Living Right On

Living Right On

imgresHannah Coulter
By Wendell Berry
Shoemaker & Hoard, 190 pp., $14.95

Wendell Berry, a modern day renaissance man, delivers a 70-year tour de force of life in a rural farming community as experienced via a widow named Hannah Coulter. Mr. Berry, author, poet, essayist, University instructor, recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer, created the rural town of Port William in 1960. It’s the center of the majority of his fiction writing and includes 44 short stories, numerous poems, and books. Thus far, the town narrative, of which Hannah Coulter is the 7th of 8 novels, spans from 1864-2008. This unique story covers a larger swath of time, from 1930 to 2001, and it’s told from a woman’s perspective.

Hannah begins with her poor childhood and upbringing. Her mother died and her father’s second wife brought with her two boys from whom her Grandmother protected her. Grandmam realized they’d not focus on Hannah so she raised her, taught her how to work, and then helped her leave. In the city, Hannah works and ultimately meets and marries a farmer from Port William, who, like almost all young men from town, fights in World War II. Missing in action, while Hannah bore their child, he never returns. She remains with his family, works on their farm and silently mourns with the community the multiple town losses and the now distant veterans. Nathan Coulter returns home from the Battle of Okinawa, meets Hannah, and they marry. They buy a rundown farm and, over the next five plus decades, work the land that shapes their lives.

On the surface it’s a slow memoir-like novel until Hannah’s conversational cadence and the manner in which she describes people, places and events captures you. Surprising and beautiful, the topics and her thankfulness mature with her chronological memories.

She offers sophisticated, insightful reflections about topics including married love; community, specifically a concept called “The Membership” and employment vs. self-employment supported with community assistance; farming – changes, the role of machines, the role of land, modern day techniques with unintended consequences; child rearing and the role of education when pursuing the good life; World War II and civilian costs; as well as, technology and its impact.

The interwoven and well-paced story allows for breath and depth of topics. A personal favorite, the of idea of “live right on,” meaning you live right through the sorrowful, the suffering and the hard times, resonated with me. Given the careful crafting, though, the Okinawa section appeared sparse. It’s limited to one chapter and the first two pages of the novel, so, while it frames her narrative and adds insight into Nathan, it felt a bit underdeveloped.

Hannah Coulter offers a unique glimpse into rural America. It points out changes and gently admonishes the past, all the while encouraging the future with thankfulness, hope and charity found in human resilience.

 

 

 

Banana Bread Muffins

Banana Bread Muffins

Banana Quinoa Muffins

Delicious, spiced, protein packed muffins (or bread) will jump start your day.  This nut and gluten free recipe is quick to make with very little added sugar.  The spices best meld, if you can wait a day to eat it.  Easy to make ahead and freeze too!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 C quinoa flour
  • 1/2 C quinoa flakes
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 1/8 t (a pinch) ginger
  • 1/8 t (a pinch) allspice
  • 1/8 t (a pinch) cloves
  • 2 T honey
  • 2 ripe bananas (the riper, the sweeter – you call the sweetness)
  • 2 eggs

Process

  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Lightly oil pan (I use coconut or olive oil).  If using baking cups, lightly oil them too.
  • Mix, using a whisk, the dry ingredients.
  • In a separate bowl mix the wet ingredients.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients.  Mix until well blended; you can’t over-mix.
  • Pour mix into muffin tin or bread pan.
  • Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes.  Bake bread for 40-45 minutes.  As with all bread watch for a firm golden top and edges pulling away from the pan.

Makes 10-11 muffins or one well rounded magic pan (7.5 by 3.5) loaf.

Credit

The above recipe was inspired by recipe found on a Quinoa Flakes box; it’s available online here.

Rejected

Rejected

Rejected letter

My first rejection letter arrived today!

While acceptance is preferred, if not desired, I’m pleased to complete the cycle. As a fledging writer, I’ve mustered up courage to write, to edit my writing, and then submit; all unfamiliar and, at times, painful steps. I’m pleased with my attempt and encouraged to try again. And, if nothing else, since all writers receive rejection notices, I’m officially part of the club.

Now on to more pressing matters – where to place the letter itself: start wallpapering, create a file, shove it into a drawer, or leave it on the desk for motivation?

