Friday, February 26, 2010


Nearly everything is as pretty as a chic magazine in Janice YK Lee's much ballyhooed debut novel, THE PIANO TEACHER. For all that, just about every character is an anti-hero. The story is set in a cosmopolitan section of Hong Kong that swarms with a mix of wealthy Chinese and over-privileged Brits. Lee's characters drink Pimm's and champagne amid rich people's detritus-- "...Persian carpets, and the occasional Chinese table topped with Burmese silver bowls...", Herend bric-a-brac, Murano perfume bottles, Hermes scarves.
The story opens with the arrival of newlywed Claire Pendleton in the colony, following World War II . Thereafter, the sequence of events owes a great deal to E. M. Forster, Paul Scott and Michael Ondaatje. Twenty-eight tear-old Claire is a provincial with more pejudices than smarts--think A PASSAGE TO INDIA. She meets forty-something, war scarred Will Truesdale with whom she embarks on an affair--think THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Lo and behold, she begins to shed her prejudices and practically goes native--think THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN.
Lee's plot alternates between past and present. Brit Will Truesdale arrives in pre-war Hong Kong. He mingles with the elite and falls in love with insufferably cute Trudy Liang, the daughter of a Portuguese beauty and a wealthy Chinese. Their romance is one of the most dismal ever to go to press. He is too self-contained to show his feelings and she is too self-absorbed to own up to her superficiality. It isn't her fault, poor dear. It is all imposed from without,
"People have always expected me to be bad and thoughtless and shallow and I do my best to accommodate their expectations." And,
"I've always known I am a chameleon, my love. I was a terrible daughter because my father let me be one...If I was with a scoundrel, then I became the kind of woman that would be with a scoundrel."
But no matter. The important thing is that she is a "whippet thin" as an Elle model--Lee is a former editor of that magazine-- an heiress, she owns heaps of great clothes, including a dress the color of orange sherbet, and fab jewelry, including an emerald the size of the Ritz. What is more, she bathes in Badedas and she wears jasmine perfume. These are indubitably clues to her character, but I cannot muster the interest to find out their meaning. She prattles, bathes and drinks.
Then comes the war and Trudy has occasion to deliver herself of pearls of wisdom,
"If you act as if you were bulletproof, most people will assume you are..."
"Everything seems better in the morning..."'
What with the Japanese hellbent on visiting all manner of villainies upon the Chinese and the Brits--the good Japanese in this story are very sketchily drawn--a shortage of Badedas and most other essentials ensues, Will is clapped into a detention camp, Trudy starts a dangerous relationship with a porcine Japanese--truly bad characters cannot be whippet thin-- member of the gendarmerie and so does her epicene cousin Dominique.
Cut to Claire whose presence in Hong Kong coincides with the Coronation and an examination of who did what during the war. As she continues her voyage of self-discovery, Claire gets a job teaching the daughter of the wealthy and "exquisite" Victor and Melody Chen. She becomes a cleptomaniac, yearns for a baby--is there a connection here?--and gets nowhere fast with Will--think OUT OF AFRICA. Collaborators try to justify themselves, war prisoners try to return to normal life, and the story ends as one would expect it to end.
Would I buy this book? As Trudy says when she does not want to answer a question,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


A tasty source of protein, avocados are plentiful and  and inexpensive at this time of the year.

My family and I are not major meat eaters. Nevertheless we have just joined  the Meatless Monday movement and we are asking our town and the local university to consider doing the same. At a time when some political figures pollute the air space with claims that global warming is a myth created by liberals, we feel that it is important to take to take action.Even though we take the size of our carbon footprint seriously and try to reduce it whenever we can,  there is much more that we need to do. We need to more in order to green  the community and the local university.  

If  studies done in New Zealand are correct, our Great Dane's carbon footprint is four times larger than that of a Toyota Land Cruiser. How large is ours? We read recently that every time we do a  Google search we use up energy sufficient to brew three cups of tea. We are great Googlers  and we  shudder to think of the many ways in which we squander non-renewable resources.

