Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

Eat A Peach


David Chang’s memoir about his journey leading to Momofuku Noodle in New York City in 2004 is a seemingly honest reflection about his struggle with personal demons, which are legion. To name a few, David had a rocky relationship with his parents, but mostly with his father, and that left him feeling worthless as a child and teenager. Add to that a lackluster academic career, and the feeling of being an outsider at his Virginia high school because he didn’t look like his mostly white classmates, despite being born and raised there. And if that’s not enoough to make the road to adulthood difficult, throw in depression, addictive behavior and rage. Although David had been a golf prodigy as a child he lost the magic in his teen years and struggled to find his identity.

THE BEAUTY: David’s relationship history revealed a man so devoted to his profession that almost all of his romantic relationships were short-lived. His belief going in was that the outcome was not going to be positive, so he really never learned the skills of developing a close bond with a woman. Until he met Grace, lending credibility to the old chestnut that when you meet the right one, your whole world changes. David and Grace eloped in 2017 and became parents to baby Hugo in November of 2018. Being a father was transformative in Chang’s life. When Grace found out she was pregnant, the couple FaceTimed their parents to share the news. “…Between the tears and sobbing wails, I realized I was witnessing a form of joy I’d never seen before. I wept, too. This was the pure, uncut version of the feeling I got from cooking for people. And yet it had nothing to do with restaurants. If anything Momofuku had made it harder for me to encounter it.” There are no miracle cures, but fatherhood

THE FOOD: When people began lining up at Momofuku, waiting for a table to open up, David was surprised that so many had warmed to the type of cooking they were doing there. He was shocked when others began copying his recipes. When he wrote the Momofuku cookbook, he put in an ingredient that doesn’t exist, “red dragon sauce,” when in fact what he used in his roasted rice cakes with onions and sesame seeds was basically gochugang, a spicy paste made of red chili peppers, fermented soybeans, rice and salt. He continued to get a laugh when red dragon sauce showed up on restaurant menus.

Roasted Rice Cakes

For the roasted onions:
1 tsp canola oil
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
For the Korean Red Dragon Sauce:
¼ C water
¼ C sugar
⅓ C ssamjang (fermented bean and chile sauce)
1 T light soy sauce
½ tsp sherry vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
For the roasted rice cakes:
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup chicken broth
2 T canola oil
1 pound rice cake sticks
1 T sesame seeds
2 scallions, ends trimmed, green parts thinly sliced

Heat oil in 12-inch cast-ion skillet over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally until onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until richly caramelized, about 30 minutes longer. Adjust heat as needed to prevent burning. Transfer cooked onions to bowl.

Meanwhile, make the dragon sauce. Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir constantly until sugar is dissolved then remove from heat. Let cool for one minute, then stir in ssamjang until dissolved. Add soy, sherry vinegar, and sesame oil.

For the rice cakes, pour mirin and broth into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium-high and cook until lightly thickened, about two minutes. Add red dragon sauce, reduce heat to medium, and cook until glossy and thick, about six minutes. Add roasted onions and stir well.

Meanwhile, clean out iron skillet, and return to stove. Add two tablespoons canola oil and heat over medium-high heat until just starting to smoke. Add rice cakes and reduce heat to medium. Cook until light brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.

Toss rice cakes with sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.

The rice cakes weren’t as crunchy as I think they were supposed to be, so I need to find out more about them. The sauce was outstanding, and the presentation was pretty good too!

The Warmth of Other Suns

THE BOOK: The great migration saw southern blacks move to cities on the east coast, midwest and west coast from 1915 to 1970. Six million people uprooted themselves from family and friends in the Jim Crow South to find a better way of life in the north and west.

