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NYT Bestselling Author. Reluctant master of packing light. Lover of beautiful shoes & spicy food. Lapsed ballerina. Cook. Book junkie.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


OK, so I’m a disgrace for not having posted monthly suggestions in so long, but the world during the past few days has made me think good things are more essential than ever…



When my son was young, he was fascinated by all things space-related, and we read pretty much every book written about NASA and the Space Race. There’s a lot of good reading to be done on the topic, but Michael Collins, command module pilot of Apollo 11, penned what is without question the best of all the astronaut memoirs. He recounts the technical details, challenges, and triumphs of the program, but even better, he captures the profound emotion of it all. You can’t read this book and not be affected by it.



Sticking with my space theme, this docudrama produced by Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Brian Glazer, and Michael Bostick is simply fantastic. Each two-hour episode (which feels more like a movie than part of a mini-series) covers a different aspect of the Space Race. The fifth, “Spider,” which tells the story of the men who designed and built the Lunar Modular is my favorite, but there isn’t a weak installment in the series. The acting is flawless, and the special features are worth a look, too. It’s always mind-blowing to hear the astronauts talk about their experiences. Great for cool weather binge-watching.



Cinnamon rolls are always time-consuming to make, but the effort is more than worth it. This recipe, from Williams Sonoma, is my favorite as you do all the work—and most of the rising— the day before. With just one rise left in the morning, you can have breakfast perfection without having to get up in the middle of the night. My son often requests these for his birthday…
For the dough: 
• 1 Tbs. (1 package) active dry yeast 
• 1/2 cup warm water (105°F) 
• 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed 
• 4 eggs 
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar 
• 2 tsp. kosher salt 
• 8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
• 8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted 
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar mixed with 1 Tbs. ground cinnamon 
For the vanilla glaze: 
• 1 cup confectioners’ sugar 
• 1/2 tsp. kosher salt 
• 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted 
• 2 Tbs. milk 
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract 
To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast over the water, allow to bloom for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm spot, about 30 minutes. 
Add the eggs, granulated sugar, salt and the remaining 4 cups flour to the yeast mixture. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead on medium speed until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the room-temperature butter and continue to knead, adding a little flour to reduce stickiness if needed, until the dough is smooth, 10 to 12 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, about 2 hours. 
Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Roll out into a 15-by-10-inch rectangle. Brush the rectangle with half of the melted butter, leaving a 2-inch-wide strip uncovered on one long side. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the butter. Starting at the long side covered with sugar, roll up the rectangle snugly and pinch the seam together. With the seam facing down, cut into 10 equal pieces. Place the pieces, cut side up, in the prepared dish. Brush the rolls with the remaining butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. 
The next morning, remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let rise until half again as high, about 1 hour. Preheat an oven to 350°F. 
Bake the rolls until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. 
While the rolls are baking, make the vanilla glaze: In a small bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, milk and vanilla, then stir into the sugar mixture to form a smooth paste. Spread the glaze over the warm rolls and serve immediately. Makes 10 large rolls. 
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Family Meals, by Maria Helm Sinskey (Oxmoor House, 2008).

Thursday, June 1, 2017


I can’t believe it’s already June 1. Time might be flying, but the world is still giving me a headache, so I’m happy to distract myself by sharing some good things for the month…


A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth 

My friends Sachin and Kalpana introduced me to this book, and I fell in love with it from page one. So let’s just get this out of the way: Yes, it’s long. Very long. As in more than a thousand pages. When it was published it was (and still may be) the longest single volume novel in English. I read fast, so I consider this a good thing. Set in post-Raj India, the book tells the story of Lata, whose mother is bent on finding her daughter a suitable boy to marry. Translation: a Hindu of the right caste. Lata, an enlightened university student, has other ideas.  

Seth weaves a family epic full of gorgeous details of Indian culture as well as the tensions between Hindu and Muslim factions. His characters are endlessly fascinating and his prose is sleek. This is not a gritty story, which so far as I am concerned makes it all the more worthy of recommendation. Some people criticize Seth for not including more of the seedy parts of urban life, but that is not what this book is about. Frankly, there’s enough of that in the real world; I’m happy to escape into something else. While you won’t be disappointed by giving this a chance, you will be surprised how quickly you breeze through it. Andrew Davies is currently adapting the novel for the BBC. I’m sure it will be fantastic, but read the book before you watch!


The Hundred Foot Journey

OK, so I never would have expected to find a film that combines these three things I love: Indian food, the south of France, and Helen Mirren.

After their restaurant in Mumbai is destroyed in a fire that took the life of their mother, the Kadam family moves to London. Their house, directly beneath the flight path to Heathrow, leaves more than a little to be desired, and Papa Kadam (played by the magnificent Om Puri) decides it’s time to go somewhere else. They head for the Continent, where his eldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal, explains to an immigration officer why he left the UK: “I found in England that the vegetables, they had no soul; no life.”

