‘The Coaster’ with Ravel soundtrack

Author and pianist Kris Faatz features story readings paired with piano performances

Special thanks to author/musician, friend and colleague Kris Faatz for featuring my flash fiction piece, “The Coaster,” paired with two Ravel pieces as part of her Storytelling and Sound seies on her Zen for Ten video/performance blog in December of 2017.

Zen for Ten 34: The Coaster

 

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‘Dark’ thoughts in Jewish author’s angsty new novel

Jewish News, Phoenix, Ariz.
October 11, 2017

I began reading Nicole Krauss’ new novel, “Forest Dark,” with interest, especially because the hardback copy I picked up from the library had a blurb on the front cover from the author of one of my favorite books.

“A brilliant novel. I am full of admiration,” wrote Philip Roth.

Really? Who gets blurbed on the front cover by the author of “American Pastoral”?

It’s easy to see why once one gets inside this winding tale of dual protagonists, or should I say dueling protagonists, as their narratives hopscotch from one to the other without — what seems at first — any connection at all.

But a connection there is, an existential angst, a feeling of separation, disconnection from friends, families, history, the world.

The book opens with Jules Epstein consciously emptying out his world, selling off all of his truly prized possessions after a lifetime of acquiring them and reconfiguring his will as his collection of fine art and artifacts becomes smaller and smaller.

Then one day, after a high-level political event, someone takes his cashmere coat (by mistake?) from the coat room and leaves him in an ill-fitting cloth coat. Also gone is his phone, with its thousands of family photos, and a cherished book by an Israeli poet about a man alone facing God — a gift from his daughter.

He has been reduced to the specter of a homeless person, wandering without roots, without possessions, unmoored.

Is it just coincidence that his coat was switched by a Palestinian? One of

Mahmoud Abbas’ so-called “henchmen,” who he sees getting into a limo that “floated down Fifty-Eighth Street”?

The second chapter, “Out in the Blue,” opens with the second protagonist, Nicole, a troubled writer. Are we to believe it is Krauss, the author? Perhaps, but that is left ambiguous. This is a novel, after all.

Nicole is a writer in search of a novel, who, like Epstein, is experiencing an existential crisis, and flees New York and her family for Israel. Both escape to the Tel Aviv Hilton.

Within their narratives lie what seem like rambling blocks of flashbacks and interlacing anecdotes that touch on this angst — the questioning of life, existence, faith, reality and even the possibility of the multiverse introduced early on in one of Nicole’s chapters. In that chapter, she ponders string theory branes, cosmology, the Big Bang and “the theological ramifications of multiverse theories.”

In both narratives, the history and legacy of the characters’ Jewishness, their roots and religion, is pondered. As the book progresses, they both dodge and duck that identity the more it comes into play.

By about page 50, stark black-and-white photos are introduced that relate to the narrative, but they have no identifying text to place them solidly in it. They illustrate the text but also feel intrusive and foreboding.

In that sense, and also because there is buried in the narrative a sense of darkness and dread — a fear of the unknown or the unknowable built against a deep-set backdrop of the Holocaust — the book began to remind me in many ways of W.G. Sebald’s “Austerlitz.” That novel also has an unidentified narrator (Sebald himself?) who relates the story of an enigmatic man who the narrator runs into again and again over a period of decades and relates the story of his life.

Austerlitz was, as a boy, rescued from the Holocaust via the Kindertransport. Part of the mystery of the story is his finally unraveling this past.

Krauss’ use of images gives the book a similar feel, although the images in “Forest Dark” are of only two buildings key to the story: the Tel Aviv Hilton and an apartment that holds the disputed papers of Franz Kafka, himself a writer of existential angst who figures prominently in Nicole’s odyssey.

During his journey, Epstein meets Menachem Klausner, a rabbi who

influences his path, while Nicole’s path takes a turn when she encounters Eliezer Friedman. Both instances spin the narrative out into somewhat mystical storylines where, inevitably, the two seek guidance. In the absence of concrete answers, only open-ended mystery remains, in which they both find a sort of understanding or inner peace.

Tolstoy once said there are only two plots in fiction: A stranger comes to town and someone goes on a journey.

Krauss seems to have combined the two universal plotlines, as both Epstein and Nicole go on a journey to and within Israel. And in both of their narratives a stranger comes to town, intersects with their lives and influences their respective paths forward.

I was also reminded of the tagline of the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” wherein Dorothy goes on a journey and meets four strangers who influence her path of self-discovery: “There’s no place like home.” But where is home — a word that Nicole breaks down lexicographically early on in the book?

