LCF update May 2019

LCF Update May 2019

First, thanks so much to new subscribers, and welcome to LCF Update May 2019, a monthly thing I do. You are deeply appreciated.

Meanwhile, following my Greek cuisine extravaganza, where have I been? (Below is a hint. OK, probably not very helpful. Germany.)

LCF update may 2019: cake in Germany

And….I’ve been thinking. Which has led to some re-evaluation, which in turn occasions a little bit o’ history.

LCF Evolution: The Big Bang

Back in 2014, I had an idea for a blog: Nanette’s Feast, dedicated to dinner and a movie.

But not just any dinner and a movie, as in that old TV show where you watched something like “Mystic Pizza” and ate…pizza!

I love the cuisines and cinema of the world, and I wanted to celebrate them together. The idea was, you’d make a fabulous dinner with someone you love, then watch a movie that complemented the dinner rather than trying to duplicate it. Obviously, given the site’s previous name, I’ve seen Babette’s Feast. But I sure as hell don’t want to eat that feast, complete with birds that still have the bones in them and turtle soup.

Babette's Feast

Nanette’s Feast may have been a nice idea, but I had some factors against me. For one thing, I did NOT, under any circumstances, want to become a food photographer. Food blogs were well underway by 2014—not like today, but there were plenty, and they were straight up food porn. I took half-hearted pix, and relied heavily on screen shots from movies to illustrate my posts. The pairing was more important to me than the recipes, but all that anyone seemed to care about was the recipes accompanied by gorgeous photos.

And the truth was, I continued to be fascinated by world cuisine and world cinema. Around this same time, I had begun to anticipate with bated breath the annual New York Times 52 Places to Go list. I wasn’t traveling much then, but I realized I could get to those places with food and movies. So I started using the 52 Places list as my jumping off point.

LCF update may 2019: atacama desert sunset
Steve and I went to the Atacama this year, mainly because I’d first read about in 52 Places.

There is such a thing as having a niche that’s TOO niche-y, and I had dug into one of those pretty deep. And….absolutely nobody cared. I tried lots of things to get the word out, but it just wasn’t clicking. People who read the posts told me how well-written they were, how fun they were, but they weren’t going to follow my carefully conceived date night plans or bookmark me to get inspired or read me religiously. Netflix and chill extended to making the easiest possible dinner, i.e., a plate of microwaved nachos, and immersing oneself either in a non-demanding movie or in the Golden Age of TV that we currently find ourselves in. Nobody really gave a shit about movies set in St. Lucia or filmed in Mozambique, with some sort of dish to match.

Bollywood films are increasingly being made using the Alps as stand-in Himalayas, so Indians are flocking to Switzerland and, in this case, Liechtenstein.

Meanwhile, it was increasingly evident that I had to up my game photography-wise. Then a few people who I had taught to cook told me I should be teaching other people how to cook, and bloggers were insisting that courses were the wave of the future. It appeared that what people wanted was food, recipes, and lots and lots of pictures. I complied.

LCF: Moving Ahead

I changed the name, look, and logo of the site. Le Chou Fou, French for the crazy cabbage, came to me while I was in Germany, where I get to travel frequently. (We’re not that far from France, and Le Chou Fou is a lot more fun to say and write than Der Verückte Kohl, which is crazy cabbage in German and doesn’t even rhyme, for heck’s sake.)

A farmer’s market in Amsterdam. Not a cabbage in sight, but check out that rhubarb.

Which brings us to now. After thinking for a solid month, I realized I have more to offer than food. I’ve stopped looking at trying to make LCF the Next Very Small Thing (but at least a thing). I don’t want to be the 46th million food blog. I want to go back to what I love: Learning about the world, in person, and when that’s not possible, through food and movies.

Speaking to the in person part, I get to go to a lot of cool places. As for the through food and movies part, there are a lot of places I would love to go, but just ain’t happening. The ‘stans have always fascinated me, as has Iran and much of North Africa. I love the culture, the food, the history, and I imagine the people are pretty amazing, too. But, for fairly obvious reasons, those are pretty much off the table, for now and likely, always.