Giving up meat once a week is an easy thing to do.   At the tri-state area we have access to a great variety of inexpensive legumes, nuts and protein rich fruit such as avocados. We live in a rural area where  farmers are glad to provide  the goat and sheep's milk with we use to make cheese. 
Folks in Tel Aviv, Ghent and Sao Paulo agree that going meatless on Monday  is easy peasy. Won't you?
Here are some reasons why it is a good move,

Environmental Benefits

  • REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation.[3] And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.
  • MINIMIZE WATER USAGE. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef.[4] Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.[5]
  • HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S.[6] Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein.[7] Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.

UPDATE: We have approached Town Council Persons Wanda Grantham and Jim Ford   in hopes that they will suggest that Shepherdstown and Shepherd University join in.


    Read my review of Robert Hicks's A SEPARATE COUNTRY at

    Saturday, February 20, 2010


    Kumbayah, residents of Little Macondo, Malaysia and Poitou-Charentes! Following the advice of empowerment gurus, I identified my passions--Lior Ashkenazi, Orlando Figes, Simon Sebag, chocolate,Yevgenia's wild mushroom borstch, among others--I felt that it was time to build my knowledge of Blogger Analytics. Vhat catastrophe, vhat hoomiliashawn! Nowhere could I find forward slash body thingie after which one must paste Analytic's asynchronous tracking code. The Infanta rescued me and I am ready to offer an informal tutorial,
    Copy the asynchronous tracking code from the Google Analytics page.
    Open your blog page.
    Click on Layout.
    Click on Edit HTML

    Paste code into blog template immediately before
    Replace characters beginning with UA- with your web ID, which you can find in your Analytics account.
    Et voila, you have Analytics tracking. You have predefined filter capability, mwahahaha. Simple, no? Very simple once you understand that the place the Analytics code is in your template. Now, why didn't Google geeks explain this more clearly? Shouldn't code be about clarity? BTW, it is most annoying that the new Blogger editor consistently eat the icon one must have in order to post graphics. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, blast it.
    Anyhoo, I see you are still in your jammies. I prescribe two doppio espressos and a brisk walk. As for me, I will start reading my next for-review book, Lori Gottlieb's MARRY HIM while I wait to hear from author Robert Hicks. My review of his novel, A SEPARATE COUNTRY, will appear shortly in my book blog

    Friday, February 19, 2010


    The  unbranded product.

    My far flung rabbi and I have been discussing the relentless self promotion that is part and parcel of writing these days. Authors must do a great deal more than produce deathless prose. They must post film clips on Youtube, blog like crazy and maintain a web site that markets the writer as well as his product. They must also post at least one free  book on's Kindle and hope that the freebie will convince the reader to buy other works. One puzzling aspect of this Kindle business is that an author can make  Amazon's  bestseller list without selling a single book. Puzzled? So am I.
    My rabbi reminds me that self promotion precedes Youtube. Mark Twain, Dickens and Oscar Wilde  went on books tours to publicise their work, she says, forgetting that to compare book tours to today's aggressive self marketing is akin to comparing apples and oranges.  Self marketing. That is a scary expression. According to a cyber guru, human beings--authors included--are products in need   of branding. "And branding isn't just for products anymore." 
    This little gem  by product Tom Peters--does he have a bar code and expiration date?--frightened the bejesus oit me, Management guru Tom Peters, writing in his book The Brand You50 (Reinventing Work): Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an "Employee" into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion! states: “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are the CEOs of our own companies: Me, Inc.”  Who knew? 
     Reading this sort of advice creates havoc with my stomach. Whatever happened to the honorable old way of relying on a combination of skill and talent? Was Pascal a product? Was Rabelais? I don't think so. Georges Sand , whose dreadful potboilers no one reads anymore and Balzac, who wrote like a cherub, did  court public attention in a big way. Sand wore trousers and smoked cigars, Balzac flaunted fancy clothes, fancy carriages, and a spurious  de to make folks think he belonged to the French nobility. How sad that he could not see that his genius placed him above the inbred, predatory people who won the privilege of attaching the aristocratic de to their surnames by exploring the poor and the weak. Balzac had what is known in contemporary parlance as "issues." he did not empower himself, he failed at self branding and he entirely missed Youtube. Even so, his books endure. 
    But ours is a brave new world where the money equals success. Wanna be successful? "Ramp up the self marketing," and "'generate ideas in moderation," as a certain Scott Belski advises. Good enough. If you don't mind, I'm off to identify my passions,  build my knowledge base,  find a niche audience and engage with people in a meaningful way. See me at Youtube.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010