While Epstein and Nicole seek answers to their respective crises, their stories touch on and echo each other’s, with recurring themes about literature, language, the sea, the desert, birds, loss and recovery, Israel,

Zionism and, of course, forests, as well as what it means to be Jewish.

The novel is a wonder of interwoven themes, thoughts, anecdotes, people and places, all of which combine into a richly colored fabric that, like a hammock, supports the story of two people trying to navigate the dark forest of the self.

Susan C. Ingram is a staff writer for the Baltimore Jewish Times, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.

www.jewishaz.com/arts_features/dark-thoughts-in-jewish-author-s-angsty-new-novel/article_367d5a9a-ae9c-11e7-b0f2-9fa18a7dae6f.html

‘Austerlitz’ Questions Holocaust Tourism

MAY 26, 2017
BY SUSAN C. INGRAM
The Jewish Times

To call Sergei Loznitsa’s 2016 film “Austerlitz” self-reflexive would be an understatement. Self-reflexive of filmmaker Loznitsa and his quest for understanding of a painful subject, yes, but also of us, the audience, the observers. The watchers.

For “Austerlitz,” above all, is about us. About watching ourselves. Watching ourselves as tourists, hordes of logo-T- shirted and shorts-clad summer tourists, cellphones and video cameras in hand, sipping from plastic water bottles, on a day trip to a Nazi death camp.

With no interviews, music or dialogue beyond ambient sound and occasional snatches of tour guides speaking, this austere black-and-white documentary keeps the audience focused on observing the visitors as they observe the stops on their tour. Pathway to yard, door to window. We watch them as they watch. We study them as they study their surroundings. But we can’t see what they are seeing, as often they are observing something just out of frame. Are they looking at photographs, artifacts, plaques of information? Often, we can only guess.

The camera, always static, lingers meditatively before windows or doors, behind or through which the visitors travel. At first, we see no geography or perspective of where we are. And then through successive scenes we eventually see the gates with those infamous words: Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you free). We see barracks in the background, barbed-wire and razor-wire fencing, a white-tiled room with white-tiled autopsy tables, an open doorway through which several ovens are visible. But the focus is always on the tourists, stopping to look, frowning, pausing for a selfie.

And although the scenes are sometimes bustling, sometimes quiet, the tourists for the most part passive or pensive, I found a growing sense of unease as I watched the parade of people, chatting, taking photos, eating, sometimes smiling. Because, of course, it is impossible to forget where they are and what happened there and at thousands of other camps. (Although there is no overt identification of the camps, the film was shot at Sachsenhausen and Dachau.)

Loznitsa seems to be asking, why are we here? Is this a necessary observation of something we should never forget? Or a violation? A violation of a sacred space, a space that is literally a killing ground, a graveyard?

In his director’s note on his website (loznitsa.eu), the filmmaker says he happened upon the concentration camp site one day.

“I never thought that I would come here,” he wrote. “Passing by I saw the sign and turned off. … Cars are lined up in the parking area. It is a quiet and hot summer day. Nothing unusual.”

But he enters through the gates, and as he walks from numbered building to numbered building, he watches the tourists.

“This is the place where people were exterminated; this is the place of suffering and grief. And now, I am here. A tourist. With all the typical curiosities of a tourist. Without any notion of what it was like to be a prisoner in the concentration camp having a number, every day waiting for death, clinging to life,” he wrote. “I stand here and look at the machinery for the extermination of the human body. Traces of life, sometime ago, long ago, here and now. What am I doing here? What are all these people doing here, moving in groups from one object to another?”

These questions moved him to make the film. So now we can observe. We can watch. And we can think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

“One can refer to the good will and the desire to sense compassion and mercy that Aristotle associated with tragedy,” Loznitsa wrote. “But this explanation doesn’t solve the mystery. Why a love couple or a mother with her child goes on a sunny summer day to look at the ovens in a crematorium? To try to come to grips with this, I made this film.”

I saw “Austerlitz” at the Maryland Film Festival in the theater in MICA’S Brown Center. The 5 p.m. show on a Thursday evening was the first of two screenings for the film. There were less than two dozen people in the theater. After the film ended and the lights came up, no one clapped, unusual after a film-festival screening. But I don’t think the lack of applause meant no one appreciated the film. For me, it was because although the film was a quiet and observational meditation, I left feeling stunned, sad and uneasy. It made me think, which is what the best films do. And making us think, I’m sure, is exactly what Loznitsa had in mind.

