Muffin and Rye

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on Muffin and Rye
May 162016
 

This is my standard house gift when I’m invited for a meal and ask if I can bring a bread.  This one is sourdough rye.  I added some apple juice as an experiment and though the dough smelled like an autumn orchard, there was no hint of apple in the finished bread.

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Last week, because classes have finally ended, grades are handed in, and all that remains is bureaucratic drivel, I found some room for a little baking creativity.  I whipped up a dozen English Muffins augmented with some flax seed meal and raw sunflower seeds.  The key to English Muffins is to first fry them on a cast iron skillet for as long as you can stand it without burning the bottom, flip it, repeat, and then bake.

Warm English Muffins for dinner.

Warm English Muffins for dinner.

Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman ** (of 4)

 Book Reviews, FICTION, Judaism/Jewish Culture, Mystery  Comments Off on Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman ** (of 4)
May 112016
 

Buck Schatz, an 87-year-old former tough guy cop from Memphis has never dropped his crusty exterior nor belligerent attitude toward bad guys even though he’s been retired from the police force for thirty years.  Come to think of it, he hasn’t given up being nasty to nice guys, his wife, nor anyone else nor does he appear to have a soft interior.  So while he occasionally kvetches about his infirmities in Yiddish and hurls insults of his grandson, the law student, from time to time that are funny, it’s frankly hard to root for Schatz and his grandson while they hunt down a former Nazi prison guard, now suffering from dementia in an old age asylum in St. Louis, his stolen gold bricks, and a sicko murderer.  Schatz just isn’t that likable.  Moreover, if he can get away with it Buck wants to keep the gold for himself.  So where’s the Jewish morality in that?

The Incarnations by Susan Barker *** (of 4)

 Asia, Book Reviews, FICTION, History, Prize Winner  Comments Off on The Incarnations by Susan Barker *** (of 4)
May 012016
 

the-incarnations-9781442387034_hrChina, despite its rocket launch into modernity, is still a country of five thousand years of history.  As Americans, a people that at best can only recall a couple of centuries, and let’s face it, have largely been a people focused on the future rather than the past, bearing that much history is hard for us to fathom.  The Incarnations injects life into China’s past by introducing us to a Beijing cab driver who carries within him the reincarnated lives of earlier Chinese who have survived imperial eunuchs, sadistic monarchs, invading Mongols, and Mao’s Red Guard.  Barker’s story-telling is creative, deeply researched, and luminous. She will make you think about the limitations imposed upon the bonds of love and friendship as they are tested over a millennium.

Redeployment by Phil Klay *** (of 4)

 Book Reviews, FICTION, History, Iran and Iraq, Prize Winner, Short stories  Comments Off on Redeployment by Phil Klay *** (of 4)
Apr 082016
 

Redeployment-673x1024Phil Klay’s short stories about Marine Corps life in Iraq and after Iraq begin so realistically that I had to check to confirm I was reading fiction.  The accumulated mosaic combines the experiences of grunts, commanders, American snipers, wounded veterans, supply men, post-war rebuilders, chaplains, and kids who found themselves fighting Hajis before they were even old enough to legally drink beer.  Notably absent are women and people of color who combined probably make up the majority, or nearly so, of our army.  While some stories are naturally better than others, the net effect is not so much the hackneyed maxim that war is hell, but rather this war created by George Bush and incompetently prosecuted by his post-war advisors was an ineptitude of epic proportions.  No character in this book seems fully confident of who the enemy is or for what logic they are fighting.  Winner of the National Book Award.

Black Flags by Joby Warrick *** (of 4)

 Book Reviews, History, Iran and Iraq, Islam, Middle East, NON FICTION  Comments Off on Black Flags by Joby Warrick *** (of 4)
Mar 252016
 

blackflagsSadly, so much of the terror that has become ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the countries of North Africa and the attacks in Europe are a consequence of America’s invasion of Iraq and depressingly inept post-war policies.  The historical evolution laid bare in this highly readable, and rather suspenseful account, is an excellent introduction.  In contrast to George Bush and his democracy cowboys, Jordan’s King Hussein, and especially Jordan’s secret service, the Mukhabarat, appear to be prescient, surrounded by enemies, and highly competent. It could be because Warrick likes Jordan or had access to more material from Jordan, but I do have new respect for Jordan’s plight. I also have questions about whether ISIS can be beaten militarily or whether more difficult measures like economic development, women’s empowerment, and more participatory politics are needed to stem the tide.  The test case seems to be Tunisia, but for the outcome on that experiment, we will have to await someone else’s book.

