Monthly Archives: October 2013



“Bird cries seem to claw at the bright summer sky.”

This gem of a sentence is the first line in an article titled “Norway’s Otherworldly Coast” by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the November issue of National Geographic. On the lead page another necklace of words sparkles, “Journey to the heart of Norway Follow the water.” In this article the reader travels the most northern Norwegian coastline. It feels like another world. Islands, ice, water as deep as 4000 feet, and snow-covered heights encroach on the space of one another. But there are also harbors, boats of every kind, and business to be conducted by the people who ply these Norwegian waters.

Any chance to read the writing of Verlyn Klinkenborg is a chance not to be missed.

I have recently learned of his latest book Several Short Sentences About Writing. I ordered it immediately and cannot wait to spend time with it. Someone called it “best book on writing – ever.” I have been reading his work for some time. He is a non-fiction author and newspaper editor. His work appears on the editorial page of the New York Times as well as in other publications. He writes of rural settings and the natural world. He has written often of his farm in upstate New York. His words, his sentences, and the way he strings them together transport the reader into his world.

I also recently learned that he will appear as one of the featured authors at the Spring 2014 Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, MI. I have attended this conference often and expect to be there next spring. I look forward to hearing him speak, and perhaps, I’ll have a chance to meet him.

I hope you will meet him, too. The newest issue of National Geographic is a great place to start. I’m sure you will enjoy his writing and the photographs of the Norwegian Coast.

For more information try these links: and follow Festival of Faith and Writing on Facebook (for information about his many books)


Midwestern Table


Amy Thielen’s new book The New Midwestern Table is so much more than a cookbook. I’m so excited about this book. Here are a few of the reasons it jumped into my arms and insisted I buy it.

I love authentic cooking.
Regional dishes are part of our national heritage.
I’m interested in the connection between our grandmother’s kitchens , our grandfather’s gardens, heirloom recipes and the distinctive, delicious food of the twenty-first century.
This book has pages and pages of information about food.
The pictures take me to Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the gravel roads of Iowa and so many Midwestern places that I love.
This book reminds me of my love of griddle burgers.
This book has a recipe for oysters and egg salad I will make this winter in Florida.
This book has a Bloody Mary Recipe I must try.

If you don’t think these are enough reasons, I have more.
I want to learn more about cooking lake perch, walleye and whitefish. These fish are available in Michigan and I’m not good preparing them.

Here comes another reason for my overwhelming excitement.
This book has a recipe for Glorified Rice. I have been looking for one almost my whole adult life. It was a favorite dessert of my growing up years. My Mom made it and it was sooooo gooood. I have been unable to find the recipe anywhere–––until now!

If all of the above is not enough, there is a uniqueness to this cookbook that makes it impossible to resist. For example, the sections or chapters are different than one might expect. Let me share the table of contents:
Dips, Party Food and Drinks
Soups and Salads (ok, so far, not too unique)
Lake Fish
Chicken Supper
Potatoes and Onions
Early-Day Baking

I understand that this list might not convince you. But, I’m telling you that what is in each chapter is even more unique than the titles. And all the information this author provides is even tastier than the pictures and recipes.

I am completely crazy over this book. I am so glad I bought it. I can’t wait to share more about it in upcoming blogs. This book is amazing!

Title: The New Midwestern Table. 200 Heartland Recipes
Author: Amy Thielen
Publisher: Clarkston-Potter, 2013
Pages: 400
Source: My personal copy

And in prepping this post, I just discovered her blog. WOW


A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky
By Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Publisher: Scribner 2013
367 pages
Source: personal copy

Amanda Lindhout struck me as a young woman always wanting to cross another country’s border, to travel to more countries, to live more experiences, more, more, more until the door slammed shut on that kind of life when she was kidnapped in Somalia. Her account of that 460-day ordeal shows how a door opened for her to triumph in an impossible situation, as she found the ability to recognize and practice forgiveness and love. She learned about thankfulness in the most unlikely of places.

Though this optimistic and determined young woman endured beatings, gang rape, starvation, many days in darkness and filth, during her long ordeal, there is restraint in telling the unspeakable. The authors allow events to speak for themselves. Ms. Lindhout showed respect and understanding for the captors and for the friend who shared her captivity. She wanted to learn about her captors and felt empathy for the circumstances of the mostly young teenagers who guarded and abused her. Here is a woman who showed true grit.