How can you NOT like a movie with that line?

The Kadams end up in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where Papa buys a vacant building he decides will be the perfect location for the family’s new restaurant. His children try in vain to dissuade him, insisting the French don’t eat ethnic food. Meanwhile, he draws the ire of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) who runs the one star Michelin restaurant across the street. She’s horrified by her new neighbors, and a battle between them ensues.

This is a wonderful film, charming, funny, and touching without being overly sentimental. I loved it. Be warned, however. It will make you hungry.


Murgh Jalfrazie (Chicken with Stir-Fried Spices)

As I’m on a bit of an Indian kick here, I’m sharing my favorite recipe for chicken jalfrazie, which comes from Mridula Baljekar’s fabulous cookbook, Curry: Fire and Spice. I could eat this pretty much every single day. You’ll want to check out Baljekar’s website (http://mridula.co.uk), where you can find this and many more of his recipes, but I highly suggest buying the book. First, because authors need to eat, too, and second because you won’t want to miss any of his dishes!

  • 700g/1lb 9oz boneless and skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 5 tbsps sunflower, rapeseed or plain olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsps garlic puree
  • 2 tsps ginger puree
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsps ground coriander
  • ½-1 tsp chilli powder
  • 150g/5oz canned tomato with the juice
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 small or half a large sweet red pepper, cut into 2.5cm/1-inch cubes
  • 1 small or half a large green pepper, cut into 2.5cm/1-inch cubes
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Put the chicken in a non-metallic bowl and rub in the lemon juice and half the salt. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat four tablespoons of the oil in a heavy based medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion. Fry, stirring regularly, for 8-9 minutes or until lightly browned, reducing the heat half way through. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli powder and cook for 1 minute. Add a splash of water and stir-fry for another minute or so. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until the tomatoes reduce to a paste-like consistency and the oil separates from the spice paste.

Add the chicken, increase the heat slightly and cook, stirring until chicken is opaque. Add 150ml/5 fl oz warm water, bring it to the boil, cover the pan and simmer for 25 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small pan or wok over a low heat. Add the garlic and sauté until browned, and add the peppers. Increase the heat to medium, stir-fry for 2 minutes and add the garam masala. Stir and fold the contents into the cooked chicken. Remove from the heat and serve with rice or Indian bread.

Monday, May 1, 2017


I can't believe it's the first of the month again. Chicago is finally (sort of) getting some spring weather, but I'm off to Wyoming tomorrow, where I'm hoping to see a little snow. So! What do I recommend to help us all focus on good stuff this month?


David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

It’s no secret that I consider David Mitchell to be the best novelist working today, and my signed copy of this book is one of my most treasured possessions. Black Swan Green tells the story of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor navigating life in a small English village during the early 1980s. The characters are gorgeously developed, from Jason himself (an aspiring poet who struggles with a stammer), to his sly older sister, his often-bickering parents, and schoolmates (friends and enemies alike).

Let’s face it; thirteen is a pretty crummy age, and I’m sure most of don’t harbor a hidden desire to revisit it. But this book elevates the coming-of-age story in a way no other does. It makes Catcher in the Rye hide in shame. Joy and wonder erase and then are erased by pain and betrayal in a cycle we can all recognize from adolescence. This book makes the ordinary enchanting and magical and is an absolute pleasure to read.

I leave you with one of favorite lines in the novel:

“If you show someone something you've written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”

True, true words.


Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle

John Else’s 1999 utterly charming documentary follows the San Francisco Opera’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle from backstage. Sure, the singers are fantastic, but the drama behind the scenes is every bit as enticing. Witty, insightful, and masterfully filmed, this is entertainment at its best. Watching the stagehands explain the plot (over a game of poker played when they’re not moving scenery) will make you laugh out loud (“Doesn't one of the giants get a chick out of the deal?”).


I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who didn’t like chocolate chip cookies, and when Kathy Lapergola asked for my recipe, I knew it was what I’d have to share this month. My go-to favorite comes from an ancient copy of Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book given to me by my grandmother. They were the first recipe I adapted for high-altitude cooking when I moved to Wyoming after college and what I made for after school snacks on my son’s first day of high school.

Betty names these the Best Cooky of 1935 – 1940. My only question is when did the spelling change from “cooky” to “cookie?”

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2/3 cup butter
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 375

Mix butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla thoroughly. Measure flour after sifting. Stir dry ingredients together; blend in. Mix in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet (I always cover mine with parchment paper to avoid extra dish washing). Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until delicately browned. (Cookies should still be soft) Cool slightly before removing from baking sheet.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen 2 inch cookies

Variations: Sometimes I use half chocolate and half butterscotch chips. Also, it can be fun to combine different varieties of chocolate, say, bittersweet and semi-sweet. There’s also nothing wrong with throwing in some pieces of toffee crunch, too.