Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Noonday by Pat Barker -- A review

Noonday (Life Class, #3)Noonday by Pat Barker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Pat Barker's novels for about 30 years, ever since I read her Regeneration Trilogy.

This recent novel is the least satisfying one.

The descriptions of the Blitz are compelling. She does what the great novelists always do. She gives you felt experiences that you would never be able to have otherwise. I've read other novels about the Blitz and watched documentaries and studied memoirs about this period but Barker does what all of them didn't do for me. She gave me the experiences on an emotional and psychological and sensual level.

The rest of the novel -- focusing on the inner lives and personal relations of a group of characters -- seemed considerably less compelling. In fact, it seemed contrived and predictable in ways Barker has never been. I kept feeling that she was lost when it came to talking about her characters. Or maybe she was bored with them and didn't want to go through the trouble of making them interesting to this reader.

In either case, read the Blitz parts and skim the rest.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Shchav Soup: Recipe for a Hot Day

Back in the old days before anybody had air-conditioning, my mother, a Polish woman from the old country, felt that the surest cure for hot weather was szczawiowa zupa, shchav, swiss chard soup.

She’d get up early on a day that promised to be in the high 90s, and she’d fix shchav. It wouldn’t take long and it didn’t require a lot of cooking, so it didn’t heat up our apartment. When she had it prepared, she’d stick it into the refrigerator to cool off. In the evening, she’d serve it for dinner when it was in the 90s both outside and inside.

Believe me, it always took the temperature down 10 degrees.

Here's my recipe :

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
12 cups stock (I use veggie broth but you can use chicken)
1 pound fresh swiss chard, stems included, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in your soup pot over medium-high heat and saut√© the onions for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the swiss chard and season with salt and pepper. simmer until the sorrel is olive green in color, about 10 minutes. If you can’t get swiss chard, you can use the same amount of spinach, but make sure you add a ¼ of lemon juice to give the soup its signature tartness.

Smacznego—good eating.

PS--I've received several notes from readers saying that this soup should be made with sorrel rather than swiss chard. This is in fact true, but unfortunately when I was a child growing up in a refugee neighborhood in Chicago, we didn't have a grocer near who sold sorrel. My mother substituted swiss chard--after complaining how there were things that one could so easily find in Poland that she couldn't find anywhere in America.

Addendum to PS:

I received the following from poet Oriana Ivy regarding shchav:

Yes, it's made with wild sorrel picked at streamside. A rather sour soup -- I didn't like it all that much, but I'm sure it's full of fab nutrients. However, in the recipe I don't understand the omission of a hardboiled egg, cut in half. That half of an egg per large soup plate seemed like a kind of eye staring at me out of all that intense green. It's essential to the shchav experience. The egg complements the taste and the nutrients (the soup is fabulous for eye health).


If you want to read about another of my mother's Polish soups, please take a look at my blog "Simple Polish Soup."

The picture of the shchav is from the blog Fresh Approach Cooking.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


I hate to advertise but the price of Echoes of Tattered Tongues -- my book about my Polish parents' lives as slave laborers in Nazi Germany and refugees in America -- has dropped almost 50% at Amazon.
I'm not sure what's going on but this seems like a good time to buy it for yourself or as a gift.
Here's one of the poems from the book:
What the War Taught My Mother
My mother learned that sex is bad,
Men are worthless, it is always cold
And there is never enough to eat.
She learned that if you are stupid
With your hands you will not survive
The winter even if you survive the fall.
She learned that only the young survive
The camps. The old are left in piles
Like worthless paper, and babies
Are scarce like chickens and bread.
She learned that the world is a broken place
Where no birds sing, and even angels
Cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.
She learned that you don't pray
Your enemies will not torment you.
You only pray that they will not kill you.
Just click on the word Amazon.