For more on Ukrainian filmmaker Loznitsa and to watch a trailer for the film, visit loznitsa.eu. The film is currently on the film festival circuit and not yet in distribution.

www.jewishtimes.com 

For a Dull Saturday: Broccoli-Jack-Salsa Scramble

It’s a dreary day today. Fairly warm, but damp and dark. I spent a lot of time this morning standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open, figuring out what I wanted for breakfast. Saturday and Sunday are the only days I have enough time to have a leisurely breakfast, and to come up with meals that satisfy my desire for stuffing my face with comfort food, but keeping a balance of good-for-me ingredients.

So, after the cats were fed and happy, the pot of Barry’s Irish tea steeping under the cozy on the counter, I stared into the depths of my cluttered fridge. Fried eggs and toasted multigrain baguette? Close, but no. Coddled eggs and toast? No. Cheese and tomato omelet? No. (Something about tomatoes in eggs turns me off. On the side, yes. In salsa, yes. Not in an omelet.) Breakfast burrito? No. (I really wanted that baguette, not a tortilla.) I eyed the old bunch of broccoli that I needed to eat while it was still good. (It amazes me how long broccoli lasts in the fridge. Is that genetic engineering?) I started getting an idea. Broccoli. Eggs. Pepper Jack cheese. Salsa. Yogurt. (Yogurt? Yep. Just wait.) Multigrain baguette. Mandarin oranges.

This is an easy way to throw together a breakfast (or lunch or dinner for that matter) on a dreary day that takes only a few minutes, will satisfy your comfort food craving, but not leave you feeling guilty for having indulged. It helps if you like broccoli. If you don’t. Hmmm. Find another green veggie that would work as well…I can’t think of any. But give it a go.

This is a recipe for one – obviously double, triple, or quadruple for a crowd.

Broccoli-Jack Scramble

2 eggs
Milk
Butter
Chopped broccoli, at least a cup
Pepper jack cheese – ½ cup or less
Salsa – couple tablespoons
Whole Milk plain yogurt – couple tablespoons
Multigrain baguette
Mandarin orange, or tangerine, or clementine…
Salt and pepper
Tea and jam

In a small, nonstick sauté pan, put your broccoli and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, but do not cover the broccoli. Put a lid on it and steam it on medium-low heat until bright green and still has a little bite. Do not overcook. While the broccoli is steaming, crack the eggs into a bowl, beat with a fork, adding a splash of milk to make it a little lighter and fluffier. Grate the cheese on a plate and put aside.

Turn the heat off the broccoli and push the broccoli to the sides of the pan, put 1-2 T of butter in the center of the pan, turn the heat back on LOW and let the butter melt, then redistribute the broccoli. Pour the egg mixture over the broccoli and put the lid back on for a minute or so, while you slice off a hunk of the baguette and put it in the toaster oven. Go back to the pan and start lightly turning the eggs and broccoli over gently in the pan so the eggs coat the broccoli and begin to cook/set. When they are about cooked, but not overcooked, turn the heat off, sprinkle the shredded pepper jack over the eggs/broccoli, and then drop spoonfuls of salsa over the cheese. Cover.

Warm your plate, butter the baguette and put it back in the toaster oven to keep it warm. Plate the eggs/broccoli/cheese/salsa with a spatula to keep the cheese/salsa on top. Put the toast and orange on the plate. Finish the eggs with a dollop of the whole-milk plain yogurt.

Enjoy with strong tea and your favorite fruit jam.

The idea here is to have more veggies than eggs in the scramble, so the eggs serve to hold it together. Don’t overpower it with too much cheese, but use lots of salsa and yogurt. The spicy heat of the salsa and pepper jack cheese goes great with the cool creaminess of the yogurt.

Chow for Now!

 

 

A Welcome Return to Journalism

I recently began working as a journalist again, when Baltimore Jewish Times editor Marc Shapiro asked if I’d be interested in freelancing for the metro weekly magazine. I jumped at the chance. I missed being a reporter these past five years and appreciated Marc’s thinking of me when he had some freelance budget to burn. My first assignment was an event that focused on addiction in the Jewish community — a subject that can always use more light and understanding:

Erasing the Stigma
April 6, 2017
By Susan C. Ingram

Shame. Fear. Denial. Silence.

Familiar territory in the life of someone struggling with addiction, as well as for family and friends. In an effort to reduce that stigma and encourage open dialogue, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville recently held an addiction education program, “Not in MY Family: Substance Abuse in the Jewish Community.”

