Archive for January, 2010


What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: The Lacuna

January 27, 2010

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council

This is the second Barbara Kingsolver book I’ve reviewed in the last six months, and I’m sure it won’t be my last (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is still on my list to read). As in Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver has created a whole new set of wonderful characters that stay with you long after you close The Lacuna.

The fictional book is narrated by Harrison Shepard (post-mortem, according to an archivist’s note), using journal entries and letters that span his life, starting in 1929 with his young teenage years in Mexico (but he lived in Washington D.C. for most of his childhood), and ending with—well I’m not sure, I’m only ¾ of the way through. But I’ve followed the young aspiring novelist’s career through servanthood at the Mexican home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, as a secretary for their friend Lev Trotsky, the doomed and idealistic Russian revolutionary, and now, to Asheville, N.C., where his first book has just been published and WWII is coming to an end.

The Lacuna is fascinating—from its inclusion of actual N.Y. Times articles describing Japanese American internment camps, to Kingsolver’s amazing ability to craft a beautiful sentence that I just want to read over, and over, and over.

Given that Food for Thought is in full swing, it’s also worth noting that food is central to the plot—as a young boy Harrison learns to cook, which lands him the job with Diego as a plaster-preparer, and later as their household cook where he prepares dishes for lavish parties. It’s over tamales that Frida and Harrison first become friends, and it’s during weekly shopping trips to the market in Washington D.C. that Harrison first falls in love.


What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Book Club Choices

January 20, 2010

What are book clubs requesting from the Indiana Humanities Council’s collection? The Council makes sets of 8-25 copies of each title available to reading groups at public libraries, senior centers, and other venues, free of charge.

The following titles were requested most often in 2009. They reflect, it seems to me, the power of books to transport the reader to another time and place. Moreover, these are books that give depth and dimension to a topic for the group to think about and talk about, whether it be a moral dilemma or an occasion for reminiscing.

Historical Fiction:
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak – a recent novel, set in Hitler’s Germany
Follow the River by James Alexander Thom – a true story about a woman’s journey through the wilderness to escape Inidan captivity in the pre-revolutionary Ohio River Valley
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara – a fictionalized account of the Battle of Gettysburg
Riders of the Purple Sage – Zane Grey’s best-known novel depicting the Old West

First Ladies: An Intimate Group Portrait of White House Wives – portraits of several American First Ladies, from Martha Washington to Hillary Clinton, written by Margaret Truman, daughter of a President
A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel – a young girlhood in Henry County, Indiana
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin – inspiring account of an American who repaid a kindness by leading an effort to build schools in impoverished villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Indiana Authors:
Freckles – one of Gene Stratton-Porter’s novels set in the Limberlost Swamp
Home to Harmony – Philip Gulley’s humorous series about a mythical Indiana town and its long-suffering Quaker pastor
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash – Hoosier Jean Shepherd’s book, which became material for the film, “A Christmas Story”
(Haven Kimmel and James Alexander Thom are also Indiana authors.)

General Fiction:
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon – first of a nostalgic series set in small town North Carolina
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – a beloved children’s classic
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns – small town Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines – a story of prejudice, injustice, and humanity set on a Louisiana plantation
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – celebrated coming-of-age novel about society and racial inequality in the Deep South

Immigrants (an Indiana Humanities Council theme program):
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – a young girl’s view of her Chicago barrio
My Antonia by Willa Cather – classic novel of a Bohemian immigrant family in 19th-century Nebraska
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – contemporary novel about a professional family from India
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson – Japanese-Americans in Washington State and conflict in the wake of WWII


Lessons for Dr. King’s Day

January 18, 2010

As we observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, agencies and organizations collaborating with the Indiana Humanities Council offer these online teaching and learning resources:

Bill of Rights Institute – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Facing History and Ourselves – Eyes on the Prize Lesson 1, The Philosophy of Nonviolence

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History – Robert Kennedy’s Speech on Martin Luther King’s Death

Indiana Department of Education – The Ideas of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Indianapolis-Marion Co. Public Library – Kids’ Info Guide, Martin Luther King Jr.

