Coronavirus Diary: October 1, 2022

October 1, 2022

President Biden declared the pandemic over. Wishful thinking?

Is Biden correct that the pandemic is over? Not exactly. His words made it unclear what the remaining public health problems are, including long Covid, and what exactly needs to be done about them.

My grandson’s nanny returned from vacation and she and her husband ended up with Covid. As soon as her husband tested positive, she went home but despite her masking, my grandson caught it anyway. Luckily, he already had his first two vaccines or I would have been panicky. He had a bit of a runny nose for a day or so and that was it. Then my daughter-in-law tested positive – again. She had it once before. She didn’t really have any symptoms though. On the other hand, my son had a terrible sore throat and fever and he didn’t test positive until a few days later. So in my family at least, the pandemic ain’t over!

Reading Nana Loves You More by Jimmy Fallon

I got my flu shot as there is apparently a bad flu going around the dorms at the college where I work. I’ve heard conflicting information on when to get the new Covid booster, anywhere from 3 to 6 months after the last booster or after you had Covid. Since I’ve had pretty bad reactions to most (ok, only to the first three Moderna vaccines) I didn’t want to do the flu-Covid combo vaccine special. I was going to New York for Rosh Hashanah and didn’t want to take a chance on having a reaction that would prevent me from going. October will be six months from my last booster so I’ll be making an appointment for next week, after Yom Kippur.


Hurricane Ian

I have lived in southeast Florida for about forty years, and have lived through my share of hurricanes. I was in NY and heading home the day before the storm was supposed to hit. I was very nervous about flying into a possible storm but thank you, JetBlue; they got me home safely with minimal turbulence. Then the storm took a turn west, and we were out of the “cone”. We were still under a Tropical Storm Warning though, and the lightning was unending and spectacular.

My nephew and his family live in Cape Coral, and my sister-in-law & brother-in-law live just outside Tampa, and one of my co-workers recently moved to Ft. Meyers, so we were worried about them as they didn’t evacuate. Cape Coral and Ft. Meyers took a direct hit, but while they have considerable damage to their homes, no power or water, they are all safe. So far 21 people have died and that number is sure to go up. The storm took a turn back east towards Orlando, then back over the Atlantic, and landed in South Caroline as a Cat 1 storm. More devastation. So far, it looks like the barrier islands off the west coast of Florida took it the worst, with the bridge to Sanibel Island destroyed in three places. They had to get people off the island via helicopter or boat. https://www.wfla.com/news/florida/watch-helicopter-captures-rescue-from-floodwaters-in-orlando-after-hurricane-ian/

I was surprised that the Florida governor was asking for Federal aid. He voted against sending aid to NY after Hurricane Sandy. Guess when it’s in his backyard it’s a different story, so after threatening to send more Texas immigrants to Joe Biden’s house in Delaware, DeSantis did ask him for money. Florida is going to need all the federal dollars we can get; turns out most people on the west coast didn’t have flood insurance. DeSantis, Once a ‘No’ on Storm Aid, Petitions a President He’s Bashed

I was not surprised to learn that Chef World Central Kitchen was serving thousands of people the day after the storm. That’s where I sent my donation. https://wck.org/

Chef Jose Andres, World Central Kitchen activate hurricane food supplies for storm victims

Book News

I was delighted to see this article celebrating the 75th anniversary of this beloved children’s book. My son insisted we read Goodnight Moon every night for at least two years, and my daughter loved it as well although she liked variety in her nightly bedtime stories. Several years ago, I was invited to speak to the Rhode Island Library Association. I extended my stay for a few days as I’d never been there before. My husband joined me and we visited the Rhode Island School of Design – they had an exhibit on Clement Hurd, the illustrator of Goodnight Moon, and several other children’s books. They recreated a life-size “great green room” and we got to sit in the grandma’s rocking chair. They also had many of the earlier drawings from this book and others, the rough drafts up to the finished pages. It was a nostalgic, enchanting exhibit and I loved it, especially as my children were pretty much adults by then.

Voters Oppose Book Bans in Libraries

Polling Shows Voters Oppose Efforts to Remove Books from Libraries and Have Confidence in Libraries to Make Good Decisions About Their Collections

https://www.ala.org/advocacy/voters-oppose-book-bans-libraries

Reintroducing Book World

The Washington Post had discontinued their book section several years ago, but I’m so happy they are bringing it back! There are a few articles about their history and what’s changed. Fun reading! (for me at least, and maybe for you?)

The Washington Post’s books section starts its new chapter, in print every Sunday and with a refurbished and revitalized presence online https://wapo.st/3SamqgL

Book World began on Watergate’s heels: A look back at the early days: Michael Dirda recalls a time of typewriters and landlines, of putting together a section that captures the joy of literature and the love of reading https://wapo.st/3DOAEj7


Food News

French Toast, part of my “soft food” rotation (my husband had his second gum surgery yesterday,) became part of my daughter’s final in her Photojournalism class. It is a recipe I mostly made up in my head, so I had to guesstimate the amounts of ingredients. She photographed the process from beginning to end, and her photos made me look like a food star! French toast anyone?

Challah French Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. loaf Challah bread, unsliced
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup cream (or 1 cup half & half!)
  • Zest from one small orange
  • Zest from one small lemon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Unsalted butter
  • warm maple syrup & fruit, for serving 

Directions

  1. Slice challah about 1″ thick and lay out on a sheet pan without overlapping. Leave out for several hours (overnight is best) or if you don’t have time, bake on a foil-lined sheet pan in a 250 degree oven for about ten minutes. You just want the bread to dry out a bit.
  2. Leave oven on and arrange bread slices in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Put the foil-lined sheet pan back in the oven.
  3. Whisk together milk, cream, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon, salt, eggs, and egg yolks in a bowl until completely combined. Pour egg mixture over the bread. Let stand for a couple of minutes; turn bread slices, and let stand until egg mixture is absorbed, about 4 minutes altogether.
  4. Heat a large nonstick griddle over medium heat. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in the griddle, then brush butter over entire surface. Arrange as many bread slices as will fit comfortably on the griddle, then cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes on each side. As slices are finished, put them on the sheet pan in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining bread.
  5. Top French Toast with warm maple syrup and sliced fruit (I like berries & bananas, but Trader Joe’s frozen berry mixture or berries & cherry mixture are great; I keep bags of those on hand.) And don’t forget the side of bacon! Or breakfast sausage, if you prefer. We really like Morning Star Farms vegan breakfast sausage, too.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: September 1, 2022

September 1, 2022

School is in session and the Coronavirus is making itself known. I am in the process of hiring student workers for the library, and one of my new hires had to miss the first week of school as she contracted Covid. I’m sure she won’t be the last.

The new vaccine that is supposed to target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants which are plaguing the nation right now should be ready after Labor Day. But there is definite vaccine burnout and apparently, funding issues. I get it; I’ve had the two vaccines and two boosters, but I also get a flu shot every year so I’m just adding this to my to-do list.


I have two friends, one in Florida and one in Pennsylvania, who have sworn they never had Covid. They had family members who did have it and they tested daily but never had a positive test. That said, there is a blood test that some doctors are now giving that can show whether you’ve been vaccinated and whether or not you’ve had the actual disease. And both of these friends were shocked to find they tested positive for having had Covid. Completely asymptomatic and no positive tests. I’m not even sure what to think about this.

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count

Book News

When they came for the librarians: My profession is under attack — what happens now? People in my profession are used to mockery and low salaries. We didn’t expect constant insults and real danger

Book publishers just spent 3 weeks in court arguing they have no idea what they’re doing [Vox]

Ali Hazelwood’s sort-of-secret life as a best-selling author

Colleen Hoover is queen of the best sellers list. Who is she, and why are her books so popular?

Judge thwarts Va. Republicans’ effort to limit book sales at Barnes & Noble

NYC library: Youths read banned books online free: The Brooklyn Public Library offers a free library card to anyone in the U.S. aged 13 to 21 who wants to check out and read books digitally in response to the nationwide wave of book censorship and restrictions. Free Books Unbanned Brooklyn Library Card


Food News

We all fall into food ruts. I love to cook, but at the end of the day, I’m not often inspired to try something new. I’m more inclined to go with what is easy and what I know works for my family. But my husband is going through some dental issues that are going to take about a year to resolve, and for some of that time, he needs to eat soft. His dietary restrictions for dental work so far include no biting anything – he has to cut everything up to eat. Not that big an issue, but chewing is also iffy at the moment. I made a Caprese salad thinking tomatoes and fresh mozzarella are soft, but he had trouble with the basil. He usually eats a big salad every night but that was out until he healed a bit; now I make him chopped salad and that is working out for him.

