Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions by Jonathan Rosen

 The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions
by Jonathan Rosen
published by:Penguin Press UK – Allen Lane, Particular, Pelican, Penguin Classics
ISBN 9780241647448

When he was 10 years old, the author, Jonathan Rosen moved to New Rochelle, New York. He quickly became friends with Michael Laudor. They had some things in common. Both of their fathers were college professors and Jonathan's mother was a writer. Both had a love of literature and came from families where the expectation was that a life of the mind was a valuable thing. Both did well in school. That said, their personalities were very different and this became more of a problem as they got older, culminating in an experience on the high school newspaper that led to a more serious break. They still saw each other and were still friends, but more at a distance than they had been. When they both started at Yale, they saw each other infrequently. Michael graduated in three years and went on to a high powered consulting job. Jonathan went his own way. They ran into each other occasionally when they were both back in New Rochelle for visits. And then things went very, very wrong.

Michael ended up in the locked psychiatric ward of the hospital after a psychotic break. Upon his release, he decided to attend Yale law school, which had accepted him before his hospitalization and which he had deferred. With the help of professors and fellow students, he was able to succeed in getting his law degree. He was written up in the New York times. He sold the rights to an autobiography. Ron Howard bought the movie rights. Then things went even more wrong, with disastrous and tragic consequences.

This book is about the author's experiences as Michael's friend, Michael's experience with serious mental illness, the impact of his actions on friends and family, the research about schizophrenia, how mental illness intersects with the law, how psychiatry has changed with time, and what impact all of this has on the individuals involved, the societies in which they live, and the larger US culture. It is a devastating book, extremely well written, and one that frankly left me feeling almost stunned at times. I had known some of what the author writes about, but only in a very general way, certainly not in as much detail as is in this fine book.

Rosen is an excellent writer and I sometimes stopped to admire a sentence or paragraph. For example, in describing how Michael was as a child, and how popular he was with other kids and adults alike, he writes, "I was never surprised to find Michael chatting with my mother while she gardened, or my sister while she did homework in the kitchen. Our house was a natural extension of his, but he colonized other houses, too. He was a Goldilocks who didn't run off when the bears came home, but stayed for more porridge." (p 41) Such descriptions create images that allowed me to feel like I really understood the situations he was describing.

His ability to tell this complex story in a way that gives voice to many different ideas and perspectives is very important. The issues are difficult and in reading it, I was able to really consider some extremely difficult issues in a realistic and compassionate way. I was gripped by this book from the beginning and it's one that will stay with me for a very long time. I highly recommend it. 5 stars.

I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. I thank NetGalley, the publisher, and the author.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Tiramisu-ish, Vegan or Not

I'm a big fan of tiramisu--it ticks all my boxes--creamy, chocolate, coffee. But the fat content leaves it sitting like a brick in my stomach and I always feel weird after eating it. Plus, I'm not really interested in spending a lot of time making something like that. So I cheat๐Ÿ˜‰ and make my own tiramisu-ish version. It also ticks all my boxes, but doesn't leave my stomach feeling weird and it only takes a few minutes. Yay! It's delicious, too. ๐Ÿ˜‹

I've made this a couple times in the past with ricotta cheese. I can't get that in my local supermarket, so I've made my own, but today I didn't feel like going out and getting milk and then making a batch, so I just made a vegan version with some silken tofu I had in a cupboard. It came out just as good and possibly even creamier. It took about 5 minutes.

I had some leftover biscuit crumbs from something else, so I've been using those, but I finished them today so in future, I'll just make my own by whizzing some biscuits (cookies) in the food processor. Graham cracker crumbs could be used or those ready made crumb crusts in the foil pie plates that they have in the US. I have never seen either of those things here, so biscuit crumbs it is! I don't like to melt a ton of butter and mix it with the crumbs to make the crust, so I experimented and just sprinkled a layer of crumbs in the bottom of a container, spread the filling on top, then covered the filling with another layer of crumbs, pressing gently. When it chills, the crumbs absorb a wee bit of the moisture from the filling and that's enough to hold it all together.

