Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cormorants at Dusk

Birding today was beautiful. We watched eagles and other raptors near the Egyptian border,
and watched many water birds at sunset in sight of the Jordanian border. In between we walked
at several other sites near Eilat. Just after these birds flew, we heard the jackals howling.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sde Boker and Ein Avdat

This morning we visited Sde Boker, a park where David Ben Gurion, one of the founders of Israel, is buried.
Nearby is Ein Avdat, a small desert canyon with a beautiful stream bed.
Ibex live on the cliffs and in the park. Some are unafraid of people. 
David Ben Gurion's grave.
The cliffs at Ein Avdat where very interesting eagles, griffon vultures,
and other vultures are nesting and flying.
A Bonelli's Eagle flying above Ein Avdat.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Three Owls

A Little Owl that we saw on our walk yesterday in the wadi.
Another Little Owl, seen today. A different sub-species.
After dark, our guides hooted out a long-eared owl in a tree near where we are staying. We saw it fly over us, very close, making sounds by clapping its wings together, and then saw it in a tree. No photos of this one. 

We had another very long birding day with lots of variety of scenery including desert and oases, and including many species of birds. Our first location was very close to the border of Egypt. Israel is such a small country -- you can drive from one border to the other in maybe 3 hours or less.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Things We Saw on Day 1 of Birding

Getting started in the morning. 
We were walking in a Wadi where local residents have sheep and use pack animals as this shows.
The sheep and men tending them.
This is a large brown iris, one of the wild relatives of our garden flowers.

I took these photos of the scenery and things we saw during our walks at a wadi in Har Amasa just south of Hebron and just inside of Israel -- the West Bank is just over the hills. Len took many fantastic bird photos of an owl, a cuckoo, kestrels, an eagle in flight, a masked shrike, and many others, which I will post at another time. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We Made It!!

We arrived in Tel Aviv early and have a bit of unexpected time here at the Isrotel Tower Hotel.
This is the view from the balcony of our room on the 13th floor. We meet our tour for dinner in an hour.
From the plane: crossing the Alps!
View as the plane was landing.
Tomorrow we begin our birdwatching tour of the Negev Desert and the south of Israel. Birds migrating from Africa to Europe and Asia fly through this area, and we hope to see some interesting ones. Will post more when we can.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Comfort food in two stories

"At noontime the next day she made Zach tomato soup from a can and a grilled cheese sandwich. He bent his head close to the bowl and ate half the sandwich with his thin fingers, then pushed back the plate. When he looked up at her with his dark eyes, for a moment she saw him as the small child he'd once been, before his social ungainliness had been fully exposed, before his inability to play any sport had hindered him irredeemably, before his nose became adult and angular and his eyebrows one dark line, back when  he had seemed a shy and notably obedient little boy. A picky eater, always." (The Burgess Boys, p. 33)
Elizabeth Strout's novel The Burgess Boys tells a story of three middle-aged siblings in crisis: Susan, her twin brother Bob, and their older brother Jim. Susan's son Zach is in trouble with the law and as the three siblings attempt to protect Zach, they reconnect. Individually and separately they relive their past lives, their various marriages both failed and successful, and their memories of their own mother, Barbara. Susan and Zach always seem to eat ready-made food, frozen pizza and the like, and it never seems to comfort them!

Bob, Jim, Bob's ex-wife Pam, and Jim's wife Helen all live a fairly glamorous life in New York, having escaped from small-town Maine where Susan and Zach still live. Several scenes take place at dinner parties and tony restaurants -- but the past is important. In a flashback to the relationship of Bob and Pam, Bob describes his childhood with Jim:
"Whatever I ate, he wanted to eat the same thing. 'Tomato soup' he'd say, when Mom asked what he wanted for lunch. Then he'd see I had vegetable soup, and he'd say, 'No, that's what I want.'" (p. 106) 
Before Bob and Pam were married, she was close with the family, including Susan and Barbara.  Their life at that time is characterized, again, by food:
"While the Burgesses seemed to have no knowledge of, or interest in food (there were meals of scrambled hamburger covered with an unmelted sheet of orange cheese, or a tuna casserole made with canned soup, or a chicken roasted without any spices, not even salt), Pam discovered that they loved baked goods, and so she made banana bread and sugar cookies...." (p. 107)
Sad people, but it's a good book about sad people. Elizabeth Strout's earlier book Olive Kitteridge introduced me to her great talent for presenting characters. To wrap up this very brief review: I think this quote summarizes a great deal about the book: "No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is." (p. 254)

"No More Maybe"
Illustration of Gish Jen's story
by JooHee Yoon.