Scores packed the school’s Mintzes Theatre the evening of March 29 to remember those lost to addiction and cheer those sharing their stories as recovering addicts. What emerged from those painful, but hopeful stories was the call to pull addiction from the shadows. Shadows that some in attendance said are particularly opaque in the Jewish community.

Read the rest of the story here.

The Second Battle that Saved Washington, D.C.?

I found myself on a battlefield this week. My brother and I were passing through Frederick, Md., on our way home to Baltimore from West Virginia when I suggested we stop at the Monocacy National Battlefield.

We often pass over the Monocacy River on our way to my cabin in Great Cacapon, WV, and when I heard a recent news piece about the formation of the Monocacy National Battlefield Foundation, I wondered why I had never heard of the battlefield, and decided to stop by and check it out.

Turns out this little-known site actually played a pivotal role in the Civil War in 1864, when it was the site of a battle that, although the North lost, proved to slow the progress of Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early, who was making for Washington, D.C. with 15,000 troops to take the Capitol.

Early and his men met about 6,500 mostly un-battle-tested Union soldiers at Monocacy Junction, a strategic B&O Railroad junction in Frederick.

The battle took place on July 9, 1864, and although the Union forces put up a good fight, they could not match Early’s numbers. Several key strategies, including burning a covered bridge that would have hastened Early’s arrival in Washington, saved the Union from a larger assault on the nation’s capital:

“Although the battle was a military victory for the Confederates and their only victory in the north, it was also a defeat. The time spent fighting the battle cost the Confederates a crucial day of marching and provided the Union time to send reinforcements to Washington, D.C. General Early’s army returned to Virginia and the remainder of the war was fought on southern soil. Because of General Wallace’s valiant delaying action, the Battle of Monocacy became known as “The Battle that Saved Washington, D.C.”

monocacy2As my brother and I made our way through the well-organized and informative museum on the second floor of the Visitor’s Center and hiked around the battlefield to Monocacy Junction, I thought about the current “Battle for Washington” now brewing, started by the new president – a Nationalist and Isolationist whose policies and support base seem to echo much of the ideology forwarded during the Civil War by the Confederate States – preferring “state’s rights” to a unified federal government and holding on to a nation’s past that put white Christian rights and freedoms over and above those of other races and religions.

monocacy1After hearing today about the federal judge who stopped the president’s “Muslim travel ban” on the grounds it is unconstitutional, I thought, well, perhaps these and other strategies will prove to slow and ultimately halt the current takeover of the nation’s capital, and common sense, equality, fairness and Democracy will prevail, winning the Second Battle that Saved Washington, D.C.

Monocacy National Battlefield is definitely worth a visit, get more info here:

https://www.nps.gov/mono/planyourvisit/index.htm

 

 

 

 

Happy Holidays from Newzcook!

xmas16It’s Christmas Eve and I’m gearing up to finish my New Year’s cards and bake some cookies to take to my mom’s for Christmas Day tomorrow.

But as a Happy Holidays to everyone, I thought I’d share some easy, fun holiday recipes from past posts, including Christmas Bison Chili, Irish Whiskey Cake, Easy New Year’s Eve Appe-Tarts and the easy, yummy, Fudge-Filled Slice-n-Bakes, in case you’re running out of time and looking to dress up those last minute supermarket cookies-in-a-tube…

Have a Great Holiday, whatever you celebrate, and a Happy New Year!

Bison Christmas Chili was just one way my family celebrated the seaon "out of the box"

Bison Christmas Chili is a fun alternative to traditional holiday meals. You can substitute with veggies, ground turkey, tempeh, or other meatless alternatives.

Christmas Bison Chili

  • Olive oil
  • Crushed garlic
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 1 large sweet red bell pepper
  • 1/2 c. frozen peas
  • 1 lb. ground bison – preferably organic, or at least no hormones, no antibiotics, etc.
  • 28 oz. can vegetarian baked beans
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • red pepper flakes
  • ground sea salt
  • ground black peppercorns
  • 1 T. soy sauce

Saute’ garlic in a couple tablespoons olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven until fragrant, add chopped onion and bell peppers and cook till a bit soft. Push above to one side and add bison meat in chunks to pot. Cook meat through, but don’t overcook. No need to spoon or pour off fat, as the bison is lean and there won’t be much. Simply stir everything back together when the meat is cooked so the meat will pick up some of the flavor of the garlic, onion and pepper. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and use spices to taste. Simmer for about 1/2 hour. You can add the peas late in the cooking so they retain some of their green color. For a portable/party meal, pour the chili in a crock pot and take it to your gathering. You can leave it on low and let people serve themselves. Because of the sweet peppers and baked beans the chili is sweeter, like Sloppy Joe. It’s great with tortilla chips, or crusty bread. And because it’s made with bison and with vegetarian baked beans, it’s probably lower in fat and cholesterol.

