Recently Read: A History Of Chowder

While I haven’t done any chowder tastings lately, I did read a book about its history.

A History Of Chowder is a tiny, tiny book that dives deeply into all things chowder.

Boston Magazine says that “clam chowder (even cheffed-up clam chowder) will always have less sex appeal than fried chicken.”

Maybe that’s true. But does it matter? Is the comparison even fair? Chowder is a comfort food that reminds us New Englanders of home.

The book says that it’s not clear who created the first bowl of chowder, but does provide the earliest published chowder recipe.

Dated September 23, 1751, it’s actually a rhyming poem! Below is part of the recipe.

First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning,
Because in chouder there can be no turning;
Then lay some Pork in slices very thin,
This you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish oer crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt and Spice;

Because chowder began as a soup made at sea, it was first considered to be a masculine food. It was made by men, for men and consumed with rough manners. While this makes sense, I had never thought of chowder that way.

As different ingredients are added to chowder over time, it changes and who eats it expands. Regional variance also start happening — particularly the addition of milk and cream by some and the addition of tomatoes by others. It seems like New York and Boston never agree on anything!

A good portion of the book also analyzes how chowder ingredients are intertwined with the colonial past of this country. History brings its remnants forward. And the next time I do partake in a bowl of chowder, I will see it in a bit of a different light.

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Photo: Amazon

Recently Read: Enter Helen

Book cover showing picture of Helen Gurley Brown sitting on a stool, wearing a red dress.

Just recently, I finished reading the book Enter Helen, by Brooke Hauser. I wanted to make sure that I wrote about it before too much time passed and I never got around to it. Which has happened with many books. Far too many books.

Enter Helen is about the life of Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who made Cosmopolitan magazine what it is today. I had no idea that before she took over Cosmo in the 1960s, it had been a literary magazine. Boy did she change it!

The magazine was suddenly all about the young single woman in the city out on the prowl looking for men. But also about fashion, style, food, work, money, travel and more. She modernized the lifestyle magazine for women after making a career for herself writing books about the same demographic. It’s impossible not to think about the appeal of Sex and the City, when reading about Brown’s life.

While Brown had never been an editor, through connections she got the job and succeeded in bringing the magazine to heights it had never seen before through a lot of hard work and determination. Sadly, it was also because she wasn’t always a stickler for the truth. Making up sources and/or compiling several people into a fictional person wasn’t a problem for her. She knew how to get advertisers and how to sell. As a freelance writer, it was especially interesting to read about the inner workings of a magazine.

By any means necessary was her motto — in my opinion in interpreting her actions. In her early life, she had no problem using sex when it got her money, work and status. She had fun and didn’t care if the man was married either. Brown didn’t consider herself pretty, but was a charmer and used her charms to get what she wanted.

Her life story is told within the context of its time. The women’s movement is the backdrop of much of the book, along with commentary by Gloria Steinem. Brown and Steinem had a complicated relationship fraught with tension based on their different takes on how women should “be” in the world.

It was quite interesting to read and surprising to see how their careers and lives crossed. Steinem did freelance writing for Cosmo and even appeared as a model. They were so different, yet had so much in common. Especially with Steinem co-founding Ms. Magazine. Quite interesting to note that both of these magazines are still around, when so many magazines go out of business.

After reading the book, there are many things that I don’t like about Brown. But I have to respect her and her accomplishments. Enter Helen is well written and researched — a truly fascinating read. I highly recommend it. A great book to add to your summer reading list!

Recently Read: 10% Happier

Cover of book that I recently read, 10% Happier by Dan Harris.

I recently read the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris and thought I would share a few impressions.

Since I meditate mostly everyday, I didn’t need to be convinced of the benefits of meditation and becoming mindful. However, I’m always curious to learn how and why people make it part of their lives. Seeing their realization that it’s a great thing to do is a source of endless fascination.

The book begins with Harris describing his early career tackling stories in war zones. The adrenaline rush and violence, then his early drug use. To me it felt like a book focused on an audience of hyper-masculine young men and was losing my interest rapidly.

When I was young, I used to always finish books that I started. Sometimes I would finish books that I hated from the beginning to the end. Then I’d be upset that I couldn’t get that time back.

I started thinking, “Who said you have to finish?” I realized that I was the one making the decision, so I stopped. Now, if I’m not feeling the book or many other things, I don’t finish and cut my losses.

Since I was really curious, I kept reading and got to the parts that I truly enjoyed. We see Harris, who is quite the skeptic, slowly make his way to trying and believing that mindful meditation works. He finds that it makes him “10% happier.” It’s a step-by-step process and he brings us with him for the ride. Harris is now such a believer that he even has a website and an app to help you learn to meditate as well.

It’s also very interesting, especially to me as a black woman, seeing how Jewish male friendships are a big part of his story. I went to Brandeis University for my undergraduate degree, so I was part of the Goyum on campus. Believe me. I didn’t know the word until I got there and started being referred to that way. But that’s another story.

