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March 2023: A fig tree that talks, how to get unstuck, and my first chutney

Dear friends,

Happy March. I’m paraphrasing from a Facebook post I saw yesterday that rang true for me:

It’s been a tough week and it’s only Tuesday. Today, after attending a writers’ protest and listening to dozens of people reading their poems and prose of protest, I’m feeling a bit better. I hope March will be a month of sanity, healing and less brokenness, here in Israel and around the world. Scroll down for book recs, a new Literary Modiin event, a story of the month, a recipe and more.

Brief writing update: I’ve made some good headway on my current story-in-progress, though I’m not sure yet how it will end. I got to a point where I’m a bit stuck, so I’ve started doing a series of prompts to “unstick” myself, using Emily Stoddard’s Hummingbird sessions. During the pandemic, she held a series of 15-minute guided writing sessions over Zoom. She’d give about three prompts per session, and attendees would write for about five minutes per prompt. I caught the last couple of these back in the fall of 2021, and I’ve just subscribed to receive access to all 125 recorded sessions. They are definitely helping me think of new directions for my story and characters.

Some nice news: My story “Rehabilitation” was printed in descant, a literary journal out of Texas Christian University. It’s a fictional story about a young couple in the wake of the deadly 2010 forest fire in Mount Carmel. I have yet to see it, as my contributor copies were sent to my parents’ home in Connecticut. No availability online as of yet.

Recommended Reading

I’m up to 13 books for the year, on track towards my 2023 goal. :-) My top recs this month:

The Island of the Missing Trees by Elif Shafak: I loved this novel, partially narrated by a fig tree, that tells the tale of two star-crossed teenagers in Cyprus — Kostas is Greek and Defne is Turkish — and, much later, their daughter Ada, being raised in London knowing very little of her family’s painful past. The fig tree in the story originally grew in a the center of a taverna whose owners are sympathetic to the young couple, allowing them to meet clandestinely there. The tree is there when war breaks out, and decades later, Kostas, a botanist, returns and brings a cutting of the tree back to London, where he cares for it with so much love that it nearly drives Ada mad. Shafak writes beautifully and convincingly about identity, the tolls of civil war, inter-generational trauma, and much more. I’m not doing the novel justice (even this early in the year, I’m predicting it will make my top five list), so here’s what Ron Charles of The Washington Post had to say: “The Island of Missing Trees isn't just a cleverly constructed novel; it's explicitly about the way stories are constructed, the way meaning is created, and the way devotion persists ...[Shafak is] that rare alchemist who can mix grains of tragedy and delight without diminishing the savor of either.” If you’re an audiobook lover, I recommend the audio version!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: If you’re looking for a light, pleasant read, pick up this novel, in which Harold sets off by foot on a journey from one end of England to the other in the hopes that his walk will stave off an old friend’s death. Harold is recently retired, and his wife Maureen is frequently annoyed by everything he does. When a letter arrives informing him that his old friend and colleague Queenie is in hospice care, Harold embarks on his quest. As one reviewer put it, the novel is a “funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey.”

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: I know Celeste Ng has a new book out, but since I hadn’t read Little Fires Everywhere (nor seen the Hulu series) yet, I figured I’d start with this one. The novel takes place in the planned, wealthy community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, where the Richardson family has lived for generations. Elena is a journalist and play-by-the-rules kind of mother, hoping to guide her four teenagers - Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy - smoothly into adulthood. As the Richardsons interact with their new tenants — Mia, an artist and single mother, and her daughter Pearl — cracks begin appearing in the family façade, and when Elena’s oldest friend tries to adopt a Chinese American baby, a custody battle erupts that pits Elena and Mia on opposite sides. As the Boston Globe put it, “Delectable and engrossing . . . A complex and compulsively readable suburban saga that is deeply invested in mothers and daughters.”

Story of the Month: The Virgin Grandmother

The Virgin Grandmother (Paper Brigade, JBC) by Kate Schmier: This is a terrific story about Frances, a grandmother running her own business, and what happens when an old friend comes into the picture. Frances will feel very familiar and authentic to many readers here. Enjoy!


I’m very excited for the March Literary Modiin event on Sunday, March 12, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern! Join me to hear from Rebecca Kaiser Gibson (The Promise of a Normal Life), Scott Lenga (The Watchmakers), and Jai Chakrabarti (A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness). Register here.

Recipe of the Month: Levana’s (and Lisa’s) Apple Chutney

Welcome to the end of the newsletter (almost), where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. My neighbor Lisa had us over the other month and made the most delicious chicken. It’s all in the chutney, she said. She makes a big amount, stores it in jars, and then it can be used on just about anything: chicken breasts, salmon, tofu, roasts, meatballs, etc. The best part is that it can last for months in the fridge. In fact, she’d given me a jar of said chutney and I’d forgotten about it…when I tried it on my own chicken, it came out just as delicious. I decided to try my hand and make my own batch, and even made a special trip to the spice store to pick up the ones I was missing. The original recipe is from the cookbook Levana’s Table.


¾ cup mustard seeds

3 ½ cups sugar (I used a bit less, maybe 3 cups)

2 cups apple cider vinegar

2 cups diced tomatoes, fresh or canned (I used fresh, next time I will dice them finer)

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon cayenne (I left this out)

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon cardamon

2 tablespoons curry

2 1/2 cups water

2 cups dark raisins

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and quartered

2 medium onions, peeled and quartered

2 celery ribs, peeled and cut into thirds

one 2-inch piece ginger, peeled


Bring the mustard seeds, sugar, vinegar, tomatoes, salt, cayenne, turmeric, cardamom, curry and water to a boil in a wide heavy pot. Coarsely grind the raisins, apples, onions, celery and ginger in the food processor, using the pulse button. Add the ground mixture to the boiling liquid, and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cools. Cool completely before storing in clean wide-mouth glass jars. Store refrigerated.

To make it on chicken breasts: pour about a jar’s worth over chicken breasts (I suppose it could work on boned chicken as well), and bake at 190 C / 375 F for about an hour.

L-R: Making the chutney; ignore the labels - that’s five and a half jars of chutney; the finished product (i.e. apple chutney chicken).

I’ll leave you with some highlights of my month in pictures.

Top: Trees in Wadi Anabe. Bottom (L-R): Sunset in Hadera; kalaniyot (anemone) in the Gezer area; the Bird Mosaic Mansion in Caesarea; rakefot (rock cyclamen) Ben Shemen Forest. I guess I got around this month!

See you next month, with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more. In the meantime, happy reading!


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