Friday, December 23, 2011

On holiday.Far,far from home.

Breathe. Just breathe. That’s what I tell myself in anticipation of an eighteen-hour flight today. I can’t imagine Christmas Day in Delhi, but that’s where we’ll be, traveling in India with good friends.  Friends who know their way.  
I’ve taken up yoga as a means to prepare: mind and body, spine, joints and stamina. We’ve taken weeks to pack and deliberate: what to wear, what to leave behind. We’ve taken the usual precautions: vaccines for flu, polio, hepatitis and typhoid, pills for malaria and intestinal distress. We’ve taken the advice of experienced voyagers. Don’t drink the water. Eat nothing that hasn’t been cooked. Bring sunblock. Watch for monkeys that drop from trees to steal sunglasses. (?) Be open to all things beautiful and horrible and unexpected.

We’ll take our cameras and notebooks to capture and record as much as we can. I imagine: nothing can really prepare us for what we are about to see and experience. 
Unlike travelers heading home to family this weekend, we leave behind what is dear and familiar to us.  We will take our leave: to gaze upon the Taj Mahal at sunset. To explore the "Pink City" streets of Jaipur. To delve into the “Brahmin-blue” lanes of the old city of JodpurTo step into the romance and history of a “floating” Lake Palace in Udaipur. To follow the ancient trade roads of silk and spice to Hyderabad (Cyberabad), India’s new software dynasty. 

There are places we go to escape. Places we go to get away and play. There are places we go to discover something of the world, something new of ourselves.  
India. Home to 1.2 billion people on this planet.  I can only imagine: once we travel there, we won’t come back quite the same.   
To fellow holiday travelers, wishing you safe passage, wherever you venture.   
With greetings to dear family and friends, visitors on these virtual pages, writers far and wide ... wishing you all a happy holiday season and a healthy, peaceful and productive New Year.
(Will be back in this space soon.  As I imagine: changed, changed utterly.)

Elephant Festival, Jaipur. Credit: Marjorie Lang, My Shot, National Geographic

Monday, December 19, 2011

Baby's First Latke

Reposted (and augmented) from December 2, 2010

There’s nothing like a platter of potato pancakes to inspire excess. Plain and simple, the recipe I grew up with called for measurement in pounds: as many potatoes as you could stand to peel and grate by hand, as many onions chopped as needed to bring tears streaming to your eyes, eggs and matzoh meal - enough to hold the ingredients together, salt and pepper enough to taste, and if you really wanted to give your Lipitor a workout, a dollop of chicken fat, enough to add that indescribably heavenly Jewish flavor.

Latkes, the Yiddish word for the potato pancakes we know and love, are the iconic food of Chanukah, Festival of Lights and Oil. Fried until golden in a pool of vegetable oil, drained on paper towels, latkes are best when eaten still sizzling, cooled just enough so as not to burn the tongue. Serve with sour cream and homemade apple sauce or apple-cherry compote.  Make plenty - the more, the merrier. When it comes to latkes, ain’t no mountain high enough to slow down the descendants of the Maccabees.

Latke production this year involved the pleasures of frying up mounds of potatoes on a Sunday morning as a pre-Chanukah “practice round” for the benefit of my son and his wife, who will be hosting their own latke party later this week.  (Leave it to my daughter-in-law-the-nurse-in-risk-management to dub this activity as our little “Latke Clinic.”)
And did we mention the homemade applesauce?
Just the right combination of sweet, tart and cinnamon.
 Hence, Wendy stirring at the stove. 
Essentially, making a great plate of latkes doesn't take much practice - you grate, you mix, you fry, you eat. 
Just add Mason with dad, stirring in his own style. 
Latkes for lunch?  Bring 'em on. 

Even so, now that I’ve (joyously) stepped into the role of Jewish bubbe (grandma) I suppose there must be some wisdom to pass down to the generations in terms of making latkes “right” and less of a fuss. 
Quibble if you will, but here you go, these are (only) suggestions for best latke results: 
1. Choose russet potatoes.  Apparently their high starch content is ideal for holding together that combination of crispy-crunch outside and creamy inside
2. Don’t bother peeling the potato.  Past the grater, you hardly notice the skins. 
3.  Use a food processor with the blade for grating.    There are those who argue for hand grating. Fine for small quantities. But if you’re serving a crowd, save your arm the workout. (For sticklers on this, you can double the work here. Shred potatoes again using the processing blade on the pulse setting for a finer texture, taking care not to overwork and grind the pieces.)    
4. Drain as much of the liquid as possible from the potatoes using a colander or cheese cloth.  The drier the mixture, the better result in frying. 
5. Use matzoh meal or a combination of matzoh meal and flour as a binder.  
6. Use vegetable oil.  Better yet, use peanut oil that can reach higher temperatures without scorching. You want to maintain  oil at about 350 degrees.  
7. Drain latkes on paper towels and serve immediately.  You can also keep them warm in a low oven for an hour or more. In the fridge they can keep for a day or two or in the freezer, separated and well wrapped, for up to two weeks. Reheat in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven.
Mmmm, first taste. A latke two-fisted meal. 
Latkes with sour cream. 

