Blogging for Books: Mamaleh Knows Best, by Marjorie Ingall

October 19, 2016

This easy to digest volume humorously redeems the reputation of Jewish mothers while offering common sense advice about child rearing.

Ingall, a New York based columnist for the Jewish magazine Tablet, formerly wrote for women’s publications such as Glamour and Sassy, as well as television.  Her breezy style reflects this background, and is generally entertaining, though some of the incessant pop references to musicians I’d never heard of and television shows I’d never seen threw me off.  She references her two daughters often, who seem to utter enough cutesy sayings to fill a season of sit-coms.

Ingall relates much of her Jewish motherly advice back to the Torah and Talmud, in a very easy to understand, if somewhat trivialized, manner.  For this reason, and because she is always telling us how smart and successful Jewish people are, I think the book is intended specifically for a Jewish audience.  However, her advice would apply equally well to any upper middle class urban/suburban demographic.  It’s generally sane advice, hardly revolutionary:  honor your children’s differences; allow them to be “geeky”; raise them with a social conscience; avoid helicopter parenting.

As a mother of four children, I can’t say I learned anything new, but first time mothers would probably find this book helpful and enjoyable.

Recipe of the Day: Broccoli everyone will like

September 14, 2016

This is a really delicious way of eating broccoli that even vegetable rejectors will love.  The reason, of course, is all the non-veggie add ins, comparable to that beloved green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and fried onions.  This recipe, (inspired by one in the September 2016 issue of Bon Appetit) however, doesn’t use any processed foods, boasts lots of fresh herbs, and even contains arugula!


2-3 heads of broccoli, florets separated and cut in half if really big, stems peeled and sliced

3 T olive oil

1 oil-packed anchovy fillet, minced

1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Greek  yogurt

healthy bunch basil, coarsely chopped

healthy bunch tarragon

a few sprigs summer savory or marjoram

1/4 cup chopped chives

a sprig or two of fresh dill

juice of 1 lemon

1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 50z bag chopped arugula

31/2 oz aged or smoked cheddar, grated

  1. Blanch broccoli in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes; drain.  Place broccoli in a ovenproof casserole dish–make sure the dish is large enough to accommodate all the broccoli in one layer.  Drizzle olive oil over broccoli and bake on the top shelf of the oven at 450 until broccoli is just starting to brown. Add to bowl.
  2. Meanwhile combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, herbs, mustard, and lemon juice in a bowl.  Puree with an immersion mixer (you can use a food processor if you don’t have an immersion mixer but it is clumsier).
  3. Add arugula to bowl.  Toss with as much dressing as needed to coat without overwhelming the veggies.  (I found about half the recipe did the trick–the rest can be used any way you might use ranch dressing).  Top with grated cheddar.



Blogging for Books: A Modern Way to Cook, by Anna Jones

September 14, 2016

This is a very useful cookbook for everyday eating, especially for vegetarians and those who wish to lessen their reliance on meat-centric meals.  It is chock full of ideas for simple healthful meals, featuring ingredient and flavor combinations that, without being weird, take the recipes out of the ordinary.  Think winter root vegetable soba noodles with pickled greens or sesame, pistachio, and preserved lemon crispy rice.  There’s lots of creative ideas for putting together ultra simple meal go tos like omelets and rice bowls.  One of my favorite ideas is a do-it-yourself ramen bowl that you can take to work or school, layering thin rice vermicelli, chopped vegetables, and seasonings in a mason jar, then adding hot water when it’s time to eat.  There are excellent chapters on breakfast foods and relatively healthful desserts.

I have two problems with this otherwise superb cookbook.  One is that the cooking times are not realistic.  I made a saffron polenta that epitomizes the bright healthy flavors Jones specializes in, but took considerably more than the 20 minutes Jones claimed it took to prepare.  To be sure, the polenta did cook in less than that time, but several vegetables needed chopping, lemon needed zesting, cheese grated, etc.  Other recipes in the same 15-20 minute category were similarly over-optimistic.  The other problem is that most of these recipes are presented as full meals, which they are not, unless you are 100 pounds and on a diet.  For instance, Jones suggests pairing a green bean and chile paneer ( 7 oz paneer, a pound of green beans, half a pound of tomatoes for four people) with rice “if you are really hungry”.  Suggestions on combining 2-3 of these dishes into a satisfying meal would be welcome.

As usual with most of the cookbooks I review, A Modern Way to Cook is a visual feast, making everything look enticing.