Irish Whiskey Cake

irishwhiskeycake

This recipe is modified from a recipe in “Traditional Irish Recipes,” by George L. Thompson and a recipe I saw in a newspaper, but can’t remember where. Basically, you’ll need a pound cake (I used Sara Lee), a cup or more of Irish whiskey (I used Powers), a large box of vanilla pudding (the kind you cook), jam or preserves (I used lo-cal strawberry from Aldi), and heavy whipping cream. You’ll also need a nice glass, or crystal bowl, to layer the cake in.

Cut the pound cake in slices and arrange flat on a couple plates. Sprinkle/pour Irish whiskey on both sides of slices – depending on your taste you can moisten, or really douse the cake. Let it sit for a bit while you cook the pudding. The pudding called for 3 c. milk and I substituted 1/2 c. of that with eggnog. It could have used more. Take pudding off burner and let cool. Skim the top before you build the cake. To build the cake: Spread each cake slice with generous layer of preserves, then layer bowl with cake slices and pudding, ending with pudding. Whip a cup or more of heavy whipping cream with a little sugar to sweeten it and top the cake with a thick layer of whipped cream. Using real whipping cream makes a nice thick, not to sweet topping (as opposed to canned or frozen topping). Chill in refrigerator until you serve it. Use a spatula to cut and serve. It held together like a cake – which was surprising. It was also delicious.

Easy New Year’s Eve Appe-Tarts

  • 2 tubes refrigerated crescent roll dough (8-roll size)
  • Saga blue cheese
  • 5 oz. bag Emerald Glazed pecans
  • Fresh-made whole cranberry sauce

I made fresh cranberry sauce for these. Recipe’s on the bag of fresh cranberries, but I used 1/2 c. white and 1/2 c. brown sugar. I also added a tablespoon or so of apricot preserves and some pear liqueur to add some extra flavor. These tarts are fun and simple to make right at the party if you want. If you have kids around, give them some peanut butter, jelly and chocolate chips (or whatever they like) and let them join in and make their own tarts.

Separate the crescent dough triangles. Spread with blue cheese, cranberry sauce and top with pecans. Roll up, or fold, and pinch the dough to seal the tarts. Arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake as directed until golden brown. I think it was 10-12 minutes in a 350 or 400-degree oven. Watch out! The filling is hot, so let them cool a bit while you make the cocktails. Bombay Sapphire Martinis made a great cocktail pairing.

Fudge Filled Slice-N-Bakes

Fudge Filled Slice-N-Bakes

Quik, Eezzy, Yummy

I said in the last post that I was going to try upgrading the stand-by slice-n-bake cookies and if I was successful I’d report my findings.

My Aldi slice-n-bake Holiday Cookies with the built-in candy canes were delicious and a bargain at $1.99. But when I decided to bake a second batch for Xmas Day I wanted to add a bit of a personal touch. So when I spied the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting recipe on the back of my (Aldi’s) Baker’s Choice baking cocoa, I thought, hmmm, sugar cookies sandwiched with fudge. Kind of like, as my mother pointed out yesterday, a Berger Cookie (a Baltimore favorite – it’s a cake-like vanilla cookie slathered with a pile of hardened dark chocolate icing, www.bergercookies.com).

They were a hit, as you can see from the photo of the almost empty tin. The decorated slice-n-bakes looked great, the soft, chocolaty icing was the perfect counter point to the snap of the sugar cookies, and the icing oozing out the sides gave them that homemade appeal.

So, if you don’t have time to mess with making a bunch of from-scratch holiday cookies but want that personal touch for family gatherings and holiday parties, this is a quick and easy alternative. (Try different kinds of cookies combined with different icings.)

Use any brand slice-n-bakes you want. Here’s the recipe from the cocoa tin:

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 6 T softened butter
  • 1/2 c. baking cocoa
  • 2 2/3 c. confectioner’s sugar (I used 2 cups)
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 t. vanilla extract (use real vanilla extract if you can)

In a small mixing bowl, cream butter. Add cocoa and confectioner’s sugar alternately with milk. Beat to spreading consistency (I made it thick to stand up to the cookies). Blend in vanilla.

(With one tube of slice-n-bakes and this icing recipe I made 18 sandwich cookies.)

Best Wishes for a Happy New Year and…

Chow for Now!