    Lemon bread for my best beloved.

    "L'amour physique est un besoin semblable a la faim..." Honore de Balzac

    "It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it...and then it is all one." MFK Fisher

    Being an inept cook is hardly a prerequisite for greatness. Nevertheless, there are those  who believe that  cooking and a high achievements are  incompatible . Sad to say, the anti-cooking faction seems to be an American phenomenon. Perhaps in the Americas, where  ancestral memories of slavery  and indentured remain fresh, it is easy to equate manual labor of any sort with powerlessness.  After all, powerful people can choose not to engage in menial labor . Rather than toiling in the kitchen, they can split the atom, redefine the time-space continuum and make  the string theory intelligible to pre-schoolers. 
    Tainted by its association with the servile job of cooking, food writing commands little respect in the Americas. I ought to know. As a freelance writer, I did my share of food writing in my day. The subject fascinated me and up to the advent of the internet,  some national publications made  food pages more accessible to freelancers than, say, the arts section.  Freelancers are generalists and I am no exception. I wrote about painting, the ballet, the theater, literature, politics, science and the history of food among other things. Yet  in  Little Macondo, this lusty  microcosm of the Americas, some saw me as a recipe writer--a profession that has as much cachet as garbage collection.  Hard news reporters in the provincial newspaper where I worked for to many years,  called food writers  "kitchen table writers." That was fine. The kitchen table writers thought hard news guys were one-note Johnnies whose collective IQ equaled that of a flea.  
    All this is water over bridge.  GOURMET magazine where peerless food writing alternated with some of the best travel pieces in biz, folded. The Washington Post's food writing is a joke.   Food writers in the print media  have to compete for attention with  gazillions of bloggers and the ubiquitous television minions of Martha Stewart. Though Hollywood elevated  Julia Child's to that of a national treasure, real food  writers such as MFK Fisher, whose sparkling prosed once added glamour to the pages of The New Yorker,  are nearly forgotten. That is a pity. Real writers--dust off your Balzac, Dickens, Nabokov, Chekhov, Jason Goodwin-- inevitably write about food. Why not? It is honorable work. So is recipe writing, which was first published in ancient Rome. Would that all non-cooks would leave behind a legacy as valuable as DE RE COQINARIA

    Saturday, February 13, 2010


    There is much to be said for  locavores. A focus on locally grown food might is probably an excellent way to help support the local economy and downsize one's carbon footprint at the same time. But is the locavore movement for everyone? I doubt it. For one thing, food patriotism and hints at isolationism. It hints at accommodations many of us are not willing to make. In my case, my  physical locus West Virginia, but my emotional loci are many. It is sense to choose locally grown apples over those from New Zealand, but must  I  give up Florida citrus? Perhaps I got the locavore movement wrong. Perhaps it is possible act locally without closing the borders. I don't know.
    I do know that home and food are interconnected. The question is, how can one put in practice the tenets of the locavore movement without shutting oneself away from the outside world? Food and home are at the heart of political movements. History tells us what happen when political trends dictate  how one should live, what, where and how one should eat. In THE WHISPERERS, his brilliant analysis of Stalinist policies and their effect on Soviet society. Orlando Figes makes it clear that whoever controls the food supply controls history itself. Stalin tried to transform  Soviet citizens into people for whom home and family had no meaning. He saw the family table as an impediment to the change he wanted to effect.. He was probably right.  Soviet  cafeterias no doubt helped dissipate cloying bourgeois vapors. Then again, Russia is Stalinist no more and millions of Russians have gone back to their own tables with a vengeance.
    It is wrong to equate locavores with Stalin's minions. So far, eating only that which is produced locally is a matter of choice. Still, the very thought of patriotic food makes me wonder if it could not  become the last refuge of scoundrels. Remember Freedom Fries? I do. Sure I will buy West Virginia apples, but I will also buy Florida lemons and mangoes, damn it.

