Jan 202015

raisin1I continue to struggle to find recipes that use my whole wheat starter to its full advantage.  My whole wheat starter just doesn’t have as much rising power as either of my white starters no matter how much white flour I add to the recipe.  This dough was very wet to begin with, but cooked up beautifully.

The crust was crisp but still thin.  The interior was moist and chewy and unlike most of my raisin walnut breads, the inclusions were evenly distributed.  The proportions were generous, but not overwhelming.  Just waiting to be toasted and buttered.raisin2

Jan 182015

narrowroadIn the central third of this novel, a New Zealand prisoner of World War II, enslaved by the Japanese endures countless, excruciatingly detailed horrors in the jungles of Burma.  Only he really doesn’t.  Flanagan does a terrific job of describing kiwis, aussies, and other British subjects who are being driven by their Japanese captors to build a railway through the rainforest.  Soldiers starve while working ungodly hours to construct an aimless path through the forest using not much more than their bare hands, fear of being beaten (again), and their slowly diminishing will to survive.  They contract ulcers, beri-beri, pellagra, cholera, gangrene, and when they are lucky enough, death.  The protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, is the doctor who treats them all and lives throughout the book an extended male fantasy.  In the jungle, Evans never really has to do hard labor.  He is elected de facto leader of the camp, yet contracts nothing more than a scratch on his shin, the hardship of having to forego a steak as a sign of leadership, and receipt of a letter from his fiance that his mistress is dead.  And that brings us to the first third of the book, wherein Evans, bored with his straight-laced fiance takes up with the voluptuous and sexually adventurous wife of his uncle.  And in the last third, after the war, when his fiance takes him back, Evans continues to dally with innumerable additional romances.  There you have it.  In convoluted writing and obscure passages we track a man who is a war hero and unrepentant philanderer.  What more could any male reader ask for?  This book won the 2014 Mann Booker Prize and made a lot of 2014 must-read lists, so I might be the only one that didn’t care for it, but seriously?

Jan 052015

promised-land-shav_2821269aIsrael is threatened, and always has been, from within and without.  Beyond its borders are hundreds of millions of Arabs, and 1.5 billion Muslims, most of whom would be happier if Israel did not exist, and some of whom are working hard to acquire the nuclear capability to make that wish a potential reality.  Within the country’s borders (I know, I know, even their borders are fuzzy), reside an internal, and justifiably unhappy Israeli Arab population, a rapidly growing ultra orthodox group of Jews that control too many state decisions, fanatical settlers, a million Russian immigrants of questionable loyalty to Israel’s original visions of itself, high-tech millionaires indifferent to the plight of the growing underclasses, and a collective malaise brought about by a hundred years of nearly continuous warfare.  Shavit displays each worry beneath a bright light and uncovers additional concerns that few native Israelis have paused to consider.  Most notable is that the very premise of Israel from Day One of the earliest Zionist Congresses  is that Israel was a land of occupation and settlers.  Overtaking the West Bank and Gaza was only a continuation of a Jewish plan to escape the ashes of pogroms, centuries of ghettoization, and the Shoa by taking over another people’s land.  A lot like Western occupation of the Americas.  Like many Israelis themselves, Shavit is loud, arrogant, compassionate, argumentative, insightful, and brilliant.

Jan 052015

chastIt’s a cartoon memoir of the passing of Roz Chast’s, a New Yorker cartoonist, parents.  Her parents lived into their 90s and died the long, slow decline of Americans that can afford resuscitation, hospitalization, round-the-clock care, and reasonable nursing homes.  Only the book isn’t entirely about dying.  Rather, Chast captures with painful honesty the relationship any adult has with an aging parent, which I have to say, includes almost everyone who is not yet an orphan.  So a cartoon book is an excellent way to describe the relationship between children and their parents which so readily alternates between being laugh aloud funny, guilt-inducing despair, unbridled, and occasionally insufficiently requited love, and bone-breaking frustration.

Dec 262014

Sue’s brother Marty was here for a week of superior cooking.  Marty is an exceptional chef and my job when he’s around is to eat whatever he puts in front of me, to happily clean up after him, and to make breads to accompany his mains.

To celebrate his arrival and the ninety-ninth anniversary of the birth of their Dad, I baked a Danish sourdough rye.  It’s a dense, sour loaf full of boiled grains of rye, wheat, and farro (an ancient variety of wheat) berries, plus some sunflower seeds and flax seeds.  I made this with my Cripple Creek whole wheat starter.


Next, for the second year running, Marty and I made croissant.  Croissant preparation is hard work.  It takes three days, most of that devoted to turning flour and butter into puff pastry and to do that cold butter is beaten and then rolled into dough.  Then the dough is cooled, rolled flat, folded and cooled again.  Repeat three times before rolling the croissant, which are required to rest in the fridge overnight.  Honestly, this year’s were not as good as the batch we prepared last year.  This year’s were missing crispiness on the outside and the inside were too breadlike.  We fear we might have let the croissant get too warm in the very last step allowing the butter to melt into the flour.  Next year we’ll try again.



cr2Ready for the oven.









