blogging for books: The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook, by Steven Lamb

September 4, 2015

This is more of a guidebook than a cookbook.  As a guidebook, it is extremely comprehensive.  While I love to preserve food at home, I must admit curing proteins gives me the jitters.  Mold on an improperly canned jar of jam (which has only happened to me once) isn’t going to kill anybody; the same can’t be said for the nasty bacteria that grow on improperly cured meat.  That said, many of the recipes require refrigeration and only a short curing time, and thus aren’t overly intimidating (bacon, pancetta, lardo, gravlax, and coppa ham, among others).  Products that involve a several month and/or several step process, such as prosciutto, give me more pause for thought.  Salami, which requires a controlled fermentation, is even more nerve wracking.  The book also gives recipes for “cured” products that might more accurately be said to be cooked, ie mortadella or duck confit.  There’s also a section on smoking meats.

While I love to preserve food at home and might give bacon or gravlax a chance one of these days, I’m inclined to give this book to my professional chef son-in-law.

bernin with desire

August 14, 2015

The biggest news about the Bernie Sanders rally in Portland is that we couldn’t get in.  My husband, teenage son and I arrived at the Moda Center fifteen minutes before the rally was to begin and joined a long snaking line that expanded geometrically.  We finally entered the auditorium only to be told it was at capacity (22,000) and that we would have to listen to Sanders on loudspeaker outside.  The Moda Center is Portland’s largest arena, home to the Portland Trailblazers and Bruce Springsteen concerts.  But it wasn’t big enough for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders barely addresses some issues that are closest to my heart:  our misguided foreign policy; organic agriculture and genetically modified food; gun control; the erosion of civil liberties and the Patriot Act.  But economic inequality and corporate power–his passion–is the issue that hits home every day, the issue that binds disparate groups together, the issue that will win him the election.  Even there I question his naïve faith in education as a path to economic security. The call for a $15 minimum wage, which he supports, overlooks the fact that many college graduates, not just burger flippers, earn less than $15 an hour.  Perhaps the rot in this country is more pervasive than even Sanders realizes.

Times are tough and the tepid sound bites of McCandidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush (two sides of the same coin) aren’t going to cut it.  Passion is needed.  The Republicans are arousing an ugly kind of passion, racist, sexist, xenophobic.  Bernie Sanders arouses finer emotions and a decent, inclusive vision of America supported by well thought out policy proposals. He wears his socialist label proudly.  He is not an opportunist.  He has been fighting for these ideals for the last fifty years.  He is the only Democrat with the guts to take on the status quo.

But can he win, you ask?  Sure, Hillary has the money.  But while money stacks the deck, it’s we the voters who play the game.  Ultimately elections are decided not by the pocketbook but by the ballot.  Social media, which Sanders manipulates well, eliminates the need to buy expensive television ads and the like.  Clinton’s campaign, bloated with professional staffers and focus groups, reminds me of a staid corporation with layers of overhead, ready to be “disrupted” (to use a trendy buzzword) by a spunky startup.  But there’s a big IF here.  For Sanders to win, people have to exercise their right to vote.  They need to talk to their friends, put lawn signs in front of their houses, bumper stickers on their cars, write letters to the editor or Facebook or whatever, just get the word out there.  I am hoping against hope that the large crowds showing up for Sanders rallies indicate that our zombified nation is awakening from its post 9/11 stupor. We can reclaim our democracy but only if enough people have the will to do so.

They also must have the will not to sell the Sanders campaign short.  I hear a lot of statements to the effect of “well he can’t win but maybe we can change the dialogue.”  “Changing the dialogue” isn’t going to do a damn thing, sorry. That simply means that Clinton will pander to the left as she lies.  We need to change the nominee.