Unrelated except by very contrasting comfort food is a newly published story, "No More Maybe," by Gish Jen. It just appeared in the New Yorker this week.

The narrator of "No More Maybe" is a young woman who recently immigrated to the US from China with her husband, an academic. She describes how his parents are visiting her to help with a baby that she's expecting in two months. Her narrative succinctly and effectively portrays the four characters: husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and narrator. They argue, they eat meals, they talk of many things comparing life in the US and China, and their relationships are very interesting. A final interchange with an American neighbor also shows Gish Jen's penetrating ability to observe people.

The mother-in-law's comfort food -- designed to be perfect for a pregnant woman -- especially portrays the contrasts between the western-educated people and their more folkloric Chinese background:
"Actually, I help a lot when she cooks for me. Especially, I help with the shopping and the chopping. But she does the planning and the cooking, because my baby will be born in two months now, and she wants me to eat all kinds of special food. On the outside, my mother-in-law is a modern sportswoman. But inside she is a traditional type. So I take American prenatal vitamins and calcium and DHA, of course. But also she feeds me steamed egg porridge with rice, and millet porridge. I have a glass of milk, red dates, fruit, and nuts every day. Tofu and bean sprouts every other day. And a lot of soups: pork-rib soup with lotus seeds or Chinese yam. Hen soup with mushrooms and more red dates. Soybean-and-pork-trotter soup. Even swallow’s-nest soup, which is very expensive. Because I am in my seventh month and my body has heated up, and because my mother-in-law has an app that says it’s O.K., I am allowed to have some cooling foods I could not have before. For example, some of her blueberries with a little ice cream. In China, there are pregnant women who eat a lot of blueberries. They think it will make their baby’s eyes shiny and round. But my mother-in-law says that is illogical thinking. She will let me have only a few."
Gish Jen is a very wonderful author, and I have been looking forward to reading this story -- I follow her on Facebook and she talked about editing it! One quote from this story also seems designed to summarize its theme: "No more maybe, in other words. Because that is just what happens. One day it is maybe, and then you just know."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"Dinner for Threshers" by Grant Wood

"'American Gothic' is, by a very wide margin, [Grant Wood's] most effective picture—though not his best, for which I nominate 'Dinner for Threshers' (1934), a long, low, cutaway view of a farmhouse at harvesttime that brought to disciplined perfection Wood’s strong suit, imaginative design."
Thus writes Peter Schjeldahl in the current New Yorker: "Beyond 'American Gothic'" (source). For most people including me the only familiar work by Grant Wood (1895-1935) is "American Gothic" (1930). You surely know it: a portrait of two people stiffly standing in front of a gothic-style building, the man, rather elderly, holding a three-tined pitchfork and staring at the viewer, the woman with her face sort of scrunched up and her eyes on the man. In the gallery of the Art Institute of Chicago there's usually a small crowd around "American Gothic," though nothing like the crazed selfie-taking tourists that mob the Mona Lisa. Wood's painting is not only famous. It's one of the most parodied works of American art -- though not as parodied as the Mona Lisa, I suspect. Memories of the parodies probably crowd out mental images of the real art work for many people.

Detail of "Dinner for Threshers" -- a fascinating kitchen scene.
I was entirely unfamiliar with "Dinner for Threshers." I looked it up and found it utterly fascinating. I've searched for American paintings of kitchen scenes -- there aren't vast numbers of them. Such detail! The wood stove, the cat near the rag rug, the woman holding a bowl of mashed potatoes, the red pump at the sink, the white coffee pot on the stove, the hutch full of white china... Really an image of food being prepared in a real farmhouse kitchen, I think.

