Several lists I’ve read recently in the food magazines lined up with my personal favorites. Here’s an invitation to try these and to tell us your favorite in the same category.

Best Block Cheese
Cabot Alpine Cheddar (most Cabot cheddars for that matter)
A Swiss and Alpine blend in the Legacy Collection of Cabot Cheeses

Best Chocolate Snack
Bark Thins Snacking Chocolate
I like them all. Do you have a favorite? Pictured is the Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt.

Best Pickles
Claussen Kosher Dill Spears
I know this category is up-for-grabs. Tell us your favorite.

Best Catsup
Centro Balsamic Catsup
I like this product so much it’s changed my life. A little goes a long way, but sometimes.. I can’t help drowning my food in it! If you haven’t tried it, I insist!

Chicken Broth
Swanson’s Chicken Stock
I buy different brands, the display, the special price. But somehow when the dish is made with Swanson’s, it always surprises me with it’s good taste.

Best Butter
Land of Lakes
This is always in my fridge. I love butter. I’ve tried many different brands. Salted or Unsalted, either tastes wonderful. I think this product is the best value and the best flavor.

Best products make for best eating experiences! Well, that’s my motto anyway.


Thanks to a friend and a book club, I attended the Metro Detroit Book and Author Society Luncheon held at Burton Manor in Livonia, MI. The annual luncheon features talks by well-known authors, and books are available for purchase and signing.

This year featured authors were Claire Messud, Chris Bohjalian, Heather Ann Thompson and Drew Philp, the later not able to attend. I believe this is the largest such organization in the US. Over 1000 readers were in attendance.

Claire Messud, an award winning author of six novels including The Woman Upstairs and The Emperor’s Children talked to the group about her latest book, The Burning Girl, a coming-of-age story and one that addresses the complexities of female friendship. The less glamorous friend is the narrator. Messud told the group she wrote the story about middle school friends because she believes that what happens in middle school determines who we are as adults. (I hope that is not true.) The story deals with how friendship unravels. Is that ever a happy story? As readers we bring our own stories to the story of any novel. We fill in the uncertainties of the story the author has written.

Heather Ann Thompson gave a short and dynamite talk about the writing of her Pulitzer Prize Winning nonfiction book, Blood In the Water. It chronicles the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its legacy. She began by reminding us 2 million people are behind bars in our country. What a staggering statistic; these are humans. Her book opens with the heartbreaking conditions for those behind bars at the time of the uprising in New York State. For example the 1300 men at Attica had a square of toilet tissue per person a day for their use.

She gave her audience a real look at the behind-the-scenes writing of this book. Incarceration is a subject we all need to talk about. I agree with her. The statistics and conditions shake a person’s faith in human nature. She tells the story of what really happened in 1971, what was covered up, and ultimately what happened afterwards. It is difficult to know what is more frightening: the story of what happened, the cover-up or the difficulty she had in finding the truth and writing the story. Many of the readers I attended this function with found her a most dynamic speaker and several of us wanted to obtain and read this book, in spite of its length and depth of subject matter.

Chris Bohjalian shared information about his latest book The Sleepwalker and about the misunderstood subject of sleepwalking. This novel is described as a spooky thriller about sex, secrets and the mysteries of sleep.

I have been a fan of this writer for some time. I have loved many of his books and I know he is a writer who appreciates his readers. He answers my blogs and tweets about his books. Among those I expecially liked: The Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, Skeletons at the Feast, and The Light In the Ruins. I’ve never been disappointed in one of his books. In The Guest Room, readers learned about sex trafficking and now with The Sleepwalker, we have the opportunity to learn about sleepwalking.

Drew Philp is the author of the memoir A $500 House in Detroit, described by the society website as the true story of a recent college graduate who wandered into Detroit and bought a ruined hulk of a once-grand house in an attempt at urban homesteading and as part history, part social commentary, part memoir. Sound interesting, doesn’t it?

Thanks to the Metro Detroit Book and Author Society for this outstanding program and the opportunity to hear about writing books from writers. Listed below are author websites:


Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York
Author: Francis Spufford
Publisher: Scribner, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 299 pages
Source: Personal Copy

Short-listed for seven British Book Prizes, named novel of the year by The British Sunday Times and praised by many reviewers including Laura Miller of the New Yorker, this reader paid money and ordered from Amazon. The thought of seeing New York before the revolution was tempting indeed. For the first nearly 200 pages, this seemed a dubious decision.

Hardly as precise as reviews promised; long sentences and longer paragraphs, antique words and spellings, tried the patience of this reader. The descriptions of setting, altercations, and indeed everything went on for pages, or so it seemed. What kept this reader slowly turning pages, or skimming was a desire to know more about the historical context of the mid-18th century (the same era currently visually displayed on the TV series Outlander and Poldark, neither set in the US). In spite of the detail furnished by the author, I yearned for clarity.

