Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope ** (of 4)

 Book Reviews, FICTION, Israel, Judaism/Jewish Culture  Comments Off on Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope ** (of 4)
Nov 222015

Safekeeping+CoverSafekeeping is a description of common characters residing on an Israeli kibbutz in the late 1990s.  At the center of the story is Adam, a drug addict from New York city, on the lam and carrying a 700-year-old brooch.  He stumbles into Ulya, a sexy, ambitious Russian immigrant to Israel, who feigned a Jewish identity to escape the confines of Russia only to find herself trapped in a tiny country and inside an even tinier commune.  Claudette, is a French Canadian volunteer with an unrelented case of OCD.  Ancient, dying, Ziva represents the Israeli pioneers that fought for the country’s independence and social identity.  There are Arab workers and young soldiers sent to keep peace on the West Bank.  Everyone is indeed universal: I met a variant of each one on Kibbutz Ketura when I live there.  In the end, however, despite the meticulous notes that Jessamyn Hope must have taken when she lived on her kibbutz, very few of the characters feel complex enough to fully engage our sympathy.  Not even the brooch.


 Book Reviews  Comments Off on Fougasse
Nov 222015

IMG_1633A sourdough Fougasse is a flatbread baked into the shape of a leaf.  This one was stuffed with olives and sprinkled with oregano and thyme.  We dipped into organic, Greek olive oil (thank you, Aldi’s) and balsamic vinegar while it was still warm from the oven.  Full disclosure.  The fougasse in this picture is the second one, the first having been consumed before a photo could even be taken.  The rest of the meal was a venison stew and steamed chard direct from our local Amish farmer.

Bread and Granola

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on Bread and Granola
Oct 262015

IMG_1611In the foreground a sunflower boule made with King Arthur Special Bread flour.  I stumbled across King Arthur Special Bread flour when I ran out of my standby white bread flour and the great thing is it really is Special.  The couple of times I’ve used K.A. Special Bread flour, my breads have been lighter, risen more quickly and obediently, and tasted better.  My order of a fifty pound bag should arrive at the Erie Whole Foods coop.

In the background are two trays of granola with grated organic carrots, ginger, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, flax, and, of course raisins and oats.

Oct 212015

goldMatthew Hart purports to answer all your questions about gold.  Why does it have value?  How is it mined?  What is the historical significance of gold?  Why should anyone own any?  After dispensing with theft from contemporary South African mines and the history of gold rather briefly, the book devolves into two rather dense sections.  First, is a jargon-rich explanation, best understood by fellow economists, for the gold standard that backed much of the world’s currencies until the 1970s.  Second, is a tedious description of how a few ounces of gold are chemically extracted from tons of useless rock.  Interspersed are some not very compelling travelogues to some of the world’s most interesting gold mines.  Though it is presented only as a passing thought the inevitable conclusion is that gold’s value is currently no different than the value of a famous painting.  It is worth only as much as someone who collects such things is willing to pay.

Vulture Peak by John Burdett *** (of 5)

 Asia, Book Reviews, FICTION, Mystery, Suspense  Comments Off on Vulture Peak by John Burdett *** (of 5)
Oct 212015

vultureThe fifth in the series for Royal Thai Police Detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep.  The crime this time takes place on the exclusively wealthy hilltop above Bangkok of the title’s name, Vulture Peak, where three bodies are discovered missing their salable organs.  While the crime is being unraveled we learn about the global trade in kidneys, livers, corneas, and so forth, some of it legal, and much of it less so apparently driven by the amount of money people with failing organs are willing to pay for replacement parts.  Unfortunately, the criminals in this book, a pair of psychopathic Hong Kong twins, a faceless (really, faceless) rapist, and a bipolar Hong Kong cop chasing them all are so over the top they strain credulity.  Burdett is also trying to say something about the difference between Thai prostitutes that sell their whole bodies, but do so fully aware of the business they are in, and the poor and beleaguered of the world who sell parts of their bodies for cash out of true desperation.

