Oct 282014

agent zigzagPrior to the outbreak of WWII, the British citizen Eddie Chapman spent his youth blowing safes and robbing banks.  Passing in and out of jails, Chapman learned new techniques for thievery and when he wasn’t incarcerated, he fell in love, seriously in love, with a series of women.  When war erupted, Chapman was languishing in a cell on the isle of Jersey which fell under Nazi occupation and after failing to escape a couple of times figured his best chance for freedom was to volunteer to become a Nazi spy, that is, a British citizen employed by the Nazis to spy on the British.  A year or so later the Germans took him up on his offer, trained him, and air dropped him into Britain for the purpose of blowing up a British airplane factory.  Chapman’s apparent success led him to become one of the most decorated Nazi spies in history, only soon after landing in England, he also because one of the most celebrated spies in the British secret service, where he acted as a double agent spying on the Nazis.  Using newly released documents McIntyre uncovers a fascinating history of the spy war raging between Allied and Axis forces.

Oct 232014

TBMSixteen monks live in an isolated Canadian monastery dedicated to Pure Gregorian Chant, God, and the obscure Saint Gilbert.  Until there are fifteen monks because the Priar has his skull crushed.  Inspector Gamache and his sidekick Jean-Guy Beauvoir are called to the northern waters and deep forests of Quebec to investigate their eighth mystery in this Louise Penny series.  It is Penny’s best.  Gamache and Beauvoir do waht they can to penetrate the silent, mysterious, centuries old abbey while the monks practice the same analysis on the inspectors of the Quebec Surete.  The monks love chants, the chants mesmerize all who hear them, and questions arise: why are some men called to become solitary monks; others find solace in solving murderous crimes; a few succumb to their inner demons with murder; and some men turn away from music and can only find inner peace through drugs.  This is a multi-layered novel that also performs what we so often want from a good mystery.  Yes, we have suspense, but we also learn something.  Here we are treated to the invention of music, the inner workings of a contemporary, if very remote monastery, and the simple beauty of Gregorian Chant.

Oct 162014

breadOrganized in Germany with submissions of breads and blogs from scores of countries around the world, it’s the ninth annual World Bread Day.  You can peek at some of the scrumptious listings from around the world here.

I can’t recall how I came across this event but in the three weeks I’ve had to prepare I thought it only made sense to bake with my original sourdough.  This starter comes to me from the Cripple Creek Gold Rush in Colorado in 1893.  In that time no one has forgotten to nourish it, overlooked removing a cupful for later baking, poisoned it, or let it spoil.  Chances are it has always been given freely from one baker to the next carrying forward a baking tradition of using sourdough leaven that dates back to the beginning of civilization.  Normally, I bake with only the simplest ingredients: salt, water, sourdough, and flour.  This time I had extra buttermilk so I added a little.

This batard is crisp on the outside, super chewy, very sour, and full of whole wheat goodness.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Batard

Whole Wheat Sourdough Batard

Oct 072014

The Good Lord Bird 9781594486340BOf course I’ve heard of John Brown, the abolitionist, who tried to start an insurrection and free the slaves by himself.  But, truth is, that is about all I knew of him until reading this fictionalized account of his life.  The beautifully rendered narrator, who I suspect is the one truly fictional character in the book, is a young black boy nicknamed “The Onion.”  Onion is freed from slavery by Brown in the 1850s and lives with John Brown’s army of abolitionist minded children, freed slaves, Indians, Jews, and spotty hangers-on.  Only thing is John Brown mistakes Onion for a girl and thus Onion lives disguised as a girl for several years.  It is not as strange as you think because survival for blacks under the dehumanizing burden of slavery required any possible ruse to avoid being worked to death (or worse) like a flea-infested mule. Onion portrays John Brown as a religious zealot of such ferocity as to be frighteningly fanatical.  Yet, at the same time Brown was the one person in America to move beyond rhetoric regarding the savages of slavery to the very actions necessary required to undo the evil practice.  While Brown’s attempts to overtake Osawatomie, Kansas and Harper’s Ferry, Virginia were folly, the Northern States were very soon to follow his example.