A young man from England, one Richard Smith, arrives in New York, a town of 7000, bearing a note of exchange for the very large sum of one thousand pounds sterling. The plot thickens along with the writing. The merchant he deals with has two daughters and one Tabitha, is particularly interesting. Another thread to keep the reader dangling.

Here I will stop to recommend the review by Laura Miller from The New Yorker, July 2017. It is an exquisite piece of writing. Read it before you read this book, if you so choose, and no doubt the story will be clearer.

Enough already. From page 189 on, I raced to the finish. Finally the story captured me. It started to make sense. The ending, though not completely satisfactory was somewhat surprising and had the ring of truth. I admit, I tend to like my fiction realistic.

This author, Francis Spufford, much admired by many but new to me, is a master of mystery and plotting. He also produces beautiful prose, albeit in lengthy sentences: “It seemed to Smith that he had her (Tabitha) on the slenderest hook imaginable, made only of curiosity; like a fish-hook of ice, ready to shatter at too much force, or to melt at too much warmth; but that he might play her back all the way to safety on this hook, to the safe shore of her happiness and his own, if only he were subtle enough.”

Recommended with reservation. No doubt it is a book I would enjoy on a second reading. It seems to me that a reader must love serious reading, and historical fiction to tackle this one. This book is a challenge you may be glad you accepted.


Authors: Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Publishers: Candlewick Press 2015
Genre: Novel
Paperback Edition: 348 pages plus Author’s Note, Timelines, Suggestions for further reading
Source: Personal copy

Each year the Michigan Humanities Council presents The Great Michigan Read. It is a book club for the entire state with focus on a single book. This year the book is X a fictionalized account of the formative years of Malcolm X, speaker, leader, and converted Muslim (1925-1965). Major author Ilyasah Shabazz is the third daughter of Malcolm X and his wife Betty Shabazz. It is described as a novel of reinvention and redemption and one which highlights the Michigan roots of this influential leader.

The Council provides books, and a reading guide to facilitate study of this book and the issues addressed. Additional information pertinent to the understanding of Malcolm’s story is part of the packet the Council distributes. This story reminds us that even when we as individuals feel powerless, each of us holds surprising power. This book is intended for all readers, young adults (I would say middle to high school students) to senior citizens. The Council strives to make literature accessible and appealing for all.

The book has many powerful themes. Unfortunately I missed the book club meeting and discussion of the book. I will point out one important theme, well articulated in the context of Malcolm’s young life and experiences. The book is strong in helping readers understand how people of color feel, especially when they come from a background of poverty.

The authors clarify rules black people must follow in our society. Some of those stated for Malcolm in the 30’s and 40’s: a black person could not say how one felt, or thought, keep your head down low when a white person passed you, use low dirty water fountains located right next to the high clean one for whites, ride in the back of the bus, not to sit down unless no white people were on board. There are things you can’t say and places you cannot go. Some of these are less frequent today and some are gone. But think, are black people today allowed to express feelings or speak about injustice as they might truly feel. What happens if they do?

As one reads this rather expected tale of Malcolm trying to find a place for himself in the 30’s and 40’s in Lansing, MI, Boston and Harlem, his experiences bring to mind experiences young black males live in contemporary society. The differences are not so great as we might at first believe. Malcolm lost his parents when he was young and though his siblings and extended family tried to assist him, the story brings home what a great loss this is for any person and how it may affect their developing beliefs.

The book speaks to a wide audience. Yes, it has much to say to a 14 year old young man from a black community, but it also teaches a white woman of 70+ years cultural celebrations and pitfalls that swirl in our midst. The book contains author’s notes, timelines and historical facts and perspectives to further enlighten readers.

The Humanities Council provides a Reader’s Guide. Of special interest to this reader was the Q and A with second author Kekla Magoon concerning in part how to approach the writing of a book with two authors. Suggested discussion questions are also included.

Malcolm Little lost his family when he was only six. He spent is early years yearning for his father, his teen years running from family and the voice of his father. It is a universal story. Reading this book, one learns about his young life and what finally led him to find his voice and become a powerful leader in the Civil Rights movement.

Thanks you Michigan Humanities Council!

STILL THINKING OF NASHVILLE And what to see next time

Interior of the Historic Ryman Auditorium

Historic Ryman Auditorium – 116 5th Ave.
This venue offers a self-guided tour of the interior. There are exhibits, a gift shop a dynamite video, and other opportunities to enjoy this first-on-the-list Nashville attraction. Concerts are also held here. With amazing acoustics, this auditorium in recognized as the Carnegie Hall of the South.