Big Lasagna

In addition to his dental issues, he is also diabetic which imposes other dietary restrictions. He is managing with as little frustration as possible, but I’ve had to change up what I make for dinner. He rarely eats refined carbs; as most people know by now, carbs, especially refined carbs, turn into sugar – not good for diabetics. Yes, he could eat a lot of beans as they are soft, but not really his favorite. I want him to enjoy his dinners, not suffer through them. I’ve been making soups – thank goodness for the Instant Pot! I made split pea and barley soup, which took about 20 minutes total. Same with lentil soup. I made Samin Nosrat’s Big Lasagna – it took most of the day on Sunday (and I purchased fresh lasagna sheets!) but we’ll get at least two dinners out of it and my family loves it. Eggplant parm and meatballs with small pasta (spaghetti is too difficult for him right now) are in the rotation, as is what we call breakfast for dinner – pancakes, waffles, eggs, omelets, frittatas. I should really try shakshuka now, too. And I’m finally going to try Smitten Kitchen’s Pizza Beans! I bought him some sugar-free Klondike bars – it’s a treat and the man is in need of treats. And sugar-free puddings and Jello and yogurt. Chobani Zero Sugar is pretty good, especially if you mix in some fresh fruit.

And this too shall pass…

From the Archives

From BookBitch.com. March 31, 2001 via the Wayback Machine; then again on the BookBitchBlog in 2006. Twenty-plus years later, it still holds up!

America’s Hidden Problem:  Literature Abuse by Michael McGrorty

Once a relatively rare disorder, Literature Abuse, or LA, has risen to new levels due to the accessibility of higher education and increased college enrollment since the end of the Second World War. The number of literature abusers is currently at record levels.

Social Costs of Literary Abuse

Abusers become withdrawn, uninterested in society or normal relationships. They fantasize, creating alternative worlds to occupy, to the neglect of friends and family. In severe cases they develop bad posture from reading in awkward positions or carrying heavy book bags. In the worst instances, they become cranky reference librarians in small towns.

Excessive reading during pregnancy is perhaps the number one cause of moral deformity among the children of English professors, teachers of English and creative writing. Known as Fetal Fiction Syndrome, this disease also leaves its victims prone to a lifetime of nearsightedness, daydreaming and emotional instability.

Heredity

It has been established that heredity plays a considerable role in determining whether a person will become an abuser of literature. Most abusers have at least one parent who abused literature, often beginning at an early age and progressing into adulthood. Many spouses of an abuser become abusers themselves.

Other Predisposing Factors

Fathers or mothers who are English teachers, professors, or heavy fiction readers; parents who do not encourage children to play games, participate in healthy sports, or watch television in the evening.

Prevention

Pre-marital screening and counseling, referral to adoption agencies in order to break the chain of abuse. English teachers in particular should seek partners active in other fields. Children should be encouraged to seek physical activity, and to avoid isolation and morbid introspection.

Self-Test for Literature Abusers

How many of these apply to you?

1.  I have read fiction when I was depressed, or to cheer myself up.
2.  I have gone on reading binges of an entire book or more in a day.
3.  I read rapidly, often ‘gulping’ chapters.
4.  I have sometimes read early in the morning, or before work.
5.  I have hidden books in different places to sneak a chapter without being seen.
6.  Sometimes I avoid friends or family obligations in order to read novels.
7.  Sometimes I re-write film or television dialog as the characters speak.
8.  I am unable to enjoy myself with others unless there is a book nearby.
9.  At a party, I will often slip off unnoticed to read.
10. Reading has made me seek haunts and companions which I would otherwise avoid.
11. I have neglected personal hygiene or household chores until I had finished a novel.
12. I have spent money meant for necessities on books instead.
13. I have attempted to check out more library books than permitted.
14. Most of my friends are heavy fiction readers.
15. I have sometimes passed out from a night of heavy reading.
16. I have suffered ‘blackouts’ or memory loss from a bout of reading.
17. I have wept, become angry or irrational because of something I read.
18. I have sometimes wished I did not read so much.
19. Sometimes I think my fiction reading is out of control.

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of these questions, you may be a literature abuser. Affirmative responses to five or more indicates a serious problem.

Decline and Fall:  The English Major

Within the sordid world of literature abuse, the lowest circle belongs to those sufferers who have thrown their lives and hopes away to study literature in our colleges. Parents should look for signs that their children are taking the wrong path-don’t expect your teenager to approach you and say, ‘I can’t stop reading Spencer.’ By the time you visit her dorm room and find the secret stash of the Paris Review, it may already be too late.

What to do if you suspect your child is becoming an English major:

1. Talk to your child in a loving way. Show your concern. Let her know you won’t abandon her — but that you aren’t spending a hundred grand to put her through Stanford so she can clerk at Borders, either. But remember that she may not be able to make a decision without help; perhaps she has just finished Madame Bovary and is dying of arsenic poisoning.

2. Face the issue: Tell her what you know, and how: ‘I found this book in your purse. How long has this been going on?’ Ask the hard question–Who is this Count Vronsky?’

3. Show her another way. Move the television set into her room. Praise her brother, the engineer. Introduce her to frat boys. 

4. Do what you have to do. Tear up her library card. Make her stop signing her letters as ‘Emma.’ Force her to take a math class, or minor in Spanish. Transfer her to a college in Alabama. 

You may be dealing with a life-threatening problem if one or more of the following applies:
* She can tell you how and when Thomas Chatterton died.
* She names one or more of her cats after a Romantic poet.
* Next to her bed is a picture of: Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf, Faulkner, or any scene from the Lake District.

Most important, remember, you are not alone. To seek help for yourself or someone you love, contact the nearest chapter of the American Literature Abuse Society, or look under ALAS in your telephone directory.


As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: August 1, 2022

August 1, 2022

The new coronavirus subvariant is the most contagious yet, making me feel more vulnerable than ever. School starts up in a few weeks, bringing students to campus from all over these not-so-United States and about 100 countries. Lynn University, where I am a librarian, is proud of their international students making up 17-20% of the student population, and the remarkable diversity of the campus, as am I. But with masks optional pretty much everywhere, it’s not looking good for a Covid-free semester. I’m hoping the new B.A.5 booster is ready this fall.


Book News

One of my favorite books is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and I am not alone. It was on my Best Books of 2018 list and has been on the bestseller list for three+ years. If you haven’t read it yet, please do: https://amzn.to/3uRD6QK Reese Witherspoon produced the film that opened in July, but it is being overshadowed by the back story.

Where the Crawdads Sing Author Wanted for Questioning in Murder: A televised 1990s killing in Zambia has striking similarities to Delia Owens’s best-selling book turned movie. By Jeffrey Goldberg (Includes links to Goldberg’s earlier New Yorker article as well.)

This is so cool! Some of the world’s most celebrated authors have written manuscripts that won’t be published for a century – why? Richard Fisher visits the Future Library in Oslo to find out. The Norwegian library with unreadable books

14 ways to get out of a reading slump: Rereading a beloved book is one of many strategies our readers shared for reversing a rut

Food News

Do you sous vide? I do, and highly recommend! The French phrase literally means “under vacuum,” which refers to a vacuum sealed bag. The cooking itself is basically under water with an “Immersion Circulator.”

Several years ago, my husband became interested in this cooking method that many restaurants use, but the machines were very expensive. When I started working at Lynn University, one of my co-workers was also a fan and had been using one for a while. Over the years, they’ve become much more affordable, and a few years ago, we finally purchased the Anova on a Black Friday sale or something; we paid about $75 or so. I didn’t purchase a specific container for it, although they are available and sometimes sold as kits. I have a tiny kitchen so I try to avoid any purchases that only have one use. The sous vide machine itself is fairly small, and I use it with my largest stockpot, about 16 quarts. It works amazingly well! I have made steaks, roasts, ham, and fish in there and every single time the food comes out perfect. It’s like having a secret weapon!

If you’ve ever splurged on something like a standing rib roast and then overcooked it (yes, I did that more than once!) you will begin to appreciate the way this works. It is pretty much impossible to overcook anything with sous vide cooking. There are tons of videos on YouTube, and Serious Eats has a beginner’s guide that I found very helpful.