But I can go anywhere with the right cookbook, blog, and/or movie.

LCF Update May 2019: Next Steps

Over the summer, I’ll be changing things up ’round here. If you’ve bookmarked some recipes or how-to posts, they’re not going anywhere. In fact, they’ll probably be a little easier to get to. The big change will be an expanded travel section, with more worksheets to help you prep for a trip. What should you look for in an AirBnB kitchen? What can you cook in one? (Not much, most of the time, but a little bit.) Below, a typical AirBnB kitchen cabinet.

LCF update may 2019: airbnb kitchen

What should you pack, besides goody bags for flight attendants? How do you get the most out of a trip? And I’ll continue to post recipes from places I have and haven’t been to, or haven’t been to in a while.

We went to a bunch of amazing churches this trip, most of which were empty. I loved stretching out for 5 or 10 minutes to study the ceilings.

Finally, I’m most excited about offering my trip planning skills, for an unspecified time, for free. I’ve gotten pretty good at putting trips together, and want to see if I can help other people figure out the best way, based on what they like, to spend their time.

This was on a Black Forest hike called “The Goat Path.” I don’t quite get the stacked stones thing, but still, it was pretty cool to turn a corner and see about a million of them.

If you have an upcoming trip and want a little help figuring out what to do, please give me a shout. All I ask is a download of your experiences and your opinion of whether I helped you or not.

A collection of Buenos Aires treasures, including a coffee cup from our favorite cafe, All Saints, that says, “Nancy! Marry with Us!”

So that’s what’s up, my friends. Watch for an upcoming post on AirBnB kitchens, as well as some reports on what I’ve found out in close to two months of tooling around in Germany, Switzerland, London, and….Liechtenstein! It’s tiny, but it DID provide me with my 28th country on that list (only 159 to go, har har). Look, I keep count, because I’m a hopeless nerd, but also because it makes me happy. I mean, I still haven’t done even a third of Europe, so I’m not feeling hugely cocky or anything.

And I’m completely serious: Lemme know if I can help you plan a trip.

Summer is here. Let’s enjoy it.

The Spring Feast Planner

Have you signed up for our email list? (It’s easy; fill in the form in the green square on the right side of the page.) Do it, and get the Spring Feast Planner (as well as the worksheet “Know Yourself as a Cook”) for free. As well as my heartfelt thanks.

spring feast planner

Through my childhood, we had a lot of big holidays. The holidays were fun, but I never liked the food. For one thing, my mom was a classic Mom-of-Baby-Boomers cook, wedded to the Glamor with a Can Opener approach. For another, at our house, holiday tables groaned with a big old slab of meat: ham, roast beef, turkey. The sides weren’t particularly interesting or important.

Well, when I began to cook it myself, I realized I could change all that. And, in April 2004, Bon Appetit, the magazine that was one of my primary cooking teachers and which I continue to love, featured a Greek Easter feast. I loved everything in it—except for the lamb. So I skipped that, and decided I was doing my own Greek Easter.

Well—not by a long shot. I recently spoke with my friend Callie Floor, of 100% Greek descent. “Easter is THE most imporant holiday of the year for Greek families,” she told me.

“What are the essentials?”

“Lamb and red eggs. And the bread with the red eggs.”

“What about spanikopita? Pastitsio? Baklava?”

Nope, it turned out. The lamb, representing Christ, and the eggs dyed red to represent his blood, are the two essentials. “And we’d usually eat it at, like, 3 in the morning,” she told me, due to a midnight mass the day before.

OK. So I wasn’t doing Greek Easter. But….I was (and still am) doing some sort of spring feast. Hence the title of my new party planner, which I’ve been working like mad on. It’s late for western Easter—as I write this, it’s April 18, 2019, and the holiday falls on Sunday, April 21. But I’m pretty much on time for eastern Easter, on the 28th this year. And, since a lot of folks like lamb for Easter, the planner easily allows you to add it in. It’s got all the recipes, with links to the related web posts if you want more pix (and, in the case of Spanakopita and Greek Easter Bread, video). There’s a scheduler so you can make about 80% of the meal ahead of time, something I always dig if I’m having some big celebration.