    Friday, February 12, 2010


    Preserved lemons in the works.

    Some fanatics have a sense of humor. Why else would Saudi Arabia's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ban the sale of red items in February? The idea of making red roses, heart shaped red boxes of chocolate, and red undergarnishements  illegal around celebrating Valentine's Day 
    is a joke wasted on me.  I  love life, they love death and they claim that they have already won.  How in blazes red roses and  unmentionables will impede the return of the Caliphate is something around which I cannot wrap my decadent western mind.  For that and other reasons,  I have asked my beshert to resist the temptation to take me to the Casbah, located in North Africa, home of preserved lemons.
    Romantic old geezerette that I am, I have no alternative but to have the Casbah to come to me--minus things that go kaboom.  Preserved lemons are very Casbah.  They have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia, of course. Wrong continent.   Think  Moorish Spain.  Think fountains at  Alhambra  bustling souks,  odalisques nibbling  nougat ,  dark eyed men reading Djudeo-Spanish poetry--there was such a thing as the Convivencia back then.   Think Djej Mmeffened--Tunisian whole chicken roasted with eggs.   Think Hannibal's descendants  dining in the shade of  silken tents.  
    I search    North African  cookbooks for a recipe and I realize that preserved lemons are very slow food. It takes  weeks for all the flavors to mature. I  settle on easy instructions in a an American magazine that throws tradition straight out the window. In this recipe,  lemon wedges  are packed in kosher salt, drenched with lemon juice baked for three hours. Minutes into the baking, it is no longer winter in Little Macondo.  It is high  summer in Moorish Spain.

    If i can tear myself away from Judah Halevi's poems, I will make a a simple chicken recipe that includes green olives cardamom and dried coriander. 

    "Oh, how long I wait, till my sweetheart comes back," she said,
    "Laying his caressing hand underneath my burning head." 


    A poem by  Rahel Bluwstein (1890-1931) is a sweet Valentine.

    Meeting, hardly meeting, suffices:
    one quick glance, fragments of obscure words,
    and again waves of happiness and pain
    sweep over everything and rage.

    The dam of oblivion I had built in my defence
    is as if it had never been.
    I kneel on the shore of the roaring sea
    and drink my fill.

    © 1994, Jean Shapiro Cantu. Translation: Robert Friend 
    From: Flowers of Perhaps: Selected Poems of Rachel 
    Publisher: Menard, London, 1994
    ISBN: 1 874320 02 0

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010


      Above--natural bling.
     Below--Nature's Munchian scream happened all by itself.

    Enough is enough. When DC area drivers of snow ploughs stop working and  offices of the United States Post Offices  due to hazardous conditions it is time to turn of the celestial snow machine. Does anyone know how to do that? If so, consider raising the temp and slowing down the 50 mph window while you are at it. We have been  marooned since Thursday and there is no end of this relentless winter in sight. In fact, the forecast--I am starting to hate that word--calls for more snow on Sunday. 
    It is comforting to hear that the National Guard is out helping DC area residents. Here at Little Macondo, we tough it out. My excellent neighbor Traci made a foray into Maryland a couple of days ago in her SUV--I hereby swear never to make  disparaging about humangous cars--and brought  back food for our dog and cats. We the bipeds have no shortage of good nomms. We have fresh maple cashew biscotti, bucatini rigati, fresh salad and baguettes. Our good friend Pyotr shoveled our driveway, brought in firewood-Morsolino, our wood stove is insatiable.  We have books, Robert Hicks's A SEPARATE COUNTRY, for example. Good stuff.  We will get through this.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010