Along with her co-author Sara Corbett, she has written a gripping account of growing up in Canada, life as a backpacker around the world, her hope of becoming a journalist, and her kidnapping a few days after entering one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Ms. Lindhout loved the exhilaration and freedom of travel. What is freedom? This freedom story is part mistaken identity, part adventure, part risk, part courage, part loneliness, but mostly kidnapping and atrocity for Amanda Lindhout and the ex-boyfriend she was traveling with and for her mismatched group of captors. And yet, never for a moment did she stop searching for freedom. That is a part of what makes the book so interesting.

Today Ms. Lindhout heals from her experiences. Her redemptive acts include starting The Global Enrichment Foundation. This organization supports educational initiatives in Somalia and Kenya where many Somalis have sought sanctuary. Through her work with this group she builds a stairway to hope for herself and others, just as she built stairways to rooms in the house in the sky–the place she would go in her mind when the degradation of torture and nearly unbearable living conditions overwhelmed her.

This book is mystery, thriller, memoir, travel book all in one. It is well written with a strong narrative and important themes. This resilient woman offers inspiration that any one of us can tap into. She goes beyond courage to forgiveness. She never loses her desire to learn. She seems able to overcome a dehumanizing experience through striving for understanding.

I will continue to think of her story, not only her life and experience, but the lives of others who in some way shared her experience. She has made her story about more than the horrors that she endured, about more than whether or not she would ever be freed. She has given us a story of forgiveness, endurance, and a true triumph of the spirit.




Endearing, delightful, heartwarming, vibrant, engaging, enchanting, and love-filled are some of the adjectives used to describe Patricia Polacco’s books. Sometimes I think no superlative is too overstated. Other times I just bask in the light of her words and pictures.

I have been following Patricia Polacco on Facebook. I love the things she posts. I love her illustration. I love her writing. I have bought her books for years. And if some of my favorites such as Thank You, Mr. Falker and The Keeping Quilt have disappeared, I’m happy for whoever is enjoying them.

Ms. Polacco is a Michigan native. She has spent and continues to spend hours, by now those hours probably add up to years, with school children. When you read one of her books and enjoy her illustrations, you life will change, your family life will be richer. You will remember things and understand things that have always eluded you.

Here’s a sampling of her books.

Gifts of the Heart. (2013) A Christmas story about loving and gifts. This is one of her most recent books.

Welcome Comfort. (1999). Another Christmas story with a foster child as a main character. In my educator days I often used this with sixth graders and older students.

Thunder Cake. (1990) The weather and cooking come together in this story. Not surprisingly, always one of my favorites.

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother (1994). These two characters are still together in Gifts of the Heart. Their squabbles are sometimes fun and sometimes truly touching.

Oh, Look! (2004) How much fun can the reader and the goats enjoy?

Appelemando’s Dreams (1991). This story can hold any group spellbound.

She has written many more wonderful stories filled with her philosophy and her drawings. Those listed above are the ones that sit on my bookshelf, some of the ones closest to my heart. She is simply a marvelous storyteller. I hope you will find time to get to the library or the bookstore or your own bookshelf and enjoy her words and ideas and her beautiful art work. Her books make great gifts for the young or the young-at-heart on your gift list.

Her work is easy to explore. She has a informative website Follow her on Facebook and enjoy all the pictures she posts. Happy Reading with Patricia Polacco. Even her name is fun to say.




Crunchy shrimp tacos, smoking hot grilled chicken with goat cheese salad, fat steamy meatballs coated in red sauce, sausage sliders, ratatouille, hot dogs smothered every which way, a crisp catfish BLT so beautiful my eyes came right out of my head, and I swore that was the first truck I would head to for my lunch. The tempting smells and sights tickled my hunger pangs until they giggled out loud.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the heart of the Brady District sits Guthrie Green, a large square block of grass encompassing urban garden and performance space. I loved the green in the midst of city brick and steel. On Wednesdays at lunchtime about eighteen colorful food trucks pull up along the curb on the south side of the Green and stretch around the corners. The action, the aromas, the music, the excitement and the people equal a high quality good time.

