Joan Didion- my new obsession

From the Collection of Joan Didion Dunne – NY Times



I have been meaning to read anything by Joan Didion for a while now, and I finally started this year.  I really wanted to leap into The Year of Magical Thinking, but I was afraid.  So I started with her last novel, The Last Thing He Wanted.  I read a review saying it was a light, romance, thriller.  That seemed like a good place to start.  It was an enjoyable and easy read.  Sparsely written, I guess I would say.  Not unlike Hemingway.  I decided I liked her style.  Kind of loved it.  So then I read a book ABOUT her, called Joan – Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship with Joan Didion, by Sara Davidson, a close friend of hers.  After that, I finally felt ready for The Year of Magical Thinking.  And, it wasn’t like I thought it would be.  I mean I LOVED it!  Why should I love a book about grief?   But it wasn’t depressing.  The material, the subject of grief following her husband’s death and the anxiety dealing with her only daughter’s severe health crises, are horrible.  But her way of writing, which is so flat, narrative, deadpan, funny, rhythmic – I don’t know – made me feel good, not depressed.  Not good like I think it would be great to go through grief, of course.  But she goes through it.  Denial, magical thinking, remembering, wishing, pain, what ifs, missing.  It all made sense.  Of course this is how it will feel.  Of course this is the way other people feel.  And it is a relief to read it because it is so honest.  So now I am taking a left turn and reading a non-fiction book about old Hollywood movie studio life, by her late husband John Gregory Dunne.  It is one of his earliest works. And I like it a lot.   And that is why I think I may be getting obsessed.  Because there is so much work between the two of them and what if I don’t stop until I’ve made my way through all of them?   But I am sure some personal life situation will cause me to read a self-help book sometime – because that is just the way it is with me – and that might break the spell.  Or not.  We’ll see.  For now, I recommend.

Pork Wellington – YUM!!!

Pork WellingtonI have been collecting recipes that are easy, but make dinner feel special.  One of the best is this pork wellington – stolen wholly from may favorite TV chef, Alton Brown.  It is my new go-to fancy but really pretty easy mid-week meal.  I can’t think of one thing I would do differently in this recipe so I hope I have met the bibliography standards of stealing something from another site.  Also, the leftovers are fantastic.  As good as the fresh, but the dough gets doughier and it is great cold or room temp.  Enjoy!

Pork Wellington

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2009

Prep Time:  30 min
Inactive Prep Time:  10 min
Cook Time:  30 min


Serves:  4 servings


1 whole egg
1 tablespoon water
1-ounce dried apple rings
1 whole pork tenderloin, approximately 1 pound
4 1/2 ounces thinly slice prosciutto ham
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed completely
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard


Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat to 400 degrees F.

Whisk the egg and water in a small bowl and set aside. Place the apple rings into the bowl of a mini food processor and process for 30 to 45 seconds or until they are the size of a medium dice. Set aside.

Trim the pork tenderloin of any excess fat and silver skin. Slice the tenderloin down the middle lengthwise, creating 2 separate pieces. Lay the tenderloin pieces next to each other head to tail, so when laid back together they are the same size at the ends.

Lay out a 12 by 16-inch piece of parchment paper on the counter and arrange the pieces of prosciutto in the center, overlapping them enough to create solid layer that is as long as the tenderloin. Top with a second piece of parchment, and using a rolling pin, roll over the prosciutto to help adhere the pieces to each other. Remove the parchment paper and sprinkle the prosciutto with the salt, pepper, and thyme. Set the tenderloin down the middle of the prosciutto. Spread the dried apples in between the 2 pieces of tenderloin and push back together so the apples are held between them. Using the parchment paper to assist, wrap the prosciutto around the tenderloin to completely enclose in a package.

Sprinkle the counter with flour and roll out the pastry to 12 by 14 inches. Spread the mustard thinly in the center of pastry and lay the prosciutto wrapped tenderloin in the center of the pastry on the mustard. Fold the puff pastry up and over the top of the tenderloin, then roll to completely enclose, brushing the edges of the pastry with the egg wash in order to seal. Turn the tenderloin over so the side of the tenderloin with the double thickness of pastry is underneath. Pinch the ends of the pastry to seal.

