Summer breads

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on Summer breads
Jul 092015

(null)I haven’t finished a lot of books lately.  Started a few, but instead of reading to the end, I have been baking.  Somehow, summertime is great for dinner sandwiches, bread and salads, and just plain warm bread dipped in olive oil.  To get a sense of what a five-plus pounder looks like, compare this loaf to the full-size dinner plate in the upper left.


They say great bakers make a thousand baguettes before they get them right.  I’m getting closer.  I got the shape, length, and slashes right on these three.  The crumb should be a riot of different size holes as gases inside the dough explode and stretch gluten in every possible direction inside the super hot oven.  My crumb was better than usual, but not yet something that’s photo worthy.  Also these are a little pale.  Tasty though.baguettes

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry *** (of 5)

 Book Reviews, FICTION  Comments Off on The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry *** (of 5)
Jun 182015

fikryA fluffy little book with likeable enough characters, a soap-opera plot, and enough references to classic book titles that prove the author not only paid attention in class, but was surely one of the kids that preferred to be reading than anything else.  A.J. Fikry, a grumpy owner of an independent bookstore on an island off Cape Cod that can only be Martha’s Vineyard, is headed for death by drinking and the general slovenly-ness that befalls men who do not have women to keep them in order when he is handed a surprise that turns his life about.  The surprise reads classic books, makes others read classic books, reignites Fikry’s passion for classic books, and former English majors reading Zevin’s text will feel smug because they will happily catch all the references to their days when they, too, should have been paying attention in class.

Jun 142015

TheBoysintheBoatOn the face of it an uplifting story of a group of eight hayseeds from Washington state who come together to become the world’s best rowing team.  They stand for all that is good in America — hard work, optimism, rags-to-riches, democracy, talent, and above all a can-do attitude — when they compete for gold in Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Brown’s writing is so evocative that you can feel the cold wind on Lake Washington during a late-fall practice, endure the doubt inside the mind of every student-rower anxious about paying for an upcoming semester during the height of the great depression, crane your neck watching a tight race, and in the end, when all goes right, fly on a boat with eight oarsmen working in perfect synchrony.  You really do want these guys to beat the Nazis.

Barbecued Green Garlic Toast

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on Barbecued Green Garlic Toast
Jun 142015

(null) (1)We started with a two-day-old, no-knead light rye bread baked with millet and oat groats.  After painting each slice with olive oil, we toasted them on the grill.  Then we schmeared each toast with a compound butter with chopped, spring garlic scapes, minced chives, and grated parmesan following the recipe set by Melissa Clark in the New York Times.  We ate so many we almost couldn’t eat dinner.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis *** (of 4)

 African American Literature, America, Book Reviews, FICTION, History  Comments Off on The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis *** (of 4)
Jun 042015

hattiejpg-3519a9cd782a1f72This first novel captures the bleak experience of Hattie, the black mother of a dozen kids, who has come north as part of The Great Migration.  Escaping Jim Crow south to settle in Philadelphia and struggling to keep her head above a rising tide of poverty, poor relationships, wayward children, and a philandering husband, we read a series of loosely tied short stories about each of Hattie’s children.  The painted pictures are rich with detail and character but poor Hattie is the bible’s Job.  She is tested over and over and while she manages to maintain her pride, I was beaten down in the process.

The Nazis Next Door by Eric Lichtblau (no rating)