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya ** (of 4)

 America, Book Reviews, FICTION, Humor, Immigration  Comments Off on Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya ** (of 4)
Feb 282016
 

Panic_in_a_SuitcaseIn the first half of the book, Pasha, an intentionally depressive poet, because without depression there can be no decent poetry, arrives from Odessa to spend a summer month in Coney Island with his Russian Jewish family.  Pasha trips on the sand at the beach, gets lost on the subway, but doesn’t seem to mind, argues with his sister, and is babied by his Mama.  Every character is funny and wonderful and this young author’s style is reminiscent of her Russian forebears, Chekhov and Tolstoy, in that there is infinite amount of talking and pondering while almost nothing of consequence happens.  There are even several laugh aloud moments, but by the time Part II rolls around, and the story turns to Frida, Pasha’s niece, the desire for a plot, or even anything resembling a plot, overrides lovely sentences and exquisitely rendered scenes of Russian immigrants lost between two worlds.  If you are the kind that loved War and Peace this will be a delicious little morsel.  On the other hand, if Russian novels feel a wee bit tedious, Panic might not be worth the effort.

Bread Class

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on Bread Class
Feb 192016
 

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(Click on photos to see full size.)

To prepare for our fermentation lab in Soil to Plate I made three jars of Meadville starter for the two groups of students that make sourdough bread.  Other groups make yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and yeast bread.

3 starters

Here are the students kneading.

Student kneading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And their loaves.

ES230 loaves

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell ** (of 4)

 America, Book Reviews, History, Memoir/Biography, NON FICTION  Comments Off on Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell ** (of 4)
Feb 192016
 

vowellI love Sarah Vowell’s hip hop style of writing and she is hooked on an interesting fellow.  The Marquis de Lafayette arrived in the American colonies at the age of nineteen as an anti-British militant on loan from France.  He was useful, too, for an American army that George Washington was having a very difficult time organizing into anything more than a rabble with pitchforks and guns that don’t shoot straight.  Lafayette remains a friend of the newly founded country for decades and decades. Unfortunately, and I cannot imagine why she chose to write this way, Vowell never bothered to break her monologue into chapters or sections.  The whole thing is one long stream of consciousness, which periodically is rather enlightening, sometimes entertaining, and more frequently, breathlessly disorienting.

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell **** (of 4)

 America, Book Reviews, Environment/Nature/Ag, FICTION, FOUR STARS ****, History, Prize Winner  Comments Off on So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell **** (of 4)
Feb 072016
 

so_longThis is a tale both microscopic in scope and biblical in scale.  The scene is 1920s Illinois before the age of machines and corporations when farmers depended upon themselves, their neighbors, their children, wives, an itinerant hired hand or two, and their dog.  Cows were milked by hand and fields were reaped by horse, man, and sweat.  Yet, while this black and white idyll of American farmsteading remains in our collective imagination, what happens when the ten commandments are violated.  In this case, page by patient page we observe rippling repercussions when one man covets his neighbor’s wife, a woman not pleased to be imprisoned on a rural Illinois homestead.

A Week of Feasts

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on A Week of Feasts
Jan 292016
 

IMG_1723Every year around Christmas time, my wife’s brother Marty, flies from Los Angeles to Meadville to cook and bake.  He makes main courses of goose with all the trimmings, breakfasts of blini and lox, sides too numerous to count, Danish peppernodder, and his grandmother’s melt-in-your-mouth caramels.  I do my best to bake enough breads — this year I made seven different kinds of sourdough — to keep up.  Here is my attempt to describe a week of enjoying life with one of the world’s great cooks.  Click here.