It’s fairly straightforward. You put the machine in a large container of water, seal whatever you’re cooking in a Ziploc or “seal-a-meal” vacuum type bag, set the temperature to the ideal temp for your steak (or whatever), then set the timer (lots of charts with timing available online,) cover the pot or container, and wait. The most work for me is filling the damn pot! When the time is up, your food is at the proper temperature but be forewarned; it will not look very good. You still need to “finish,”, especially meat. You can grill as we did here, sear it in a cast iron pan, or broil it in the oven. Fish you can get away with not doing anything else. We made a Tomahawk-type steak and took some pictures – if you like your meat more well done, you just set the temperature to that. I used 125° for rare, and the internet told me to count on about an hour per inch of meat, so this took about 3 hours, completely unattended.

Personal News

Today is my mother’s birthday, so please indulge me. She would have been 88, but I lost her fourteen years ago, way too young. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a bout of throat cancer from over 40 years of smoking, and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which made her day-to-day life very difficult. It was years of her going downhill, and it was so hard watching her fade away, losing her joy in life. Eventually, she needed oxygen all the time and had one of those little tanks on wheels so she could leave the house. And my (step)dad made sure he always had a wheelchair at the ready for her, as much as she hated it, as it became a necessity. My brother stepped in to help so my dad could retire, and honestly, I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t (Alan, you’re the best!) With all that, she rarely left home, although she insisted on coming to my son’s college graduation, and she kvelled that whole weekend. The last picture I have of the two of them together was from that trip.

Towards the end, her only happiness was her husband and her family, especially her grandchildren. In fact, her last few weeks alive I attribute to my son, Daniel. He lived a few hours away, and I swear she waited for him to come home for a visit. He spent much of the weekend with her, he went home, and she died a few days later.

I saw her the day before she passed, two days before Valentine’s Day. I was at work in the library when my dad came in. My mother was too weak to walk into the library so she waited in the car. I went out there to say hello and she gave me a small, heart-shaped box of chocolates for my daughter, Ariel, who was going to save it for Valentine’s Day. Except she lost her Nana the next day, and that box sat on the kitchen counter under a little shelf that held the phone (remember when we had house phones and cell phones?) for a year, then she threw out the chocolates and kept the box.

My husband was away when she passed, on a multi-day hike out in the Everglades. When he got out of the woods and was ready to head home, he called me at work to let me know he was on his way. But I wasn’t at work and he immediately knew something must have happened – I never missed a day. He got hold of me at home but he was driving, still an hour or so away and I didn’t want to tell him while he was driving. I begged him to call me back when he stopped for gas or coffee or whatever, but he insisted. My husband, who I had only seen cry once in over thirty years together, when our son was born, started crying. No mother-in-law jokes here, as big a pain in the butt as my mother could be, they had a very special relationship – better than I had with my mother, to be honest.

Today I think about my mother and the legacy she left of putting those you love first, always. I always thought that when you lose a parent, you will miss them the most when something bad happens. For me, at least, I miss her the most when something good happens.

When my son got married a few years ago, I thought about her and my dad a lot. I knew that this would have been such a happy time for them. I knew they would have loved my daughter-in-law and her family. I knew they would have been beyond proud of Daniel. They were on my mind a lot, and the night before the wedding, we were on our way to the welcome dinner (instead of a rehearsal dinner) for all the guests, we passed this sign. I was so shocked I made my husband pull in so I could take this picture. She was my mom, but she was Daniel & Ariel’s Nana. Talk about signs – this was a literal sign, and it comforted me enormously. I knew she would be there for him and for all of us, as she always was.

In other personal news…

We lost my mother-in-law on Saturday. She was 96 years old, just a few weeks shy of her 97th birthday. She was a remarkable woman, the eldest of six children and she outlived them all. She had a long and healthy life, until just a few months ago. She was blessed with five great-grandchildren, and she got to meet her youngest in late April. Marie was a good mother-in-law; she never interfered, always had my back, and was always there for us when we needed her.

Before Larry and I married, his parents had invited us for dinner. But we had a fight that day, and I didn’t go. When he got there alone, my future MIL called me and asked me what he had done. She made me feel like she was on my side even back then.

When my son was born six weeks early, my husband had to leave on a long business trip, a month in China. It was supposed to be his last trip before the baby was born, but Daniel didn’t get the memo. I was panicky, a new mother home with a two-week-old baby on a heart monitor. I had a few friends, but none who had children, and they all worked. My mom worked, too, but my mother-in-law was retired. She had a lifelong fear of flying and had never flown anywhere, but she got herself on a plane and flew to Dallas. She stayed and helped me with the baby until Larry got home. I am forever grateful to her for that.

Marie was a fantastic cook and generously shared her recipes with me. She was also enormously talented; she knitted, crocheted, quilted, did needlepoint, cross stitch, macrame, ceramics, pretty much any craft you can think of. She also was an incredible seamstress – she made my sister-in-law’s wedding gown and all the bridesmaids’ dresses, too!

One of my favorite stories is when we told her we were naming my daughter, Ariel Marie, after her. She informed us her real name was Maria, but she didn’t like it so she changed it to Marie. We had no idea! But that’s how she was; she kept moving forward and didn’t dwell on life’s challenges or disappointments. When my father-in-law passed away after 60+ years of marriage, my husband took to stopping by to check on her every day after work. A few weeks into his new routine, she informed him that she was too busy for his constant visits and asked him to cut it back to once a week, which he did. He called her every day though.

In 2017, we had a small family reunion. It was the first time this group was together in many, many years and she was so happy. Marie, you will be missed. Rest in peace.


As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: July 1, 2022

July 1, 2022

So the big Covid news is that vaccines are now available for children under 5, like my grandson. It will lessen the fear of flying for sure. I really don’t know how parents have been able to manage this for the past two+ years, it is just mind boggling to me. Especially for those in the sandwich generation, who are dealing with aging parents AND children. I feel my stress level rising just thinking about it!

With the latest strain, people are being reinfected after already having Covid, and/or after being fully vaxxed and boostered. A couple of my colleagues just had their second go round with Covid, and a couple more were hit by this highly contagious strain even though they were fully vaxxed & boostered. That is about half my department! I feel like it’s coming for me, so I’m masking any time I step out of my office or go into a store.

Before Omicron, reinfections were rare. This latest strain is the most contagious yet. The New York Times explains:

Oh no!

Food News

There are tons of newsletters out there, but I have found a few that are a must read for me. and most of them are free. If you are a NYT Cooking subscriber, they offer some terrific newsletters and I get them all.

Cooking: Feast on recipes, food writing and culinary inspiration from Sam Sifton and NYT Cooking.

Five Weeknight Dishes: Fresh, delicious dinner ideas for busy people, from Emily Weinstein and NYT Cooking.

The Veggie: Tejal Rao shares the most delicious vegetarian recipes for weeknight cooking, packed lunches and dinner parties.

The Washington Post has several newsletters, including a few really good limited series like Voraciously: Plant Powered,12 weeks on “cooking more plant-forward meals,” and Baking Basics, an 8-week guide that “will show you that baking really is a piece of cake.” I like looking at them, and I love how you can scale a recipe up or down, but to be honest, I rarely find myself cooking from them. Not sure if you need to be a subscriber to access.

Eater has several newsletters, and I subscribe to their daily newsletter set in the food world; there’s always something interesting there, like the article I pinned below on romance novels set in the food world. You can also get newsletters for your city, if they have one. Miami is the closest city to me and I rarely go there so I didn’t bother.

Ruth Reichl has a newsletter on Substack that is usually pretty interesting. She pulls a lot from her “archives,” and I like the historical aspect. You can read the latest issue and see if you like it without subscribing.

The Smitten Kitchen offers a weekly digest that is always useful, and more importantly, fun to read. I love Perelman’s voice. You can see a sample before you subscribe.

King Arthur Baking offers a baking newsletter. I think it is weekly, or thereabouts. I also like their blog. Plus if you ever have trouble, you can call, chat, or email for help!

Last but not least, another good baking newsletter is put out by Dorie Greenspan. It’s xoxo Dorie, a twice-weekly newsletter.

Book News

A couple of older articles as well.

Romance Novels Are Increasingly Getting Hot and Heavy in the Kitchen

Move over, bodice rippers. It’s all about apron tuggers now. (Eater) https://www.eater.com/23188870/summer-romance-novels-baking-cooking

This was fun, especially if you are a language nerd like me!

https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2022/07/01/words-we-need/?informz=1&nbd=8d597aea-08ad-4b80-a615-3bc6331ba654&nbd_source=informz

Finally, a bookstore obviously designed with people like me in mind: Archestratus Books & Foods, in Brooklyn, NY. (For some reason you have to click on “over 18” to access this adult site??? They sell books, and food. So weird!)