 

Almond Bread

Almond Bread

Bread-1

This is it…insert drum roll…this is the bread everyone loves. The repeated recipe requests pushed me to build this website. It’s an addictively, delicious loaf.  Hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients

  • 2 T chia seeds in 4 oz of water – chia slurry
  • 2 C almond meal
  • 3/4 C arrowroot
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 2 eggs

 

Process

  • Make chia slurry by soaking chia seeds in water.  Mix well to avoid clumps.
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Lightly oil pan (I use coconut or olive oil).
  • Mix, using a whisk, the almond meal, arrowroot, baking soda and salt.
  • In a separate bowl mix the eggs, apple cider vinegar and chia slurry.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients.  Mix until there are no lumps for about 1 minute.  The mixture is thick; no extra liquid is required.
  • Pour mix into the pan.
  • Bake for 40 minutes until the bread has a nice, firm golden top and the edges are pulling away from the pan.
  • Let bread cool in the pan and remove once totally cooled.
  • Tip = if you double the recipe, which I often do, you will need to add more baking time.  Expect to add about 10-15 more minutes.  Watching the color and firmness is beneficial as cooking times may vary.

 

Makes one well rounded magic pan (7.5 by 3.5) loaf.

Credit

The above recipe was inspired by a Tania Hubbard recipe.  When posting this I found the original link broken, however with more searching I discovered she also modified her original recipe and has since reposted it here.  Now the recipes are quite similar.

Demystifying the Slow Cooker

Demystifying the Slow Cooker

Art of the Slow Cooker

Art of the Slow Cooker
By Andrew Schloss
Chronicle Books, 216 pp., $24.95

Cooking guru Andrew Schloss’ Art of the Slow Cooker: 80 Exciting New Recipes leaves you asking for another delicious helping. Mr. Schloss’ impressive food curriculum vitae distills down to one key element: he teaches cooking. His other substantial accomplishments: food writing, authoring 22 cookbooks, past President of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, former Director of the Culinary Curriculum for The Restaurant School, former restaurant owner, food industry consultant, currently President of a food product development company and more; strengthen his teaching skills. As the book jacket states, he “wants you to cook more, and he has devoted his career to easing the way.”

The 6-chapter book covers soups, stews, braising, slow-cooked classics, vegetable mains and sides, and desserts. Each chapter presents two sections: simple everyday and spectacular entertaining. The lengthy introduction showcases Mr. Schloss’ talent for instruction. He explains the slow cooking method, slow cooker units and their options, the use of liquid, he provides a slow cooking ingredient chart including preparation and cook times and, lastly, he reviews food safety protocols. The comprehensive introduction instilled confidence and removed my false fear that, in truth, slow cookers cook items to death and then serve up gruel for dinner.

Beyond the expected information for each recipe, most have a “what else?” section which offers tips like substitutions, adjustments, processes, finding ingredients and more. My favorite recipes include: Bistro Beef Stew, it’s always a hit, and the thyme and orange zest punch the flavors of the beef in a magnificent way; Marrakech Chicken Stew with Preserved Lemon and Olives, homemade preserved lemons paired with kalamata olives creates an intoxicating flavor thick on the palate; and Slow “Baked” Pears and Apples, an exotic compote-like dessert enhanced with raisins.

The photographer, Yvonne Duivenvoorden, deserves high praise. The chef’s table feel, clean-line layout, and color schemes leave you salivating. The beautifully styled cookbook shows like a well-designed magazine spread.

Despite, 80 recipes, a person with food allergies/intolerances or a special diet, including vegan/vegetarians will struggle. Also, some of the ingredients, in the spectacular entertaining section, seem intimidating and are difficult to locate: lamb cubes, duck, veal shoulder, lamb shanks, turkey thighs, oxtails, veal shanks, game hens. These shortcomings aside Art of the Slow Cooker: 80 exciting new recipes offers instruction and unique, delicious recipes.

Imagined Inspiration

Imagined Inspiration

Goodnight June

Goodnight June
By Sarah Jio
Plume, 320 pp., $16.00

Author and journalist, Sarah Jio’s imagined Goodnight Moon biography interwoven with the story of a strong, successful professional woman challenged to reconsider her life decisions leaves you wondering.

In the Author’s Note, Ms. Jio mentions beyond showing Margaret Brown Wise’s life and her artistic genius, she wanted her character, June Anderson, to take center stage. The contrived story of Ms. Wise, her books and specifically Goodnight Moon, revealed in letters to June Anderson’s great-aunt, Ruby Crain, who runs an independent bookstore, highlight the novel. An enjoyable scavenger hunt of letters engages other children’s books, details the challenges of bookstore ownership, explains the writing process and allows June to better know Ruby. These impressive sections suggest hours of research and should delight all lovers of children’s books.

