At the moment, citizens of Little Macondo have no reason  to ask where  the snows of yesteryear have gone. The snow, my friends has returned with a vengeance. Yesterday,  snowflakes  nearly a large as popped corn poured from the sky   for six hours to cloak  the entire village in  glittery white. At my house, we spent part  of the time feeding voracious wood stove, Morsolino, our main source of warmth. In between trips to the wood pile, we read, drank tea, deplored the  shamefully bad articles in Newsweek and praised the excellence of the writing in  The New Yorker and Harper’s.
Perhaps it is typical of those over fifty to mourn their salad days when journalist took their work seriously  and editors knew how to do their jobs. Again, it is quite possible that today’s journalists target  readers whose attention span is briefer than their underwear. The effect of e-mail, instant messaging, texting and blogging, the immediacy of which often precludes reflection,  and care may account for a relaxation of old rules. A new language seems to be emerging from   text messages. That is very exciting. Linguistic evolution often is so slow it goes on unnoticed by all but academics. To keep track of  rapid change the  English language has undergone since the internet revolution  is to watch history unfold. To witness  the the emergence of new forms of expression is exhilarating. To see citizen journalists challenge the monopoly traditional media once had on the written word is at once alarming and fascinating. It is a pity, however, that in effort not be left behind, so many journalist  the traditional media dumb down their writing.

Being snowbound  is a chance to be more aware of  details we fail to notice unless we slow our pace–the way the setting sun suffuses grey clouds with a subtle lavender wash, the raucous cries of the blue jay in the snowy woods, the muted song of the creek behind our house. What we do on snowy days is to match our pace to that of the snowfall. We move go about our business steadily. We read and read–Orlando Figes on the dark days of Stalin’s reign of terror, a lovely article by Jonathan Rosen on the poet Milton, Trailhead, a perfect  story by E. O. Wilson and we find delicious treats on the net, for example,

Let it snow!


Reading the news on the net is such sweet sorrow. This morning, I blundered upon “A Nation  of Nicompoops”, a virulent attack on  the Obama administration by a  Alex Massie,  whose creds include having written  for a publication called The Scotsman.  Dissing Americans must boost his hits, but  so many British writers seem make a profession of feeling superior to us crass colonials I wonder what would happen if they were forced to write objectively about American politics. Massie spent a whole five years in Washington DC and perhaps this qualifies him for punditry. In my opinion, it should  qualify him  to be  the local dog catcher. That would free him from the onerous task of having to write about cricket–his political blathering is anything but  cricket. Personally, I would like to import him to our little burg and let him run the dog pound. Unfortunately,  Little Macondo by DC has its share of  homegrown underemployed nincompoops competing for the post. The addition of a a British cricket writer to its number is something up with which they probably  would  not put.



According to  the weather forecast,  the meteorological treats the skies have in store for the Mid-Atlantic region are rain, sleet and snow–in other words, brr weather. This calls for  for extraordinary measures, namely, hearty meals that will neither  wreck the household  budget nor  add pounds to the householder’s figure. Hot cucumber soup made with whole milk, cucumbers, potatoes, peas, queso blanco and mozzarella is  a spin off of a Brazilian dish. The original calls for West Indian gherkins and fresh pinto beans, both unavailable at local supermarkets.

Serves four

One tablespoon butter
One tablespoon flour
Half a cup Half and Half

Two cups whole milk
One teaspoon salt
One large potato, peeled and cubed
One cup fresh or frozen peas
Two pickling cucumbers, peeled and cubed
Two ounces quesso blanco, cubed
Two ounces mozzarella, cubed
Freshly grated black pepper to taste
Half a cup cilantro minced
One  tablespoon chives, minced

Make roux. Place milk and salt in soup pot  and bring mix to a boil. Add potatoes. Simmer for ten minutes. Add peas and simmer until brely cooked–approximately three minutes. Add cucumbers, cheese  and roux. Turn of heat and allow soup to rest for ten minutes. Add pepper, cilantro and chives. Serve with toasted sesame batard slices.


In Brazil, beef soup sometimes is made with leftovers from the large midday meal–beef, rice, potatoes and noodles.  Made from scratch, it begins with cubed beef, shallots, garlic, black pepper, green peppers, and tomatoes. Although these ingredients are fairly constant, there is no fixed recipe since many Brazilians prefer to whatever is in season.  My  version uses  uses lean ground beef, onions, garlic carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and noodles as well as a spice that is not part of the Brazilian culinary vernacular–smoked Spanish paprika.

Serves six

Six carrots, diced
Two onions, minced
Three cloves garlic
Two  tablespoons olive oil
Half a cup minced cilantro
Heat olive oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until transparent. Add carrots. Cook for three minutes.
Two slices bread soaked in water
One pound lean ground beef

One egg
Two teaspoons salt
Two onions, minced
Three cloves of garlic, minced
Half a cup cilantro, minced
Four cups beef broth seasoned with one teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
Two  cups sliced mushrooms
Two potatoes, diced
 Mix all the ingredients and use a melon baller to shape into small meatballs.  Cook the meatballs in beef broth for ten minutes. add potatoes and cook until tender. Add noodles and cook for five minutes.  Add carrot and onion mix and simmer until noodles are al dente.. Add mushrooms and turn off heat. Wait  five minutes before adding cilantro.