And seriously, Greek food is superb for parties. Vibrant, veggie-centric, sunshine-y, and comforting. So you can pretty much bust this one out any time you want a good party.

The Menu

Appetizers/Noshables: If you want, create a mezze platter with olives, cheese, dip like hummus, taramasalata, skordalia, or tzatziki, and/or a mix of marinated and fresh veggies. I don’t include this in the planner, because honestly, there’s already a ton of food. But it’s certainly easy if you want to throw one together. Here’s a lovely example.

Greek Salad

Moussaka or Pastitsio

Roast Lamb with Steamed Green Beans (if you like lamb, I’m assuming you know how to either roast it or google a recipe)

Greek Easter Bread

Dessert: Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake, which you can supplement with Baklava, as well as lemon sorbet or vanilla ice cream

spring feast planner dessert

If you’ve subscribed, you’ve already received the Planning Guide, which includes a shopping list and timetable. If you’d like that, well, my friend, please consider subscribing. (Once again, it’s easy; fill in the form in the green square on the right side of the page.)

And whatever you do, may your springtime be filled with joy.

Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake

Jump straight to the Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake recipe or tips.

lemon walnut rosemary cake

I’ve never understood why the phrase is “easy as pie” as opposed to “easy as cake.” Pie, in my mind, equals not so easy. Getting a crust right is a tricky thing; at least, it can be for me, though at this point I sort of get how to do it. Mind you, I worked in a pastry shop for a summer and took a Zingerman’s pie making class; a magazine I was working for paid for it, which helped. Then there’s the filling, involving cutting fruit up, no big deal with bananas, a 2nd circle of hell thing with cherries.

Cake, on the other hand, is easy peasy lemon squeezy—in this case, literally, because of, well, the lemon. True, a sponge cake can be a little gnarly, given the whole separated egg thing, but we’ll save that for another day. This Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake, on the other hand, couldn’t be simpler. It’s really lovely for springtime. I split this recent one between two good friends, Steve, and my son, and they all made kind of a big deal about it. The kid had to pick out the walnuts, but liked the rest so much he didn’t mind.

Baking Tips

Note that exact ingredients are below, as is required for baking. Baking is not an improv thing unless you’re some sort of baking genius. Which I am certainly not.

  • You can make this in a Bundt pan, which I like because 1) they’re pretty in a frumpy way, and 2) I also like the way they portion out. But you can also use a flat glass pan, like a casserole dish. Should you use the Bundt pan, you MUST apply first a generous layer of fat—coconut oil, butter, or non-stick spray—followed by a good dusting of flour, which you then tamp out so there’s no excess. I skipped the flour and you can see the result below. The top of the cake decided to stay in the pan. As long as the cake is still hot, this isn’t a complete disaster; you can just scoop it out and press it back in place. Still, if you’re trying to impress someone, and just to circumvent a case of severe kitchen frustration, do the flour.
lemon walnut rosemary cake with mangled top
  • Use a whisk to combine dry ingredients. A great trick I learned during that summer in the pastry shop.
  • If you have leftover buttermilk, freeze it in little muffin cups. It’s super handy, I always have to buy more than I can use, and voila, no waste. You can always sub it for milk in any baking recipe; it has more body and flavor.
buttermilk for the freezer
  • This is an oil-based cake rather than a buttery one. Use what’s known as “tasteless” oil. This doesn’t mean oil used by fans of Baywatch. Snort! This means oil without a taste, so olive is out. But sunflower, grapeseed, canola, even avocado work fine.
lemon walnut rosemary cake
  • For this type of cake, add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in layers. Start by putting a third of the dry ingredients into the oil/sugar mix, then add half the buttermilk. Etc, until both are used up. You want to start and end with dry ingredients, so that’s why they’re in thirds and the buttermilk in halves. Why? I don’t know!
  • Fold in the walnuts at the very end. The walnuts are finely chopped, so distribute fine. If you have a walnut hater, wait til the cake is in the pan. Gently add the walnuts to the pan, leaving them out of however much of it the walnut hater will eat.
lemon walnut rosemary cake folding in walnuts
  • Make the syrup ahead—even a day or three if you’re serving the cake as part of big do and you want to advance prep. You want to pour/brush cold syrup on the hot cake, the better to infuse the cake with the flavor. Do this with the cake on a rack over a plate after you’ve poked a bunch of wholes in the cake with a skewer; I reuse my cake tester to dandy effect. You’ll end up with syrup on the plate, which you then add to the cake, getting as much of the syrup in there as you can.
  • Serve with lemon sorbet for a little lemon madness or really good vanilla ice cream to counter the lemon. Or raspberry or strawberry sorbet for crazy color contrasts. And of course, since it’s a coffee cake, coffee.

Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake: The Recipe

Greek Easter Bread

Jump straight to the Greek Easter Bread recipe or some baking tips.

greek easter bread

Look, even if you’re intimidated by bread, Greek Easter Bread is crazy easy and crazy delish.

I do get that bread can intimidate. There’s the rising, and the fact that yeast is a little temperamental. There’s the kneading, which needs to be done enough, and yet not too much. In this case, there’s the braiding, but that’s kinda fun.

In fact, it’s all pretty fun. This particular recipe hails from the April 2004 issue of Bon Appetit, and was part of a big Greek Easter feast. Without the red eggs, you just have a spectacularly yummy bread braid. You could also do any color eggs you want. Whatever way you bake it, you will end up with a fragrant, barely sweet, buttery puffy loaf. You don’t need more butter, but you can add some if you’re feeling especially decadent.

greek easter bread with labneh and coffee

My son, who likes few things better than ripping a piece of bread off a freshly-baked loaf, couldn’t quite get over this one. “What’s in this, Mom?”

The grated citrus peel, both lemon and orange, adds a lot of flavor. But the true secret of a wonderfully enigmatic Greek Easter Bread is mahlepi, or mahleb, aka ground dried cherry pits. You will have to venture to a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market to find it, but you can substitute a teaspoon for 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract in any baked good. While you’re there—if you’re there in the spring—look for the special red Easter egg dye. It’s stronger than the mix of beet juice, turmeric, and red food coloring that I used.

Greek Easter Bread: A Few Tips

  • 2-3 days ahead, dye hard-boiled eggs in deep red dye. Let them sit in the dye until you’re ready to bake the bread. I use 3 eggs in the bread, but to have some extra deep red eggs on hand is cool. They are really beautiful and unusual.
  • Whisk a package of yeast into 1/4 cup of warm (about 100-110º) water. Let it rest undisturbed until it gets thick and a little bubbly. If this doesn’t happen, your yeast done bit the dust. Do not proceed until you find some working yeast.
  • Exact proportions are listed in the recipe. Get out your hand held electric mixer to cream soft butter and sugar together. You’ll then beat in an egg, the citrus peel and mahleb or vanilla, warm milk, and flour. Once you get the egg in and as you add the milk, the mixture may look “broken.” In other words, the butter won’t be so smooth any more. Don’t worry; as you add the flour, first with the mixer, then with a spatula, it will all come back together in a lovely soft dough.
  • You need the dough til it’s smooth and satiny, then let it rest to rise. In theory, this should take about 1 and 1/2 to 1:45. Mine took closer to 2 1/2 hours. Don’t despair; if your yeast is live, the bread will rise. Just give it time, and keep it in a warmish place (but not the oven).
  • Gently knead the risen bread down, then separate it into 3 pieces. To make the bread into ropes, you kind of roll and pinch until you have a 24-inch rope, three times.
greek easter bread separated into ropes
  • Braiding the braid is a little more like a French braid; the video shows how I got to kind of a false start, and frankly the end is a little messy. So tweak that to your hearts content.
  • Then make the indentations for the eggs. Blot the eggs like crazy; they’ll still bleed a little, but don’t worry. Press them into the little dents you’ve made in the bread. Let rise a second time, till lovely and puffy.
greek easter bread after the second rise
  • Bake at 350º for 20 minutes, then turn the bread and bake another 10. The finished bread should be golden and make a nice hollow sound when you tap the bottom.
  • You can definitely eat this bread all by itself, but a little butter, jam, honey, quark, or labneh is also lovely. And Greek coffee on the side makes it even better. Here, it’s part of a table of Greek appetizers including Greek salad and spanikopita.