I learned a lot about Wood in Schjeldahl's New Yorker article, particularly about Wood's politics. He links Wood with regionalist, anti-modernist artists of his time, but contrasts this with similar movements in today's art world:
"In the thirties and forties, in ways that became art-world conventional wisdom, some critics equated regionalism with the blood-and-soil mystique of Nazism and/or socialist realism. But Wood, Benton, and Curry were sturdy Roosevelt liberals. (Wood headed Iowa offices of the New Deal programs that supported artists during the Depression.) Some sophisticates, in New York and Hollywood smart sets, took these artists’ works in stride as populist chic. Collectors of Wood included Cole Porter, Alexander Woollcott, Edward G. Robinson, and King Vidor. Then, as perhaps now, there was a recuperative urge among metropolitans to make nice with the disgruntled heartland—an uphill process, as witness a recent protest movement against a terrific Benton mural, at Indiana University, that features Ku Klux Klan figures, never mind that Benton meant to denigrate them."
I wish I could see the Grant Wood retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York, the inspiration for the article.

Art reproductions from Wiki Art.

Friday, March 09, 2018

"The Lunar Men" by Jenny Uglow

"The circle met often. ... Their meetings were as much for pleasure as business. As the years rolled on, they tried to dine at two o'clock, and usually planned to stay until at leas eight. The wine flowed (despite Darwin's later advocacy of temperance) and the tables were heavy with fish and capons, Cheddar and Stilton, pies and syllabubs. At dinner the wives sometimes joined the men and the children dashed in and out. But wen the meal was cleared away, out came the instruments, the plans and the models, the minerals and machines. ... They were sharing an exuberant spread of knowledge.... The Lunar men were joined in a shared hunt for illumination, a quest that would bind them ever more closely together as the decades passed." (pp. 124-125)

Jenny Uglow's book The Lunar Men, about a group of scientists and industrialists during the eighteenth century, fascinated me when I first read it. I've thought and spoken about it many times in the decade since then. As I was reading again, I noticed that the above paragraph particularly illustrates how the author combines descriptions of the domestic lives -- including wives and many children -- of the famous group members. My memory of this as a very amazing book was confirmed by my rereading.

I wrote a very detailed review of it on my other blog at the time, and I've decided to reproduce it now.

Blog post from August 29, 2007, "Lunar Men"

I just read The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World, by Jenny Uglow. The subject is a group of remarkable 18th century colleagues, whose accomplishments contributed to scientific, social and technological change in their time. Seeing history from this perspective contrasts to the many literary-focused books I've read: though it mentions Blake and Coleridge it's just not about that side of the century!

In its 500 pages, the book covers a great deal of the political, commercial, and scientific history of England in that century, making it both fascinating and challenging. The Lunar Men were ahead of their time with creating new inventions and processes, they contributed to emerging explanations of natural phenomena like electricity, and they were in on the era's important discoveries about plants, human biology, and geology. They met Benjamin Franklin and the French chemist Lavoisier; they read works by Linnaeus and other scientists outside their circle.

Among the dozen or so members of the Lunar Society -- which met on evenings with a full moon so that they could safely walk home in less-than-total darkness -- I found the following men especially interesting:
  • Joseph Priestley (1733-1802), a scientist best-remembered for experiments with oxygen, who was also a social activist.
  • Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), founder of the famous pottery works but also an experimenter in chemistry and developer of industrial and crafts processes.
  • Erasmus Darwin (1730-1802), recognized for his skill as a physician as well as for his works about the natural world. Darwin's son married Wedgwood's daughter, making them co-grandfathers of Charles Darwin.
  • James Watt (1736-1819), scientist and inventor of steam engine technology.
  • Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), innovative manufacturer of consumer goods and industrial equipment. He partnered with Watt in developing steam power, and did many other things such as found a mint with new efficient coin-stamping capability.
Theirs was the era of the Industrial Revolution, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. They were engaged by all three. Although there were many differences of opinion among the Lunar Men, a prevalent reaction on their part was sympathy for the working man and for the new ideas about liberty, freedom of speech, and human rights. Most agreed with many ideas of reform and especially opposed slavery, though were uneasy with violent revolution.