Josh’s Sno Shack, serving shaved ice, and Lick Your Lips, selling mini-donuts, were the first trucks that caught my eye. I loved the slogan at Lola’s Caravan: Life Is Short – Eat at Lola’s. They offered egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches, grilled chicken with the goat cheese salad, and a host of other items.


Mangiamo is known for meatballs and pasta sauces. They make their own meatballs. This is a third generation Italian Restaurant family with some of the best-known Italian food in Tulsa. Meatballs are their biggest seller.



The hot dogs at the Doghouse have been voted Tulsa’s best. The Tulsa Dog with cream cheese is a fast moving item. They serve hot dogs with all kind of toppings and chili. Pita Place called to me. As a Detroiter on a three-week road trip I was missing middle eastern food. Surrender the Booty looked interesting. The Lone Wolf offered Asian Food and boasted the longest line on the day I was there. Cactus Jack’s BBQ Truck most surely custom built. In Tulsa, BBQ is very popular.


Local Table had that beautiful catfish BLT, as well as other yummy food like a short rib sandwich. Plum Delicious featured plum-soy chicken, lamb pita and people were going nuts for the pork tacos. Two Chefs on Wheels advertised carne asada burritos. I wanted to try that. Brownies Hamburgers looked like a real favorite with onion rings and homemade root beer. And for all the sushi lovers: In the Raw Sushi



I ended up buying my lunch at Bohemia Moveable Feasts. The purple truck was a definite plus. It’s decoration is memorable. I saw them later in the week at the Cherry Street Farmer’s Market. But it was the crowd, the tempting aromas and the welcoming food seller that drew me to that truck. I loved my crunchy shrimp taco. I believe it was gulf shrimp, cooked perfectly. I also had a spinach and mushroom taco, delicious. This is the truck that offered ratatouille for vegan friends. I observed that many trucks had vegetarian offerings. Most of the trucks had some sweet way to end your lunch if you are so inclined.

Fresh air, live music, satisfying food, and lunch with family. It can’t get more joyful than that. Though I have to admit I’m still dreaming of that Catfish BLT I didn’t have. Next time I’m in Tulsa it will be at the top of the list. Food Truck Wednesday at Guthrie Green was definitely a high point of the 2013 Tulsa experience.


Find all food trucks on Facebook. And check out TulsaFoodTrucks on Facebook.

Thanks to the September issue of Tulsa People for verifying spellings and other facts I couldn’t decipher from my hastily written notes. The smell of food distracted me. Perhaps note-taking would be more successful after eating.


Wide River 1

Thank you so much to every reader of this blog. I send you good wishes as wide as this view of the Mississippi. Your interest and encouragement are vital to our conversations and my posts. This blog doesn’t exist without you.

A blog is a website in which an individual records opinions. Often a blog or journal entry links to other sites. New material is added on a regular basis.

The focus of is to promote reading and writing. It is a bookish blog with food on the side. Recently food themes have elbowed their way to a larger place at the table. My readers don’t like to go too long without a food fix, and neither do I. A recent road trip also meant food got more space.

My focus will remain the joys of reading and writing. We eat to live so food places, recipes and themes will continue to have a spot on my bookish blog. I will continue to weave various threads into the reading and writing themes. Check out the home page and the reading page if you are interested in books and other kinds of reading or reading issues. Some of my own writing, and occasionally, my ideas about writing, appear on the writing page.

I keep in mind how I can improve this blog. You need to tell me how I am doing. For example, I want to make posts more interesting and less preachy. Sometimes I pile on the info and get really boring. Please help me not to do this. I also want to be more creative with my titles, so that you are pulled into the content when you read the title.

Please consider connecting with others by leaving a comment and starting a conversation. For home page posts, this is easy. Click on the “leave a reply” at the top of the page. When you read a post on the reading page or food page, etc. you must scroll to the bottom of the page to leave a reply. Your reply will appear at the top of the comments section. If you like a particular post and don’t have time to reply, you can use the Like Button. You are most welcome to subscribe to at no charge. If you do you will receive e-mail when there is a new post. The words “subscribe to blog via e-mail” are at the top right of the home page. Click there and give your e-mail address.

The important thing is this: THANK YOU FOR READING THIS BLOG!