Wilkerson masterfully weaves history and narrative in this complex horror story that every American should know about. Told through the experiences of three people who journeyed far from home under terrible circumstances, the facts of being Black in the South are laid bare: painful to read, hard to believe, but resoundingly real.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney’s life changed the morning a group of white men, including the boss man, came knocking on her door, waking her and scaring her children. Threatening her with a chain, they demanded the whereabouts of Joe Lee, her husband George’s cousin. They claimed Lee stole some turkeys. When they found him, they beat him half to death and put him in jail with his blood-soaked clothes sticking to what was left of his flesh. After that, fearing that violence could just as soon be visited upon them, George told Ida Mae they were packing up and heading north.

George Swanson Starling was a citrus picker in Wildwood, Florida. He was also a labor leader who led his team of pickers to ask for more money per bushel when the white buyers were short of men to do the job. When George received whispered warnings that the buyers were coming for him, he made the life-altering decision to head North, and was gone within twenty-four hours of hearing the news.

Robert Joseph Pershing Foster aspired to be a doctor. After chasing a medical degree throughout the south, he joined the Army, where his commanding officer assured him that he would be Chief of Surgery at his Salzburg, Germany posting. Robert began to believe that all his hard work had finally begun to pay off. High hopes were quickly dashed when the white doctors in Germany refused to take orders from a Black man. Determined to rise above the laws that restrained him, he decided to head for California when his tour of duty was over.

Because we learn about the circumstances of Blacks during this time period from real people, the reader becomes emotionally involved and begins to to care about thses characters. This personal connection is key to helping readers of all colors truly understand and think about how they were treated and what that means about who we, as a country are, who support the laws and policies that cruelly suppress people based onthe color of their skin. It is not a pretty picture.


THE FOOD: Hush puppies were served at Ida Mae’s birthday party. Looking for recipes, I couldn’t help but notice how many people raved about their love for them.

Hush Puppies

vegetable oil, for deep-frying
¾ C yellow cornmeal 
½ C all-purpose flour 
2 tsp sugar 
1 tsp baking powder 
½ tsp baking soda 
Kosher salt 
½ C buttermilk 
2 large eggs 
2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
3 scallions, finely chopped 

Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, deep cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven to 365º F.

Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and a good pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Beat in the buttermilk and eggs until combined, then stir in the melted butter and scallions to make a thick batter.

In two batches, drop the batter by the tablespoonful into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels; season immediately with salt.

While I enjoyed the novelty of them, I’m not a convert. i don’t much like donuts, either!

Sag Harbor


Benjie went to a prep school in Manhattan during the school year and summered in Sag Harbor, Long Island. In his fifteenth year, he was determined to remake himself from Dungeons and Dragons master to “cool operator.” He had so much to worry about, being cool. First, it was customary among his group of friends to insult one another relentlessly. Every summer the structure of the insults changed, so you had to be on your toes. I didn’t completely understand the grammatical construction as he described it, and I’d share one of them here but for the fact that this is a G-rated blog that doesn’t permit profanity. Another worry was handshakes-with their complex moves that changed from year to year, Benjie never could quite keep up, failing to add a critical final bump or slide. There were a plethora of other protocols that Benjie had to think about with every social interaction, making the whole idea of being a teenaged boy exhausting.

The book is written with humor and affection for these characters coming of age in the 1980’s. It is beautifully written, which held my interest even when I had no idea what Benjie was going on about culturally. Dag????? Still don’t get it.

THE BEAUTY: Adult Ben mused from the distance of adulthood, “Over the years I have learned that the sunrises and sunsets of that beach are rare and astonishing but I did not know this then.”

Sunset in Sag Harbor

THE FOOD: Benjie worked at Jonni Waffle, an ice cream joint in town, and professed to size up a person from the moment they came into the shop until they approached the counter to request what kind of ice cream they wanted. My husband loves rum raisin ice cream so when I read this passage, I knew that ice cream was going to be the recipe for this book:

“The Rum Raisin Imbeciles looked like they were wilting. They has a distinctive sag to their postures, their faces slack and loose, as if their day today had drained away something essential. One bite of Rum Raisin, though, and they instantly perked up, standing up straight, eyes a-sparkle. It was weird.”

I’ll have to observe carefully when I serve this to my husband.