 Book Reviews, History, Nazis, NON FICTION  Comments Off on The Nazis Next Door by Eric Lichtblau (no rating)
Jun 042015

nazisEven before WW II came to a close the United States was already preparing to admit Nazis into the country.  The horror, of course, is that even though the practice lasted for years beyond the war’s conclusion, Jews who had survived the devastation were still isolated in concentration camps and camps for displaced persons.  Palestine, the U.K., and the U.S. forbid their entry.  Unfortunately, Lichtblau is so blinded by his outrage that he fails to paint a larger picture.  He never explains why American leaders were so obsessed by their anti-Communism that they felt it essential to employ every possible weapon at their disposal to stave off the Russians.  Those weapons included nuclear warheads, proxy wars around the globe, spies of every type, dirty tricks, and the drafting of former Nazis (before the Russians could draft the same ones) to develop even more aggressive tactics.  Rather than feeling unabated anger over American cohabitation with arch enemies, I was left wanting to know more about the anti-Communist mania that overtook the country.  It does not help that Lichtblau considers every Nazi party member to have been a mass killer.  No doubt, some were integral parts of the Nazi killing machine, but not every party member is a full supporter of every policy any more than every American who voted for Bush or paid her taxes or worked in his government, say a lifelong Republican worked in the Department of Commerce for 18 years, thought that America’s demolition of Iraq was a wise plan.

Buckwheat Demi-Baguettes

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on Buckwheat Demi-Baguettes
Jun 042015

demiI need to work on my consistency.  Some of my slashes expanded perfectly and others, meh. These were interesting loaves on a couple of accounts.  The buckwheat gave the breads a bluish tint.  Also, I used Saudi Arabia starter.  Usually Saudi Arabia doesn’t make light breads, but these were great.  In contrast, a pair of full-length baguettes I made with my Meadville starter on the same day turned out too pasty-tasting to even post a picture.  Isaac had to turn those into bruschetta.  So much to learn.

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer *** (of 4)

 Audio Book, Book Reviews, Europe, FICTION, Suspense  Comments Off on All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer *** (of 4)
May 202015

knivesHenry and Celia were working for the CIA in Vienna when a hijacked plane landed and failure of international spy agencies to respond appropriately led to the death of everyone on board.  Six years later the CIA is still trying to figure out what went wrong and Henry tracks down Celia before closing the books on the case.  At the time of the hijacking Henry and Celia were lovers, spies, intelligence gatherers, in the midst of a frantic race to outsmart terrorists, and professional liars.  Now, we watch as the two meet for dinner, both in search of a truth that has eluded them, and both playing all their spycraft skills at the table.

May 132015

PaperLoveSarah Waldman’s grandfather escaped the Nazi Aunchshloss in Austria by the skin of his teeth.  He settled in America, opened a successful medical practice, and lived a life of joy and optimism.  In his closet, discovered only after his death, are the letters of his true love, Valy, left behind in Vienna and Berlin.  As the jaws of the Nazi vice slowly draw closer together around Valy’s diminishing life her letters to America become increasingly desperate, personal, and ultimately heartbreaking.  By searching for Valy’s story, the history of one woman whose trail leads into the maw of the Shoah, Waldman answers one of the most difficult questions asked of Jews.  Why did Jews let the Nazis do this to them?  Here we see how it happened to Valy who stayed behind to be with her mother when even in 1938 things seemed like they could not get so bad that abandoning a country, a livelihood and the only family you still had was the only means of saving any member of your family.  Because we read this book knowing the outcome and that those Jews still in Europe could never know what was yet to come we are even more chilled as Nazi restrictions build one upon another.  And then the really unanswerable question comes to the fore.  How could Nazis week after week conceive of new methods of torture: forbidding Jews to shop, ride a bus, congregate, appear in public, live in their own homes, work, live?

Surest Sign of Summer

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May 132015

IMG_1362There is no surer sign of summer at my house than grilled sourdough breads.  I use my Saudi Arabian sourdough, pat flat 15 – 20 rounds, paint one side with olive oil and slap down the breads to fry over a hot charcoal grill.  Once they’ve bubbled on top, the tops are oiled, or as Leah puts it, the tops are covered in oil paint, and they are flipped.  Best if ripped into pieces and eaten while they are still steaming but in this case we saved most to have wrapped around grilled lamb shashlik.(null)  For the record, leaning against the bowl of grilled breads is a sourdough ciabatta, the prettier of the two I made.  The less pretty, but tastier one, was full of gently toasted red onion and wild ramps.