Wide River 3


Visiting this vineyard is one of the most enjoyable of many good times in the Central Midwest during past weeks.

We toured the vineyard, walked among the vines and admired the large patio at the Clinton Tasting Room. The vineyards of the Wide River Winery grow atop high bluffs above the widest part of the Upper Mississippi River. This past week I hiked the bluff trail and viewed the river from the spot where Native Americans buried their dead in mounds hundreds of years ago. There are few things more joyful than standing above the Mississippi and viewing its broad expanse. Oh, a good glass of wine adds another dimension. And this is the place to find it.

Wide River 2

Wide River 1

This winery is special, in part, because good friends developed it and are the owners and wine makers. We know how hard they have worked to make it a success. Our friends, their family, and staff welcome visitors with open arms.

Not long ago, Wide River Winery opened a second tasting room in LeClaire, Iowa. Here too, are views of the river, this time at one of its narrower points. The small town is charming and the Wide River Tasting Room fits right in with local lore and décor. The renovation work completed on the LeClaire building revealed a basement from Underground Railroad Days. The main street of this small town on the river is lined with inviting shops and interesting old buildings. It is located just north of I80 and is the first exit after the river if travelers are headed west and the last exit before the river if traveling east.


Wide River Winery produces many award winning wines. I have my favorites: Ms Chievous and Pursuit of Happiness. Ms Chievous is a top seller and a gold medal award winner. Pursuit of Happiness, a red, and winner of the 2012 Mid America Wine Competition Gold Medal is delicious with chocolate. I know this from personal experience. But believe you me, they produce many wines. Make your own choice. Felony Red and White Collar Crime are two that I know many people especially enjoy.


You can learn more about the winery and the wines at their website I love to follow them on Facebook because they post pictures of the fun to be had at the tasting rooms. Even more interesting, I think, are pictures about the work and mystery of producing wines. For those of you who are not within driving distance of the winery or of Eastern Iowa stores that carry these wines, you can buy wines online. And, different wines, from crisp whites, to reds with deep flavors are well described.

The Wide River Winery hosts frequent fun events with music and wine. Now that is a joyful combination





Most towns have a well-known pizza place. Most folks have a favorite pizza. Most of us salivate for a good piece of pizza. But Clinton, Iowa has a pizza place that is more than a favorite. Oh, they serve distinctive pizza, and good all-round American and Italian classics. But what they really serve is the best kind of nostalgia.

Ida and her husband Pete, who began this restaurant years ago, nurtured generations of high school kids and young families. Some of these young people, now grown and well-established, mail order the famous Rastrelli’s pizza several times a year. Some say the Italian sauce, the pizza, and the cabbage salad are unchanged from an earlier time. Many never visit Clinton without a stop at Rastrelli’s.

Guess where I had lunch this week? Of the fifteen people at the table, all but one ordered pizza for their lunch. Our table was nearly giddy with excitement.

When the pizza arrived with its well-seasoned sausage aroma, and members of the group bit into the crunch of the thin crust, heaped generously with crisp topping, most were transported with energy and enthusiasm to a time and place out of the past. Most had eaten pizza there many times, and the food brought to mind some of the best times of their lives. I’ve never watched a group enjoy a lunch, the company and the food more.


No doubt some remembered a time when they had entered the long narrow room of an earlier version of the restaurant with it’s soda fountain, and Ida had raised her arms in welcome, calling their names from the back of the place as she hurried forward, ready to deliver hugs. It seemed she remembered every regular customer the place had ever had.

The restaurant continues to be as welcoming as Ida Rastrelli’s wide, warm smile, though she and her husband are no longer there. Today, their son Mike and others carry on the traditions. The menu is large and varied. The salad bar is more than inviting, almost as famous as the pizza. This time, the salad was the best ever. For so many, especially Clinton natives, this pizza is a constant that remains their all time favorite pizza.


But this place doesn’t just offer good food. For so many who have lived in Clinton or visited there regularly, it offers a perfect plateful of happy memories.

I urge you to visit when life takes you in that direction. I think you will experience the joy of the place. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you feel the spirit of your own past and present good times when you are there.

Learn more about this unique place at

“Let’s go to Rastrelli’s.” It’s a refrain heard in any Clinton, Iowa song.