Ironically, the conservative English reaction, which they didn't like, actually favored their business interests. For example, though anti-slavery, Boulton and Watt sold industrial equipment to slave-owning colonies like Trinidad. About the years after the French Revolution, Uglow says: "... as the war with France dragged on, the Lunar men still looked forward. And while the poor and the landed classes suffered, the industrialists did well out of the war, the Lunar men among them. Armies had to be fed, clothed and armed. ... Furnaces and forges poured out steel and iron, and coal production soared.... Just over the horizon lay the era of smoking factory chimneys and sweated labour -- the age of the machine." (p. 465)

Even more ironically, the common men in England opposed revolution and favored the old monarchy and fundamentalist religion. The masses hated the Lunar Men, who were well known for their various accomplishments and controversial ideas. They blamed them for being "philosophers" and for their suspected sympathy with the French revolution. On one sad occasion, a mob burned Priestly's house and destroyed his library and laboratory.

Their commitment to science and rational thought characterized much of their lives. Darwin wrote that philosophy -- equal to experimental science -- had always endeavored to oppose ignorance and credulity, which had "misled and enslaved mankind." He continued "philosophers have on this account been called unbelievers: unbelievers of what? of the fictions of fancy, of witchcraft, hobgoblins, apparitions, vampires, fairies; of the influence of the stars on human actions, miracles wrought by the bones of saints, the flight of ominous birds, the predictions from the bones of dying animals ... ." (p. 482)

Darwin, two generations before his grandson, already proposed that the layers of stone and fossils he observed were millions of years old -- opposing belief in the Biblical creation story and its 6000 year age for the earth. He was one of the first to describe geological strata including prehistoric bones, and suggested an early version of evolutionary theory. Among the many fascinating themes of Uglow's book, I find great appeal in how similar are some of the issues these men fought to issues still not resolved in our own society. We should know better by now, after 200 years!

Thursday, March 08, 2018

"The Moving Toyshop"

Today's reading: The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin, first published in 1946. I find this book very funny, almost a send-up of the more conventional British detective novels such as those by Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie. It's also a kind of send-up of books about pompous academics: the setting is Oxford and the amateur detectives are a literature don, Gervase Fen, and a poet named Cadogan. Not quite as funny as a Bertie Wooster novel... but close. And furthermore, it is actually suspenseful.

Beyond the humor about people and situations, the plot of this tale is so improbable that even the characters in the story comment on it:
"'I don't think this is going to work,' Mr Beavis remarked with some apprehension.
"'It will work,' Fen responded confidently, 'because no one expects this sort of trick outside a book.'" (p. 147)
The novel takes place in a single day, beginning with the poet's negotiation for an advance from his publisher in London because he needs a vacation, and continuing as he takes a train to Oxford for this needed break. His train trip is interrupted because there are no further trains from a station almost to Oxford. Thus he has to hitchhike with a strangely literate truck driver (who gets back into the story later, quite improbably). As he walks toward the center of town, he randomly enters a toyshop whose door is standing open, and he witnesses the result of a murder. 

Thus the tale begins. Cadogan enlists Gervase Fen, Oxford literary don, to help find the culprit. They engage in a rather madcap rush to understand both the disappearance of the murder victim and the disappearance of the toyshop where the murder took place, and to find the guilty perps. And indeed, the day of crazy risks and chases on foot, by bicycle, in Fen's own sports car, in a stolen car, in the previously mentioned truck, and even by punt on the river, is wrapped up by the following evening. What classical unity!

I often notice how a detective story can be punctuated by stops for meals -- such pacing helps to ground the detectives in a kind of real world. With each meal, we see how time is passing. Descriptions of food and eating places can reveal insights about the character of the detectives. Meal times in The Moving Toyshop come off in a somewhat off-beat way. Fen and Cadogan come close to eating at least a couple of times, but instead keep chasing after and confronting a larger and larger collection of bizarre and eccentric suspects.