Blogging for Books: Seven Spoons, by Tara O’Brady

June 9, 2015

Tara O’Brady’s name sounds Irish but she is in fact Indian, raised in Canada.  The Seven Spoons cookbook, based on her popular blog, reflects her bi-ethnic identity.  Other creative fusions of international influences are sprinkled throughout her recipes:  ground beef blended with white miso and butter; gazpacho; gravlax; za’atar roasted vegetable and chicken salad.  Call it world food.

O’Brady covers meal permutations from breakfast to dinner to desserts.  She writes in a homey, lyrical style.  You feel as if you’ve been invited ito her kitchen, and indeed she describes that kitchen, how she stocks her pantry, and the husband and three children she cooks for.  Beautiful photographs enhance the book.

Inspired by our current hot spell, I tried three vegetable recipes:  olive and orange cauliflower; broccoli bagna cauda; and a “pot of braised vegetables”.  All offered stimulating combinations of flavors and textures and were easy to prepare, albeit requiring plenty of chopping.  They’re written in a casual manner that is engaging, but might be confusing to the novice cook.

Because of the eclectic nature of this cookbook, it is not a general tome you’ll consult for advice on how to cook anything and everything.  Nor is it a specialty cookbook where you’ll find detailed instructions on baking macarons or fermenting vegetables.  Rather, it is the kind of book that you’ll keep on your kitchen shelf, where you’ll discover a few unique favorites that will become part of your everyday repertory.

pretend like this is a democracy

May 7, 2015

OK, a challenge, Facebook readers!  Can you read beyond the first couple sentences?  I mean, actually click that link that says “read more” and actually get the gist of what I am saying?  I’m sorry I have no cute cat pictures to share, cute as my cat Muzzy might be.

Forgive my sarcasm, but I’m getting pretty frustrated.  I read the other day that Snapchat is initiating coverage of the 2016 election, and as absurd as that sounded initially, perhaps they are the perfect vehicle for today’s distracted, amnesiac culture where news–big news–makes a brief appearance, only to vanish into the ether.  Nothing touches. Nothing registers.  Warren Weinstein’s killing at the hands of the American government is long gone from the news pages, as is any discussion of  flaws in our “intelligence” collection system or our secret drone program.  And why not. No one is questioning.  No one is protesting.  No one is even reading, as far as I can tell.

Is anyone paying attention to the fact that Hillary Clinton is being shoved down our throats? The powers that be have anointed her, portrayed as “inevitable” and labeled anyone who might challenge her as disloyal fools. This is democracy???  Never in my 60 years have I seen a primary election where the standing president is not running re-election, with NO competition.  I do not think there is a parallel in American history.

The Republicans are having a democratic free for all, though.  Most of the candidates range from marginally nutty to certified insane but at least Republicans are getting a choice.  This is because the passion lies on the right while the rest of the American public is doing a great job of simulating zombies.  Meanwhile, our country is going down the tubes in a lot of serious ways, as is evident to those who travel elsewhere or at the very least…read.  Our standing is dropping in almost every area of quality of life, way below Europe and below some “third world” countries.  For example, did you realize that we are 33rd in maternal mortality?  We don’t rate so well in income disparity, lifespan, educational attainment, and many other areas either.  This could lead in very bad directions, because where a vacuum exists, those with passion will tap the anger of the most disaffected people leading to unintended consequences.  Think of the rise of the Nazis, or the Iranian revolution and the rise of another kind of conservative theocracy.

THERE’S  A POSSIBILITY OF GOOD NEWS, THOUGH.  A Hillary alternative exists!  Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for President, and even though the press was quick to marginalize him, (reporting his announcement on page 22 of the New York Times!  Hillary eats a burrito and that makes the front page) if enough people support him he is a viable candidate.   Money is powerful but not as powerful as strong grass roots passion.  So–check out Sander’s views.  They are actually different than the status quo corporate rule advocated by HIllary.  Single payer health care, strong action to control global warming, tax reform, reigned in secret military operations, etc. etc.  And if you like them, talk  to your friends (maybe even in person!).  Put a post on your Facebook page.  Put a sign on your lawn.  Donate to his campaign.  Make like its the sixties, and care.