Blogging for books: Victuals, by Ronni Lundy

August 25, 2016

Victuals is a book as much to read as to cook from, and it is fascinating.  Ronni Lundy, a writer who grew up in Appalachian Kentucky, brings a fresh perspective to mountain cuisine and Appalachian culture in general.  Rather than viewing it as a dying way of life, or one to be made fun of it for its backward, ignorant ways, Lundy shows how Appalachian culture and cuisine are very much alive.  In well written vignettes and evocative photographs, she showcases food growers, processors, and restaurant owners who grew up in Appalachia and have returned to their family roots (and in many cases their grandparents and great-grandparent’s land).  The recipes aren’t necessarily what you expect.  While there’s no lack of pork fat in these dishes, there’s also plenty of healthful greens, fermented dairy and pickles, and beans.  Everything from the pig to the milk to the fresh blackberries are grown on the farm or foraged for in the neighboring mountains.  Most of the recipes exemplify the essence of slow food:  exquisitely fresh ingredients, prepared simply so that their natural glory shines.

A few of the recipes are complex, based on more elaborate fusion creations from chefs in trendy meccas such as Asheville.  But most are very simple.  The majority of ingredients are easy to come by, though I think I’ve going to have to hunt up some sorghum syrup–it’s virtually the only sweetener used.  In many cases I was inspired to raid my garden for heirloom tomatoes, pole beans, and fresh herbs.  In some cases, Lundy suggests a readily available substitution for a traditional ingredient.  An absolutely delicious potato salad (titled “the best” -and it is) calls for Greek  yogurt rather than the traditional clabbered raw milk.

Last time I visited Western North Carolina, my husband and I ate in a restaurant that featured trout prepared five different ways.  So I thought I’d give Lundy’s version of trout a try and it was fabulous, and very simple.  It called for an unusual ingredient, preserved lemons, which I’ve always associated with North African cooking.  But just like in North Africa, the residents of Appalachia preserved lemons, a rare and special treat that had to be store-bought, with salt.  I mixed the lemons with fresh tarragon and basil  and layered the mixture on top of the trout with a tablespoon of butter, folded them in half, and then sautéed the trout filets, skin on , in a little more butter.  Yummy.

Bluegrass and country singer Emmylou Harris praises Victuals on the back cover.  If it’s good enough for Emmylou, it’s good enough for me.

rotten to the core

August 22, 2016

Wow, it only takes a click of the mouse to uncover a world of corruption.

I’ve donated funds to Paul Canova, who is running against Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida.  Like Bernie Sanders before him, Canova has raised an unprecedented amount in small donations.  Yesterday I received another urgent request for funds from Canova, saying that a “hedge fund manager -in Maine” was dumping millions of dollars into the effort to re-elect Wasserman Schultz.  Before I sent in yet another $27 I decided to check this out.  And lo and behold, Donald Sussman, a billionaire hedge fund manager in Maine, is one of the seven biggest donors to Hillary’s super PAC, Priorities USA.  As of last March, he’d donated 2.5 million dollars.  Now he is apparently desperate to keep Wasserman Schultz in office.  Oh yeah, he’s in the Panama Papers (undercover overseas investments first revealed by Bernie Sanders at least two years ago).

So make no bones about it, it doesn’t matter that Wasserman Schultz resigned from the DNC.  She is still the chair of Clinton’s campaign and integral to this corrupt machine.  How anyone can believe Clinton has any intention of reining in Wall Street is beyond me.

Bernie’s campaign may be over, but we can still exercise our power with these down ballot candidates.  I strongly urge all my readers to keep their cynicism in check and instead operate off the idealism that Bernie inspired.  Let’s get Canova in office and Wasserman Schultz out.

hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest?

August 18, 2016

I’ve noticed that political conversations among friends are fraught with heavy emotion and a lot of misunderstanding these days.  In particular, I cannot say anything negative about Hillary Clinton or admit that I can’t bear to take my Bernie sign down, without someone tremulously accusing me of facilitating a Trump presidency.

So, to paraphrase Richard Nixon (who is looking much better in retrospect) let me make two things perfectly clear:  1) I think Trump is a terrifying megalomaniac and if I have to vote for Clinton to keep him out of the White House I will do so; and 2) I don’t hate Clinton, I dislike her.  I don’t dislike her because she is a woman.  Please. I would love to see a woman president, but not this particular woman.  I dislike her as a person and a politician.

She is ruthless in her pursuit of power.  She is cynical and manipulative, and will say and do almost anything to be elected.  She and Bill  have accumulated tremendous wealth through shady means. She seems allergic to transparency. She does not communicate freely with the press (she hasn’t held a press conference in over a year) and interacts with the public only in carefully controlled situations.  She is arrogant and reluctant to apologize.  She is firmly in bed with the oligarchic, technological power structure. Her “incremental changes” are a euphemism for minor policy changes that never get to the root of a problem, and, because they leave the whole problematic power structure intact, often lead to unintended and adverse consequences.