10th Annual World Bread Day!

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on 10th Annual World Bread Day!
Oct 142015

IMG_1296To celebrate the 10th Annual World Bread Day I baked a sourdough buckwheat boule.  Buckwheat is hard to work with because it has no gluten, is very heavy, and tends to turn doughs a little blue.  Since World Bread Day is hosted in Germany, it seemed fitting to bake a German style loaf.  The upside to buckwheat is it gives bread a wild earthy taste.

If you go to the World Bread Day webpage in about a month you will see breads from all over the world with links to a global panoply of bread blogs.  Or you could just go to the bakery and buy yourself a really good loaf.





Wheat to Bread

 Sourdoughs and SCOBYs  Comments Off on Wheat to Bread
Sep 072015

IMG_1479This summer we grew wheat in the Allegheny College garden, then harvested, threshed, winnowed, milled, and baked.  To see what happened, click HERE.

Sandwich bread

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Sep 072015

IMG_1557I forgot that for many years I only made bread in loaf pans, but now that Northwest Pennsylvania is enjoying its best tomato harvest in a decade I realized it was time to bake something light and sliceable.  This one started with my Saudia Arabia starter and was supplemented with half a bottle of beer, half a cup of buttermilk, whole wheat and semolina.

Age of Ambition by Edward Osnos *** (of 4)

 Asia, Book Reviews, NON FICTION, Prize Winner  Comments Off on Age of Ambition by Edward Osnos *** (of 4)
Aug 272015

age of ambitionPieced together from Osnos’s eight years of reports on China filed with the New Yorker, Age of Ambition comes together as a complete painting of modern China’s rocky transition to modernity.  Half a billion people have moved to China’s cities in pursuit of capitalism’s greatest prize: wealth.  The Chinese government is gambling that the delivery of free enterprise can be exchanged for political stability and to ensure the trade goes well the Communist party forbids freedom of speech and the freedom to organize in protest on anything larger than a municipal level.  Osnos focuses on the problems: jailed artists, tortured civil rights leaders, a rising desire for a moral compass, and unrelenting press censorship implying that beneath China’s meteoric economic ascent lies deep instability.  It is hard to know to what extent Osnos has selected stories of the elite and overlooked an even deeper satisfaction among a generation of Chinese liberated from the threat of starvation and really quite happy to forego some freedom in order to have enough money for McDonald’s and the Internet, even if key websites are blocked.  Some of the key interviewees argue rather persuasively that because nothing published in China’s media is reliable, and everyone knows that, Chinese people are much more skeptical consumers of news than Americans who all to readily believe that drinking Coke can make you happy, driving a new car can make you sexy, and whatever their politicians say must be true.

The Son by Philipp Meyer **** (of 4)

 America, Audio Book, Book Reviews, FICTION, FOUR STARS ****, History  Comments Off on The Son by Philipp Meyer **** (of 4)
Aug 272015

the sonThis history of Texas is told through the lives of four generations of the McCullough family.  Eli, the patriarch, is captured by Comanches as an adolescent in the 1840s, and lives as an Indian for three years.  Learning about Comanches as real people is as interesting as coming to understand, say, Kazahks, Bantus, or Serbs.  These Comanches are conniving, jealous, courageous, jokesters trying to stave off white settlers with thoughtfulness, wisdom, and blunder.  Eli’s son is neighbored by Mexicans, raises cattle, and begets generations who make it big in the Texas oil boom.  To list the family tree, however, makes The Son feel like a tedious long biography.  On the contrary, the stories of each generation are told concurrently with suspense and drama while the history of Texas bravado and hubris unfolds behind it.  Bison are hunted to extinction, water is used to exhaustion, Mexicans are demolished and yet return, and the question of the McCullough’s self-selected prestige hangs in the balance.  The audiobook performers are outstanding.