For more on latkes:
Recommended reading:  The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), plublished by McSweeney’s Books. 

Photos:  VHenoch

Happy Chanukah
And thanks for stopping by. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Smashing Pumpkins

Okay, this is embarrassing.   Just when the houses next door are festooned with juniper and spruce and twinkling like so many stars in the night sky, here I find myself brushing snow off a pair of pumpkins at my front doorsteps. 
Obviously, I’m not much for seasonal decor. 
My late uptake on pumpkins is the studied indifference that goes with the territory of a Jewish household on a street lit up like. . . so many Christmas trees. 

Don’t get me wrong, I can be as festive as the holiday season calls for - in a gastronomic and economic sense. In all the sound and flurry of retail, cocktail and social activity, I have nothing but admiration for those who knock themselves out “getting ready,” making lists, sending greeting cards, visiting Santa, chopping trees, hanging ornaments, exchanging cookies, baking stollen, stuffing stockings, drinking eggnog, roasting chestnuts, singing carols, flying home for the holidays.   
It’s all delicious. All merry and good for hearts and souls.   And not to be confused in any way with actual religious belief. 
No offense to anyone, but we all know that the “miracle of lights” we celebrate on Chanukah doesn’t hold a candle to the dynamic and magic and outright seduction of Christmas. 

Really. How many Hanukah songs do we sing? How many Hanukah pageants do we attend?  How many Chanukkah ballets, ice shows and TV specials have we ever seen?   
And for god-sake, how many ways are there to spell Channukah, anyway?
We all know Christmas to be this: our national holiday.  Time off.  School out. Game on.  Time to be with family. Time to travel. Time to binge.  A wonderful time of the year, fa-la-and ho-ho and all that.  Com’on, Christmastime is universal, ubiquitous, inescapable.  

Personally? With apologies to no one,  I cruise through the season in neutral gear, stress-free. Without pressure to perform, host or entertain, I can delight in Christmas wrappings and trappings, savor all its flavors, shopping for presents as I wish (or not),  partaking in as much of the festivity (sans nativity) or as little as I wish.  No frets. No sweat. 

So what’s this about pumpkins leftover from HallowThanksgiving?  
I brought them inside last weekend. Noticing they had been fairly well preserved in the chill of the month of November, I recalled a recipe, I had seen a while back in a beautiful cookbook at Joseph-Beth Booksellers (alas, a Cleveland indie bookstore that filed for Chapter 11 last year ). 
A google search revealed the book to be Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan,  and the recipe:  Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good.
Well I don’t know where (beside my doorstep) you can still get a pumpkin at this time of year, but keep this recipe in mind for next fall or try it with  a good sized winter squash. . . for a festive holiday side. 

1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
About a quarter pound stale bread, (sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks a good challah or egg-rich brioche works well) 
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 shallots, finely chopped
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped (I used Canadian bacon cut into thin strips)
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
More than a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Better lighting?  Better food styling?  More salt?
My carved pumpkin didn't turn out to be as pretty as the picture in the
cookbook, (see photo above by Alan Richardson)
but indeed, it was stuffed with everything good.  
  • Preheat oven 350 degrees
  • Use caution as you deploy a heavy knife to carve the cap out of the pumpkin. 
  • Scoop out the seeds and strings from the cap and from the inside of the pumpkin.
  • Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper. 
  • Saute the onion, garlic and Canadian bacon in olive oil.  
  • In a bowl, toss sauteed ingredients together with the bread, cheese and fresh herbs, and pack the mixture into the pumpkin.
  • Stir cream with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and pour into the pumpkin
  • Put the cap on the pumpkin and bake on a cookie sheet for about two hours, or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh is softened enough to be pierced with a knife. (You might want to remove the cap for the last 20 minutes of baking to allow the stuffing to brown to a golden turn.)
To serve: scoop out the stuffing with generous amounts of pumpkin, or cut into slices. 