    This from The WaPo,
    "Closing the federal government for one day costs taxpayers roughly $100 million in lost productivity." The fed will close tomorrow. I can  just see r Chinese Premier Wen Jibao rubbing his hands gleefully.
    Then there is this tidbit,   

    Add to the  unpleasant news Al Qaeda's  rusty sword rattling somewhere in Tora Bora. What is more,  the Europeans are unhappy with US.  Oy vei iz mir. Should l pull the covers over my head? Not quite yet. Hang in there. The economy will improve, eventuall. terrorists will see the error of their ways and EUC will mellow out. The snow will melt, the feds will go back to work and all will be well with the world. You don't believe me? All right. Be a pessimist. See if it changes the world for the better.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010


    A single geranium blossom on my windowsill. 

    Philosopher Isaiah Berlin would call Rachel a fox among hedgehogs. She reads Latin, spins wool, makes the best fig jam and tends an organic garden. When she is not teaching at a grade school in Florida, she writes a delightul blog, Modo Vernant Omnia, where she discusses politics, literature, economics and art. Recently, she blogged about her interest in Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy's photography book, Shekhina. She compared Nimoy's hauntingly beautiful photos with those of Mapplethorpe whose work she admires. I confess that    Mapplethorpe is vastly unfamiliar to me. Once, I happened to glance at his photos at a New England bookshop whose owner did not shrink from controversy.  My feeling at the time was that I had no reason to replace  Cartier-Bresson, and the Hungarian masters, Andre  Kertecz( Kertesz Andor)  and the brothers Capa (Friedman)  and Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado with Mapplethorpe on my list of favorites.

    Nimoy's Shekhina is a different story, It is an homage to his Jewish Orthodox childhood and to the feminine aspect of G'd, a courageous choice given that most Orthodox Jews might find semi-nude women an odd representation of any aspect Shaddai .  But Shekhina is only one  just one of Nimoy's projects. The one I like best is his Borghese series that deals with Canova's sculptures of  Paulina Bonaparte Borghese. his Hand series is as elegant and ethereal asthe shots of Georgia O'Keefe's hands by  Stieglitz. But is Nimoy a better photographer than he is an actor/ I could not say.  Once I spent some time in the company a twice Pulitzered photographer who told me that the difference between a good photographer and a bad one is that I good photographer hides his mistakes. Obviously he was being facetious. One does not get Pulitzer prizes by simply  hiding bad photos. The difference between Nimoy's acting and his photography is that the he has greater latitude in his work than he does  in playing Mr. Spock. As far as I am concerned, Shekkhina's cover photo alone--a woman wearing tefilin--is worth all episodes of Star Trek. Rachel will probably disagree. Then again, as a proper fox, he loves  both Nimoy as Spock and Nimoy as the translator of light and shadow into memorable  art.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    8.4 million Americans are unemployed. 


    Eerily beautiful  Nanking cherry branches.

     Sugar maple tree dazzles the eye.

    The snow plow has yet to appear in our neighborhood. That is not surprising. We do not have the snow removal equipment for this kind of precipitation. And just as I type this,  I hear tits scraping sound of the  plow as it  labors past our house.  Shortly thereafter we have a brief  power outage. This inspires us to break out the emergency candle, oil lamps, tea lights.  

