sugar mixture 3 minutes, using an electric mixer Add a whole egg with egg yolks and whisk 2 minutes. Then add milk mixed with rosewater and beat 1 minute again. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites (not too firm), gradually adding granulated sugar. Delicately add egg whites to the cake batter, incorporating flour at the same time. Mix with a starting from the center, from bottom to top. Don’t overfold! It is better to underfold than overfold.

Butter a nonstick loaf pan and dust with flour. Garnish the cake pan with ⅓ of the almond-rose batter and smooth out. Arrange fresh raspberries away from edges. Then cover raspberries with another ⅓ of batter. Add berries again at a distance from the edges. Pour ⅓ of the remaining batter over fresh raspberries.

Lower the oven temperature to 300 ºF and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes or until a knife can be inserted and removed cleanly without streaks of batter. Unmold the cake immediately after baking and allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the white chocolate and dried raspberry glaze, melt white chocoloate in a microwave in 3 (30-second) intervals, stirring between each melt. Add grapeseed oil, chopped freeze-dried raspberries and gently mix. Let the glaze cool down to 86º F maximum, otherwise, it will be too runny to stick to the surface of the cake. 

To decorate the cake, transfer the loaf to a wire rack placed on top of a tray. Pour the glaze over the cake.

Make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature. Take the butter out of the fridge two hours before you start baking.

Slightly beat egg whites (not too firm).

Use only fresh raspberries since the frozen ones are too watery to make the cake.

The Makioka Sisters

THE BOOK: The Makioka Sisters introduces the reader to upper-class life in Osaka, Japan in the 1930’s, just before World War II, when Japan was having its own struggles with China. Told primarily from the perspective of Sachiko, the second oldest of four girls, much of the action involves making a match for Yukiko, the third-born child. Taeko, the youngest, completes the Makioka quartet. Although the two oldest sisters grew up during the prime of their father’s career, enabling them to fully appreciate the benefits of wealth, their fortunes declined after his death, and though they still had the Makioka name, their social standing was in decline. This is a domestic, rather cozy, novel, with great attention to detail: characters and their clothing, the rooms in their respective domiciles, favorite places to visit, and the natural world are all described in scrupulous detail. At nearly 600 pages, there is plenty of time to become submerged in the fabric of their daily lives and develop a reader’s relationship with the characters. One of the things that struck me about Japanese life, was how much these people drank, and how one’s ability to hold one’s liquor was a source of pride. There were rules, of course, about how to behave, and the sisters, especially Sachiko, were always worrying about offending one another. Except maybe Taeko, the youngest, who never knew her father and didn’t grow up with the same entitlement as the older girls, so she was the one most likely to be wearing Western clothes, and behaving independently.


The Makioka sisters’ annual trip to Kyoto for the cherry blossom festival was a much anticipated event. Sachiko especially loved the weeping cherry trees at the Heaian Shrine.

Weeping cherry trees at the Heian Shrine


Out of all the wonderful food she could have chosen, Sachiko’s favorite dish was sea bream. Others in her family pooh-poohed her choice of this humble fish, but to Sachiko, it was the flavor of Osaka. I couldn’t get it locally so I ordered it from Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. Fed Ex delivered it a day later than initialy reported, but the fish was well-packed and still fresh. This dish, served with broccolini, baby potatoes and multi-colored carrots was truly memorable. Simple preparation of the sea bream by sauteeing it in a bit of oil let the flavor of the fish shine. It was delicious. I only wish I could get it locally so that we could have it more often.

Sauteed sea bream with steamed baby potatoes, carrots, and broccolini. The sake was delicious, too!