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: June 1, 2022

June 1, 2022

Coronavirus has evolved once again into a super contagious variant, the rapidly spreading Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1, and numbers are up. Every time I think we are coming out of it, this happens. In New York, they are recommending people mask up once again. In Florida, not so much. One of my co-worker’s kids got it, so he quarantined himself and sure enough, he got it too. He is vaxxed and boosted, and still was pretty sick, but thankfully, just for a few days. Then another co-worker’s school age children both got it so she had to quarantine. She’s already had it once and had her first vaccination, so we’re hopeful she’ll be spared. Then another co-worker got it. Bear in mind, we are a very small staff so three people out with Covid is almost half our staff. I am starting to feel like Covid is coming for me. On the other hand, I refuse to worry about Monkeypox, even though one of two cases in the US is in Broward County, a few miles from my house.

While all this was going on, I was at work when I suddenly felt overwhelmingly nauseous. I jumped in my car and went home. By the time I got home, I was still nauseous but also really tired. I crawled into bed and slept for about four hours, which is not like me at all. I woke up less nauseous, and my husband – masked and gloved – gave me the at home Covid test. It was negative. I tested again the next morning and was negative again. By the end of that day, I felt pretty much back to normal. I have no idea what was wrong with me but it went away fairly quickly, so yay. Or so I thought.

A few days later I was working from home and the same thing happened; overwhelming nausea. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning, just had half a cup of coffee. This time was much worse, the nausea didn’t go away for hours and hours. I couldn’t sleep, and my stomach was empty and hurting so that was not fun at all. It took two full days to recover. Another negative Covid test and no one in my house got sick so that was good; I always find the bright side! I figured it was probably a stomach flu but then Jif peanut butter announced a recall due to salmonella. I had eaten a PB&J sandwich the day before I got sick. Apparently, it can take days or even weeks for the salmonella to make you sick. So now I’m assuming that’s what happened to me. That was a first for me.

Uvalde…my heart is breaking for those families who lost a loved one in the Robb school shooting. Another mass shooting, right on the heels of the Buffalo one. My daughter-in-law is a speech pathologist in an elementary school, so this hit really close to home – as it did for every parent and teacher in America. Then to see Ted Cruz at the NRA conference calling for a “one door policy” and his usual, arming teachers.

I find that incredibly ironic – Texas politicians don’t trust their teachers to teach or to pick out books for their students, but they trust them with guns? They are hell bent on protecting fetuses, but obviously could care less about nine & ten year old children. And most disgusting of all was seeing Trump dancing on the NRA stage after the names of those dead children were read. Every time I think that man can’t possibly sink any lower, he proves me wrong.

A few years ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote an Op-Ed on gun control that the The NY Times reran last week. I found it incredibly well thought out, feasible, and compelling; definitely worth a read.

Summers are quiet here in the university library where I work. We have much shorter hours, and we tend to use the time to work on projects. One of my projects is redoing all the signage in the book collection. We often have to shift books to make room for new ones, and that means the signs at the ends of each row can be off. Eventually, they can be off quite a bit if ignored. My library director also wants us all to think about how our space looks, and is utilized. We lost two full time positions during the pandemic, and now have empty offices that we’d like to utilize. We are also looking at our library policies, and thinking of expanding them. All the book banning going on in this country is making me more thoughtful about those policies.

In some personally exciting news, my brilliant grandson is starting to walk, and he loves books! I am a very proud Nana!

Food News: Pretzels

Let’s talk about pretzels. Have you ever tried to make pretzels? The big, soft, chewy, salty kind (before Auntie Anne drips her butter on them.) I’ve been making pretzels for years, and they usually come out okay. Certainly not great, or not even better than the frozen kind you bake. Not worth the effort, to be totally honest. But I am tenacious. I kept searching and reading and trying.

I have tried drying out the baking soda in a slow oven for an hour before adding it to water for a poaching liquid. That batch of pretzels had to go straight into the trash – I would not recommend this method. I have tried poaching the pretzels for up to 3 minutes; I also do not recommend that. In my experience, about 30 seconds per side works best.

I am excited to say that I think I’ve finally got it! A recipe that rivals the frozen kind, but dare I say even better? Definitely worth the work, at least in my house. (Honestly, it’s really not much work and so worth it!) It is a fun project for a Sunday afternoon. I riffed off a recipe from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen for Miniature Soft Pretzels. But I have found the secret to really good, soft, fluffy yet chewy pretzels is….bread flour. I prefer King Arthur’s Bread Flour, but you do you. I also much prefer the flavor from the barley malt syrup, but you can substitute sugar and they will still be really good.

I know that active dry yeast packets contain more than two teaspoons of yeast, but if you use the instant yeast, you only need the 2 tsp. I bought a pound package of SAF Red Instant Yeast at the beginning of the pandemic and have kept it in my freezer. I am finally just about out. And it’s still good, by the way. I think if you keep it frozen, it lasts forever (but don’t hold me to that!)

INGREDIENTS

2 cups room temperature or slightly warm water
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup
2 tsp. instant yeast (or 1 pkg active dry yeast)
5 to 6 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sea salt
grapeseed or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse salt, kosher salt, or pretzel salt

DIRECTIONS

  • Pour water, 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup. and yeast into bowl of electric mixer. Give it a stir then put on your dough hook. If using instant yeast, move on to the next step. If using active dry yeast, let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
  • Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions – hello, humid Florida here!); mix until combined, about 30 seconds. When everything looks incorporated, mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the dough looks fairly smooth. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead a few times, or until smooth, and form into a ball.
  • Pour a little grapeseed (or other unflavored) oil into a large bowl; brush or use a paper towel to coat sides. Transfer dough ball to bowl, then turn over dough to completely cover all sides with a bit of oil. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size. My oven has a “proof” setting, so I use that.
  • Heat oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to counter. Knead once or twice, then divide into 16 pieces (about 70 grams each) and cover loosely with plastic. If it seems like the balls are sticking, dust a little flour on the counter but just where you are keeping the dough balls; leave the rest of the counter clean.
  • Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long rope on unfloured counter. If the dough is sliding around rather than stretching, very lightly moisten your hands with water to create a little tackiness.
  • Shape the rope into a U with the slightly tapered ends facing away from you. Crisscross the rope in the middle of U (a), then crisscross again (b). Fold the ends toward the bottom of the U (c). Firmly press the ends into the bottom curve of the U about 1 inch apart, forming a pretzel shape (d).
  • Transfer the pretzels as you make them to the prepared sheets, knot side up, 8 pretzels per sheet. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, fill a large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda and remaining 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 30 seconds on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to parchment lined baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
  • Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with pretzel salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy. If you want Auntie Anne style pretzels, use salt sparingly. When pretzels are done, brush with melted butter. You can also go sweet by sprinkling with cinnamon sugar after the butter.

Note: if you decide to splurge on the pretzel salt, it also is great for rimming Margarita glasses!

Once upon a Le Creuset…

So fun story. About twelve-fifteen years ago, Macy’s had one of their crazy sales – it might have been Black Friday. I bought a 7.25 quart Le Creuset in Caribbean Blue for about $150 (trust me, that is a bargain!) A couple of years later I was making a brisket for Hanukkah. As I seared the meat in the pan, I heard crackling sounds. When I pulled the brisket out, the bottom of the pot was all crazed – and so was I. These pots are supposed to last a lifetime, to be handed down to future generations. Not my luck, apparently. I took it back to Macy’s, no receipt, and they jerked me around for about an hour. At first, they wanted me to pay the difference between the sale price and the current price, but I passed on that idea. Eventually they found a manager who approved an exchange. I knew damn well that they were going to get a credit for it from Le Creuset or their distributor. They wouldn’t give me another blue pot (maybe they were out of stock) so they gave me a red one, and I took it gratefully.

Shoot ahead about ten years to a few weeks ago. I was making Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, and you have to heat a Dutch oven in a 500° oven before you add the dough. Luckily, before I added the dough I noticed that the bottom of the interior was crazed and a few holes where the finish had come off all together. Le Creuset warrantees their pots for a lifetime, so I contacted them via their website, and they had me send pictures. Then they informed me that it wasn’t covered under the warranty, but as a one time courtesy, they would replace the pot; this is how I define good customer service! I packed it up and had to pay for shipping (about $30) and they sent me a brand new pot. Not sure what their warranty actually covers, but I was very happy I got a replacement. Now let’s hope this pot lasts a lifetime! And I bought a 4.2 quart Emile Henry ceramic Dutch oven to bake my bread so I shouldn’t have this issue again. The smaller size means a taller loaf of bread, so that worked nicely, too.