To make the ricotta version, I dumped some ricotta into a bowl, then added some instant coffee (which could be left out), and about equal parts sugar and dark chocolate cocoa (approximately one tablespoon each). Then I mixed with my whisk and poured it over the layer of crumbs as I described above, topping with another layer of crumbs.

To make the vegan version, I used one box of silken tofu instead of ricotta and whizzed everything in the food processor until everything was well blended, then proceeded as above. 

I can't be very precise about the measurements because I am very much an improv cook and tend to just experiment and adjust as I go along, making things suited to our tastes.
It doesn't look very impressive (and the pic is slightly blurry), but it sure is yummy! We both love it and it is definitely something I will make over and over again.Perhaps in future I'll add in some extras--almonds, chocolate chips, coconut would all be good. 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Sweet with a Kick

cubed sweet potatoes and red onion, sprinkled with granulated garlic, chilli powder, smoked paprika, oregano, and black pepper, then tossed with olive oil and baked at about 220C for 30-ish minutes (the oven was not preheated when I put them in)--usually I'd have some red bell pepper in here, too, but I didn't have any so did without it this time--delicious--and I made enough to have leftovers for tomorrow

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Yummy Date Bars

 Now that I have a more powerful food processor that can handle dates, I finally made these date bars that I've wanted to make for months. They are delicious!
I made a couple changes from the recipe, which is one of the great things about recipes like this--they can be customized to suit individual tastes. I used 1/2 cup peanut butter instead of 1/3 cup and I added some coconut. I might try it with cocoa and almonds next time--and there will definitely be a next time. 

I don't have the 8x8 baking dish called for, so I just used two rectangular plastic containers lined with parchment paper. When they were chilled, I cut them, folded the paper over top, and stacked both bundles in one container to save space. I suspect they won't be around that long.

These will be very handy to have in the fridge, since they're both healthy and tasty, so can be eaten for snacks or dessert, but also breakfast or lunch. They're a good grab-and-go sort of thing. I plan to have one for breakfast tomorrow along with some fruit. 

Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

A Little Bit Easier

 I've been thinking about getting a full size food processor for a while. I haven't had one since we came to Ireland. For years I didn't really feel like I needed or wanted one. I had a very small mini-chopper for a while that I used for certain things--it worked well for chopping, as you'd expect--but when I wanted to make hummus, I would have to do it in several batches. Eventually, Aldi had a mini food processor and I got that. Like the chopper, it had just the blade in it--no grating or slicing, although I could choose between chop and mix--but it was larger so I could do a bit more with it, at least until it started acting up. It worked fine when everything was all put together, but getting the blade out was quite a task. I would have my hands in the food trying to get a grip on the plastic part so I could pull it out. I was still doing things like veggie spreads and hummus in batches, since I like to make enough all at once to have for a few days, so I was fighting with the blade a few times each time I wanted to make something like that. It also isn't very powerful. At this point, I have enough uses for a full size machine to make it a worthwhile acquisition. I don't like to have stuff around that I am not using, especially since we live in a small place and I need to have a place to put it, so I don't buy things unless I think I am going to use them regularly. 

I was telling Bill that I thought I would like to get a full size food processor and get rid of the air fryer. We only bought the air fryer when we moved into an apartment with no oven. I used it sometimes in the year that we were there, but even though it's large, I still had to make some things in batches. That was fine when I had no oven, but now that I do, there's no benefit to using the air fryer. It's more convenient to use the oven and when I do, I make sure that I am cooking various things at the same time for the purposes of energy efficiency. I read an article not long ago that said that air fryers are energy efficient, but not if you have to cook in batches, in which case there's no energy savings over an oven. I haven't used the air fryer in 7 or 8 months. I use my slow cooker and my indoor grill all the time, but the air fryer was just sitting there taking up space.

Anyway, there is nowhere around here where I could get a food processor unless Aldi or Lidl was going to have them in the middle aisles at some point, so I figured I'd just wait and check their ads, since we don't go to those stores regularly anymore. But I didn't know that Bill was looking around online at various machines. This morning, the postman knocked on the door and handed me a large box and when I opened it, there was my new food processor (shown below with my mini one next to it).
It came with various handy accessories (including a spatula, which isn't in the photo).