Brush the entire pastry with the egg wash. Place the tenderloin on a parchment lined half sheet pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees F.

Remove the tenderloin from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.,1946,FOOD_9936_365749_RECIPE-PRINT-FULL-PAGE-FORMATTER,00.html


Don’t Eat Crap!

This summer I did one of those elimination diets or cleanses, as they are sometimes called. The specific method can be found here, (named after Dr. Kim Love, not a reference to better sex), and costs a lot of money. But the gist of it is you spend 7-10 days eliminating all potential allergens, sugar and processed foods from your diet, then reintroduce specific food groups one at a time and see if you can feel which ones cause inflammation or weight gain or other undesired effects, and which ones don’t. Everybody is different.

One lesson you get immediately, is that while you have to quit coffee for a week ahead of time, so you don’t confuse caffeine withdrawals with food related issues, you have to eliminate diet sodas one month ahead of time because it takes that long to get those toxins out of you I guess. I don’t know. I am not a diet soda drinker so this didn’t affect me. But it did make me wonder just how bad that stuff is for you.

So this takes about 40 days. There are 8 groups of food you test. Others like coffee or red wine – you are on your own to test after the whole process. Here are the groups:

  • Fish
  • Citrus
  • Chicken
  • Nightshades
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Dairy
  • Gluten

I learned that citrus causes inflammation and insomnia for me, as do too many nightshades and soy. Corn causes weight retention and a craving for sugar, and grain after 3pm causes weight retention. Good to know. I haven’t had my chronic foot pain and I am sleeping through the night for the first time in years. And I am down 13 lbs as a bonus. Oh, and I learned I am not wired to be a vegetarian. Thank GOD!

But the nagging question I have is – just how poisonous are diet sodas? I mean, we even got to drink vodka after day 10!

But the overriding lesson was just to reinforce, eat more veg and don’t eat crap!  I do feel much better.  Try it.

Knives and Open Floor Plan Kitchens

16 years ago I lived with a guy who thought of himself as a great chef.  And he WAS good.  And because I had nicked myself a time or two while helping him in the kitchen, he had an irrational fear of me handling knives.  It made me really mad – this wrong and overblown perception that I was knife-incompetent.

Last Monday I chopped part of my finger off while cutting green onions in my neighbors kitchen.  I felt I should call him and tell him he was right.

But I didn’t and he’s not and this brings me to my dislike of open floor-plan kitchens.  I never would’ve cut my finger if I hadn’t been in an open floor plan kitchen/living/dining room chopping onions when my son did something startling while playing.  I just looked up for 1 second!  Anyway, who wants to look at dirty dishes and open containers while eating a lovely, well-prepared meal.

I’m just saying. And it had nothing to do with the glass of wine I was drinking.

French Lentil Soup

French Lentil Soup from Epicurious

I have been trying to add a few vegetarian meals into the regular rotation for all the reasons that are right and popular, e.g., health, the environment.  The problem I have is that a lot of raw vegetables and beans is not a diet friendly to my digestive system.  People have suggested to me that I might need to do a purification or cleanse to cure this.  To this I say pfffft!  Anyway… this is a soup that agrees with me and is delicious to me and to my family.  Except that my husband always suggests that it would be really good if it had a little sausage or ham.  But, then he has a couple of servings and declares it delicious.  So here it is – only slightly modified from Epicurious.  I hope you enjoy it.


  • 3 tablespoons extra–virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery stalks plus chopped celery leaves for garnish
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
  • 1 1/4 cups lentils, rinsed, drained (I always use red lentils)
  • 1 14 1/2–ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • Splash of Balsamic vinegar
  • Shredded sharp, hard white cheese like Parmesan.

print a shopping list for this recipe view wine pairings


Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to sweat and then slightly brown, about 15 minutes. Add 4 cups broth, lentils, and tomatoes with juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups soup (mostly solids) to blender and puree until smooth. Return puree to soup in pan.  Thin soup with more broth if too thick. Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with celery leaves if desired.  Add a sharp white cheese, grated. Serve with warm crusty bread.



