Mar 222015
 

PROPERTYModan is part of the first generation of Israeli graphic novelists.  In The Property, an elderly Israeli grandmother returns to Poland with her granddaughter to search for a building confiscated from her family at the start of World War II.  The grandmother is making her first trip back to Poland reluctantly.  The granddaughter, age early twenties, accompanies grandma to provide moral support, out of curiosity, and to learn history.  Once in Poland the granddaughter meets a handsome Polish tour guide to bygone Jewish Warsaw.  While the farce of modern day Polish infatuation with all things Jewish after three million Polish Jews were slaughtered in the Shoa is piercingly and humorously rendered in Modan’s drawings, a potential romance blossoms between the young Israeli and Pole.  While granddaughter is traveling Warsaw on the back of a tour guide’s motorcycle, the grandmother meets the man who took over her family’s apartment and numerous secrets are revealed as the two old people speak, none of which can be described without spoiling the book.

Mar 222015
 

bill_bryson_notes_from_a_small_islandAfter a couple of decades of living in Britain, Bill Bryson decides to journey around the country one last time before moving with his family back to the U.S.  He takes seven weeks to do a grand loop stopping in towns large and small to describe the British Isles of the early 90s with special attention to beer, architecture, and people, in that order.  No doubt, the more you know of England the more you would appreciate his observations, but even without being able to fully appreciate the locales he was visiting, I was left with some rather wonderful impressions.  Firstly, Bryson reminds one of the value of seeing the world at walking speed.  That alone made me reevaluate the amount of daily energy I devote just to keeping up.  Secondly, tied as I am to the natural world, I don’t pay nearly enough attention to the power of buildings as individuals or in their collective.  Thirdly, this book is vintage early Bryson.  He is so funny on so many occasions I laughed aloud as if I was the one who had consumed one too many brews.  If you have a chance to listen to the audiobook.  It’s a remarkable read aloud.

Mar 222015
 

swimIncludes everything you ever wanted to know about swimming:  Greek mythology; the history of swimsuits and swimming pools; the beauty of open water swimming and how to make the most of counting laps; the evolution of the four basic strokes; the physiology of exertion; and the health benefits of a sport that won’t let you breath when you want to.  As a dedicated swimmer I thought I would love Sherr’s paean, but to my surprise what surprised me most is that there are people out there who love swimming.  Men and women who get into the water and feel free, weightless both physically and mentally, unbound from the strictures of noise and sight.  I mostly find swimming to be difficult and though the book was breezy and easy to move through, it would have been a better magazine article.

Mar 152015
 

200px-CuckoosCallingCoverLet’s begin with the fact that I picked up the book after the world discovered that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  I can’t help but think it colored my reading.  For starters, Robert Galbraith was supposed to be a former special ops and spy kind of guy.  Cormoran Strike, the private detective that needs to find a killer drinks, smokes, and womanizes, but not nearly as much if he had been written by a male author, which is to say he drinks to excess only once, smokes outside his office, and is exceedingly gentle with his temporary assistant, Robin.  Is it just chance that the young woman with a sharp mind for investigating has the same name as Batman’s sidekick?  J.K. Rowling’s forte is capturing scenes and making you feel like you can see everyone in their homespace.  This story revolves around a supermodel who falls, or was pushed, from a third floor balcony.  The model’s brother hires Strike because he believes she’s been murdered.  The remaining characters are all Londoners and by the end you feel like you have just read a contemporary account of 21st Century England.  And the mystery is terrific.

