January 29, 2016

The Souvenir of Scent

Besides photographs, nothing evokes memories of my travels as potently as scent. Perfumes are the ideal souvenirs, as even the most overpacked traveler has room for a small bottle or two to take home.  Years later, I have only to unstopper a bottle, inhale the fragrance and I am instantly transported to a particular time and place far away.  

My first souvenir scents were acquired from Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Founded in 1612, it is a jewel of a store, with chandeliers, frescoed walls, and wooden cabinets filled with glass bottles bearing fragrances created from hundreds of years ago.  I purchased a bottle of lavender perfume and a bottle of  room fragrance called "Estate" which means summer. Every time I spritz it in the air, I am reminded of that warm and magical summer in Italy.

Each bottle is stamped with its own number.

The gorgeous bottle cap engraved with the Santa Maria Novella insignia.

Lemon verbena agua de colonia which I bought from the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Tiny bottle of vetivert extract I bought during one of my spring trips to Paris.

Bottles of air fragrances I brought home from Montserrat, Spain.

I had heard of a perfume maker in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. Seduced by his elixirs of scent, I bought little bottles of fragrances with intriguing names like "Secret of the Desert" and "The Flower of Istanbul."

He also concocted a bespoke fragrance just for me - something bold and a little bit spicy, delivered with a mischievous wink and a knowing smile, as though the perfume maker had captured my soul in a bottle.

January 27, 2016

Easy Turkey Meatloaf and Homemade Ketchup

Sometimes I get so busy that I find it hard to find time to cook a healthy meal for those nights at home.  This humble meatloaf is a snap to put together.    

The homemade ketchup came about when - yikes - I realized in the midst of making this that I had just a tablespoon of ketchup left in the bottle. I did not want to go out into the cold and drive to the store to buy ketchup, so I decided to do some Googling. How hard is it to make ketchup anyway?  Not hard at all, it turns out.



1 pound ground turkey
1 packet Lipton Onion Soup Mix
1 cup chopped spinach
1 cup panko bread crumbs ( or ground crackers)
2 eggs
1/3 – 1/2 cup of water
1 cup cheese (may substitute low fat cheese)
Optional additions: Chopped onion, minced garlic, chopped mushrooms.

Mix with hands. Form in to a loaf and set in baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or when bubbly and cooked throughout. During the last 10 minutes, remove and cover top with a thin layer of ketchup.  


1 6 oz can tomato paste
¼-1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder

Mix all ingredients well.

January 25, 2016

Book Review: First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love and Jane Austen by Charles C. Lovett

Source: Vine

 Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

I've read my share of Jane Austen published fanfiction, spinoffs, and inspirations. While not as startling different as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, First Impressions has unique elements to commend it. Lovett alternates between two storylines: that of Jane Austen and her much older gentleman friend, Richard Mansfield (right away you know he will be very significant, just by his surname alone) and Sophie in the present, grieving the death of her beloved Uncle Bertram. First Impressions is elevated above the very crowded Austen genre in the sophisticated, nuanced writing. It is clear that Lovett knows everything Austen front and back. Not only that, every page is rendered not only with a homage to Austen but to book lovers in general. If you are a bookworm, you will delight in this novel.

Lovett skillfully renders the Austen chapters with the same style and intelligent dialogue found in her novels. On the other hand, the modern chapters have a completely different flavor yet its storyline incorporates touches that will be very familiar to Austen fans. Immediately we know who will be Wickham and who will be Darcy. Later on when the mystery (having to do with the provenance of Pride and Prejudice) gets underway, strong shades of Northanger Abbey color the plot twists.

My favorite parts though had to do with Sophie and her Uncle Bertram's loving relationship, one founded on their mutual love of reading. Their conversations about books, for example the difference between what is considered valuable versus expensive, will strike a chord with bibliophiles.