Perhaps those with Snapchat memories have forgotten this phrase?  In that case, pull it out of the mothballs and shout it out loud.


warren Weinstein killed by US government

April 23, 2015

This morning I awoke to the news that my mother’s friend, Warren Weinstein, was killed by a US government drone.

Over three years ago Weinstein, an economic aid worker in Pakistan, was captured by Al-Qaeda  a few days before he was to leave the country.  Weinstein was in his seventies, with a heart condition.  He then continued to languish in an unknown–but surely hardly obscure–location for the ensuing years while the US government did exactly….nothing.  I suppose this is not too surprising in a country that took ten years to find Osama Bin Laden hiding in plain sight.  I publicized this situation several times in this blog because I was so appalled.  Weinstein spends a career supporting  American interests in this dangerous region, he’s captured by terrorists who are our supposed enemies, and the government does nothing.  REfuses to publicize the case.  Does not negotiate for his release.  Nothing.  They completely hung him out to dry.  Last year his wife and children’s patience finally ran out and they publicized his plight in a website, also reported on in this blog.

It did no good.  His case never gained traction in a population that barely has the attention span of a fly.  That no doubt pleased the powers that be in the US Government, who obviously felt no responsibility towards their citizens abroad.  Now he finally makes the news because he’s killed–not by Al-Qaeda or ISIS but by one of our own drones. In January.  THREE MONTHS AGO. The Obama administration concealed this knowledge from his family and the public for three months until something or somebody (a Wiki leak?) obviously forced their hand.

So I don’t know whether Weinstein was killed by American incompetence or deliberately for reasons unknown.  The truth is out there, and it would behoove the American people to demand a full investigation.

Please, people, pay attention.  This is not the country we believe it to be or want it to be.

blogging for books: capture the moment, by sarah wilkerson

April 17, 2015

This is a lovely, useful, inspiring book for the amateur photographer who wants to do more than snap mediocre photos with their cell phone.  While it is especially aimed at women capturing the essence of children and domestic life, the book will help anyone who wants to take more beautiful, evocative photos.

About 100 photos illustrate helpful hints concerning the basics of photography:  natural light; composition; storytelling; fine art; low light; and black and white.  Creative prompts for exploring each of these categories enrich each chapter.  The approach is more visual and verbal than mind-numbingly technological.

In addition, the illustrative photographs are so breathtakingly lovely, this makes a great coffee table book even if you never pick up a camera.

My only suggestion regards the f stop, exposure, and ISO info that accompanies each photo.  if you own a Nikon SLR like almost all these photographers seem to do , these are easy to replicate.  but if you own a different type of camera (like my hybrid Lumix) it would help to include more guidelines on how to translate this data.


blogging for books: salad love, by David Bez

April 2, 2015

Salad Love is more of a guidebook and an inspiration than a cookbook:  300 pages of imaginative salad combinations, accompanied by beautiful photographs.  Each salad contains a simple mixture of ingredients, complementing one another in color, texture, nutrient content and flavor.  Ingredients encompass a range of greens, other vegetables, dried fruit, meat, tinned fish, cheese, grains, nuts, and herbs.  In most cases the dressing is a simple vinaigrette, differing only in the choice of tartness (cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon).  Occasionally Bez adds a richer flavor note–coconut cream, hummus, truffle oil–but none of the dressings are of the creamy mayonnaise-based variety. All the recipes are templates at heart.  For example, I couldn’t find scamorza, a smoked cheese, in my supermarket (Bez is English, and some of the ingredients he calls for are obscure here) so I substituted dill Havarti.  Similarly, I forgot to buy baby corn for the shrimp, baby corn, tomatoes, and chile salad so I substituted cooked frozen corn.  My only dud so far was “anchovies, cucumber, red, pepper and black olives”, which was marred by soggy cucumber shreds and an overly pungent anchovy component. Bez is a designer, not a professional cook, and this shows in the artistic composition of his salads.  He’s also really skinny, which shows in his minute portion sizes (2 oz of lettuce??) .  All recipes are for individual (small!) portions as Bez developed them as work lunches to eat at your desk.  If you’re cooking for a family you will need to increase ingredients proportionately.