Health care is a prime example.  Because my husband is a small business owner, and I am a self-employed writer, we have no alternative but an “individual” plan.   Under “Obamacare” our family has had to change our health insurance three times.  Twice health exchanges have folded, leaving us scrambling to find new coverage. Each health plan has its own labyrinthine rules and different lists of providers, so we are always changing doctors and never have the chance to build a relationship with any one doctor.  Currently we have a family deductible of over $13,000, which doesn’t even cover dental care, vision care, chiropracty, acupuncture, or even my son’s generic acne medicine.  Essentially we pay out of pocket for all remotely routine medical care, and have catastrophic insurance, comparable to home or auto insurance.  Except, unlike those insurances which cost a couple thousand per year, we pay a whopping  $1551 a month! This is obscene. Health care needs to be separated from employment and it needs to be provided by a government single payer just like most other developed countries in the world.  But Hillary Clinton gets way too much money from big pharma and the health insurance racket to ever make this kind of significant change.

But I digress.  What I am finding super disturbing is the way Democrats are allowing their fear of Trump to blind themselves to some very dirty dealings on the Democratic side. The DNC clearly supported Clinton over Sanders in the primary election, manipulating the media, manipulating election rules where possible, directing money that was supposed to go to all the Democratic candidates solely to Clinton.  This is a major violation of the democratic process highly illegal!!!  Bernie Sanders looked like he could win California, drawing huge crowds, drawing even in the polls.  But then something weird happened–the votes took over a month to count, and the final count was never publicized. This is also illegal and unprecedented but has gotten hardly any play in the press. The California delegation was super-angry at the convention….with reason…not that viewers saw this on TV or read it in mainstream papers. The Clinton campaign treated the Sanders delegates with tremendous contempt during the convention–see multiple videos and posts of delegates being denied credentials, not being allowed to participate in roll call, having their signs forcibly taken away –creating a picture of  “unity” that was scarily totalitarian–all the while patting themselves on the back at what a wonderful, loving, diverse group they were.

Most creepy are a couple of unexplained deaths related to the DNC.  The Sanders campaign filed a suit against the DNC for all the funny business referenced above.  The lawyer who presented the suit in Southern Florida, home of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was videotaped, and the videotape went viral.  Two weeks later he was found dead of unknown causes in his apartment.  There could be a reasonable explanation–a drug overdose, a heart attack–but none has surfaced.  More than two weeks later, authorities are still refusing to release the autopsy reports.  In another case, Seth Rich, a DNC staffer, was mysteriously murdered in July in DC, a crime that involved no robbery and is still unsolved.  One might note that Schultz is in a major battle for her congressional seat against a Bernie Sanders supported challenger, Paul Canova. Schultz is supported by a myriad of vested interests in Florida, most notably Big Sugar, the TPP, and even frackers.  (can you imagine fracking in an ecosystem as fragile as Florida wetlands?)  People have killed for less.  After Wasserman Schultz stepped down from the DNC, Clinton made her honorary chair of her Presidential campaign!!!

And try this one on for size.  Ivanka Trump and is married to an orthodox Jewish hedge fund manager (Jared Kushner). Hillary and Bill Clinton attended their wedding.  Chelsea Clinton is also married to an orthodox Jewish hedge fund manager  (Mark Mezvinsky).  Both are NYC one percenter moms, moving in the same social circles, and close friends.  While Jared Kushner has never been accused of any wrongdoing, his father Charlie Kushner, served two years in prison for all kinds of white collar crime.  Charlie Kushner and his wife were the BIGGEST donors to Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign and regular donors to the Clinton Foundation.  Maybe these two one percenters, Clinton and Trump, differ more in style than in substance.

Talk like this in a genial gathering of urban liberals and people look at you like a mad conspiracy theorist.  Trouble is, some conspiracies are real, and we owe it to ourselves to keep our eyes, and ears, and minds open. The following are two very well written and information laden articles I strongly recommend:

Bernie Sanders, Leaked DNC Emails Confirm Conspiracy.








