chocolate cake

An explanation for  those of you who have been craving the chocolate banana cake from Jane Green’s novel PROMISES TO KEEP and who wanted a recipe. It was my feeling that readers should buy, beg or borrow the novel in which it was published. On second thought, maybe  the author’s recipe and my variation on it will encourage those who visit this blog to discover–or rediscover–Green’s work.


1 cup plain baker’s chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup plus two tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 bananas, mashed

Preheat to 350 F
Melt chocolate in bain-marie
Cream  butter and sugar. Add eggs gradually while beating. Stir together flour, baking powder and cocoa and fold into the mixture. add melted chocolate and mashed bananas.Bake for 45 minutes.



Preheat to 350 F

 1 cup plain baker’s chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup plus two tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 bananas, mashed

1 teaspoon double vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/8 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 cups hulled strawberries or raspberries

Melt chocolate. Cream  butter and sugar. Add eggs gradually while beating.
Stir  together flour, baking powder and cocoa and fold into the mixture. add melted chocolate and mashed bananas.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Decorate  with berries. 


Penguin 75 ann logo

Penguin’s founder Allen Lane started the paperback revolution with that little flippant

but dignified Penguin (his secretary came up with the name and he sent another colleague off

to the zoo to make sketches).   One year later, 3 million Penguin paperbacks had been sold.  Today, the

Penguin imprint alone has over 4000 books in print.  To learn more about its history, see http://www.penguinbooks75.com/original10.html  here and ://www.penguinbooks75.com/timeline.html here.

Penguin’s is hands down the publishing logo most recognized internationally—including the story

of Terry Waite, the Anglican clergyman who was held hostage in Beirut.  Six months into his

captivity, Waite made friends with his jailer, and although they spoke different languages he

managed to tell the jailer he wanted a book.  He drew an oval, and he drew a penguin, and he

said, “find me a book that looks like that, and it will be a good book.”

A bright-orange

http://www.penguinbooks75.com/blog_tour.html Penguin Mobile (an adorable mini-cooper with the Penguin logo) is driving to bookstores all over the US parties in their hometowns, increase awareness

of The Nature Conservancy, and promote literacy.  At each event, a set of 75 Penguin

Books is donated to a local library or literacy group. Each author is signing the Penguin-mobile

as it makes its way across the United States, and the summer’s events will culminate with a

party at the New York Public Library in September where Penguin will auction the car

with the proceeds going to the New York Public Library.




A person with talent may follow two possible roads: she can be a liar, or an artist.

Being a liar is easy. It can take a hundred forms: propaganda for religion, political ideas, personal freedoms  or against them. Advertising your own cleverness, or goodness, or alienation. Setting up a series of smoke machines and mirrors to convince others, or yourself, that you are in fact an artist. The common thread through all of these examples: talent turned to a persons own ends, rather than leading them.

Art, on the other hand, emerges when a person with talent quiets themselves to listen to the voice that already  speaks inside them. That voice, as Borges has noted, is remarkably consistent through history, giving the somewhat eerie impression that all great work may have been written by the same hand, although it is always heavily inflected by its named authors.

To me, the most interesting examples in the history of art are those that trace the pattern of the artists work as  they make this leap from practice or propaganda, into art. Dostoyevsky, already lauded for his first novel, the now almost-forgotten Poor Folk, returns from Russian prison and begins to turn out totally idiosyncratic works that are now foundational to world literature. Cortazar, after releasing a handful of competent, pedestrian stories, responds to the brutal political spasms of his native Argentina and his subsequent self-exile by bursting forth with some of the strangest and most gorgeous prose of the past century.

Far behind them on the road, my work has followed a similar pattern. I began by listening to experts, working with discipline, and doing an enormous amount of math to create each of my carefully crafted and totally uninteresting early stories. But at a time of severe personal crisis, the math began to crumble in my hands. The lessons of experts no longer helped me. Only one thing remained: the compulsion to write,  not to prove my competence, but to survive.

Amazingly, the work that began to emerge at that bleak time in my life was richer, more vivid, and stranger than anything I had ever attempted. It bore almost no relationship to the work I had been doing just weeks before. But it hadn’t come from nowhere . Looking back, I could see its antecedents in stories I had been scribbling since I was a child: all so strange themselves that I had never taken them seriously. I’d  thought they were scraps of construction material left over from my serious work. In reality, those scraps were the stories I had always been meant to write, leaking into the construction site where I’d been misusing my talent trying to build a house that looked like everyone else’s. When the circumstances of life weakened me to the point that I could no longer hold them back, those stories streamed in, bringing with them the voice and power I’d sought without success for so long.

Is there a lesson here for other artists? Can we find our way through the noise in our own minds without facing a Russian firing squad? Should we be seeking out trouble to refine us in our own lives?

We don’t need to chase disaster — any life will provide us with plenty. The secret of inspiration is both simpler and more difficult: it’s when we quiet ourselves to listen that we discover what we were always trying to say.


Robin Oliveira's MARY SUTTER

Mary Sutter is a woman on a collision course with nineteenth century mores. As she trains to be a midwife, she wants to become a surgeon more than anything. Such is her hunger for knowledge that she is willing to sacrifice a privileged position, the comfort of an affluent household and the approval of her family and peers. Fortunately for her, medicine is not a socially acceptable career for a woman of her time. Her compulsion   to shape her own destiny saves her from becoming one of those bland Victorian heroines prone to the vapors.

Robin Oliveira’s characters grow and acquire more facets  in the course of the story. Mary never loses sight of her goal, but she learns to make space in her life for deep compassion and love. Hers is not easy, flowery path. Her battles parallel, in a smaller way, more personalized way, the turmoil and suffering of a nation that nearly self-destructs while trying  to right its own  wrongs. In her on way, she is at war with her own society and just as the soldiers she attempts to cure, she is willing to go through fire and sword for a cause she believes to be righteous.
Mary begins her progression towards a career in medicine as nurse who must wash bed linens and, on occasion, do work reserved servants at her Albany home. Desperate to impose some order in the chaos of the primitive hospital hastily and inadequately set up in the Union Hotel,in Georgetown Mary mops a floor that seems symbolic of the national of affairs. It is an Augean tasks she attacks with the determination,
She felt that she was fighting the entire history of the country, all its residue, all its neglect, all its ignorance.
Oliveira’s impeccable research of medical history, her great familiarity with social conditions in the era she chose for her novel, the plausibility she conveys to characters and situations alone would not inject life into what is, essentially, a love story. But the force of her writing infuses vitality into the people and places Mary Sutter comes across during her quest for legitimacy among Civil War surgeons.   Albany, Washington, DC, Georgetown, Centreville, Antietam, Bull Run, Abraham Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General George McClellan and unnamed sixteen year-old privates in both the Union and Confederate armies, come alive in a myriad of details. Oliveira renders sounds, colors, smells, the sneer of a grubby waiter who refuses to serve unaccompanied women, with a deft touch. Her Mary is human enough to experience doubt when she finally attains the object of her desire,
Mary pulled away. Her skirts had stiffened with the splatters and stains of blood of three men. The saw sang in her head, She hate (surgeon) Stipp now. Hated his brutal persistence, his fumbling, his ignorance, his lack of preparation. Was this what medicine was? barbarity? By comparison, even at its worst, childbirth was artful. Even when women bled and seized, there remained at least the elegance of hope. The flickering promise of life.

All in all, this is a brilliant first novel. It has power,  beauty and audacity.