First they miss lunch in an Oxford dining hall thanks to being briefly kidnapped by a couple of mysterious thugs involved in the crime cover-up. After an escape from this peril, they reach Fen's Oxford chambers:
"Fen, who had been arranging about tea for them all with an elderly, mirthless individual who proved to be his scout, returned to the room, unlocked a drawer in his untidy desk, and took out a small automatic pistol. For a moment conversation was still: something of the implication of that act was borne in on everyone present. 
"'I'm sorry I shall have to desert you,' he said, 'But this interview really won't wait....' 
"Curiosity, and the desire for tea, were conducting a mimic battle in Cadogan's brain; curiosity emerged triumphant. 'I'm coming too,' he announced." (p. 113)
Another failed chance to eat! Finally, they do manage to have a bit of food later that afternoon:
"Cadogan had finished the buttered scones and was eating a piece of angel-cake. 'The Episode of the Guzzling Bard,' said Fen as he lit a cigarette." (p. 128) 
And just as he finishes eating, one of the possible witnesses they have been seeking turns up in the very same café! The pursuit of suspects and discovery of more and more surprises continues until the improbable wrap-up. Read it and chortle!

Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978), who wrote scripts and film scores for quite a few non-detective films, and also an entire series about Gervase Fen. He is quite obscure compared to the still-popular authors of the Golden Age of crime fiction before World War II. Still, his books, especially this one, make it onto various lists of "best detective novels." Though Agatha Christie's work, for example, continues to be turned into film on a regular basis, I can find only one such treatment of The Moving Toyshop, a TV show aired in 1964, listed on IMDB -- but with no available way to watch it. 

Note: Authors of Crispin's era whose detectives stopped to eat while detecting include Christie, Sayers, Georges Simenon, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, and many others. Detective stories throughout the 20th century continued to feature meals in one form or another.  I've written about this often! In much more recent "cozy" mysteries, this trope has been forced into something different, which I don't admire nearly as much. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018


[in Just-]

in Just- 
spring          when the world is mud- 
luscious the little 
lame balloonman 

whistles          far          and wee 

and eddieandbill come 
running from marbles and 
piracies and it's 

when the world is puddle-wonderful 

the queer 
old balloonman whistles 
far          and             wee 
and bettyandisbel come dancing 

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and 




balloonMan          whistles 


Mud-luscious -- what a remarkable and original word from this perfect spring poem by e.e. cummings. Maybe your teacher read it to you in school some time in the past; I think it's a popular poem for classroom use. But it's also a powerful poem, and when poets make up words like mud-luscious you don't forget them.

As I walked around a woodland trail the other day, squelching into the mud puddles and crunching through stretches where snow hadn't yet melted, I kept thinking "mud-luscious." The photos here are my effort to capture the early-spring feel of this walk, especially the bluebirds that were perching in one part of the woods, and the shoots coming up in the mud by the stream.

Luscious is a food word, though I don't use it often or see it in other people's food descriptions. I'll have it in mind, though, for the next time I taste a deeply sweet and satisfying dessert or a flavorful bowl of luscious soup. But for now, I have paths in the woods that are mud-luscious.

That's my word for Wordy Wednesday! Thank you, e.e. cummings. And thank you, Poetry Foundation, for the text of this poem, which I remember from long ago.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Snowy Morning

We are so lucky to have had just a few inches of heavy wet snow, not like in the East where power outages seem to be everywhere! And much melted by evening.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Baking Bread in Our Kitchen

This month, Len has been trying bread recipes, especially from Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish.
I've mentioned Len's bread in a couple of previous blog posts.
Most recently he made a baguette and a Pain d'Epi (shaped like an ear of wheat).
For shaping these loaves, he used the instructions in Julia Child volume 2.
We enjoyed several round loaves over the past few weeks.
A round loaf is baked in a dutch oven. Because we have a lot of
kitchen stuff, we are trying to use what we already have.
However, we did buy a new spray bottle to add steam during baking.
And we bought a new, better kitchen scale
(shown in front of the older one).
The recipes he's tried so far use a pre-ferment or sponge, using a portion of
the flour and water with a very small amount of yeast that's fermented
for 12 hours or more before adding the rest of the flour, water, and yeast.
He's tried two called biga and poolish, which I wrote about earlier.
* See Baker's Words. *

Another addition to our tools for baking: the dough scraper shown here.
Our extensive collection of tea towels comes in handy for use
holding the dough while it rises.
My tea towels tend to have British themes because my friend Sheila in London sends them to me. Thanks, Sheila!
Here are a few bread-y things we have eaten this month.