For more: go to to
Photos: VHenoch (amateur), Alan Richardson (the professional) 
Thanks for dropping in

(See? Stacking up a few things for the holidays at my son's house,
 where Christmas is celebrated along with Hannukah.)


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

All Booked Up: A Declaration of Independents

Browsing Printer's Row Booksellers

Just this side of hoarding, I collect books. First editions. Modern fiction. A handful of children’s classics: Alice in Wonderland(s), vintage Dr. Seuss and all-and-anything Sendak, where the wild things are.  Goes without saying, I browse with the best of them.  As for indie bookshops, I know and love a slew of them across the country.  A few honorable mentions, as follows:

  • The Odyssey Bookshop: Independent Since 1963.  I’ve never set foot in the store, because I’ve never been to Hadley, Massachusetts.  But I’m a devoted subscriber to the shop’s Signed First Edition Club - whereby I receive books of note each month.  Located in the five-college region of western MA, across the street from Mount Holyoke College, the Odyssey gets its share of celebrity-writer traffic, affording spot-on book selections and signed first novels of emerging stars. Recent acquisitions include: The Art of Fielding (Harbach), The Marriage Plot (Eugenides)  The Night Circus (Morgenstern), State of Wonder (Ann Patchett) The Year of the Flood (Atwood), Chronic City (Lethem) and Matterhorn (Marlantes)

  • Printer’s Row Fine and Rare Books,  715 South Dearborn Street, Chicago. Specializing in 16th through 20 Century American and British Literature - mostly first editions. Displayed in elegant oak cases. All under lock and key.  Get past the first stand-offish impression of owner John LaPine, (who deplores, if not banishes the use of cell phones in his store)  and you discover a man obsessed with his books, but most knowledgable and generous in discussing them with you. 

  • Beckham’s Bookshop, 228 Decatur Street, New Orleans.  Two floors of current fiction, out-of-print editions, rare secondhand books and thousands of LPs. Yum!

  • Kaleidoscope Books and Collectibles, 200 North Fourth Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI.  A favorite spot of mine in Ann Arbor, where there are many fine bookstores from which to choose. Whimsical.  And magical.  Here’s a book store stuffed with the “stuff” of childhood memories: vintage children’s  books, science fiction, sports memorabilia and toys, not to mention an impressive collection of classic fiction.  Owner Jeffrey Pickell is welcoming, but restrained, often knocking his own prices down for earnest collectors. 

Photos: Vhenoch
Illustrations: (Charles van Sandwyk)
Thanks for browsing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

John King's: For Book Hounds

John K. King Used and Rare Books
901 West Lafayette Blvd. Detroit, Michigan

You can’t miss it. Visible from the freeway, it’s got BOOKS emblazoned in capital letters across the top of its four-story brick building. It’s got books illustrated and painted on its front entrance and along its staircases, books jam-packed floor-to-ceiling, books crammed wall-to-wall, books on all subjects, in all conditions, used and rare, loved and forgotten, categorized and organized in their own peculiar disarray.  

No baristas and pastries here. No comfy couches, wireless hotspots and cozy nooks. In keeping with it’s gritty downtown Detroit setting, John K. King Used and Rare Books is a warehouse with a crazy energy unlike any book store you can imagine.  Think of it as a literary museum, a repository of history, a curiosity shop gone wild. Exuberant. Exhaustive. Idiosyncratic.  A paradise for book hounds and hoarders.  

In another life it was a glove factory.  Today John King’s stands as a Detroit icon, quite possibly the nation’s largest used and antiquarian bookstore, claiming more than a million volumes. But who’s counting? Amidst the stacks there are entire collections,  thousands of books still in boxes, with no telling what's in store.  

Directly behind the main building stands the inner sanctum (once the Otis Elevator Building) now John King’s Rare Book Room, a fascinating oak paneled hodgepodge and labyrinth of rare books and first editions, artwork and posters, antiques and collectables, available for purchase or browsing by special appointment. Books in the Rare Book Room (an estimated 20 to 30,000) are also available online at the store’s website.


A resource for historic books, a favorite location for photo shoots, film production and commercials, John King Books has been well documented in articles, blogs and reviews. For links, go to the website  . . . and happy book-hunting.  

John K. King

Toni (and Sophie)

For a John King book tour in photos,  go to MaidenVoyagePhotography

Photos: VHenoch and MHenoch
Happy browsing and reading... and thanks for stopping by.