Book News

Lots of book news lately! Some fun, some disturbing, but all are interesting.

And this from the Washington Post Book Club newsletter by Ron Charles:

Book Club: Margaret Atwood wins Nobel Prize in Prescience

The Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” is filmed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2019.
(File photo by Calla Kessler for The Washington Post)

This week, the Supreme Court nominated Margaret Atwood for a Nobel Prize in Prescience. 

It’s not as though anyone actually believed Trump’s Supreme Court nominees when they testified under oath about their respect for precedent, but the leaked draft of the Handmaid’s Tale decision still came as a shock. (Sen. Susan Collins is so concerned that she’s ordered a second strand of pearls.) Unless some dramatic revisions are made before the Court officially overturns Roe v. Wade, about two dozen state governments will soon severely limit millions of citizens’ reproductive decisions. Blessed be the fruit!

Not since Harriet Beecher Stowe published “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” has a novelist been so closely aligned with such a dramatic upheaval of American political and cultural life. Atwood, the wry, 82-year-old grandmother of feminist dystopian fiction has been particularly prominent since the election of Donald Trump sent her 1985 classic soaring back up the bestseller list. In 2019, she won her second Booker Prize for a zany sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” called “The Testaments.” Narrated by the matriarchal tyrant Aunt Lydia, it describes the fall of Gilead (review). We can only hope that sequel — which climaxes with the publication of leaked documents! — is as prophetic as “The Handmaid’s Tale” feels now.

The surprise appearance of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion has sparked the most concentrated flurry of textual analysis in the 21st century. But for clues about what else theocratic zealots have in mind for the United States, get a copy of Leni Zumas’s “Red Clocks.” It imagines America after abortion has been criminalized and women of childbearing age are closely monitored and barred from traveling to free territory (review). When I first read the novel four years ago, I assumed it was a work of political satire, but, in fact, Zumas constructed her terrifying dystopia by stitching together laws that had been proposed by real-life politicians. Now that Missouri and other states are plotting to punish anyone who helps a pregnant woman cross state lines for an abortion, Zumas’s dystopia seems almost documentary. 

If you’d like a work of historical fiction more illuminating than Justice Alito’s nostalgic musings, try Kate Manning’s “My Notorious Life” (review). It’s inspired by the ordeal of a real-life 19th-century midwife and abortionist condemned by Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Manning is particularly sensitive to the practical complications that women faced when they couldn’t get access to good reproductive healthcare. 

In February, while conservatives on the Court were apparently plotting to set the country back 50 years, Jennifer Haigh published a thoughtful novel called “Mercy Street” about the precarious status of safe, legal abortion in modern-day America (review). And five years ago, Joyce Carol Oates released “A Book of American Martyrs,” a gripping story that begins with the assassination of an abortion doctor and draws us into the mind of a fanatic (rave). 

Any of these novels would provide rich material for a book club interested in discussing the most pressing social issue of our age. We’ve come a long way from Ernest Hemingway’s excruciatingly elliptical short story, “Hills Like White Elephants.” But this week, it feels like we’re headed back to that era.

Flippancy aside, this is a serious issue. I have never understood why people who are against something don’t want anyone to have it, be it a banned book or an abortion. If you feel like abortion is murder, then don’t have one. If you don’t think your child should read a specific book, that is your right as a parent. It is not your right to tell me what my child should read or not, nor to tell me what to do with my body.

As Roe v. Wade faces possible overturning, abortion access is under threat — here’s how to help via Rolling Stone. This will affect people with disabilities, those who are transgender, immigrants, the poor, and people of color the most.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: May 1, 2022

May 1, 2022

For the first time since he was born, my 13-month-old grandson came to Florida. My son and daughter-in-law haven’t visited since pre-pandemic, so at least two years now. Then, while they were here, a trump appointed federal judge in Florida lifted the mask mandate for public transportation, including planes. All the major airlines immediately dropped their mask requirements, and at least one airport in South Florida, the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, also immediately dropped their mask requirements. That is the airport they were flying out of to head home, on a JetBlue flight that now was not requiring masks.

If it was just the two of them, two adults, they could wear their masks and feel fairly safe flying home. But they have this beautiful baby who is too young to be vaccinated or wear a mask. Sitting on an airplane full of unmasked people was a very scary thought for his safety. After briefly kicking around the idea of driving home instead, they reluctantly decided to fly and hope for the best. So far, it appears that their luck held. They made it home and everyone remains healthy.

But now the concern is this: do they dare fly anywhere again with their unprotected baby? Do they wait until a vaccine is available for him? Do they just plan trips where they can drive instead of fly? Or just throw caution to the winds and hope for the best? I’m sure they are not alone in their fears, but does that make it easier? Then this showed up on Twitter:

Celebrate that an unprotected baby might get sick from some unmasked passenger? Seriously?? I can’t even.

Jeep Beach

Since 2014, my husband and I have driven three and a half hours up to Daytona Beach for Jeep Beach. It’s a gathering of “Jeepers”, thousands of people who own and love Jeeps. They come from all over the country and Canada. We’ve even seen license plates from Alaska! They have these gathering all over the country, but this is the only one we’ve ever attended.

Daytona Beach is an old Florida city mostly famous for the Daytona Speedway, which is where the event is held. Jeeps take over the city and it’s always a lot of fun. It happens every April, although it was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. There are a tons of vendors selling everything Jeep related, from t-shirts to bumpers to stereos and well, more stuff than I can even name. The people who go are sort of divided into those that use their Jeeps as their primary cars, as my husband does, and those that are into off-roading. There are tracks set up and people attempt to drive their Jeeps over giant mounds of dirt, rock, etc. It’s fun to watch for sure, but every year we see at least one Jeep sustain serious damage.

Daytona is also famous for its beaches, where the sand is hard enough and wide enough to drive on during low tides. Weather permitting, there is a Jeep Parade on the beach Sunday morning. Jeeps as far as the eyes can see – and I swear, you don’t see two Jeeps alike. Jeepers love to customize their Jeeps, from wheels to tops to paint jobs to everything else. And driving so close to the ocean is pretty magical!

Book News

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: April 1, 2022

April 1, 2022

Is Covid gone? Not really, but it’s definitely much, much better. There are new variants popping up: The W.H.O. says the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is driving most cases around the world, but supposedly it isn’t going to cause much trouble. I like how the New York Times charts the pandemic: Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count. I really like that they have made their pandemic coverage free for everyone, instead of putting it behind a paywall; this is what journalism at its best looks like.

Covid deaths in Florida now over 73,000 as of 3/31/2022

I’m a librarian at a small, private university and as of March 28, masks are only required in the Health Center, nowhere else on campus. I work from home two days a week, and the days I am on campus I tend to stay in my office as much as possible.

We went to Costco the other day and didn’t wear masks for the first time. We went at dinner time when the store is the least busy (not that it’s ever really quiet there!) but we kept away from people and felt fairly safe.

My husband and I are vulnerable, and I figure it can’t hurt so why take chances. I’m hoping that I will be more comfortable going without a mask soon. Now that we are eligible for a fourth shot, AKA second booster, once that is in the rear view maybe I’ll be able to relax for a while? I’m not rushing to get it though, but will soon.

We also did something we haven’t done for two years, almost to the day. In March of 2020, we and a group of friends attended a Swank Farm Dinner right before everything shut down due to Covid. Well, I was thrilled to be able to do so again this year! It’s all outdoors and that helped us feel safe. It was so much fun to just hang out with good friends – it felt so normal when I haven’t felt that way in so long.

Living in Florida is becoming more and more problematic. I don’t trust our governor and his state surgeon general. Our local newspaper, The Sun Sentinel, ran this editorial earlier this year: Joseph Ladapo and his contrived evasiveness must go. They are both anti-science and act like children, thumbing their noses at the CDC. In fact, the governor’s policy is to do the opposite of whatever the CDC recommends. It’s maddening and frightening and illogical. It is his base that is unvaccinated and dying.

Meanwhile, the governor’s priority is in rousing his base as he readies himself to run for president. That is not reassuring to me, to say the least. He is all about banning books, banning abortion rights, making sure our children remain ignorant and uneducated, and is hostile to the LGBTQ+ community, among others. He has his own Brownshirts, AKA the Election Police, poised and ready to intimidate voters, and you can guess the types of voters they will be intimidating. It’s all just unimaginable to me, to be living in a society like this. And even more disheartening, polls show Biden and Trump virtually tied in the next election. The only saving grace is that it is still a couple of years off. I can’t imagine what life will be like in America if Trump, or one of his disciples (like Gov. DeSatan,) gets into office. It may be April 1, but this is no joke – it is my worst nightmare.