Amy Stewart

Candy is dandy, but books don’t rot your teeth. Ogden Nash’s witticism aside, dental health is only one of   reasons to give your Valentine  a copy of Amy Stewart’s  Wicked Plants : the Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities instead of a box of chocolates.  Approximately the size of a ballotin of  truffles, this little volume is  packed with scientific fact and  anecdotes  rendered in polished prose and graced with eerie copperplate etchings  sure  to send a  frisson  down the viewer’s spine. Its subject is the villains of the botanical world–plants whose innocuous appearance conceals their deadly potential. Stewart  leads the reader on a fantastic  tour of the dark side of the plant world pausing to expose garden variety rogues such as  Kentucky and Johnson grass, both of which can trigger severe allergic reactions. It detours  through truck farmers’ country to reveal  the evil hidden  veggies  as ubiquitous as carrots, celery,  corn and kidney  beans and as unusual  as Jamaican ackee fruit.  It goes on to show that  standard items in  American cottage gardens–lily of the valley, bleeding hearts, larkspur, delphinium, foxglove, hydrangea and chrysanthemums, for example– can be lethal.
Stewart writes  that she did not  write her book to frighten people away from the outdoors.  Besides, danger also lurks in houseplants. Ficus trees can induce anaphylactic shock, philodendron can cause skin irritation  and so can the corrosive sap of Euphorbia.
When it comes to botanical atrocities, ignorance can kill.  Had Colonial America produced  a compendium on poisonous plants, Lincoln’s mother might not have perished at  age thirty-four, after having drunk  milk contaminated by white snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum.  Neither would the early settlers of Jamestown, Virginia  had added thorn apple, Datura stramonium, to their diet.  I happen to be  one of the lucky people to have survived a walloping dose of the  tropane alkaloids present in datura , which I made into a salad when I was a pre-schooler. Although its toxicity varies, which explains why I lived to tell the tale, the side-effects of datura include high fever, hallucination and respiratory failure.
Just because your Valentine might be safe from contact with Datura, deadly nightshade, blister bush, peacock flower and poison hemlock  does not mean that he knows which plants to avoid when he puts together a floral love token.  Having read Wicked Weeds he will know that  azaleas, hyacinths, alstromeria, azaleas, Delphinium and many of the plants available at the florist’s on Heart Day are not exactly love tokens.   Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ copper etchings in Wicked Plants are in themselves a Valentine’s bouquet of surpassing beauty.


Award-winning crime writer Matt Beynon Rees reads from THE FOURTH ASSASSIN, his new novel, Feb. 2 in New York.
The fourth installment in Matt’s Crime Writers Association Dagger-winning series about Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef is published Feb. 1. In New York for a UN conference, Omar uncovers an assassination plot. The suspect: his own son. Omar’s most personal investigation so far.
Matt will read from the book Feb. 2 at 7 p.m.
Location: Partners & Crime bookstore, 44 Greenwich Avenue (note, it’s on Greenwich Avenue, not Greenwich Street), in Greenwich Village, NYC
Matt Beynon Rees is the award-winning author of the Omar Yussef series. A prize-winning journalist, he has reported for 14 years from the Middle East for Time, Newsweek and British newspapers. His novels have been translated into 23 languages. He lives in Jerusalem.
Read more about THE FOURTH ASSASSIN. Watch a video about the book. Order it fromamazon.com or from amazon.co.uk. For publicity contact Grace McQuade (212) 446-5101 gmcquade@goldbergmcduffie.com



What if you could drink in potency, vitality, clarity and well-being in one fell slurp? Some purveyors of mate 
( pronounced MAH-tay)  the South  American tea made with the leaf and stems of of a type of holly,  Ilex paraguariensis claim that their product  offers you all that as well as antioxidants, vitamins,  cancer fighting phenolics,  antibacterial, antifungal and weight reducing agents.  They quote data  from scientific journals, biochemists, the University of Illinois, and the prestigious Pasteur Institute to support their claims. Nonbelievers not only  dismiss  the brew’s magic properties; they list studies that mention possible links between mate drinking and bladder, esophagus and lung cancer. 

All this scientific and pseudo-scientific brouhaha leaves me cold. My interest in mate has nothing to do with the validity of this or that hypothesis. A long time ago, during   my salad days in northeast Brazil,   I discovered a Lebanese bistro that served mate batido,  a sweet  iced beverage made with toasted mate tea with   sfiha, a Syrian-Lebanese pastry as  a an yet to be labeled fusion cuisine snack.  Today, as a confirmed coffee drinker who has issues with caffeine, I am looking for a gentler  alternative. Mate also contains caffeine, but some of its distributors claim that it is healthier than coffee. Who knows? Slogging  through the welter of claims and counterclaims complicated  the process of how to cheat on Joe until much travelled friend Borys brought home a bag of Argentinian mate tea and a guampa, the gourd traditionally used as a container for the miraculous beverage. In matters culinary I am fearless. If it tastes good and it does not kill me, I will go for it. All I need before I toss my espresso maker, is a source of fresh sfiha.


