I hope your 2022 has gotten off to a good start, and that you are staying warm, dry and healthy! Scroll down for book recs, a new Literary Modiin event, two recipes and more!
Brief writing update: I finished a first draft of the story I’ve been working on since October. At 10,391 words (and another 4,500 already cut, but saved in an “extra” file), it is my longest yet, and will definitely require some paring down. I spent a fantastic week generating new work in a One Story class — six instructors, a new writing exercise each day. There were a few that didn’t appeal to me off the bat (i.e. “write from the perspective of a smart phone”) but I gave them a whirl and had fun.
During the class, I began two new Jeremiah stories and came up with an idea for a third. Both stories — one set in 1944, Normandy, and the other set on July 20, 1969 — will require loads of research, but going down the research rabbit hole is part of the fun for me. I *did* watch the moon landing when it first happened, but I was only 11 days old at the time, so for the last week I’ve been reading up on Apollo 11, finding transcripts, etc. To capture the feelings of the moment, I’ve been watching Walter Cronkite, who was on air for 27 of the 30 hours it took for the crew to complete their mission. In the broadcast, Cronkite is rendered nearly speechless when the Eagle lands, removing his glasses and gasping “Oh, boy! Whew, boy!” and I’m right there with him. If you are old enough to remember the moon landing and would like to share your memories, please do so via this quick form. Perhaps one or more of your details will make it into my story!
I set my Goodreads Challenge to read 85 books this year. I read 10(!!) this month, so I’m three ahead of schedule. This month’s recommendations:
About Grace by Anthony Doerr - Doerr’s first novel, published back in 2004, contains beautiful, lyric language and speaks to his immense writing talent. As a 32-year-old hydrologist in Anchorage, Alaska, David Winkler can see glimpses of the future - a man who will be hit by a bus, how he’ll meet his future wife - but when he dreams that his baby daughter Grace will drown, he flees. For a quarter of a century he lives in the Caribbean, unsure if his daughter survived or if his wife will forgive him. As Publisher’s Weekly put it: “The majesty of nature, the meaning of courage, the redemptive power of love and the pathos of isolation—all are gracefully explored in Doerr's story of the price paid for a gift.”
West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge - A fun read and wacky adventure story inspired by the true tale of two giraffes who made headlines during the Depression. At the age of 105, Woodrow Wilson Nickel, a poor farm boy who lost everything in the Dust Bowl, is looking back on his 12-day trip across the United States, helping to deliver the giraffes to the San Diego Zoo. As road trip novels go, the subject matter here is a bit lighter than The Lincoln Highway. Here’s what Booklist had to say: “A larger-than-life story about the power of both animal magnetism and human connection…witty, charming, and heartwarming.”
Returning to Carthage by Ben Sharafski - This linked story collection, by Israeli-Australian writer Ben Sharafski, explores the dramas lurking under the surface of everyday life in suburban Sydney. The stories take place in Australa, Laos, Manchuria, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, “The stories are a rich tapestry of emotions, sights and sounds.” I really enjoyed this collection, particularly a story that takes place over a wedding weekend in which the bride’s Japanese culture intersects with the groom’s Israeli/Jewish heritage, as well as the final story, “Waiting,” in which the narrator returns to Israel to help his younger brother care for their dying mother. I look forward to seeing more of Sharafski’s work.
Crying in H-Mart by Michele Zauner - Until I read Crying in H-Mart, I hadn’t heard of Michele Zauner, nor did I know that she is an indie rock star behind the solo musical act Japanese Breakfast. In her beautiful (at times heartbreaking, at times hopeful) memoir, Zauner chronicles her complicated relationship with her parents, the joys of Korean food, her journey into adulthood, the crushing news of her mother’s cancer diagnosis, and the aftermath of her grief. Zauner doesn’t sugar-coat things; I appreciated the honesty with which she writes about her relationship with her mother. The Seattle Times called it a “nuanced portrayal of a young person grappling with what it means to embody familial and cultural histories, to be fueled by creative pursuits, to examine complex relationships with place, and to endure the acute pain of losing a parent just on the other side of a tumultuous adolescence.” I am usually a bit hesitant about authors narrating their own book, but Zauner does a great job narrating the audiobook.