Rum Raisin Ice Cream

1 C raisins
4 oz. dark or amber rum
1 C sugar
6 egg yolks
2 C whipping cream, 35% milk fat or higher
2 C whole milk
1 T pure vanilla extract

Soak raisins in the rum overnight in an airtight container. Shake it every now and then to ensure the raisins are evenly soaked.

Combine the milk and cream and heat in the microwave (or on top of the stove over medium heat until scalding but not boiling.)

In a medium sized saucepan whisk together the egg yolks and sugar very well for about 3 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy.

Whisking constantly, add about a cup of the scalded milk to the egg yolk mixture. This tempers the egg yolks so that they do not cook and scramble. Whisk in about another cup and make sure it is well blended with the egg yolk mixture. Finally add the remaining scalded milk and cream and make sure it is well blended in.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly but slowly for about 5 minutes until the mixture slightly thickens. At this point you should be able to dip the wooden spoon in the custard and draw a distinct line with your finger on the back of the wooden spoon. Do not boil or mixture may curdle.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Chill the custard for several hours or overnight.

When completely chilled, stir the custard well and pour into your ice cream maker. Process for 20-30 minutes until the ice cream becomes as thick as possible.

Transfer the ice cream quickly to a chilled metal or glass bowl and very quickly fold in the soaked raisins and any rum that has not been absorbed by them.

Place in an airtight container and freeze in the coldest part of your refrigerator freezer or deep freezer for several hours or preferably, overnight, before serving.

The ice cream was super creamy, but the raisins could have been softer. Next time, I’d microwave them in water for increments of 30 seconds until they reached the desired consistency, then soak them overnight in rum.

The Night Watchman

Thomas Wazhashk was true to his name. Wazhashk means muskrat in Chippewa: hard-working, humble, ethical and in tune with the spirits of his clan. In 1953, a bill in the House of Representatives, authored by a Mormon, Arthur V. Watkins, threatened to take yet more of Chippewa land under the guise of “liberation.” Thomas was a farmer on a patch of what little arable land was left to the tribe, but he also worked as a night watchman in the jewel-bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. When Thomas heard rumors about the bill, he located a copy and called for a meeting of the Tribal Council to try and parse meaning from its formal, stilted language, and to understand the implications for the tribe if it should be passed into law. One of the council members suggested getting the whole tribe to sign a petition opposing the bill, and volunteered to canvas the reservation seeking signatures. Thomas agreed to write letters to local politicians asking if they were prepared to provide financial support the tribe if the billed passed. As a council member who was fluent in writing in English, Thomas felt the burden of preparing the Chippewa case against the bill, and it took its toll upon him bothphysically and emotionally.

Other members of the tribe were introduced in interesting subplots that helped the reader understand the Chippewa culture and belief system. Patrice (Pixie) Paranteau was a 19 year old former Homecoming Queen who set off on her first trip to the city when her sister, Vera, went missing in Minneapolis. Pixie’s mother, Zhaanat, was taught from early childhood, the ceremonies and teaching stories of the tribe, as well as the pharmacology of plants that had medicinal value. A traditional, old-time Indian, Zhaanat spoke only Chippewa. Wood Mountain was an imposing young boxer, in training with the reservation math teacher as his boxing coach, Lloyd Barnes. Barnes found himself hopelessly in love with one of the tribal women, only to learn that he could never be an Indian in the tribe’s eyes, but they might like him well enough.

The book ambles slowly throught the daily routines of these colorful characters, while shining a light on a perspective that is rare, if not totally absent in American literature- a view of America through Native American eyes. I loved the quiet dignity of these people as they went into battle, sorely ill-equipped, against the ruthless, morally bereft machine that was the American Federal government.


One night at work, Thomas heard an owl, outside the factory and went out to investigate. Owls had always been a good omen for him, so he was not disturbed by its presence, like his buddy, Louis Pipestone, who believed that owls were a harbinger of death, and went to great lengths to avoid them. On this night, Thomas saw his ancestors chanting and dancing in the night sky.