Greek Easter Bread: The Recipe

Moussaka/Pastitsio

Jump to the Moussaka Pastitsio recipe or to the steps.

moussaka eggplant
Which is which? That’s the beauty of these two dishes; from the pan, you really can’t tell.

Two big grand dishes of immense comfort, moussaka and pastitsio or basically the same: a kind of Greek lasagna, where spiced ground meat (or lentils, if you want to go vegetarian) is/are layered with either eggplant or pasta, then topped with a fluffy béchamel sauce that puffs up in the oven.

Of the 2, moussaka is closer to lasagna, given that it boasts 2 layers of eggplant. Patitsio is kinda like a heartier version of macaroni and cheese. You could even do a weird, unholy but tasty hybrid, having both eggplant and pasta layers, because…why not?

And while the steps look long, it’s pretty straightforward. Both the meat sauce and the Béchamel can be made in advance, and you can assemble either casserole in about 5 minutes, once you’ve either fried the eggplant or boiled the pasta.

I decided to deliver them both to you in the same post to demo how similar they are, and how you can kind of game day your decision, depending on what you like and/or are in the mood for—as well as if you happen to have eggplant on hand. Note the bold type at the beginning of each step to indicate if the step is for one or both dishes.

Moussaka Pastitsio: A Note on the Cheese

If you’re up for doing a little bit of extra work—namely, heading to a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market—I highly recommend you track down kefalotiri cheese. It has a bunch of names that variations on the spelling, but man, it is awesome. Similar taste and texture-wise to halloumi, it makes this Béchamel and the rest of either taste taste rich and perfectly salty. Plus: Every Middle Eastern/Mediterranean market I’ve ever been to is staffed by delightful folks who are very happy to help you discover a lot of wonderful foods. Think about getting a jar of red pepper paste to sub for tomato paste.

moussaka pastitsio kefalotiri cheese

The Steps

  • Moussaka Pastitsio: meat or lentil sauce: Heat a big pan. Pour in some oil when the pan is hot. When the oil is hot, brown chopped onion and minced garlic, a good amount either way. Add half pound of ground meat (or raw lentils in half the amount), and stir til meat is brown or lentils are fully incorporated with the onions. Add dried oregano, a good hit of salt, pepper, a can of crushed tomatoes, a healthy spoon of tomato paste, and about a quarter cup of broth. Let simmer about 20 minutes. Season with allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and cook one more minute, then check to see if it needs more salt an pepper. Cool to room temp; you can make this a day ahead if you like. When the mix is at room temp, add in one beaten egg.
  • Moussaka Pastitsio: Béchamel: For each 1/2 pound of meat or lentils you used, you want to whisk 2 tablespoons of whole milk with 1 egg yolk. Then melt 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk in flour until it’s smooth and bubbly. Gradually whisk in just under 1 cup of milk (the recipe uses one cup, so less 2 tablespoons), 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a pinch each of nutmeg and allspice, and then simmer it. Take the heat back down to low, and simmer while whisking until the sauce is nice and thick. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the egg yolk and 1/3 cup grated kefalotiri or Parmesan. You can now put it back very low heat, whisking for another couple of minutes. Taste to see if it needs more salt and pepper, and set it aside. You can also make this a day ahead.
  • Pastitsio: Boil some pasta in salted water until al dente. Once again, you can do this a day ahead. Keep pasta covered and toss with a little oil before you store it.
  • Moussaka: slice your peeled eggplant into half-inch crosswise slices. Sprinkle with salt. Line a cookie sheet with towels (paper or otherwise), lay the slices on top, and then weight them down with something heavy and flat, maybe a platter or big casserole. Let them sit like that for 20 minutes.
  • Moussaka: Clean out your pan, or use a new one. Put some flour on a plate—gluten free is fine, especially chickpea flour. Season with salt and pepper. Pat the pressed eggplant slices dry, then dip them in the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat the pan, then heat a good 1/2 inch of oil. Make sure the oil is hot before you add the eggplant slices one at a time. You want them to brown up, but watch them carefully. A minute on each side should do the trick. Remove to drain on paper towels.
sauteed eggplant for moussaka
  • Moussaka assembly: Heat your oven to 325º. Put down a layer of half the eggplant, sprinkle with more grated cheese, add the filling. Top with the rest of the eggplant and more cheese. Pour on the bechamel, and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Bake 30 minutes, then increase heat to 400º and bake 15 minutes longer, for a golden brown top. Moussaka should rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
  • Pastitsio assembly: Heat your oven to 325º. Place pasta in bottom of casserole. Add meat on top. Sprinkle on grated cheese, then pour on béchamel and sprinkle with additional cheese. Bake 30 minutes, then increase heat to 400º and bake 15 minutes longer, for a golden brown top. Pastitsio should rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with steamed green beans on the side. Greek Salad and Spanikopita are great go-withs.
moussaka eggplant
A steamed green veggie on the side, like these beans, perfectly complements either moussaka or pastitsio.

