Sunday, May 1, 2016

Against the don't have to suffer when you give up white flour and refined sugar.

My husband and I have been on a healthy eating plan (so much nicer to say than “diet,” don’t you think?) since December 1, and two things we have seriously cut out or decreased are white flour and refined sugar. Against the Grain by Nancy Cain has been a godsend. Since this new plan, I’ve been experimenting with using natural sugars and whole- and ancient grains.  This book is filled with so many wonderful recipes incorporating options for both. The book has many colorful tabs sticking out of the pages. I love the use of canola oil and also coconut oil. I’ve found an organic brand that is a combination of the two oils that is fantastic. I own a lot of whole-grain cookbooks, but Against the Grain is by far the most wide-ranging. I love this book!

Thanks to Blogging for Books for this review copy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's been a very good year...

A year and a half ago I packed up my books and kitchen supplies and moved from our home in a suburb of Cleveland, OH to a suburb of Washington, D.C. The Monday after I’d given notice at my job and the same day my husband had started his new job in D.C., I fell down the stairs in our condo and broke the bones in my foot so saying I “packed” and I “moved” is a bit of a stretch, but got here I did. And for the next several months I spent most of my time at the end of the couch in our new apartment where I could watch David walk to and from the Metro stop. In May I had my first outing sans wheelchair, boot, and crutches to George Washington’s Mount Vernon and while I wish I could say there was no stopping me after that, I’d be lying. I’ve been slow to move. And now we’re moving back to Cleveland, and I’m wishing I’d been a bit more adventurous, thinking I haven’t made the best use of my time here.

I didn’t get to Politics & Prose, but I had a lovely time and lunch at Kramerbooks and Afterwords CafĂ© with my sister-in-law. I went to the National Portrait Gallery, but haven’t yet made it to the Smithsonian. I never ever found a good pizza place. I finally made it to NYC – three times, to be exact – but Annapolis and Philadelphia avoided my grasp. I haven’t stood in front of the White House (or as near as one can get), but I have seen it from a distance, and I did get to the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial. Besides Mount Vernon, we also went to Monticello. And I saw the cherry blossoms in full bloom on a perfect day in April. We took trips to Istanbul and Israel, Barcelona, and France. I met some of David’s funny and wonderful friends in Baltimore and Bethesda and made one friend of my own; I just wish it had been sooner.

There were some terrific meals made in this high-rise apartment and fortunately, not too many failures. Spicy Beer Braised Lime Chicken Enchiladas, Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts, Campari Granita, Pomegranate Beef, Cajun-Style Meatloaf, flank steak that set off the smoke alarm and had me waving a tea towel for five minutes, and numerous homemade pizzas (see above). And even more meals planned that never got made.

Since I moved into this apartment, 139 books have been read and several television series have been started and finished. I saw the end of Sons of Anarchy here and still rue the day. We’ve watched Homeland, Prisoners of War, Luther, House of Cards, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The VEEP and several episodes of The Comeback (until I could no longer bear the pain). And we’ve gone to some plays, both here and in NYC.

Reading back on this post, I just realized something. It’s not what I didn’t get done. It’s what I did. And if we hadn’t moved here, none of these adventures would have taken place. Life’s the same way. You try to make the most of what you’re given and you can’t bemoan the fact that you didn’t get done everything you set out to do. If you do, then you’re really stuck. I don’t want to be stuck.

So in a few weeks we move back home. I may have gotten in a couple more field trips and made two or three more memorable meals before then, but I know I’m going on another adventure, I know I’m going to read more books, and I know Cleveland has great pizza. I’m blessed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hausfrau, a Review

Anna Benz, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s hausfrau, is one of the most fascinating and frustrating characters I’ve been introduced to in a long time. I didn’t understand her nor did I really like her, but by the end of the book I was able to feel some sympathy for her. She appears to be a woman with no sense of self who engages in sex as a means of connection. In one of their numerous sessions her psychoanalyst Doktor Messerli states, “A bored woman is a dangerous woman.” Anna is definitely of danger to herself. Reading the book is like the old clichĂ©, “watching a train wreck.”