We tried making focaccia with part of one batch of dough.
Topped with fennel seeds and sun dried tomatoes, and spread with lots
of olive oil, it tasted very good, though the tomato bits were very dark.
Using up the bread is also a challenge sometimes. One night I stuffed
some carnival squash with bread cubes and various veggies --
essentially the same as sage and onion stuffing for a turkey.
Bread makes good toasted garlic croutons for salad to eat with baked potatoes.
Bread pudding, French toast, and strata will also be on the menu soon.
Then of course there are always sandwiches. And home made bread with butter and jam.

Trader Joe supplies the lemon curd, strawberry jam, and hot pepper jelly
that are currently in my kitchen. I need some Bonne Maman preserves.
That's about it for new activity and a few new gadgets in my kitchen this month. I'll be sharing with other bloggers who routinely post about their kitchens. Sherry at the blog Sherry's Pickings hosts the blogging event called "In My Kitchen This Month." Check it out to see what people have been doing!

Monday, February 26, 2018

"The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping" by Keigo Higashino

"Keigo Higashino (東野 圭吾) is one of the most popular and biggest selling fiction authors in Japan—as well known as James Patterson, Dean Koontz or Tom Clancy are in the USA." (source: Goodreads)
Higashino's suspense novel The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping (Japanese publication 2002; English translation published 2017) has the same fast-paced psychological interest as the four of his other novels that I have read. It also has a surprise ending, which I will not give away. The others were police procedurals, but with an emphasis on the suspects, their position in society, and how they behave in extreme circumstances.

In The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping, the entire focus of the story is on a man, Sakuma, who is almost randomly drawn into a convoluted plot by other people.  He is the narrator, and thus his point of view is the only one we receive. From the publisher:
"Battle-tested project leader at a PR firm and slippery bachelor, Sakuma sees himself as a player. His smug self-regard doesn’t seem entirely unfounded, both in love and at work. When is idea for a mini-theme park is dismissed as too costly and vacuous at the last minute by a major client he seems to have met his match.

"Katsuragi, an heir and executive at the global car maker, Nissei Auto, is back from a marketing stint in the US with an authentic conviction that everything is a game. Once the man’s daughter by a former mistress teams up with Sakuma so she can come into her inheritance in an expeditious manner – Juri is indeed her father’s flesh and blood – the game is good to go!