June Anderson, though, is a weak lead actress. She’s 35, a corporate climber, now dealing with anxiety, a fast paced Manhattan lifestyle with accompanying high blood pressure and no time for friends or family, who, in her role as a Vice President for an International bank, specializes in foreclosing on failing small businesses. We meet June in the hospital, an 8-hour trip bookended with work. Finally making it home for the evening, she checks her mail and finds correspondence from a law office. She’s surprised to learn of Ruby’s death and even more so of the transfer of the estate, including the bookstore, to her. Forced to return home to Seattle, June flies west with the plan to liquidate everything, her specialty.

When June arrives things don’t go according to plan. She stays in the apartment above the store, meets other small business owners, deals with family members and stumbles upon the letters. These characters, encounters, settings and challenges seem one-dimensional when contrasted with the other sections. This jarring disparity is further worsened by the resulting predictable plot resolutions, despite a few twists and turns.

Goodnight June is a conflicted book and probably best enjoyed as a summer easy breezy read.

A Missing Decade

A Missing Decade

WhatAliceForgotWhat Alice Forgot
By Liane Moriarty
The Berkley Publishing Group, 385 pp., $16.00

International, best selling Australian author, Liane Moriarty’s charming book about marriage, memory and amnesia hooks you from the beginning. The fiction novel starts in 2009 but immediately drops back a decade for Alice Mary Love when she faints and hits her head during a spin class. She awakes believing it’s 1998, she’s happily married, and pregnant with her first child, with little child rearing planned and age 29. In reality it’s 2009, she’s in the midst of a grueling divorce, a “tiger-mother” fighting for custody of their three children with her 40th birthday party invitations out.

Alice’s point of view is primary, however her sister, Elizabeth, dealing with protracted and complicated infertility issues, and her honorary grandmother, Frannie, writing to her thirty-year deceased fiancé, also share their viewpoints through letters. They balance Alice’s “married with children” life by showing other options, specifically a “married but childless” life and a “single but child-full” life.

Aside from Alice’s interesting path presented to the reader I found myself tempted at each turn to reflect on amnesia. How would my life look to my younger self? Could I forget key events and memories? If so, would that be beneficial or harmful?

Beyond selecting key ages in Alice’s life (a common time period of changes in the form of marriage and children), Ms. Moriarty positioned the novel in a phenomenal overarching decade. The years between 1998 and 2009 were a time in which consumer technology became affordable and readily available. Widespread use of the Internet, mobile phones and then SmartPhones, the mainstream use of email, laptops, flat screens, advanced gaming systems and even Y2K fears appear in the book.

What Alice Forgot is a cleverly planned, well-executed and interesting read!

Chicken Tortilla-less Soup

Chicken Tortilla-less Soup

Chicken Tortilla-less Soup

This quick, easy and delicious soup takes a few minutes to assemble with some shelf stable time savers. Then, the slow cooker does all the work while you enjoy your day.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (any size is fine)
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Ground Cumin to taste, suggest about 1 T
  • 1, 14.5 oz. small can of black beans
  • 1, 14.5 oz. small can of diced tomatoes – fire roasted, with chilies or other appropriate flavor is great too!
  • 1, 16 oz. jar (or 2 C) of mild or medium salsa
  • 1, 32 oz. container (or 4 C) of chicken broth
  • 2T dried cilantro or add fresh cilantro when shredding chicken

Optional Toppings when served

  • Shredded Cheese
  • Sour Cream
  • Corn Tortilla chips

 

Process

  • Place raw chicken in bottom of the slow cooker.
  • Salt, Pepper and Cumin to taste. I season in the same amounts as if grilling the chicken.
  • Add remaining ingredients in listed order.
  • A note about the chicken broth – you may substitute water, if in a pinch, however the soup is then thinner flavored. Using broth helps the flavors bloom.
  • Cook on low 8-10 hours.
  • Prior to serving pull the chicken breasts out, shred them, and then place the shredded chicken back in the soup.
  • Tip = this recipe is sized for a 6-quart slow cooker. You may need to scale the ingredient amounts if your slow cooker is smaller or larger.