Hausfrau offers a reader a lot to think about and cannot be read casually (or at least, this reader). The language classes and the psychoanalysis (very Swiss, not the American version of therapy), the questions about language and its use in general are worth particular note. Anna thinks about the meanings of words a lot. What’s the difference between this word and that word? What does this word mean? Anna has a lot going on in her head. She asks good questions. None of it stops her from doing what she’s doing.

Also of interest (of more interest than the men Anna chooses to have sex with – I can’t think of them as her lovers, that’s too caring a word) are her women friends (I use the term loosely). Mary in particular, is a fascinating character. I kept expecting Anna to see through her, but unfortunately, she never did. It’s not that kind of book. The husband, Bruno, I found less interesting and developed. It wasn’t until one of the concluding chapters rather surprising and explosively violent scenes that he seemed to wake up to his wife’s transgressions and disintegration.

Hausfrau is about an American-born housewife and mother married to a Swiss husband and living in a small Swiss city. Anna Benz was a sad young woman before she married and moved to her new home in a new country, but her status as a “hausfrau,” her unfamiliarity with and total disinclination towards its character led to her unraveling.

Review copy provided courtesy of Net Gallery.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Bitter Review

In a previous blog post I mentioned the cookbook, Bitter, and an upcoming review. Well, it's finally happened. The reason for the delay is a month or more of sickness and no cooking or baking, but the Campari Granita is in the freezer and the kitchen is starting to rather emphatically call my name, so I must be getting better, right? On to the review.

My childhood was bitter, that is to say, contrary to many childhood palates of the 1950s, mine was influenced by the bounty of my father’s gardens and his love for foods both fresh and somewhat assertive in taste. There was rutabaga and Brussels sprouts, dandelion greens and mustard, grapefruit for breakfast and homemade horseradish (we all helped in making it). There was a black walnut tree in our front yard and the only olives I knew were green. Apricots were a treat. And for candy I ate black licorice.

I jumped at the chance to review Jennifer McLagan’s Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor. With Recipes.” It’s a fabulous book.

The presentation alone is fantastic. I love the cover and the flyleaf is dramatic. Photos accompanying the recipes are full page, tempting, and professional. I have several recipes tagged to try, but for purpose of review I was able to test the following: Pork Chops in Coffee Black Currant Sauce, Beer-Glazed Carrots, and Campari Granita. All three were winners. David said the pork chops were some of the best he’d ever eaten. I have yet to try the Bitter Greens Ravioli, Arugula Pizza, Rony’s Brussels Sprouts and Chickpeas, and Iced Chocolate Caramel Drink, to name a few.

Bitter is divided into six sections of recipes depending on bitterness level: Born to Be Bitter, Liquid Bitter, Pungently Bitter, Subtly Bitter, Surprisingly Bitter, and Dark, Forbidden, and Very Bitter.  The explanations are enlightening and the recipes are innovative and easy to follow. This is an exciting and I think, revolutionary book and I highly recommend it to those with a desire to introduce more unique and flavorful meals to their tables.

Pork Chops in Coffee Black Currant Sauce and Beer-Glazed Carrots

Campari Granita

For more information on the book, see the link in the blog post below.

I received a copy of this book for review courtesy of Blogging for Books.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cold as Christmas...

November and December have been strange and rather unsettling months for me. Good and not-so-good currents have upset my otherwise pretty stable atmosphere.

My good high school friend, Barbara, visited and it was wonderful to once again be sixteen, talking about junior prom, red licorice (inside joke) and mutual friends and then just as quickly returning to age sixty-five and chatting about books read, marriage, and weight gain.  There was cataract surgery #1 and cataract surgery #2, both successful and after over two years of seeing everything in a blur, my vision is now just a hair short of 20/20 and I’ve assured David I still want to stay with him.

As usual, I’ve cooked, baked and read a lot, not necessarily in that order. Thinking back, as we’re nearing yearend, I’ve come up with my own list of 2014 Top Ten Books Read. For the most part it was a serious year. Drum roll.