Inside the box is the grating/slicing disk. The plastic thing with the paddles sticking out is a kneading tool and the black plastic disk next to it is used with the kneading disk and is an emulsifying tool. I love that it has the little bullet blender thing--just in time for summer smoothies!

I was planning to make a loaf of fruit bread today (a wholemeal yeast bread with raisins and dried apricots) and the postman delivered this before I started, so I figured I might as well try it out right away. Because I was making a wholemeal bread, which is more dense and substantial that white bread (which we don't really care for), I wasn't sure how things would go. It worked perfectly! I put all the dry ingredients in the bowl and pulsed it a couple of times to mix. Then I turned the dial to the high speed and slowly poured in the heated whey I was using as a liquid (it was left from when I made ricotta the other day). The manual said not to leave the machine running for longer than 60 seconds before letting it cool down and to be honest, I was skeptical about how useful that would be for making bread dough. I needn't have wondered about it. By the end of a minute, I had a beautiful ball of dough. I still turned it out on a floured surface and kneaded it a bit, but it was so much easier and faster to do than when I used a bowl and tried to mix things by hand. The dough was silkier, too--it felt different.
I popped it into the slow cooker for a few hours to bake, turning it over after a couple hours. 
It's quite yummy! I'm quite pleased so far. I think this will make my life a bit easier. We buy basic ingredients, produce, etc and that's what I use to prepare our meals, so I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. This will allow me to save time, eliminate stress on my hand and wrist, and widen my possibilities, so I am very happy to have this and I know I will use it a lot--Bill chose a good one.

The air fryer has been stashed in a box in the conservatory and the food processor now takes the space where that used to live. I will see whether or not I use the air fryer at all over the summer, since I try to avoid turning on the oven when it's hot out. If I still don't find it useful, I will sell it for a few euro on a local marketplace site. I have also stashed away the mini processor, which I will give away. I've placed the new accessories in the deep drawer where that used to be kept. 

What's your favourite kitchen tool?

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Thunderstone: Finding Shelter from the Storm by Nancy Campbell

 Thunderstone: Finding Shelter from the Storm
Nancy Campbell
ISBN 9781783966998
Published by Elliott and Thompson

In October 2019, the author's partner, Anna, had a stroke. Nancy Campbell was working in Germany at the time, but she rushed home to Britain to be with Anna, who would require a lot of recovery time. Their relationship had been changing before Nancy left for Germany, and before Anna left the hospital, they'd agreed that they would no longer be a couple, but that they would continue to live in their flat together for a year, with Nancy as Anna's carer. Of course, this was all happening just as we were all starting to learn about COVID 19. They went through lockdown together in this way. When it was time for Nancy to move out, she had nowhere to go. She considered couch-surfing, but a new-ish friend she'd met in the hospital told her about some friends of his who lived on a boat in a canal. There was a community of people there. Nancy couldn't afford a boat, but she could afford a caravan and there was a spot near the canal towpath where she could park it. So she bid £750 on a caravan listed on eBay, and ended up owning her first home. She knew nothing about caravans, but she learned a lot pretty quickly, living as she did with no electric, water, or sewer hook-ups. This book is a journal of that time in the author's life.

The title refers to a kind of fossil called a thunderstone in Denmark, where the author found one and brought it home. They are fossils of sea urchins with a 5-pointed star pattern, but Danish in folklore, the markings on the rock come from lightning strikes. Putting these in the corners of the home was thought to protect the family inside.

It's a beautifully written book, filled not only with descriptions of the author's experiences, but also of the natural world around her, which she was experiencing in a new way, her own feelings as she found herself changing along with her circumstances, and the quirky new friends she met along the way. I loved this book. My only regret about it is that it wasn't longer. The end seemed a little bit abrupt. I would have liked to have read more about Nancy's evolution and that of her relationships, both with the people in her life and with her new life circumstances. But I suppose that's the way with memoirs--they are necessarily limited to a certain period of time and have to end somewhere. Still, I think another month or two of the journal would have made this an even better book. 

I received a digital copy of the book in exchange for a fair review. I thank NetGalley, the author, and the publisher.