So anyway, Harris has a whole chapter called “The Jew-Bu” where we meet Dr. Mark Epstein. He is a a New York psychiatrist and writer who writes “about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy.” Epstein’s writing really spoke to Harris. Like with many other authors, Harris wanted to learn more, so they met in person for a “man-date” as he describes it. Below are some passages from the book.

It hit me that what I had on my hands here was a previously undiscovered species: a normal human being. Epstein, it appeared to me, was the anti-Tolle, the anti-Chopra. Not a guru in the popular sense of the word, just a regular guy with whom I was having a drink on a Friday night.

We started to talk about his background. He, too, had grown up in the Boston area. His dad was also a doctor. He didn’t have some fancy backstory, à la Tolle or Chopra. No sudden late-night spiritual awakening, no hearing of voices. …

I asked what a beginner should do to get deeper into this world. … As I madly typed notes into my BlackBerry for future reference, it was impossible not to notice that nearly all of these names were Jewish: Goldstein, Coleman, Kornfield, Salzberg. ‘This is a whole subculture,’ he said. The little cabal even had a nickname: The ‘Jew-Bus.’ …

Mark also pointed out that mindfulness was a skill — one that would improve as I got more meditation hours under my belt. In that spirit, he said I should consider going on a retreat. … Specifically, he recommended that I sign up for a retreat led by someone named Joseph Goldstein, who Mark referred to as ‘his’ meditation teacher. He spoke about this Goldstein character in the most glowing terms, which intrigued me. I figured if a guy I revered revered another guy, I should probably check that other guy out.

As we were paying the bill, I said, ‘If you’re up for it, I’d love to get together every month or two.’

‘Sure,’ he said, looking up from the remains of his drink and meeting my gaze. With uncontrived sincerity he said, ‘I want to know you.’ That was one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to me. After we’d finished, as we said good-bye, he gave me a hug. It was touching, and I appreciated his willingness to be my friend, but there was no way in hell I was going on a retreat.

We hear so much about female friendship, but I think male friendship is very important too. As we get older it’s harder to make new friends. But it can happen and this book shows it beautifully.

It takes a lot of vulnerability and strength to tell someone that you want to be their friend. Plus, it showed the same strength and vulnerability to write about it. I’m glad that Harris put it out there.

Coincidentally, in addition to what I’ve recently read, I recently watched an old episode of Seinfeld when Jerry becomes friends with New York Mets baseball player Keith Hernandez and they go on a “man date.”

Also, I just recently listened to a podcast of This American Life where two men are set up on blind “man date” to see if they can become friends.

While I loved reading about the friendships that formed, it also left me wondering. Was Harris only able to receive and implement this new information because it was placed before him by men who were just like him?

If he had not learned about the “Jew-Bus” would he have ever been convinced about mindfulness and meditation? If not, would he have ever written this book? And what does that say about us as people? How often do we learn something new from someone very different from us? And then want to become friends with them. Not very often.

What books have you recently read?

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Image Credit: HarperCollins Publishers

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Recently Read: The Woman I Wanted to Be

The Woman I Wanted to beHappy Holidays to you!

Time is more than scarce right now, but I wanted to make sure that I wrote about this book before Christmas. It would be a great gift for someone if you are still shopping.

The Woman I Wanted to Be, by Diane von Furstenberg, is truly inspiring and has changed the way that I start and end each day. What an amazing woman!

Even if you don’t buy this book, read it. Borrow it from the library. Read it in the store. But read it. Especially if you are trying to start something new and find your own way. If you are seeking inspiration and confidence, you will find it in the pages she has written.

Her philosophy has been that she wanted to live the life of a man, but in a woman’s body. She wanted the career, money, and freedom that used to only be in the reach of men, but she wanted to be able to do that as a woman. And she has!

Because of this book, each day I ask myself the question, “Am I closer to being the woman that I want to be?” If not, I try to make little changes to get closer the next day. If yes, well, then I smile!

Most of us know of von Furstenberg as the creator of the wrap dress. She has had a life full of glamour and leads a very jet set existence. But in the book, she still comes through as being very down to earth. She was part of the Studio 54 scene and knew all the stars. But it’s not like she is being fake and making things up. This was her life!

Her mother was a Holocaust survivor and her story provided core values and great determination that were passed down to her daughter. Regardless of her deep strength, we learn about the ebb and flow of confidence in her life by how she wears her hair. Plus she tells an interesting story about a very young Bruce Springsteen.

My curly hair had become an asset. I felt confident and free. That confidence didn’t stay with me all the time. My hair became a barometer for my self-esteem, and in the early nineties I started to straighten my hair again. Those were not great years. I was yet again in search of myself and was a bit insecure. As I regained confidence, I let the curls come back. I learned how to master them, how to use them and let them be a part of the true me. I even started to welcome humidity because it adds so much volume to curly hair.

It might seem trivial to give that much importance to hair, but I know all women with curls will identify with this struggle. So will some curly-haired men, I recently discovered. During a vacation last year on the boat of a friend, entertainment mogul David Geffen, I was having a conversation about hair with the women on board when Bruce Springsteen the macho, superhero rock star chimed in. He, too, used to hate his Italian curls when he was fifteen and starting out, he confessed, and so did his teenage band mates, The Castiles. They all wished they could switch their Mediterranean curls for straight bangs like the Beatles. So, at night, they would go secretly to a beauty parlor for black women in Freehold, New Jersey to have their hair straightened!