I can’t help but wonder how much longer I will live in Florida. I love my life here – I love my job and my co-workers and my friends. But sea levels are rising – hello, climate change! My husband, who has two degrees in oceanography and marine science, fears we will be under water sooner rather than later, even though we are about 14 miles inland from the coast. Not to mention the political climate, which is becoming untenable for me. But I do love the weather here and truly hate the cold. I am uncomfortably cold when it drops below 70!

I grew up in New York but moved to Florida when I was 17 years old and went to the University of Miami. That was the year it snowed in Miami! When I lived in New York, I had terrible bouts of strep throat and bronchitis, year after year, not to mention terrible allergies. I still have allergies, but they are much milder, and haven’t had a strep throat or bronchitis since I moved down here. But my grandchild is in NY, so if I have to move, it will be somewhere a lot closer to my family there. Not sure when that will be, but eventually. Maybe. Who knows!


Book News

A Scientific Explanation for Your Urge to Sniff Old Books: Jude Stewart Breaks Down the Chemical Reactions Behind Olfactory Bibliomania (yes, I do that!)

The fantasy author Brandon Sanderson set out to raise $1 million on Kickstarter* in 30 days to self-publish four new books. He reached the goal in about 35 minutes — and has now topped $37 million.

How fiction and poetry can help you navigate a loved one’s dementia* Caretaking is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs anyone can do. Maybe this will offer a bit of relief.

The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past Fifty Years* from the New York Times, some real gems on there!

Library Insanity

They’re burning books in Tennessee

Schools nationwide are quietly removing books from their libraries*: Meet the librarians fighting bans and scrambling to preserve children’s freedom to read

Texas Library Association Forms Coalition to Battle Book Bans: The move comes as efforts to ban books, primarily books involving race or LGBTQ issue, have increased dramatically.

Idaho Republicans push bill that would fine and jail librarians for certain books. The bill, which has passed the House, would come with a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail. And my favorite part: they’re not saying which books.

Publishing Giants Are Fighting Libraries on E-Books: The Association of American Publishers filed suit to block a new Maryland law that aims to increase public libraries’ access to e-books, with support from a powerful copyright lobbying group. If you’re wondering why you have to wait three months or more to borrow a new bestseller for your Kindle, here’s why.

And finally, some good library news!

What’s Cooking

Since Pi Day, 3.14 (March 14,) fell on a Monday and it was the first day back to school after spring break, it seemed like a good day for pi. Pie, that is. Did you know that cheesecake is actually pie? And that Boston Cream Pie is actually cake? Librarians; we do the deep dive for you!

A few of my colleagues and I made pies for our student workers and staff. I made the pumpkin using a recipe based on a Paula Deen recipe that I tweaked. I upped the spices, used some brown sugar, and ditched her idea of buying pie crust for a ginger snap crust instead.

INGREDIENTS
1 (8 oz) package softened cream cheese (I leave it out overnight)
1 can pumpkin puree (not pie filling!)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk (or 2%)
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

PIE CRUST
1 1/2 cups Ginger Snap crumbs (Trader Joes preferred!)
6 T. butter, melted
1/4 cup light brown or white sugar

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Easiest way to make the ginger snap crumps is to dump a little more than 1 1/2 cups of broken ginger snaps into the food processor and pulse until finely ground. Measure out 1 1/2 cups and remove the rest (great on ice cream or sprinkle on top of the pie.) Put the crumbs back in the food processor and add sugar and melted butter. Pulse until like wet sand. Press into deep 9” pie plate and bake for 8-10 minutes. It should barely be brown around the edges. Let cool while making pie filling.

Turn down the oven to 350°F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium high until fluffy. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined with no white streaks are left. Add the sugar and salt, and beat to combine. Add the egg with the yolks, heavy cream, milk, and melted butter, and beat on low until well mixed. Finally, add the vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and beat just to combine.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the center is set. Check it after 30 minutes and cover the pie crust if it is getting too dark. (I use this: https://amzn.to/3JXj2lq) Place the pie on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate when cool. (If you look carefully at the picture, you can see that I forgot to use the deep dish pie pan when I made this, so I had extra pie filling leftover. Don’t be me!)


In exciting news from my world, my grandson recently celebrated his first birthday, and he is learning Spanish as well as English!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: March 1, 2022

March 1, 2022

The news from Ukraine is just heartbreaking. My grandmother was from Kyiv, although I grew up being told she was from Russia. Turns out she was born in the “Russian Empire” in the city of Kyiv in the Ukraine. Her parents were killed and she was sent to America as an infant to live with an aunt and uncle in upstate New York. That was around the turn of the last century. And here we are again, the Jewish president with a target on his back and the country invaded by another madman.

Here’s how Americans can donate to help people in Ukraine* via the Washington Post. I donated to World Central Kitchen, Chef Jose Andres’s foundation. He is already there, feeding the refugees and anyone else who is hungry. https://wck.org/relief/activation-chefs-for-ukraine

With all the wars the US has been involved with in my lifetime, somehow what is happening in Ukraine feels different, even though American lives are not on the front lines. In 1990, I purchased a book called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The review is buried deep on my blog, so I’m adding it here. It is one of the seminal works of the Vietnam War. Interestingly, O’Brien won the National Book Award for Going After Cacciato (another excellent book) but not this one which has become a classic. Why am I bringing this up? Yesterday, I saw that title in the New York Times in reference to this article about Ukrainians fleeing their country: The One Item They Had to Take When These 6 Afghans Fled*

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien: I bought this book in 1990, read the first few chapters/stories and then came to “On the Rainy River.” It upset me so much that I put the book down and didn’t pick it back up again for sixteen years.

I don’t think most people would pick that particular story as the most upsetting, or the hardest to read, because it’s not about the horrors of Vietnam. Instead, it’s about the horrors of a young man getting his draft notice, and as that was a much more personal recollection for me, it packed an enormous emotional wallop. For me.

“I was a coward. I went to the war.”

I’m sure others had a much harder time with “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, about a soldier who smuggles his girlfriend in from the states and what happens to her during her stay there, or with “The Man I Killed” with a grenade or with “The Ghost Soldiers.”

This book is a novel, a memoir, a collection of stories, a series of vignettes, the seminal work of fiction on the Vietnam War – take your pick, it’s all of these and more. The title page emphatically states that it is fiction, and indeed, there is even a chapter/story entitled “How to Tell a True War Story”, yet it is also dedicated to men with the same names as the characters in the book, and there is even a character named “Tim O’Brien”. But as O’Brien points out, the truth is a slippery thing, and if calling it fiction works best for the author, especially in light of the recent brouhaha over creative nonfiction writing, I certainly won’t argue the point.

Several of the chapters were previously published as short stories, including the title piece, “The Things they Carried”, an amazing piece of writing either on its own or as the opening to a novel. O’Brien lists the physical items that men carried with them in Vietnam, from the mundane like canteens and a toothbrush, to the war necessities of “…the three standard weapons – the M-60, M-16, and M-79 – they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive.” They carried good luck charms, a rabbit’s foot, a pebble sent from a girl back home. They carried diseases, and “…all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing.”

The stories are often tellings and retellings of the same event from different perspectives, again proving how difficult it is to nail down the truth. They flow, never moving linearly but rather back and forth through time, before the war, during the war, and homecoming. All in all, a very emotional read for me and I’m very glad I finally finished it. The first half or so of the title story is available on Google Books if you want to take a look.

“But this too is true: stories can save us.”

04/06; updated 03/22 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch


It is starting to feel like life is getting back to somewhat normal, or a new normal, at least. As of Feb. 25, the CDC has updated its Covid-19 guidelines. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where the COVID-19 Community Level is low, all restrictions have pretty much been lifted. You can check your Community Level by entering your state and county on the online form here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html. As of yesterday, where I live the level is “Medium” which means masks are not really needed unless you are high risk. That said, I’m not quite ready to stop wearing a mask in busy public indoor spaces, but I am definitely in the minority.

I think most people are just sick of it all – sick of wearing a mask, of isolating, of this whole damn pandemic. And I get that. But I still have some fears, especially concerning my husband and his health issues, and my too-young-to-be-vaccinated grandson, so wearing a mask makes me feel a tiny bit safer so that’s what I’m doing. For now. If my community level drops to “low,” I will probably retire my masks. As far as flying goes, that is up in the air (sorry!) The federal mask mandate is set to end soon, but whether it will be extended is unknown at this time.