Thai Noodles with Chicken

Thai Chicken Noodle Salad - Epicurious

I have made other Thai Noodle salads but this was actually less time intensive – although that’s not saying much – all Vietnamese and Thai dishes are a little time intensive.  Not to mention they almost always involve some very special, hard to find ingredient.  But, this one was really good and the ingredient list was reasonable.  I did not have Thai Chili paste and substituted Srirachi and it was still very good.



  • 1 package (2 ounces) rice noodles
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup julienned carrots
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, quartered and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 2 cups chopped skinless roasted chicken
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Asian chile paste
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil


Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a medium pot; cook noodles 3 minutes. Place cabbage in a colander and drain noodles over cabbage; immediately rinse with cold water. Drain again. Toss cabbage and noodles in a bowl with carrots, cucumber, pepper, scallions and chicken. Whisk basil, mint, juice, vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, chile paste and oil in another bowl; drizzle over noodle mixture; toss and divide among 4 bowls.

Nutritional analysis per serving:

335 calories, 12.4 g fat (2.7 g saturated), 32.7 g carbs, 3.2 g fiber, 23.2 g protein

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Super Sad True Love Story – A Review

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

I finally read this book I have been meaning to read since last Christmas.  Amazing that it was written before any of the Occupy Wall Street movement, because it seems to reference it, as well as the recent European debt scandals.

But anyway, here is my review.

This book is a satire of so many of America’s current stupidity and trends and vices – extrapolated and played out to their most absurd, but not hard to imagine, logical end.

The love story is tragic, I guess, but common – 39 average-looking man trying to hold on to youth and relevance by obsessing over and hoping (and even begging) a 24 year old shallow, spoiled, and troubled girl will fall in love with him.  And she needs someone to take care of her in the turbulent fall of America as we see through the complete demise of New York City.

It is a satire of our dependence on information. Nobody reads books in this post literate society, they just scan electronic information.  Young people don’t want to talk much, they prefer to stream every piece of inane information about themselves.  There is no privacy in that everyone, through their mandatory super-smart phone-like apparatus, can know everyone’s credit rating, health measures (i.e., their cholesterol levels), peer-ranked hotness measure, age, heritage, location, etc.

It is a satire of America in that we are in constant war with some country (here it is Venezuela), we have become a police state, our dollar is pegged to the Yuan, our only policital party is called the Bipartisans and this right-winged government is controlled by its creditors, China and Norway.  If you are poor, you are sensitively labeled Low Net Worth Individuals (LNWI) and forcibly separated from HNWI in the end.

It is a satire on the world where consumerism is the obsession.  You study at Universities for degrees such as Assertiveness and Images.  You are very cool and successful if you are in Media or Retail.  Casual sexual encounters are the standard and young women wear onionskin jeans to show their vajajays.

Doesn’t sound like a fun read?  It is.  I thought it was sort of hilarious.  It is told in narrative through both diary entries by Lenny (older guy protagonist) and GlobalTeen entries by Eunice (young vapid girl). All the satirical commentary on America seems seamless with, and incidental to, the detailed telling of this hopeless tale of woe that is this super sad love story.


A Housewife’s Talking Points on the Occupy Movement

I always say; “I have to know what is going on in the world, what if it comes up at a cocktail party?” And this is ridiculous, because I don’t often find myself at cocktail parties.  More like, chatting with fellow moms on a playground or after school about our kid’s latest puzzling behavior?

So, there I was at a cocktail party over Christmas, and a friend, who had read my other Occupy Wall Street posts, asked me a question to which I did not have a ready answer.  Though, again, I knew generally what I wanted to say, I just couldn’t get anything out.  Hmmph.  I hate that.

So, the question she asked me was: “But aren’t we the 1 percent?”  And these are the points I wish I had made.