See all the books I’ve recommended in this newsletter.
Essay of the Month: Dreams for Living Jews
Dreams for Living Jews (Sapir Journal) by Dara Horn. This essay was by far the most powerful and insightful piece I’ve read online lately. I haven’t read Dara Horn’s newest book yet, but it’s on my TBR list.
I don’t have any events of my own this month, but I’m very excited for our February Literary Modiin event! Join me on Sunday, February 20 at 20:00 Israel time / 1:00 pm Eastern / 10:00 am Pacific to hear from Geula Geurts (The Beginnings of Fire), Hannah Lillith Assadi (The Stars Are Not Yet Bells), and Dan Grunfeld (By the Grace of the Game). Register here.
Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Watch all of them here!
As always, if you’re in a book club or know someone who is, I’d be happy to discuss The Book of Jeremiah with your group!
Prompt of the Month: Wants vs Needs
This is a mini prompt adapted from my recent One Story class, in fact, the one that sparked my current work-in-progress aka man on the moon story. Make two lists: things your main character wants (i.e. to buy those peanut butter M&Ms at the checkout counter, to treat herself to a glass of wine in the middle of the day, to lie on the beach) vs the things your character needs (i.e. more exercise, less carbs, to work harder so her boss will give her a raise). To simplify, think of it like this: Everything your character wants? Fun. Everything your character needs? Not so much. Use these two lists to write a scene/story that explores the tension and gaps between your character’s wants and needs.
Recipe of the Month: Roasted Cauliflower, Leek and Carrot Soup + Bonus Mustard Croutons
Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. I love soup so much,* I’m wondering how is it that I’ve only shared two or three recipes in the two years (nearly) of these monthly newsletters. This delicious roasted cauliflower, leek and carrot soup recipe comes originally from Flourishingfoodie.com. The key is in roasting the cauliflower ahead of time.
1 large cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP kosher salt
1 TBSP paprika
1 tsp chili flakes (optional)
3 carrots, chopped
2 leeks, sliced
1 TBSP butter (olive oil also works, if you want to make this pareve or vegan)
1 tsp cracked black pepper
10 cups stock
1 fresh lemon
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Scallions for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 F / 210 C. On a baking sheet, toss the cauliflower and garlic with olive oil, kosher salt, paprika and chili flakes, and bake for about 30 minutes until the cauliflower gets slightly brown around the edges. In a large soup pot, melt the butter, then add the leeks and carrots and black pepper, cooking on a low flame for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer, adding the cauliflower and garlic when they’re done roasting. Cook on a low flame until the vegetables are very soft, about 30 minutes, and then puree with a stick blender until you get your preferred consistency. Add the lemon juice, sprinkle with Parmesan and garnish with scallions. Enjoy!
Bonus recipe: Ottolenghi mustard croutons
90 g unsalted butter
3 TBSP Dijon mustard
3 tsp picked thyme leaves
3 tsp finely chopped parsley
150 g bread (he says ciabatta, I used the leftover walnut bread from Shabbat), torn into 1 cm pieces
Melt butter in a saucepan and add the mustard and spices. Coat the pieces of bread, and then bake for about 12-15 minutes at 180 C / 350 F. Try not to eat them all before putting them in your soup!
P.S. Two fun soup facts about me: when it was my turn to take the nursey school gerbils home for the weekend, my sister and I named the gerbils after our favorite foods: chicken soup (mine) and jello (my sister’s). Second: who remembers the song “Chicken Soup with Rice” from Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie? I’m sure I thought it was written for me.
It’s been rather muddy and rainy lately, but when the sun comes out I’ve been getting out on my bike. I always say that February and March are the best months to visit Israel. The hills are blanketed with cyclamen and anemone. I’ll leave you with this shot I snapped on a quick ride yesterday:
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!