Tehran Noir (an anthology of noir short stories in the Akashic Noir series)
Life Drawing by Robin Black
High As the Horses’ Bridles by Scott Cheshire
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (a visit to Masada this summer made this particularly poignant)
The Son by Jo Nesbo
The Enchanted by Rene Denfield
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
The Marco Effect (part of the intriguing Department Q series) by Jussi Adler-Olsen
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (a surprise Top Ten for me)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

You can read the reviews on Goodreads, if you so choose.

Next year I’ll keep track and draw up a list of my Top Ten recipes. That should be interesting.

My brother has found new love. My sister struggles with the loss of her love to Alzheimer’s. My love continues to grow for both David and family, although these last two months it’s been tested. I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about that quote I’ve always loved so much and one that’s been appearing a lot on Facebook (I found it first.) “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s been my mantra for years, but recently it’s been put to a test. Sometimes we have to let go of our battles. They are old and if we hold onto them, they will only create new ones. And that is what has happened. It saddens me. It grieves me particularly when I see and know others who struggle with adversity not of their making, yet do not complain and continue to give love and laughter to others, asking nothing in return. They have learned the lesson of letting go.

Enough. I have a good life, a wonderful husband, who is both an old and new love; a son, recently engaged, and following his dream of a musical career; new FB friends to meet and a new year ahead of me. Stay tuned for a new cookbook review of Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan. I’m looking forward to reading it, trying some recipes upon my return to Maryland, and then telling you about it here.  For an earlier peek:

“May the lights of Hanukkah usher in a better world for all humankind.” – Author Unknown

Happy Chanukah!

“May peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through.” – Author Unknown

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I didn't dumpster dive for the spaghetti.

I think perhaps the second blog post is more difficult to write than the first. I’ve been cooking, baking and reading. I’ve made my first visit to New York City and seen “Wicked,” one of two Broadway plays I desire to see in my life. I did not buy a witch hat. A high school friend has visited and verified to David my rather sweet, if boring, existence during our small town high school years. Thanksgiving is this week and I’ll bake my first duck. But the subject of this blog post is Portland, OR. Or more specifically, Portlandia and the companion cookbook, The Portlandia Cook Book: Cook Like a Local by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein with Jonathan Krisel.

Have you watched “Portlandia”? If you have any sense of or appreciation for the bizarre, you must. And then, once you’ve seen the show and if you cook, you need to buy the cookbook. It’s a great companion to the series and contains excellent recipes to boot. You’ll find all of your favorite friends here and be able to recreate some of their signature dishes. And if you’re at all like me, the entire time you’re cooking, you’ll be talking to them.

I first made the Tortilla Soup with Chicken. Peter and Nance, I did not get to meet the person who personally knew and raised the chicken(s) I used in the soup, but I did purchase them from Whole Foods, which I hope helps. The chicken’s name was not included on the label, but I will suggest this next time I visit . I’ve never eaten hominy before and I had to look up its definition, but once I found out it was basically corn in another state, and hailing from Iowa, I was convinced it was edible. We loved this soup. It was easy, filling, and soooo good.

Tonight we had Spaghetti and Meatballs, a la Peter and Nance, with whole-wheat spaghetti.  Again, easy, flavorful, and as with the tortilla soup with chicken, I had the satisfying feeling of having made a dinner that was authentic, good for us, and representative of all things good in the food city of Portland, OR. I even was able to use some of my own rosemary from my (sad to say, once again) dying rosemary plant.

The Brussels Sprouts with Bacon recipe is on my Thanksgiving menu and other recipes soon to be tried are Spicy Garlic Pickles, Butterflied Chicken Roasted Over Bread, Babysitter’s Mac and Cheese, Mango Lassi Smoothie, and Nance’s Lavender Shortbread Cookies. Of course, it will all be moot if I try Candace’s Khappu Jiu Jiu Jiu Jiu Tea first. Seriously, if you love the series, you’ll enjoy this cookbook. And if you don’t know about the series, watch it, get your hands on a copy of the book, and then cook. And don’t forget your bag!

This book was courtesy of Blogging for Books.