Moussaka Pastitsio: The Recipe

LCF Update April 2019

Jump to LCF Update April 2019 watching recos and reading recos.

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, as Dad used to say. If you don’t know the second line of that little poem, it’s “I wonder where the flowers is?” My dad was a drummer, and he loved the rhythm of language.

daffodils for the LCF April update
April in Amsterdam: Chilly, but vibrant

Big news this month is a very late Easter/Passover season. I love the rituals and stories that unfold over this week. Whatever your beliefs or lack thereof, I hope the simple beauty of the ideas finds its way to you in one way or other.

Dad: A Brief Reminiscence

Dad studied Passover in particular. He even wrote his own version of the Haggadah, the story of Moses and his delivery of his people from Egyptian slavery.

He called me and said proudly, “I wrote a rap.” It was about as rappy as Dr. Seuss, and you can make your own determination as to how The Sneetches stacks up against NWA (short) or Will Smith (pretty close). Dad’s Haggadah Rap contained the refrain, “But the children of Israel down in Egypt Land were safe in the palm of God’s mighty hand.” Dad himself had mighty hands; he’d been 6’6″ in his prime, until age shrunk him. But it didn’t shrink his hands. In any event, I loved that he chose that particular metaphor. To this day, I associate the word “safe” with my hand in my dad’s, or with his arms around me.

Right before he died, I was talking to him, and he was holding my hand. He said, “Your hands are small.” I said, “That’s only because yours are so big.” He said, “Too bad you didn’t get big hands like mine. Then you could have played the piano.”

Dad, by the way, used to drive me to my piano lessons. Even with breath and words were at a premium, he made sure I’d smile.

Coming Soon: Spring Festival Party Plan!

Like Thanksgiving, I never enjoyed Easter until I began to cook it myself. And Easter was particularly rough for me because I don’t eat lamb or ham, and they seem to be the Easter requirements, with the former also pretty much de rigeur on the Passover table.

But when I discovered Greek Easter, I perked up. First off, Greek cuisine is the bomb. The palette runs through the spectrum with giddy joy: brilliant tomatoes, fire-colored peppers, brilliant green herbs, ending in deep eggplant. The dairy products conjure up images of adorable lambs and goats frisking around as their moms provide the rich milk for feta, halloumi, and labneh, the ultra-thick, downright decadent cream.

labneh for the LCF April update

A trip to my local Middle Eastern emporium provided heaps o’ fun, including the above and….what could these be?

Yep, that’s my phone shadow in the bottom left corner.