    "Guard your snow shovel," counsels a friend. Good advice. There seem to be no snow shovels left at Lowe's Wal-Mart and general stores in our area. Crikey!  Occasionally, hooligans steal wood and snow shovels in our fair village .I am not worried.   The attack cats will deal with  thieves, should they show up. As a last resort we can unleash the Great Dane, but I doubt that it will be necessary . Purloiners of wood usually come in the dead of night to load their ill-gotten logs onto their cars. I'd like to see them drive through six inches of this wet stuff. More than one foolhardy driver has failed to negotiate our driveway in  good weather. Six inches of snow make  it  impassible. Goody. 
    Hmm...not so goody that I seem to have  the flu. Oh well, I suppose I will be helicoptered out to the hospital if need be. For the mo, the family plies me with hot tea and soup. If neither cures  the cough, fever  and achy break feeling, being cared for helps the morale.
    Local papers have photos of empty shelf after empty shelf in our supermarkets. What a bonanza for Safeway and Hell Mart. We stocked up early. The infanta baked bread today using a modified recipe from the King Arthur Flour site. Delish.
    DC airports are closed, I hear. Apparently MARC commuter trains will not be running though a freight train just went by. More anon. 


    The mother of two fawns debates how to deal with the snowstorm while her offspring wait for instructions.

    Yes, it snows in enormous buckets. Schools and offices all over the Mid-Atlantic close, traffic snarls, and  your family clamors for the kind of meal arcttic explorers dream about. Do you worry.  Of course not. There is no need to sacrifice Bambi. As a provident shopper you stashed a roast in the freezer, right? We did. Ours weighs 4 pounds. That is the right size for three meals and a few sandwiches, if your family eats only moderate amounts of red meat. You may season the roast with fresh herbs. We use a homemade mix of dried herbs.


    4-pound beef roast
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    4 large onions
    1 tablespoon  herbes de Provence
    1 and a half cup red wine,
    2 teaspoons salt
    Half a teaspoon  pepper

    Heat oven to 350F
    Peel and slice four large onions. Mix  one tablespoon of herbes de Provence with one cup of red wine, two teaspoons salt, half a teaspoon black pepper.
    Place two tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch  oven. Sear roast on all sides. Remove from heat. Pour red wine and herb mix over roast.   Add onion slices. Cover and bake at 350F for for an hour and a half. Uncover and bake for an extra half hour, basting with  red wine, if necessary. Serve with sweet potato oven baked fries and  red cabbage salad

    Thursday, February 4, 2010


    When the weather channel predicts a major storm we follow the usual drill--fill the wood box, recharge the cell phone, locate matches, candles and flashlights, recharge laptop battery, fill large containers with water, move the car to the entrance of the driveway, check food supplies. All this in case the we have power failures and  interruption of  water supply. Then we check the pantry to make sure we have essential staples on hand.  If there are power failures, we  can make bake apples, soup,oatmeal, rice, potatoes and pasta on Morsolino, our trusty wood stove.
    These are some of the items we like to have whenever we expect the sort of snowfall predicted for the rest of the week--two feet and counting,

    Apples-- pies, upside down cake ( see earlier post),  baked apples stuffed with raisins and walnuts, grate and add to  cabbage slaw, oatmeal, pancakes.
    Butter--cakes, bread, cookies.
    Raisins--add to  baked apples, breakfast oatmeal, oatmeal, snacks, rice pudding.
    Cinnamon--add to pies, cakes, oatmeal, rice pudding.
    Eggs-omelets, apple cake, bread.
    Red cabbage--make Hungarian cabbage and  apple soup, add to stir fries, slaws and green salads, lentil soup.
    Carrots--add to lentil soup, stir fries, apple, cabbage and raisin salad.
    Onions--add to lentil soup, Hungarian cabbage soup, salads.
    Garlic--add to pho ( Vietnamese soup) and serve for breakfast.
    Ginger--add to pho, stir fries, baked apples, ginger cookies..
    Oatmeal--make bread, season with cinnamon, top with walnuts and serve for breakfast.
    Lentils--Lentil soup, walnut lentil salad.
    Flour--bread, cookies, pancakes.
    Molasses--ginger cookies.
    Potatoes--add to soups, make baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, oven fries.
    Rice--Serve with stir fries, lentil salad, lentil soup.
    Sweet potatoes--Bake and  pureed with orange juice,  make oven fries.

    Vermicelli rice  noodles--pho, pad thai, stir fries.

    Unless our server crashes, we will be posting recipes for cold weather cheap eats throughout the storm.