The facts on the top 1 percent are, (roughly):

  • The average income of the top 1 percent is around $1,500,000 (with the lowest around $500,000 and the highest is $59 billion)
  • Average wealth of the top 1 percent is around $15 million

So my family is not in the 1 percent of wealthiest Americans, though we know people who are, and we often wish we were.  And I know that these 1 percenters are not villains.  They are most likely either:

  1. incredibly smart, hard working people who have succeeded in business (or sports or entertainment) or,
  2. incredibly lucky people who inherited, and were smart enough not to blow it.

So Occupiers are not really mad about your average successful doctor or lawyer or even commodities trader.  We admire them and maybe even want to be them.

  • We are mad that it is almost impossible to get there when you start out poor.

There is a crushing unemployment rate, a poverty trap where poor kids can’t make it to the middle class because they can’t meet college tuition, and they often have huge amounts of debt that they can’t get out from under.

  • We are mad that the disparity in wealth between the top 1% and the other 99% is very wide and this is not good for any country.

Taxes on the nation’s highest-earners are close to the lowest they’ve ever been.  Corporate profits just hit another all-time high. So many of the top companies pay so little in taxes due to loopholes and incentives.  And where is the sense of civic virtue from those who are so very –  well –  rich?

  • And we are mad that our political system is corrupted by the influence of corporate money in elections, and that this influence almost always benefits the very rich and harms others less rich and influential.

Pick an issue that seems unfair – corporate tax loopholes, financial regulation, energy policy, healthcare reform – and its problems can be traced back to unspoken quid quo pro agreements between politicians and their campaign backers.

So whether or not you are in the 1% or near the 1% or in the 99%, we should all be concerned about the issues of the 99%, because they are everyone’s issues ultimately.

Crab Cakes with Dijon Mustard

Crab Cakes from Cooking Light

Our big family meal is on Christmas night, so I was looking for a Christmas Eve dinner that was simple, yet seemed a little special, for just my husband, son and myself.  So I made some shrimp cocktail using the frozen shrimp recipe in my previous blog.  Then I made these Crab Cakes from Cooking Light and used a Dijon Mustard crab cake sauce I found in Cooks magazine.  Served over some small fancy greens, and my husband felt like he had had a very special treat.
Here is the Crab Cake Recipe from Cooking Light, with some other suggestions I found in Cook’s Illustrated.  Oh, and if you can find Blue Star crab – the lumps are so big and luscious that it makes the cakes even more fabulous.  I found it at CostCo, and after tasting it, went back and filled my basket with more, like a crazy woman.


  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives (try cilantro, dill or basil for variety)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola-based mayonnaise (such as Spectrum brand)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or ground white pepper)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (or use Old Bay seasoning)
  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) or breadcrumbs
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat, drained and shell pieces removed
  • 1 fresh egg
  • Olive oil for
  • Flour for dredging
  • Lemon wedges


1. To prepare crab cakes, combine first 9 ingredients (through crab). Carefully fold in egg with rubber spatula until mixture just clings together. Add more panko 1 tablespoon at a time if cakes don’t bind.

2. Fill a 1/3-cup dry measuring cup with crab mixture. Invert onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Gently pat into a 3/4-inch-thick patty. Repeat procedure with remaining crab mixture, forming 8 cakes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

3. Place flour in shallow baking dish.  Lightly dredge cakes in flour. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 crab cakes to pan; cook 4 minutes or until bottoms are golden. Carefully turn cakes; cook 4 minutes or until bottoms are golden and crab cakes are thoroughly heated. Remove cakes from pan; keep warm. Wipe pan dry with paper towels. Heat remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in pan. Repeat procedure with remaining 4 crab cakes.

Dijon Crab Cake Sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 oz white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I prefer a Basil Dijon Mustard if you can find it)
1 tablespoon butter


Sauté shallot and garlic until shallot is translucent. Add wine to deglaze pan, allowing to reduce for 15-30 seconds. Add mustard and salt; bring to boil.