They’re fresh almonds! So cool!!

I’ve already dropped the Greek Salad and Spanikopita recipes. I’ll be cranking about 4 more treats in the next few days and putting the final touches on the big plan. The truth is, if there ain’t lamb, it ain’t Greek Easter—all to be explained in yet another upcoming post, courtesy of my good friend Callie Floor, who grew up in the tradition. But a springtime table groaning with Spanikopita, Moussaka, and delectable Greek Easter bread on the side: count me in, and make the festival about whatever you like.

LCF Update April 2019: Watching Recos

Steve and I did a double whammy finish last night of one of our favorite shows and a new favorite. Both were season finales, with, we grant you, very short seasons.

The first, Catastrophe, has been a joy and a wonder—and we wrapped it up last night, watching the fine and lovely finale. True, the language is raunchy as hell; Catastrophe is not for the prim. But it is also one of the best explorations of what it likes to make a relationship work that I’ve ever seen. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan play two characters named Rob and Sharon, who end up in a kind of why-the-hell-not? marriage. Love is not even mentioned for a good while. They fight, they have a lot of sex (the talking is more graphic than the showing), as well as at least one kid, and they are both superbly, supremely hilarious and touching. I’ll miss it. Yet now that it’s over, I have to say it ended in exactly the right way.

Ricky Gervais’ Netflix show, After Life, is equally wonderful, and fortunately coming back next year. Gervais uses his, shall-we-say, “thorny” personality to unexpectedly fine effect as a grieving widower. I’ve seen him snarky, bitter, and pissed off plenty of times, and honestly nearly avoided the show because I’m kind of tired of it. But he adds a layer of grief under everything, along with a struggle to be at least a little bit of a decent person. It results in an honest, raw expression of mourning. And anything with Penelope Wilton is going to be extra special. Caveat: If you are uncomfortable with characters expressing a complete lack of belief in God or in an afterlife, either prepare to be uncomfortable or skip it. But I hope you’ll give it a whirl.

LCF Update April 2019: Reading Recos

On the book front, S and I have been listening to Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. (Helluva subtitle; deeply grateful for cut and paste at the moment.) Pollan reads the book himself, and, as an audiobook, he paces the information, which is pretty dense, in an optimal way. It’s amazing to find out the ways that psychedelic drugs have been used to treat, with great success, conditions from alcoholism to anxiety over terminal diseases. It’s also pretty frustrating to learn about how Timothy Leary basically and almost single-handedly knee-capped a promising area of psychiatric medicine, and did it primarily out of self-interest—at least, that’s my takeaway. Doesn’t narcissism suck?

I crashed through Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, Eliza Griswold’s powerful, closely-observed report over a Pennsylvania family who had the misfortune of being 1500 feet downhill from a fracking pond. Griswold manages to make the arcana of fracking understandable, both from a technical and a deeply personal standpoint. I read the 300-page book in about 4 days; it was that hard to put down. (I’m not a super fast reader.) Fracking, uncomfortably close to home for a while, appears to have slowed in Michigan. If things heat up, I’m much better equipped to fight, thanks to this book.

I also finished two novels this month, and, unusually, I loved them both. Assymetry starts with an Alice in Wonderland riff, and before it gets tiresome and gimmicky—which it could—author Lisa Halliday moves on. Her writing throughout shows remarkable discipline, precision, and a lithe spirit.

Cherry, by Nico Walker, chronicles a descent into what the author describes as “The Great Dope Fiend Romance.” Autobiographical, the protagonist begins as a smart but aimless teen who ends up in the army, unexpectedly gets sent to Iraq, can’t get a whole lot done afterwards due to PTSD, and turns to bank robbery in order to support his habit and his girlfriend’s. There is wonderful spare prose poetry here, unsentimental; he fails to romanticize an iota of his experiences. At one point, the soldier sends his girlfriend a documentary, one of the few he can access in Iraq, that delights him. She hates it. “I thought the world of those penguins,” he says. So many layers of regret in just those few words. Great stuff.

Enjoy the spring, friends.