Despite updated COVID-19 mask guidance announced Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the lifting of mask mandates across the country, the federal mask mandate covering planes, airports, trains and other public transportation is in effect until at least March 18.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/airline-news/2022/02/25/mask-mandate-travel-cdc-guidelines/6938530001/

What’s Cooking

I may be late to the party but I decided to try the viral recipe for Pasta Chips from TikTok, where all viral recipes come from now.

@feelgoodfoodie

#pastachips are my new favorite chips! They’re so good and make the best appetizer! #pastatiktok #summertime

♬ Music Food (Director Cut Mix) – Chad

I know that when I make baked pasta, like baked ziti or lasagna, my favorite bites are of the crispy pasta on the top, so this sounded interesting to me. I made some soup the other night and had some leftover “pasta ribbons” so I decided to give it a try. I accidentally bought these instead of egg noodles – they look like egg noodles but they don’t have eggs in them, so Publix calls them “pasta ribbons.” I tossed them with a bit of olive oil. I decided to go with a “cacio e pepe” flavoring, so I grated some Romano cheese, coarsely ground some black pepper, and tossed it all together. I threw it in a single layer in the air fryer, and voila! Pasta chips.

It took about 10 minutes or so in the air fryer, and since I already had the cooked pasta, only another minute to grate everything and mix it up, so it was pretty easy to make. Most people serve these with some kind of dipping sauce like marinara sauce, and a feta dip is pretty popular, too. I didn’t bother since I only had a cup or so of the noodles, so we just ate them as is. They were tasty – not the best thing I’ve ever made by any means, and nothing I would set out to make. I mean, I wouldn’t cook up a pound of pasta to make this. But if I end up with some leftover pasta again, I would make it again. As far as snack foods go, it’s probably on the healthier side of things if you don’t mind the carbs. And by that I mean healthier than Doritos or potato chips!

The Washington Post wasn’t thrilled; this was their headline: TikTok’s viral pasta chips are a mediocre mess that I’ll never make again*. That said, they did their excellent reporting anyway and dug deep into the history of this dish. That led me to Toasted Ravioli*, which I’ve been meaning to make. I even bought a small bag of frozen smoked mozzarella ravioli from Aldi to try it with, but haven’t gone there yet. But now that Voraciously, the food arm of the Washington Post, led me to their recipe, I will give it a try soon.

Chile Peppers

I stumbled across this article in the Washington Post from a few years ago: A guide to dried chile peppers — your secret flavor weapon in the kitchen. I took a cooking class several years ago and they gave us some dried arbol chilies. I didn’t know what to do with them besides the recipe we made and I wasn’t sure how long they would keep, so I ended up throwing them away. Foolish me. Recently, I was at Aldi’s, the first time since the pandemic began (!) and they had a few different kinds of dried chilies from the Badia spice company. I purchased the ancho and guajillo, and have almost used them up already. It’s been cold here in the Sunshine State and I’ve been making chili.

Unfortunately, my experience with Aldi is to not bother making a list, I just wander through and see what they have. Most of the time I never see the same things there again. Even basics can be frustrating to find. I’ve looked for celery or cucumbers or Greek yogurt and they haven’t had them at one time or another. And this was pre-pandemic/supply chain issues! But I do enjoy the serendipity of shopping there occasionally, like finding smoked mozzarella ravioli and dried chilies.

Book News

How a Book Is Made*: Ink, paper, and a 200,000 pound printer! Have you ever wondered how a book becomes a book? Join the New York Times as they follow Marlon James’s “Moon Witch, Spider King” through the printing process.

Lisa Gardner, the Thriller Writer Who Loves Historical Romance*: I’ve known Lisa for years, and now you can, too!

2022 ITW Thriller Awards Nominees have been announced!

BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL

Megan Abbott – THE TURNOUT (Penguin/Putnam)
S. A. Cosby – RAZORBLADE TEARS (Flatiron Books)
Alice Feeney – ROCK PAPER SCISSORS (Flatiron Books)
Rachel Howzell Hall – THESE TOXIC THINGS (Thomas & Mercer)
Alma Katsu – RED WIDOW (Penguin/Putnam)
Eric Rickstad – I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM (Blackstone Publishing)

BEST AUDIOBOOK

S. A. Cosby – RAZORBLADE TEARS (Macmillan)
Narrated by Adam Lazarre-White
Samantha Downing – SLEEPING DOG LIE (Audible Originals)
Narrated by Melanie Nicholls-King and Lindsey Dorcus
Rachel Howzell Hall – HOW IT ENDS (Audible Originals)
Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Gregg Hurwitz – PRODIGAL SON (Macmillan)
Narrated by Scott Brick
Nadine Matheson – THE JIGSAW MAN (HarperCollins)
Narrated by Davine Henry

BEST FIRST NOVEL

Abigail Dean – GIRL A (HarperCollins)
Eloísa Díaz – REPENTANCE (Agora Books)
Amanda Jayatissa – MY SWEET GIRL (Berkley)
David McCloskey – DAMASCUS STATION (W.W. Norton & Company)
Eric Redman – BONES OF HILO (Crooked Lane Books)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Joy Castro – FLIGHT RISK (Lake Union)
Aaron Philip Clark – UNDER COLOR OF LAW (Thomas & Mercer)
C. J. Cooke – THE LIGHTHOUSE WITCHES (Berkley)
Jess Lourey – BLOODLINE (Thomas & Mercer)
Terry Roberts – MY MISTRESS’ EYES ARE RAVEN BLACK (Turner Publishing Company)

BEST SHORT STORY

S.A. Cosby – “Not My Cross to Bear” (Down & Out Books)
William Burton McCormick – “Demon in the Depths” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Scott Loring Sanders – “The Lemonade Stand” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Jeff Soloway – “The Interpreter and the Killer” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
John Wimer – “Bad Chemistry” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Maureen Johnson – THE BOX IN THE WOODS (HarperCollins)
Nova McBee – CALCULATED (Wolfpack Publishing LLC)
Ginny Myers Sain – DARK AND SHALLOW LIES (Penguin Young Readers)
Courtney Summers – THE PROJECT (Wednesday Books)
Krystal Sutherland – HOUSE OF HOLLOW (Penguin Young Readers)

BEST E-BOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Greig Beck – THE DARK SIDE: ALEX HUNTER 9 (Pan Macmillan)
John Connell – WHERE THE WICKED TREAD (John Connell)
Wendy Dranfield – LITTLE GIRL TAKEN (Bookouture)
E.J. Findorff – BLOOD PARISH (E.J. Findorff)
S. E. Green – MOTHER MAY I (S. E. Green)
Andrew Kaplan – BLUE MADAGASCAR (Andrew Kaplan)
Karin Nordin – LAST ONE ALIVE (HarperCollins)

ITW will announce the winners at ThrillerFest XVII on Saturday, June 4, 2022 at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, New York City. Congratulations to all the finalists!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: February 1, 2022

February 1, 2022

Welcome back to the pandemic that never ends! Ever hopeful, last June I changed the name of this monthly journal from “Coronavirus Diary” to “Cerebration,” meaning to use the mind, to think. Plus it sounds like “celebration” which I thought we could do because, no more Covid. It seemed like the worst of it was over. There were vaccines available everywhere. I was so naïve. Here we are almost two years in and the experts still can’t agree on anything except the novel coronavirus is here to stay, in all its variant glory. I give up; my Coronavirus Diary is also here to stay.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the “On Parenting” newsletter written by Jessica Grose for the New York Times. I have a grandson now and things have changed a lot since my kids were infants, and I like to keep up on what’s new, so I subscribed. Anyway, Grose mentioned how her 9-year-old daughter was wondering if the pandemic would still be around when she was ready for college, and she goes on to say she wasn’t “quite ready to break down the difference between ‘pandemic’ and ‘endemic.’” That was in the newsletter I received, but she also wrote an op-ed, Your Kid’s Existential Dread Is Normal. that touches on parenting during this pandemic that parents may find helpful.

We keep thinking this will end at some point, this life with masks and vaccines and incredibly selfish people who use neither. But what if we are wrong. What if, without our even realizing it, this pandemic has evolved into an endemic. And why do we never hear “epidemic,” which seems most like what we are experiencing? I looked to the internet and Merriam Webster for answers.

https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/epidemic-endemic-pandemic-what-are-differences

epidemic: an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time an outbreak of epidemic disease

pandemic: an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population a pandemic outbreak of a disease, i.e. a global pandemic

endemic: 2: restricted or peculiar to a locality or region, i.e. endemic diseases. Used in a sentence:

The reality is that the virus will eventually become endemic, like many other pathogens that humanity lives with.— The Editorial Board, WSJ, 21 Dec. 2021

https://www.merriam-webster.com/

It turns out that a lot of people are talking about an endemic, with the general consensus being the Covid pandemic will evolve into an endemic in 2022. This year. Pretty much any day now. And that is a good thing, believe it or not.