Feb 222015
 

Sixth-extinction-nonfiction-book-kobertWell, someone has to tell it like it is and Kolbert lays it out there as clearly as anyone possibly can.  She travels the world, to visit rocks containing the fossil record of the first five great disruptions in evolution when species, genera, and families disappeared with virtual instantaneity.   Then she keeps traveling to demonstrate that, again geologically speaking, we are in the midst of the sixth major extinction in the last two billion years.  This time, the era called the Anthropocene, will appear in the rock record, millions of years from now, as the period when one species, Homo sapiens, destroyed an inordinate number of species around the globe.  Humans have changed the climate, introduced devastating invasive species from one part of the planet to another, demolished habitats of every variety, and polluted land and sea to such an extent that only the heartiest rats, cockroaches, and bacteria are likely to survive.  Philosophically, it is interesting to ponder that perhaps the most sentient species in earth’s history is aware enough to understand the malice it is causing, but not smart enough to do anything about it.  In the end, the book, well written as it is, was too depressing to finish.

Feb 222015
 

IMG_1321A pair of raisin walnut loaves made with whole wheat starter.  Dense and chewy, not too heavy, sweet from the raisins, salty from the dough.  It was still making great toast a week later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1316And some granola with grated organic apples from our winter CSA. Not really a sourdough or a SCOBY, I know, but just as warm and delicious.

Feb 102015
 

alienist__140527182303In the 1890s, Theodore Roosevelt did not yet have presidential ambitions.  As a young man he was trying to sweep corruption from the halls of New York City’s police department.  To sidestep detectives he doesn’t trust, Roosevelt turns to a reporter from the New York Times, Moore, and a psychoanalyst called Kreizler to solve a series of gruesome murders of young male prostitutes.  The descriptions of turn of the century New York are colorful, informative, and a loud reminder of the breadth of inequality suffered by immigrants living in hovels on the lower east side.  The only problem is that after 200 pages the first clues are only beginning to be assembled.  After 400 pages the killer has been identified and yet there are still a hundred pages to go.  It’s not a good sign for what is supposed to be a suspense-filled mystery when the reader is keeping such careful track of the page numbers.

Jan 252015
 

5252 Loaves is one of those memoirs where a guy sets out to do something a little ridiculous, bumbles along, has silly adventures, and learns something meaningful along the way.  See, for example, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and The Know it All and The Year of Living Biblically, both by A.J. Jacobs.  In this instance, Alexander bakes a loaf of bread every week for a year until he manages to make the perfect loaf.  As befits this type of book, Alexander opens with many weeks of dense, tasteless, uninspiring loaves that test his patience, make his children long for croissants, brioche, and real bread, and cause his long-suffering wife to roll her eyes every weekend at her her inept husband’s kitchen flailings.  With time, of course, Alexander learns the science of bread making, the art of bread making, and the six-thousand year history of bread eating and presents it all in a way that is warm and light, much like the bread he ultimately learns to bake from sourdough (did you hear that, fans, SOURDOUGH) in an ancient Abbey oven in the remote French countryside.

Jan 252015
 

You know how on Friday night you look forward to sleeping in until the hour hand on the clock contains double digits but get up at the usual time anyway out of habit?  Sure enough I was awake by 6 AM, but at least had a productive morning  Before 11 AM I had completed the following.

IMG_1307From left to right: Seven half pints of green-tea kombucha re-fermenting with grated ginger and wedges of lime; two batards of rye; a fermenting starter (wait for it) in the metal bowl; and a dozen chocolate cranberry muffins.

 

 

 

 

 

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The muffins, in addition to the cocoa and cranberries, were filled with walnuts and were made with my usual blend of found dry ingredients (soy flour, buckwheat, whole flaxseed meal) and wet (mashed banana, okara, also known as the soybean mash leftover from my soymilk maker, honey, and two eggs from my friend the chicken farmer).  Perfect weekend breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1308Not a great photo, perhaps, but this miche tasted as good as it looked.  The crust was crackly and the interior was warm, sour, almost solid in its richness, but still full of irregular crumb big holes and that we bakers are always aiming for.  I brought this bread to a dinner party we attended.  A perfect complement on an icy winter night to the stuffed cabbage, pickled beets, edamame hummus, green salad, and red wine.  For dessert, Sue made Melissa Clark’s lemon bars with olive oil and sea salt that was so good it stunned the group into silence.