Sometimes something so ubiquitous and familiar as Austen's novels become like wallpaper - they're just there and one forgets how lovely and insightful it actually is. First Impressions will remind readers why we love Austen so much:

Sophie had never held a first edition of Pride and Prejudice, She had never had the opportunity to run her fingers over those spectacular words as they appeared in print for the very first time. Somehow seeing thme here in this volume from 1813 brought home to Sophie that Jane Austen had actually written these words. They had not simply appeared out of the ether. Sometimes, she thought, sentences like that become so famous that we cannot conceive a time when they did not exist. We can remember our own first encounters with those words, but that mankind should had had a first encounter with them seems almost impossible.

January 22, 2016

Book Review: It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright

Publication Date: November 2015

A history of heartbreak-replete with beheadings, uprisings, creepy sex dolls, and celebrity gossip-and its disastrously bad consequences throughout time.

Spanning eras and cultures from ancient Rome to medieval England to 1950s Hollywood, Jennifer Wright's It Ended Badly guides you through the worst of the worst in historically bad breakups. In the throes of heartbreak, Emperor Nero had just about everyone he ever loved-from his old tutor to most of his friends-put to death. Oscar Wilde's lover, whom he went to jail for, abandoned him when faced with being cut off financially from his wealthy family and wrote several self-serving books denying the entire affair. And poor volatile Caroline Lamb sent Lord Byron one hell of a torch letter and enclosed a bloody lock of her own pubic hair. Your obsessive social media stalking of your ex isn't looking so bad now, is it?

With a wry wit and considerable empathy, Wright digs deep into the archives to bring these thirteen terrible breakups to life. She educates, entertains, and really puts your own bad breakup conduct into perspective. It Ended Badly is for anyone who's ever loved and lost and maybe sent one too many ill-considered late-night emails to their ex, reminding us that no matter how badly we've behaved, no one is as bad as Henry VIII.

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright is the perfect book to read if you just suffered the end of a relationship and need the literary equivalent of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to make you feel better. Or maybe you’re just a singleton who wants to celebrate being unattached. This book is for you. Wright has culled 13 breakups that rank as the most extreme and bizarre.  As you delve into each one, you will experience shock, amusement and inevitable relief that no matter how bad your own breakup was, at least you weren’t beheaded by your ex, like Anne Boleyn was. 

To illustrate Wright’s fun and witty writing style, the book opens with two quotes – one from Buddha, and the other from Taylor Swift. Each chapter, which focuses on a different historical coupling and uncoupling, has such titles as “If your family didn’t like your ex and thought you could do better read about Lucrezia Borgia and Giovanni Sforza” and “If you have just sent your ex a very intense emotional e-mail read about Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron.”  Clearly, Wright enjoyed herself writing this entertaining book.  

If you are lying in bed right now, a pint of ice cream in one hand, a bottle of Scotch in the other, and this book clenched between your teeth (one tooth is missing from last night’s bar fight), with tears streaming down your face over how much you loved, loved, loved your ex, let me commend you on how well you are coping. You could be doing so much worse. So much worse.

January 20, 2016

Kashmir Lamb Curry

I have an out-of-control spice collection. When I was re-organizing my cupboards, I found I had FOUR jars of cumin, two of them unopened. THREE jars of ground ginger. And TWO jars of dill weed. I'm not saying an intervention is needed --- but I think I have a problem. Looking at my jars of cardamom and coriander, I tried to remember the last time I used them in a recipe - were they one-hit wonders, maybe?

Well, if you're like me, then you will love this recipe which will utilize a ton of your lesser-used spices. Despite the lengthy ingredient list, it's so easy to pull off, with a big taste payoff.  


3 lbs. of boneless lamb cut in one inch cubes
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of salt 
2 teaspoons of cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 can of (14.4 oz) coconut cream (or coconut milk for a less dense consistency)

1. In a blender, mix onion, garlic, coriander, salt, cumin, pepper, ginger, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, coconut cream and lemon juice until smooth.
2. Place lamb chunks in large gallon freezer bag and add the marinade.
4. Place in a bowl and let stand overnight in refrigerator.
5. Next morning, put lamb and marinade in the slow cooker and cook on low for 10 hours.