life is difficult so file a lawsuit

March 5, 2015

The February 15 issue of the New York Times Magazine ( featured an article entitled “The Accusation”.  Basically, this is how the story goes, as best as I can summarize.  A brilliant, beautiful and very sheltered 21 year old Stanford student, Ellie Clougherty signs  up for a class where she will be mentored by a Silicon Valley tech exec.  Joe Lonsdale, a wealthy 29 year old tech entrepreneur who was already acquainted with Clougherty through mutual friends volunteered to be her mentor.  She accepted.  The mentorship proceeded essentially on schedule, but also evolved into a  romantic relationship.  Lonsdale was a pretty showy nouveau riche guy, and he introduced Clougherty to a glitzy, fast lane lifestyle:  town cars to pick her up on dates; trips to Europe; a 30th birthday party at the Hearst Mansion.  The relationship was completely out in the open and involved visits with both families.  Clougherty’s mother in particular insinuated herself into the Lonsdale family, attending family parties and asking Lonsdale for business advice.  But the relationship grew troubled, as relationships often do.  After a tempestuous Christmas break (visiting the Clougherty family) Lonsdale broke up with Clougherty via email, but they got back together.  After  a couple more months, Clougherty broke up with Lonsdale.  He began dating someone else.  OK.  How many people on this planet have experienced the break up of a relationship, especially in college?  End of story, right?  Clougherty assimilates this experience into her life, regrets the bad times, remembers the good times fondly, learns from her mistakes and moves on?


Apparently after the breakup, which she initiated, Clougherty fell into a deep depression.  A prior eating disorder resurfaced, she lost interest in her studies, she sat around and cried all the time.  She withdrew from school.  Her mother showed up, took her home, started her in therapy, and that’s where things get really crazy.  Clougherty filed a lawsuit alleging that Lonsdale RAPED HER FOR A YEAR.  You heard that right.  Lonsdale was stripped of his mentoring privileges, which he accepted without argument, but when that wasn’t enough, more abuse allegations, still continuing, against both Lonsdale and Stanford University, were filed in the courts.

I’m trying to figure out why this story made me as angry as it did.  I’ll boil it down to a few basics:

1)  It rolls back female accountability, responsibility, and personal agency back to the Victorian Age.  Personally, Lonsdale strikes me as somewhat of a jerk.  A vocal “libertarian”  who made a fortune developing software that mines people’s personal data for the NSA?  Not my type.  And from the immense number of personal anecdotes and emails released for these lawsuits, he strikes me as narcissistic and controlling, as people who meet such success early in life often are.  I also think he showed poor judgement mingling the mentor/mentee experience with a romantic relationship.  But a jerk does not an abuser make.

Much is made–especially by Clougherty’s mother–about her tender age.  But she was 21, three years past the age of consent, old enough to vote, to serve in the armed forces, to sign a contract, to have a drink in a bar.  Many people her age are married, have children and jobs. At 29, Lonsdale was older than her but not by a huge amount.  They were in the same decade, for God’s sake.  I’ve known many couples with bigger age differences.  Apparently she was a virgin when she met Lonsdale and now we are expected to believe that her precious virtue was stripped from her innocent self by this evil man?  Again and again, for a YEAR?   PLease.  I think a grown woman can be in charge of her own sexuality, and take ownership of her own regrets.

2)  Throwing around terms like rape and abuse casts doubt on the legitimate claims of the many women who are actually raped and abused.  Nobody got Clougherty drunk at a frat party, or slipped a roofie in her drink, or pointed a gun at her head, or physically abused her in any way.  Why is she getting the court time when so many abusers go free?