Omicron might mark the end of Covid-19’s pandemic phase — unless a certain scenario happens, Fauci says. “A disease that is endemic has a constant presence in a population but does not affect an alarmingly large number of people or disrupt society, as typically seen in a pandemic.”

Doctor [Amesh Adalja, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health] thinks COVID-19 will transition to endemic status in 2022. “Adalja said COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere but will likely transition this year to endemic status, meaning it’s always around but we have tools to fight it — things like monoclonal antibody treatments, antivirals and most importantly, vaccines.”

We are on track for Covid to evolve and be treated more like the flu. It’s only taken two years since the defeated former president “admitted to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in early February that he knew the coronavirus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu,” but the [defeated former] president continued to compare Covid-19 to the flu for weeks following his conversation with Woodward, claiming he “wanted to always play it down.” Forbes, All The Times Trump Compared Covid-19 To The Flu, Even After He Knew Covid-19 Was Far More Deadly

Life goes on, with any luck. I am double masking at work. I start every day with a smile, as soon as I look at a picture of my grandson. I further escape into books. And cooking/baking.

What’s Cooking

Here’s the best thing I made in January: Short Rib Onion Soup from Smitten Kitchen.

short rib onion soup – smitten kitchen
https://smittenkitchen.com/2021/12/short-rib-onion-soup/

It is not a last minute dinner decision, a thirty-minute meal, or a sheet pan dinner, but you know what? Not everything has to be! It’s not made from pantry ingredients, either. I had to go shopping and buy short ribs and more onions and fresh thyme (my herb garden is dead) and a leek. On the plus side, I had some beef stock in the freezer that was going on six months old and needed to be used immediately, if not sooner. (Please don’t tell me we are all going to die because it was too old or whatever; I used it, we ate it, it was delicious, we lived.)

It took me a good part of the day to make this, but I didn’t mind a bit. First of all, it smells amazing every step of the way, from heavily browning the short ribs to braising them in the oven to caramelizing the onions to broiling the cheese toasts. You can make the short ribs a day ahead, if that helps. My husband and my daughter kept wandering in to see what was cooking, so that was fun.

By the time it was all ready, the incredible smells that had permeated the house all day had us so crazed and hungry we scarfed it down like we hadn’t eaten in a week. (Seriously, which means I didn’t get a picture, so I borrowed this one from Deb Perelman. Thanks, Deb!) Everyone loved it, and if you enjoy an occasional day of slow cooking, I promise you won’t be sorry you made this. (Other than the expense – short ribs are $$$) But I have enough left over for another dinner, and that will take less than thirty minutes. And something to look forward to – a new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is coming in fall 2022!

Book News

This village was a book capital. What happens when people stop buying so many books?* This is a wonderful article in the Washington Post about Redu, Belgium, and how they saved this small village by opening bookstores. A lot of bookstores. If you’re familiar with Hay-on-Wye, this is the first “copycat” town.

F.B.I. Arrests Man Accused of Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts* The New York Times reported that Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen who worked in publishing, was charged with wire fraud and identity theft for a scheme that prosecutors said affected hundreds of people over five or more years.

A Library the Internet Can’t Get Enough Of* Why does this image keep resurfacing on social media? The New York Times investigates this viral photo of an incredible home library.

Finally, I can’t not mention Wordle. Back in December, I discovered this game (from my son? from an article? I don’t remember!) and I fell in love. In case you aren’t on social media, don’t listen to podcasts, or read the news, it is the latest fad to hit the pandemic. It’s an old school word game that you play on a bare bones website. No app. No ads. No sucking you in and playing all day because <gasp> there is only one puzzle to solve each day. It takes me anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to play and it is one of the most satisfying five to fifteen minutes of my day. There has only been one puzzle so far that I couldn’t solve (WHACK) and once I had a twofer – solved it in two guesses (MOUNT). If you want to try it, best hurry – the New York Times just bought it and will be (I’m sure) rolling it into their games app. Although they did say it will be free initially, so kudos NYT on that, for however long it lasts. And honestly, kudos to them for buying it, they could have created their own version. There have been several copycat versions with a twist, like Lewdle, Queerdle, and an archived version, and some wiseasses stole the game, turned it into an app, then tweeted about how they were monetizing it. Apple removed those apps from the App Store (and I’m assuming other app providers did as well, but I don’t know for sure.)

I think one of the most fun things about it is how easy it is to share on social media. You can show your score and it doesn’t give anything away. There’s a Facebook group, (probably several by now, but that’s the one I joined back when there were only a few hundred members – today there are 22,000!) It seems to be mostly on Twitter though, or at least it started out that way. It’s just the spot of fun that we all sometimes need in our day. I’ll write about my other word game obsession, the New York Times Spelling Bee, another day!

Play Wordle

The New York Times Buys Wordle

Listen to the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast on Wordle: Wordle is a daily dose of delight, despair, and sometimes smugness

The most common letters in Wordle

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Cerebration: January 1, 2022

January 1, 2022

I’ve been on vacation. Again. Apparently, I needed it.

I’m thinking about moving to a once weekly blog update. Maybe on Fridays, in time to find a few good reads for the weekend. I’d appreciate your thoughts on that.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been having eye issues for a few years now. In fact, I’m legally blind in one eye. Fortunately, the vision in my good eye is 20/15. It used to be 20/10 in both eyes. Just like Chuck Yeager:

In addition to his flying skills, Yeager also had “better than perfect” vision: 20/10. He reportedly could see enemy fighters from 50 miles away and ended up fighting in several wars.

https://www.npr.org/2020/12/07/341894780/pilot-chuck-yeager-dies-at-97-had-the-right-stuff-and-then-some

I’m sorry to say that I never did anything the least bit heroic with my superior vision. My husband appreciated it though; he used to say that I could read the signs on I-95 before he even realized there was a sign. It’s really tough going from excellent vision to where I am now. If I bob and weave, I can test out at 20/20 on an eye exam, but the DMV doesn’t let you do that. I couldn’t renew my drivers’ license until I got a note from my eye doctor.

I’m complaining about my vision again because it is taking me a lot longer to read and review than it used to. I’ve been reading Tell the Bees I am Gone by Diana Gabaldon for days and I’m barely half way through. I know her books are dense and not a quick read, and in my best days I never finished one in less than at least two days, sometimes three, but I am not used to having to spend days and days reading the same book. Luckily, I love her characters and the world she created for them so I enjoy spending time there. Good thing, too, since I’m going to be there a while longer.

If you want to make a charitable donation to start the new year, I hope you will consider the Seva Foundation; they are working to restore sight in the Americas. I have a Facebook fundraiser if you ware interested in helping: https://www.facebook.com/stacy.alesi/posts/574264547074800

I would feel remiss if I didn’t say something about this past year. When 2020 ended, I was so hopeful about 2021. I was looking forward to most people being vaccinated and the U.S. achieving that elusive bitch, “herd immunity.” It never happened, thanks to the conspiracy theorists and their moron of a leader, the feckless incompetent who lost the presidential election and built a house of lies upon it. And more Covid. Delta. Omnicron.

Wild fires. Climate change is changing the world in front of our eyes, and again, the conspiracy theorists and those devoid of any kind of common sense are happily ignoring it, leaving the planet a big mess for my children and grandchildren. The insurrection. OMG, the insurrection. People need to be held accountable for their participation. Especially the politicians, including the former president and all his minions.

Betty White dead at 99: Best moments and quotes
Getty images, New York Post

The people we lost this year, especially the authors: Eric Carle; Beverly Cleary; Eric Jerome Dickey; Joan Didion; Lois Ehlert; Lawrence Ferlinghetti; Maria Guarnaschelli; bell hooks; Norton Juster; Larry McMurtry; Gary Paulsen; Sharon Kay Penman; Anne Rice; Wilbur Smith; Andrew Vachss – to name a few. If you’re not sure who these authors are, they are all worth knowing and easy to look up. The last gut punch to the year, (per my daughter, and she’s right,) we lost Betty White* yesterday. 

But I am ever hopeful, however, that 2022 will be a better year. I can’t even fathom of a year that could be worse than the last two we have weathered.

I wish you all a happy, healthy new year, filled with love and joy and lots of good reads!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to the New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to this article, a lovely perk for subscribers.