I laughed out loud with that story! Especially as a black woman and having gone though my own natural hair journey. The book is full of so many interesting stories and they all make their points. The introduction to her book sets the stage and summarizes what her life is about. I really like this quote from it as a nice takeaway.

As a girl, I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be my own person, independent and free. I knew that freedom could only be achieved if I took full responsibility for myself and my actions, if I were true to the truth, if I became my very best friend.

I liked this book a lot. And feel like I’m becoming a better person for having read it.

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Screenshot: Simon & Schuster

Recently Read: Attractive Unattractive Americans

Attractive Unattractive Americans book coverAfter  reading Attractive Unattractive Americans by René Zografos, I had several very strong reactions. I truly enjoyed the book and took so many notes as I was reading that I cannot possibly mention them all.

I thought it was hilarious that many people who are not American think that we are overly dramatic. OMG! How could that be?!

I don’t think I’ve have ever seen an American reality-TV show without a huge theater scene. It’s always someone who is ill, or who recently lost a family member or something else sad, and they always seem to mention that the reason they are on that particular TV show is because of them–that they want to honor their loved one or hardship. Then everyone cries and feels so sad. For people outside of America that is rather strange behavior–all these dramatic scenes on everyday television.

We can probably all agree that reality TV is rather fake, but we Americans do use a lot of superlatives and know how to hype things up.

However, the older I get, the more I also see that real life is dramatic. Between things going on in my own life and people that I know, it could be show or movie that would be so over the top that much of it would not be believed. Life is stranger than fiction.

The book has commentary about the United States written by the author, but he also interviewed people from all over the world on their views of Americans. Zografos has a very interesting background himself — half Greek and half Norwegian.

The book is fairly short and an easy read, but goes into great detail about many areas of daily American life. The topics are extensive. He talks about work life balance. How Americans work very hard, but don’t have much vacation time and often do not get to travel. He discusses issues of violence, social justice, charity, compassion, products made in America and more. Americans are described as happy and friendly, but how this sometimes comes off as fake.

This would be a great book for a book club, because so much lively discussion and debate would be generated. Especially if the group were a diverse mix of people. It would be good in the classroom too.

Since I’m all about food, I found a quote by Jaqueline from Brazil, particularly bizarre. She clearly had a very bad and limited cookie tasting experience while she was here. No doubt a World Peace Cookie never made its way into her mouth.

American cookies actually taste like plain sugar. They’re not edible for my taste. All these cookies full of sugar make me nauseous, and they must make Americans chubby.

It was interesting how Zografos did many comparisons between Americans and Norwegians. At first, I was reminded of a Norwegian Apple Cake that I baked after seeing a recipe on Tracy’s blog. She is an American expat blogger living in Norway.

So, I was quite surprised by his writing about violence in Norway and how criminals often are not prosecuted. In some ways the book may seem simplistic, with some of the short quotes and cartoons in the beginning. But when he gets going and really starts analyzing, he digs deep. This is not a superficial book. He also understands the regional quality of the United States and mentions several places.

Seattle is my number one city in the U.S., followed by San Francisco. New York City is a solid number three on my list. I enjoy nature and the sea, and New York is in many ways a nutshell of urban USA, but still with a fair amount of European influence. I must add that I have never been to Boston, although I suspect that Boston will be my very favorite when I finally do visit.

Yes, I agree with you! We have it all here in Boston! The author has such a unique perspective on so many subjects, that I was having mini-imaginary conversations with him as I was reading. I really like how he talked about the idea of the American Dream and how the process of writing the book changed him –transformed his life.

Your own journey toward your goals will itself create happiness. ~ René Zografos

I love the phrase Carpe Diem and have a necklace with the words inscribed. When I wear it, it feels like a talisman letting me more fully enjoy the present. This book is like one big Carpe Diem. The author did it and he’s telling us to as well.

As the book winds down, you can feel the author’s optimism and passion for life gearing up.

Live now. Go from words to actions; be a doer and an achiever, not only a dreamer. Dare to find your own path, because if you do, the most wonderful thing in life can and will happen to you. Some Americans already understand this and, as a result, they are living extraordinary lives. …

[A]s long as I follow my passion, I am living my dream–my American dream–and the only voice I need to listen to is my own–to what I need deep down inside. Thanks to the process and journey of writing this book, I now also feel different and more open, a better human being, almost invincible and more American, somehow. I have accomplished writing a book in a foreign language. It took me many years with small steps every day, and I made it through the storm, as I have done before. As a consequence of writing this book, it has resulted in priceless meetings with wonderful people and cultures. A true gift was given to me: I achieved happiness.

After finishing this book, the author’s words and feelings have lingered. Not only is this book about Americans, but it’s about finding that courage within ourselves to live out our dreams.

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Disclsoure: Review copy of book received from Smith Publicity.

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Screenshot: Amazon