"And the name of this game is a kidnapping!" (source)
Juri and Sakuma team up to deceive her father -- and as a result, she hides out at Sakuma's bachelor apartment. One of the only things she can do while passing away the time there is cook, so as in other Higashino novels, there are some very interesting food descriptions used to emphasize the situation of these two people. For me these highlight differences between Japanese food preferences and those in America -- even when the food is supposed to be western style. For example, she makes a dish called cream stew, which I had never heard of; it turns out to be chicken and many vegetables cooked in a white sauce, often using a packaged sauce. It's based on western food, and became popular partly because it was served as Japanese children's school lunch. From the novel:
Cream stew from Wikipedia.
"When I got home, Juri was cooking something in the kitchen. I tried to guess what she was making based on the smell.  
"'Did I have the ingredients to make cream stew?' I asked standing at the kitchen entrance. 
"'I scrounged through your fridge. Your vegetables were going bad, but I got to them in time.' I remembered I had bought them intending to make gratin." (Kindle Locations 1344-1348).
As it happens, not foreseeing the cream stew, Sakuma has brought home a bento box for dinner.
"She looked into the bag and then at me.  
"'A bento from Yasuman. Wow. The chef there sometimes goes on TV. Then I’ll have this instead.' 
"'What about the stew?'  
"'Who cares now?' Juri returned to the pot and turned off the burner." (Kindle Locations 1356-1359).
Well, what does happen to the stew? They eat it for brunch. Several other instances of what they eat for breakfast or brunch also suggest his tastes in food. For example, in the first scene, we see his bachelor life, and we also heard why the vegetables for cream stew were in his refrigerator. It strikes me that this is the type of attention to detail that makes the suspense build so effectively! The passage:
"I fried some ham and eggs, toasted bread, and warmed up canned soup for my breakfast. 
"Lately, I was lacking vegetables. There had to be some cauliflower in the refrigerator so I decided I’d have a gratin with a lot of that in it tonight." (Kindle Locations 76-77).
Staying with him at his apartment, Juri sleeps in his bed, he on the living room couch, and he has to fix her breakfast:
“Just wait. I’ll make something now.” I got up and went to the kitchen. The morning menu I decided on was toast, boiled eggs, and vegetable juice. Putting on coffee was a bother." (Kindle Locations 1178-1179). 
Or later when she is still with him, she gets up and says:
"'I just woke up. It looks like you prepared breakfast for me.' ... 
"Ham, eggs, vegetable soup, toast, and coffee made up the menu. It wasn’t what you’d call cooking, but considering the contents of the refrigerator, she couldn’t have done any better."(Kindle Locations 2094-2098).
 Are these typical Japanese breakfast foods? Well, to my knowledge, they lean more western than the older traditional Japanese breakfasts of miso soup, rice, pickles, and other savory and fermented things that don't seem like Breakfast to me! I think these details are characterizing Sakuma as leaning very much toward a western lifestyle.

In any case, breakfast in a suspense novel always means one sure thing: the author uses meals to punctuate time going by and to emphasize the need of characters to stay in the moment. Higashino does this with mastery. It's a very readable and enjoyable book.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Ugly Delicious" -- New Netflix Series

David Chang and friends make a freewheeling tour of the world in the newest Netflix food series "Ugly Delicious." I have watched the first two episodes: "Pizza" and "Tacos." The photo above captures Chang trying out tacos with two famous LA food writers: Jonathan Gold and Gustavo Arellano, whose writings I have enjoyed in the past. Both episodes are very focused on the vexed question of authenticity. Chang is pretty cynical about assigning any meaning to the term: food makes its own rules, would be my summary of his view, which I share. Is it good? That's the important question.

The series features beautiful images of many exotic places, people, food, and kitchens.

Two of the featured Mexican chefs have had serious trouble with American immigration. This very gifted owner of a restaurant in Mexico spent 27 years in the US, but can never return to his family here. In this episode, I found the treatment of the very unjust and cruel situation in our unfortunate country to be very impressive and somewhat surprising in its condemnation of how we are treating productive and hardworking individuals.

Both episodes emphasize the wide variety of interpretations of the two featured classics: pizza and tacos. This pizza is from a pizza maker in Naples. Despite his successful pizza, he has been blackballed by an organization that sets standards for Neapolitan pizza because he's too innovative. Interviews with the head of the standards organization verge on the disrespectful, probably with justification. Nobody owns pizza!

So where's the best pizza in the world? Evidently, it's in Tokyo.

Netflix just released this series, which has 8 episodes. The style is edgy and quirky! It might take a while to watch the other 6, though I watched the first two in one sitting without ever getting up from the couch! Images here are screen shots from the two episodes that I have watched.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A World at War

The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food by Lizzie Collingham contains the most horrifying collection of statistics and historical details that I can recall. In the following few paragraphs, I'm reviewing the most memorable facts about the global horror of nearly world-wide hunger and death from starvation that I read in her book. Understanding the vast range of disruptions and disasters of the war is complicated, but Collingham's presentation makes it almost comprehensible.