National Archives & Records Administration – Official Program for the March on Washington (1963)

National Endowment for the Humanities – Let Freedom Ring: The Life & Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Park Service – Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

PBS – Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1985


What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Entrée to Judaism: Cooking in the Diaspora

January 13, 2010

Do these chocolate chip cappuccino brownies make my butt look big? 
By Patti Freeman Dorson, recovering attorney, facilitator for the Mothers Circle of Greater Indianapolis and cooking and eating enthusiast

Who but your mother would answer that question honestly?  But that is not the essential question to ask.  The real question is what is a recipe for chocolate chip cappuccino brownies doing in a book about Jewish cooking?

In her spectacular new book Entrée to Judaism: Cooking in the Diaspora, nationally known cooking instructor, food writer and professional speaker Tina Wasserman answers that question with historical and anthropological precision:

The expulsion from Spain and Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century sent many Jews fleeing to Holland, Brazil, and the Far East.  Trade routes were set up from the Caribbean and the Far East to Holland, and Jewish immigrants were directly responsible for the brisk trade in cocoa and coffee from their newfound countries to their relatives trading on the Dutch market. 

Who knew?

Growing up Jewish in Indianapolis, Jewish cooking seemed limited to the staples of Ashkenazic (Eastern European) tradition: beef brisket, honey cake, baked chicken, noodle kugel, chicken soup and matzah balls.  Wasserman takes us on a journey around the world, explaining the literal meaning of the phrase wandering Jew. 

Mass Jewish immigration has occurred in every age and for many different reasons: at the behest of not-so-benevolent government leaders, the pursuit of economic freedom, the instinct for self-preservation, or the dream of a better life.  Wasserman as storyteller and historian explains how Jews came to live in a certain place – Spain, India, Turkey, Russia, Latin America, Africa, the Far East – and how they adapted to local conditions and created Kosher dishes incorporating the flavors and colors of their new surroundings. 

Wasserman as food writer, cookbook author, cooking instructor and Jewish woman demonstrates the breathtaking variety of Jewish cooking in the Diaspora with exceptional recipes ranging from Syrian eggplant with pomegranate molasses to dolmas (Turkish stuffed grape leaves) to Chilean pastel de choclo to Sanbat Wat (Ethiopian Sabbath Stew) and so many more.  And in each recipe, she adds “Tina’s Tidbits”, her wisdom, ideas and variations to enrich the cook’s experience.

The book is divided into three sections: a region and ingredient specific world tour, recipes connected with the celebration of Jewish holidays and iconic Jewish ingredients as interpreted in many different cultures.  Wasserman’s collection has the breadth and depth of other international cookbooks (think Mark Bitman and The Best Recipes in the World) but she writes as she cooks – with passion, with soul and with love.

Oh, and about those Chocolate Chip Cappuccino Brownies:

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 pound light brown sugar
1-1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon water
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 ounces chocolate chips or white chocolate chips

1. Place the butter in a 3-quart saucepan and add the brown sugar. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the espresso powder, water, and cinnamon, and stir to combine. Set aside to cool while you measure the other ingredients.

2. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9 X 9-inch pan with parchment paper, and butter or spray the sides of the pan to prevent sticking.

3. Meanwhile, using a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and the vanilla into the butter mixture (still in the saucepan). Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix to combine. Using a rubber spatula, add the chocolate chips and stir by hand to thoroughly incorporate without melting the chips.

4. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and back for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the pan. The mixture should be very moist but not liquid.

5. Cool and cut into 1 ½-inch squares.

Note: This recipe may be doubled and baked in a 16 X 11 X 1-inch pan for 30 minutes.
Yield: 3-4 dozen small bars

Tina’s Tidbits

  • Do not overbake these brownies! When they’re done, a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan will come out clean.
  • Never cut brownies while they are not or the sides will mash down.
  • I keep a jar of instant espresso in the freezer to use whenever a recipe calls for some coffee flavoring.

What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Best Food Lit of 2009

January 6, 2010

For this week’s What-are-you-reading-Wednesday, we invite you to check out Amazon’s list of the best Food Lit from 2009 (composed of editor picks and bestsellers) here. Which ones have you read? Which ones are you planning to read for 2010?

Coming in at Number 1 is Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman

Here’s the rest of the best:

Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater byFrank Bruni

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen by David Sax

Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover’s World Tour by Robb Walsh

Far Flung and Well Fed: The Food Writing of R.W. Apple, Jr. by R. W. Apple

In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules by Stacy Perman

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell

Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York by William Grimes

Gourmet Rhapsody byMuriel Barbery