3)  It takes the personal and makes it public. I cannot believe the extent of the private information this woman was perfectly content to get splashed all over a national newspaper.  I get the feeling that people like this, people who are talented and gorgeous and rich, who have had everything go their way in their young lives  assume life should be a smooth ride for their perfect selves.  Is something goes wrong and they suffer psychic pain, then it has to be someone’s fault.  Someone or something else must bear the blame.  Their helicopter parents all too often go along with this fantasy.  Yet the only way to grow up is to experience life, to make mistakes, to suffer, sometimes unfairly, and from that suffering learn and grow.  That can’t be legislated in a court.



blogging for books: soul food love, by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams

February 26, 2015

After reviewing The Paleo Chef I needed some food love!

Hands down, Southern cooking is my favorite food.  However, as I learned from a 7 day, 5 pound tour of the South, if I ate that way every day I’d weigh 200 pounds.

Soul Food Love offers excellent ways of coping with this dilemma.  The recipes in this cookbook incorporate the essential flavors of Southern cooking while throwing in more fresh vegetables and ditching most of the refined carbohydrates and fat.  The recipes are super-easy too:  great for busy people managing large households on a limited budget.  In many ways this is a more soulful take on another cookbook I reviewed, Martha Stewart’s “One Pot”.  You throw a bunch of readily available, relatively inexpensive ingredients in some type of cookpot and then leave them alone in the oven or the stovetop to do their thing.

Two vegetable recipes–a “mess of greens” and a sweet potato salad–incorporated a sweet/sour tang, and lots of onion, garlic, and hot peppers.  The sweet potato salad, tossed with dried cranberries, was an especially big hit with my family. Shrimp stew, a New Orleans classic minus the roux and the bacon, gained its flavor from a heap of peppers, celery, tomatoes, and parsley, simmered for an hour and a half.  African chickpea stew was incredibly easy (throw a couple bunches of greens in with a couple cans of chickpeas, a can of coconut milk, and an aseptic container of broth) nutritious, and totally free of saturated fat.

My only criticism of Soul Food Love is the same as for One Pot.  In both, the recipes tend to lack complexity of flavor.  The chickpea soup, for instance, benefited from a heaping tablespoon of garam masala.

Another feature of this book is the authors (mother and daughter, both fiction writers) fascinating introductory chapters detailing their family history and culinary heritage.

if guns are lawful, then idiots have guns

February 25, 2015

I meant to write about this two weeks ago, but got distracted by the joyful birth of my two granddaughters.  Now returning to regular life and opinions, I see that the Chapel Hill murder of three Islamic graduate students by a disgruntled neighbor has already disappeared from the news cycle.  If you check out this article in the Boston Globe (  you’ll see why:  random gun violence in America is nothing out of the ordinary.

The students murdered may have been Muslim but religious intolerance did not seem to motivate Charles Hicks, who voiced his distaste for all religion regularly on Facebook (when he wasn’t bragging about his gun arsenal).  Rather, the shooting was motivated by a parking space dispute.

We’ve all had obnoxious neighbors, those people who have nothing better to do with their time than provoke fights about trivialities.  I’ve had several, starting with  an old lady who deliberately ran out into her backyard to snatch up every baseball my brother and I accidentally hit over the fence.  Then came the  old lady who banged on the ceiling with a broom every time we made too much noise in our apartment (vacuuming, pounding chicken breasts, playing Michael Jackson’s Thriller at an admittedly high volume; a neighbor who obsessed about the exact location of our property line, down to the inch; another one who sent a letter to the city complaining about a basketball hoop ON OUR PROPERTY as well as sending inspectors threatening legal action every time our weeds grew higher than his tender sensibilities.

The thing about these people, I basically feel sorry for them.  They’re the ones that are wasting their lives obsessing over this nonsense.  They are nuisances that might raise your blood pressure momentarily, and when you (or they) are no longer neighbors they become only a funny story.

Unless they have guns, apparently.  Then they might kill you.


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