Year by year, country by country, Collingham documents mass starvation throughout Europe, China, Japan, the Indian subcontinent, South Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Middle East, and both North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. She delves into the Nazi policies of intentional starvation of Russians, Slavs, Jews, and others, and the unintended consequences of acts of war and devastation in Poland and Russia. She shows how a motive of the Wansee Conference that ordered creation of Nazi Death Camps was to do away quickly with the Jews, labeled as "useless eaters" -- kill them immediately, don't just starve them to death. Starvation was the fate of many others that the Nazis deemed surplus human beings, especially Russians in the besieged cities and occupied territories during the Nazi invasion of their country.

Collingham explains how British policy protected the residents of Britain from starvation, but victimized their colonies. A major famine in Bengal was the most extreme. Before the war, people in Britain and British colonies, Germany, Japan, and many other countries had come to depend on foods imported to their countries. Prioritization of feeding large armies, consequences of blockades and attacks on commercial shipping and land transport, and other acts of war all disrupted supplies or cut them off entirely, leaving many people throughout the world without the foods they depended on.

Agriculture in countries at war was disrupted by direct battlefield activity or bombings, by transfer of needed labor away from farming to industry, and by wartime conscription. The military required heavy equipment of the same type as farm equipment, as well as drawing on the same fuel supplies used for tractors etc. Further, essential nitrates for fertilizer were required instead as components of explosives needed for war, thus reducing farm productivity. Coordination and well-planned policies were not always adequate.

During the early years of the war, the Nazis were able to improve German food production despite the multiple demands on labor and equipment. They also maintained a policy to loot the food from conquered lands. Decent nutrition was thus available for their own people. However, as the war turned in favor of the allies, these practices failed and starvation also affected the formerly privileged German people. The "hunger winter" at the end of the war resulted in yet more mass starvation, when a combination of bad harvests, cruel policies, and the aftermath of bombing and destruction occurred in Holland and other parts of Europe.

Much detail about the Japanese treatment of their own troops illustrates that even their soldiers often starved to death. Why? Because Japan's official policy was that troops should live off the land, but no actual study was done to see it this was possible -- the troops were just dropped off on one remote Pacific island or another with a few days' worth of rations. The Japanese didn't put supply lines into place the way that other military regimes did, it was every man for himself and blame the victims. Both intentional policies and also errors contributed to starvation of both their own troops, their own civilians, the people they conquered, and enemy troops. Japanese victims included people in China, the rest of Asia, and the South Pacific. Their prisoners of war also starved, including of course many American troops.

Long and detailed analyses and statistics about food supplies and production show just what happened. In many chapters, Collingham develops much more comprehensive information than the few sentences I have written. Most people who have read about the war at all are aware of some of the events and consequences Collingham describes, but I doubt if most people have squarely faced the incredible numbers of people who died of starvation: far more than on the battlefield. I doubt if most people ever think about the suffering of a human being starving to death -- even just one human being, much less millions. I found it really tough to read the many chapters in this book!

In contrast, Collingham also describes the impact of the war on agriculture and the food supply in the US. Once the US declared war, we were committed to try to feed the allies as well as to avoid hunger at home. We had to increase agricultural production and develop the means to deliver food to the allies, as well as to offer troops and military supplies. The US government quickly and effectively mobilized to do so. American manufacturing expanded to enable both military and agricultural equipment production. With new equipment and support for farmers, output of grain, meat, and other agricultural products increased and became more efficient. Despite rationing of some scarce resources, Americans were able to obtain an ample and fully nutritious diet, and American troops were fed vastly better and larger rations than any other armies. Among other things, Collingham describes the favored status of the Coca-Cola company, which received special sugar rations to supply Coke to all American troops. Statistics for all of this are included, along with some of the negative response that American superiority inspired.

The Taste of War is an amazing book; also overwhelming. The specter of millions of starving people, the memory of the millions who died from hunger, and the suffering that spread throughout so much of what was thought to be the civilized world is nearly unbearable. I've only presented the elements of the book that most stick in my mind.

One of the questions that the book suggests is this: What were Americans fighting for? I want to end this depressing summary of the impact of the war with the mention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's January, 1941, State of the Union Address. His vision of a better world was often considered important in understanding the commitment of Americans during the war. He said:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms."

Norman Rockwell's famous depiction of the Four Freedoms for the War Bond Campaign motivated Americans in World War II. (Wikipedia)