The croissant were made from my Meadville starter and I couldn’t bear to throw it away so I turned the leftover into a rye starter.  Actually, I turned it into a fried onion, rye starter and cooked it all into a New York style deli rye.  This might have been my favorite of the week.  It really did taste like New York deli onion rye.


delirye2No winter visit by Marty would be complete without his specialty lox flown in and delivered by an unaware and overworked UPS man.  For years we ate the lox on blini purchased over the internet.  Two years ago Marty and I concluded that authentic Russian blini, buckwheat pancakes, really, were probably made with a sourdough starter rather than with yeast.  This year we made our blini with 100% buckwheat flour and again used my starter from Saudi Arabia.  The blini were very sour and intensely grainy.  Next year we’ll go back to a fifty – fifty mixture of white flour and buckwheat so we don’t overpower the balance of creme fraiche (homemade, of course), red onion, capers, and lox.  Not that we are complaining.

buckwheat.bliniNext year.  Bagels!



Dec 142014

warburgI learned a lot about the plight of European Jews in the years 1944 to 1947.  American Jews knew of the death camps, but widespread American anti-Semitism prevented Roosevelt from even mentioning the word, Jews, in his fight against the Nazis.  He could not or did not direct strikes against concentration camps or the trains that fed them and the U.S. refused admission to Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis.  Before this book, I knew the Pope was at least silent on the issue of the Holocaust while it was happening, but Carroll’s opinion is that the Vatican was complicit, rather than just mum.  The Vatican actively aided and abetted Nazis.  When the war ended, and Part II of Warburg in Rome begins, the church and the U.S. government were so focused on the upcoming cold war with Stalin’s Soviet Union that they conspired to ferret Nazi war criminals out of Europe to Argentina in ways that might help their anti-communist campaign.  But the fact that I can’t quite explain what the Americans got out of saving Nazis in their fight against communism is one of many flaws with this novel.  The characters – a non-practicing, Yale educated Jew, a beguiling Italian spy whose breasts always seemed worth mentioning, an Irish American priest from New York city — are all two dimensional at best.  The plot and dialogue are simultaneously confusing and as predictable as a black and white movie from the 1940s.  To his credit, Carroll, a former priest himself, is incredibly even-handed and sympathetic to the Jews and nothing short of distraught at the actions of his church.  He made me want to read more about the role of the Church in WW II, but I’m not sure I want to recommend this book to anyone else.

Dec 142014

We’ve made and eaten a lot of hummus in our time, but this batch that Sue made was the the best I’ve ever eaten.  Even our nephew Jeremy, the one who has visited Israel three times in the last year said it was on par with the best homemade hummus he’s eaten in the Middle East.  Sue used the recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and knowing Sue she followed every direction with precision.  It paid off.  The hummus had a dozen different flavors in it — garlic, lemon, chickpea, zatar grown by or Jerusalem Arab friends, high quality Spanish olive oil, fresh black pepper — and was as creamy as whipped butter.

I did my best and baked two dozen sourdough pitas from my Saudi Arabian starter.

Sue's hummous accompanied by pitas made from a Saudi Arabian sourdough.

Sue’s hummous accompanied by pitas made from a Saudi Arabian sourdough.

Nov 262014

unamericansEight short stories about young and old Jews in America and in Israel and every character elicits your sympathy.  Antopol starts her stories in the middle of a discussion you might have just dropped in upon and within moments you are riveted by people so real, angst so visceral, and tension so necessary to resolve it is at once remarkable it is only a story that you are reading and even more exceptional that it is a short story at that.  In one, a pair of brothers living in Israel must come to terms with the fact that the younger, less talented, and less capable has saved the life of the older, more handsome, and more successful-in-every-way brother.  In another, a B-grade actor is released from a year in jail after getting caught up with communist actors and directors during the McCarthy era.  A young Israeli, in a third story, is, forced home to live with her parents when her overseas career as a journalist burns out but falls in lust with a slightly older widower who has a troubled teenage daughter.  How would you balance an unexpected love affair, fizzled career hopes, your parents, and a teenager living her despairing father and without her mother?  Neither the plotlines, nor the list of protagonists does justice to this series of stories that all seem to revolve about a single aphorism.  “Be careful what you wish for.”  A must read of a young author’s first book — Antopol is in her early 30s.

Nov 262014

yiddishkeit_62025Even the title of the book isn’t really translatable, encompassing as it does more than a language.  Yiddishkeit is a people, it’s culture, and an era of history, all but obliterated by the Nazis.  So all the more interesting to take on a language, a sound, and the essence of Ashkenazi Judaism in a graphic novel, that is with pictures.  Yiddishkeit, the book and the culture, are a sprawling amalgam of history and storytelling, plays and text, cartoons, and serious literary analysis, and above all, opinionated.  Pekar, Buhle, and their coauthors have assembled a textbook with a surprising format, but they capture the spirit and for those of us that love Yiddishkeit, we are glad that they have.blog-yiddishkeit-122211-copy