Monet’s Galettes.

Half a cup brown sugar
Four tablespoons butter
4 apples, peeled and sliced
Two ounces crystallized ginger, minced
Melt  butter and brown sugar in an oven proof mold. Simmer for four minutes. Layer apple slices and crystallized ginger.
Half a cup dark molasses
Half a cup manuka honey
Half a cup sugar
Half a cup butter
Two and half cups flour
One teaspoon  ginger
One teaspoon cinnamon
One teaspoon baking soda
Four eggs
One cup milk
Mix flour, baking soda and spices. Reserve. Cream sugar and butter. Add molasses, milk and eggs. Beat until thoroughly combined. Add flour mix. Pour batter over apple slices. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes.

Happy birthday, Your Sweetness!


Valentine’s and birthday loom in the horizon. If he goes a-roving, he gets bubkes. If he stays put, he gets a feast. He is a man of distinctly epicurean habits and for such men, chicken with forty cloves of garlic is–I’m guessing here in spite of twenty years of close association–better than shunga. Anyroad, shunga for some of us of a certain age shunga can a been-there-done-that sort of thing, an  unrefined, simple minded thing. Garlic is subtler. Garlic is good, as the  the menu Louis de Bernieres’s odalisque  devised  for her lover in Birds with Broken Wings demonstrates. 
I missed the deadline for fall planting, negligent gardener that I am. It was not for lack of incentive. Johnny’s Selected, the Cook’s Garden, Burpee’s. Thompson & Morgan  and various other seed purveyors update me regularly on  new additions to their inventories. what with the voracious deer, my enthusiasm for establishing new beds waned with gardening season and so I missed the chance to try out Nootka, an heirloom variety from Washington state. But all is not lost. Silver Rose garlic is said to grow very fast, whatever that means in seed catalog parlance.  If I manage to  keep Bambi at bay this coming spring–I am thinking of building a nice moat and dawbridge system or  very tricky haha to keep my pocket handkerchief veggie plot. All is fair in love and love and war.


There was a fiftyish man ahead of me at the checkout  line at the supermarket and I  had a temporarily relapse into my newspaper columnist days when all that moved was copy. That was just an excuse. I love peeking into people’s grocery carts. I try to guess from the contents what sort of life they might be leading. Newspaper columnists rarely refrain from such minor invasions of privacy. It is a hard habit  to kill. Anyway,. the man ahead of me was darkly handsome in an outdated, Italian pop singer way–Dean Martin’s, perhaps. He had an expensive Republican haircut–think Rat Pack– and he wore an expensive looking leather jacket. He bought, a 24-pack of imported beer. That told me that he was neither local nor poor. By and large, poor locals in that age group buy domestic. Darkly Handsome  bought, in addition, a large carton of  cottage cheese, fresh asparagus, raspberries,  green grapes and a bottle of  red Columbia Crest wine. His bill came to thirty eight dollars..  Note the red wone, which indicates that he will be having meat with it. that many of that many men of that  generation would consider  fair-to-middling wine, a steak, a baked potato and an out of season veggie  followed by out of season fruit a prelude to romance. Do I know that by experience? Certainly not. Due to an European upbringing, my own guy’s idea of seductive food  does not include plain  meat and potatoes–tournedos and pommes Anna, maybe. Columbia Crest wine, jamais.   Ergo Darkly Handsome must be  an average American,  Where did I learn about the mating habits of the average fiftyish American male? I learned  them from the souurce of all wisdom, i.e,  American movies.

Il Dino Martino, Rat Packlish impish.

But where was DH’s steak? Where was the potato? Where was the sour cream for the potato? What was it with the cottage cheese? If he could afford a pricey haircut and jacket why did buy Columbia Crest wine by the bottle? Iif he had serious money he would have good vintage wine stashed at home, right? Hell, he’s have a personal chef . So, Darkly Handsome was an out of state, middle class guy who spent more onhair and clothes than on his prospective squeeze. Problem, the Infanta who is a truly observant person, pointed out that DH wore a wedding ring. Damn and blast.That changes everything.  The wine and beer were for him, the rest was for his wife. who had just made a New Year’s resolution to go on a diet, hence the cottage cheese, fruit and veggies. Such expensive diet  fare points to  a dual  income. DH was then, an average married middle middle class, conservative American–no ear rings, no visible tats.  Columbia Crest wine probably hints at an anti-globalisation cast of mind.  Whatever he was, he stood out from the bearded, long-haired, flanel shirted, work booted guys whose shopping carts contained a big bag of dog food, domestic beer and a giant frozen pizza..  That means poor,  divorced and  committed to their buddies ( giant pizza is the clue here) and dog. I have spoken.