Blogging for books: Modern Potluck, by Kristin Donnelly

August 9, 2016

This is one of those cookbooks I get and don’t know what to cook first, because so many of the recipes look so enticing.  I can’t tell you how many potlucks I’ve been to where the table is full of mac and cheese casseroles, chips and salsa, tired salad from a bag, and more mac and cheese.  This book is the remedy for boring potlucks!  Every potluck participant should literally take a page from it.  While all of these recipes (salads, casseroles, desserts) are potluck-worthy, they also serve as great recipes for family meals.  I’ve read criticisms of this book as being too “yuppie”, but if “yuppie” means not compromising on quality ingredients and using adventurous flavorings, count me in.  In some cases where a recipe calls for an expensive and/or obscure ingredient, like trumpet mushrooms, they also suggest a more readily available ingredient such as regular old white button mushrooms.

Recipes range from a red pepper, eggplant, and walnut dip, to a kamut and cauliflower salad to a vegetable enchilada pie, to a spiced carrot and goat cheese strudel.  In some cases they are takes on potluck standards.  A seven layer salad gets a Mideast makeover; onion dip is enlivened by smoked trout.  I made a broccoli rabe, sausage, cheese and polenta casserole that I could have brought to a potluck but served equally well as a one dish meal on an unusually rainy and chilly summer evening. (an addition of tomato sauce on the top added some zing and more visual appeal)

The recipes are easy to follow and the photography is beautiful.

stuck with her part two

July 29, 2016

Hillary got what she’s wanted for so long and she was in a conciliatory mood, throwing Bernie and his supporters a few bones.  We did change the tone of the debate and maybe, just maybe, that will mean something once (if) Hillary is in office.  And yes, she would make a better President than Trump.  So would most people on this planet.  What a great campaign platform:  “I’m not an ignorant fascist”.

I noticed a lot of self congratulation by the Clinton campaign at this convention.  Everybody is so nice, kind, welcoming, and inclusive.  I guess it doesn’t matter what your race, religion, or sexual orientation is as long as you agree with the Clinton worldview and accept that she is the one with the noblesse oblige to fix your problems. Note how she always says “I will do (fill in the blank) for you”?   Cross Clinton, question her right to power, and then you see another side of this woman and her associates.

Out of all the speeches Monday night, it was Michelle Obama’s feel good speech that got the kudos, while Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sander’s (relatively) hard hitting speeches got no airplay at all.  The trouble with all this motherhood and apple pie, is that without structural change to our way of government, its a lot of clichés and empty rhetoric.  Remember the Sting song from the ’80s, “Russians love their children too.”  ?   Well, the 46% of the Democratic electorate that voted for Bernie, even the Bernie or Bust people  love their children too.  Even supporters of the devil himself, Mr. Trump, love their children too.  Even Trump loves his children.  The problem is not whether or not people love their children.  Everybody loves their children; it’s their expression of that love in the greater society that differs.   The problem is how we join together peacefully to live well on this planet, with respect for each other and equal opportunity for all.

Right now there are many Americans that feel seriously disenfranchised.  The system as it stands is not working for them, and they are angry and scared.  Bernie offered a positive outlet for this frustration.  He was authentic and honest.  To borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton, he felt people’s pain.  He empowered people , encouraged people to become part of the political process.  That is why this grumpy old guy with a thick Brooklyn accent won states like West Virginia and Oklahoma.  Now Bernie’s voice has been silenced, co-opted by Hillary’s corporate gloss, leaving Trump’s darker vision as the only alternative.  He holds up Muslims and Hispanics as “the other”, but what are self-satisfied Democrats doing when they demonize the Trump voter?  They are making them the “other” too, when everyone’s attention should be fixated on our broken health care system, our oligarchic economic system, and the irreparable damage we are doing to the environment and all those entrenched power structures that are a lot harder  to attack than people you do not know.

Authenticity is our birthright but many people throw it away, in their desire for money or power, or simply to be liked.  Hillary threw away her authenticity a long time ago, and it can’t be recaptured.  But if she is to win, she will need to take some lessons from her (temporarily) vanquished rival, Bernie Sanders in some values she can regain:  humility and empathy.

Blogging for Books: Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson

July 27, 2016

I own a hybrid DSLR Lumix camera and take lots of cool pictures with it, then edit them on my Adobe Elements software.  I’ve gotten reasonably adept at manipulating both the camera and the software and am usually pleased with the results–but I have little idea of how I got them beyond magically pressing and tweaking various buttons.  Even when I use the manual setting on the camera, I forget what shutter speed to use with what aperture, or what the hell an F stop is.  Along comes Understanding Exposure, which lays out basic photographic tenets in a very logical and accessible manner and maybe will finally pound these concepts into my head.  And should I forget, Understanding Exposure, a slim but dense volume, makes a great reference book.  Peterson’s own photos, from all over the world, both illustrate the concepts covered and are beautiful to peruse in their own right.