“Oh, it was good. Filled your belly. Made you smile. Cured your hangover. Kept you moving in the cold.” -Zhaanat

The soup was called boulettes (meatballs in French) or “bullet soup.” Zhaanat served it on New Year’s day with bread called bannock.

Bullet Soup

½ lb. ground beef
2 T grated onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
¼ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp dried parsley
1 diced onion
2 C diced potatoes
1 C chopped carrot
1 C diced turnip
4 C water
1 tsp herbed salt (Herbamare)
2T powdered chicken bouillon

Mix ground beef, grated onion, garlic, salt and pepper, rosemary and parsley. Form mixture into balls about the size of a jawbreaker. Dredge meatballs in flour, place in a saucepan, cover with water, and boil until cooked.

Add to saucepan onion, potatoes, carrot, and turnip. Pour in 4 cups of water, more if needed to cover the vegetables. Stir in herbed salt and chicken bouillon. Bring to a boil, then simmer until vegeatables are tender.

Season to taste with Herbamare and serve with bannock.


3 C flour
2 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ C sugar
½ C shortening or margarine
1 C plus 2 T water

Cut cold shortening into pieces in a bowl. Work the flour with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse sand. Make a well in the center. Add 1 cup of water and stir together until the flour is incorporated. Add 1-2 teaspoons of water if needed.

Work dough into ball and knead a few times. Press dough into a greased 10 inch cast iron frying pan. Bake at 400º for 30-35 minutes.

A simple and delicious soup.

The Last Days of Night

The Book:

CoverWhat is genius? High IQ, creative thinking outside “the box,” productivity? How do you know a genius when you meet one? These are the things I thought about as I was introduced to the Current War of the late 1800’s, and the men who fought in it: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, JP Morgan, and the protagonist of this story, Paul Cravath. The war was about electric current: alternating and direct. On the direct current side was Thomas Edison, who had already established supremacy by building direct current generators in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Edison had a powerful network of supporters, including the ruthless banker and financier, JP Morgan. On the opposing side, George Westinghouse, his lawyer, Paul Cravath, and Nikola Tesla fought for alternating current, which they believed to be the superior form of eletricity to power cities and towns, if they could just solve the high voltage problem that made A/C current potentially dangerous. Among the impulses that drove these men were greed, legacy, the desire to create a superior product, inventing ways to solve technological problems, and love. Their story was a gripping tale, beautifully crafted, with just enough science to help someone with a deficit in that area, care about how an electric motor works.

The Beauty: The author, Graham Moore, began each chapter with a quote from  scientists like Neil De Grasse Tyson, Karl Popper, Charles Kettering, and Alexander Graham Bell, that captured the essence of that particular chapter. My favorite prefaced chapter 17, “The Visitor:”

“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” – Charles Kettering

The visitor was Agnes Huntington, an acclaimed singer with the Metropolitan Opera, and the high expectations of the quote work in multiple ways in this chapter. I love the quote because it’s true about all the important endeavors in life, from school to relationships, to profession, to parenthood.

The Food: Nikola Tesla, although austere in his personal habits, developed an affection for the famed Delmonico’s Restaurant in lower Manhattan, where he was wined and dined on numerous occasions in the hope that the extravagant food would encourage him to agree to whatever his host offered for a business proposition. Delmonico’s signature dish was Lobster Newburg, pictured below. I would add more lobster next time, but it was delicious.

. IMG_2716

Lobster Newburg
serves 2

2 tsp butter
1 T all-purpose flour
1 ½ C milk
2  beaten egg yolks
8 ounces cubed, cooked lobsters
2 T dry sherry
⅛ tsp of white or black pepper
1 dash ground red pepper
2 puff pastry cups
snipped fresh chives (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and salt. Add the milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.

Stir about half the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return all to saucepan.

Cook and stir until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in lobster, dry sherry, white or black pepper, and ground red pepper.

Heat through. Serve in cooled puff pastry cups.

Garnish with snipped chives.


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.

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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.