The Grand Ole Opry
What a gorgeous place. The guided back stage tour is a must!

Belmont Mansion

Belmont Mansion – 1700 Acklen Ave. on the campus of Belmont University
This ornate Italianate villa contains some of the history of Nashville. It was built by the beautiful Adelicia Acklen a very wealthy woman of the mid 19th century. The architecture and furnishings are true to the period and most interesting.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Explore the museum which honors classic and current artists. Charlie Daniels calls it an “unending history book, a story that will go on as long as young men and women have a desire in their hearts and fire in their bellies.” Shop the museum store or eat in one of three eateries. On my list for my next visit. 222 Fifth Street South

The Belle Mead Neighborhood home to the Belle Meade Plantation, 5025 Harding Pike, and the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, 1200 Forest Park Drive.
Next time.

Tootsie’s Bar

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge 422 Broadway
Good music and just plain fun!

Bluebird Café 4140 Hillsboro Pike
A next time must: Free on Friday nights the show features up and comers and hit-makers. You saw it on the TV show “Nashville.”

And while I’m on Hillsboro Pike, I won’t miss author Ann Patchett’s Bookstore
Parnassus Books
Located a 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Suite 14 this is an extraordinary place for those who love books. Next time, for sure!

And one more:

The General Jackson Showboat Boat Tour
This departs from Gaylord Opryland Cumberland River Dock, 2812 Opryland Drive
Food and entertainment, but the tour is dockside? What’s up with that? Maybe this deserves to be at the end of the list or maybe it’s a fascinating venue.


Some people say that the books we truly enjoy are the ones we are thirsting to read. Assigned reading may or may not be less enjoyable. I find some truth in this. Often, a book I really want to read will totally capture me.

What’s happening for you in reading? Maybe the fall season is a time you seldom pick up a book. Or maybe, as the air chills and the sun shines, you settle into a favorite chair and go for turning pages.

I’m replenishing my lists today, while plowing through a book club selection that has yet to capture my attention. I’ll tell if you will.

Placing on hold at the library:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.
This novel is set in the fictional town of Bois Savage, Mississippi and is written by the author of the National Book Award Winner of 2011, Savage Bones.

Plowing through:
X by Ilyasah Shabazz daughter of Malcom X and Kekla Magoon
This book, fictionalized as a novel, has been chosen as this year’s title for the Michigan Humanities Council and the Great Michigan Read. Many years ago I was highly interested in and taught by The Authobiography of Malcolm X. I applaud the new presentation of his story for a current generation, but I’ve yet to be truly enjoying it. I recommend it as quite possibly a good audio book.

Everybody’s Talking About:
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Intertwined stories of a family and a mother and daughter in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Perhaps I should put this on hold. Have you read it?

This short post is hardly a full exploration. All there’s time for today is to dip a toe in the waters of reading.

Hope you are able to take a moment to share what you are reading. Thanks!


Some photos in this blog courtesy of Pat Unrau

Inside the new Grand Old Opry

Belmont Mansion

the ramp leaving Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

Our group rental in a lovely residential neighborhood

garden behind our rental home

Fantastic backstage tour at the Opry. Unfortunately my pictures were not too good. Loved seeing the backstage rooms for performers, simpler than might be expected.

Also a great tour of the Belmont House on the grounds of a beautiful university

Nashville Farmer’s Market

Nashville Hot Chicken

Interior of the Historic Ryman Auditorium

Many thanks to our crazy fun college friends group for great times: Lana, Susan, Pat, Ina Jane and Pam. Friends forever!


Our crazy fun college friends group hit Nashville with pot-loads of talk and aspirations. One of these was to manage a meal at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. So one afternoon we swooped in – that is we paid a hefty parking fee after walking three blocks to find the pay machine, stood in a long line in the heat – and one driver coped with a dead battery – so I guess that wasn’t swooping was it?

We landed in a nice corner table for six. I stared at my chicken tender encased in an armour of something, picked up my plastic knife and fork, and tried to figure out how a person going through a long period of implant surgery on two sides of my mouth might be able to extract and eat a few bites of this famous chicken. I had a side of tempting pimento mac and cheese to keep me at the task.

Around the table my friends had dark lacquered hot chicken of various shapes and heat levels. We were all hungry and all that talk ceased, almost. The armour on most of the chicken put my tenders to shame. I glanced around the table to see which knight might win the joust. Forgetting completely about taking pictures, I mostly concentrated on the task at hand.

What is Nashville Hot Chicken? Why are tourists and locals jamming a modest, not too clean rundown eatery like Hattie’s?

According to Jane and Michael Stern’s essay from Saveur title “Hot County” and reprinted in Best Food Writing 2015 Nashville’s famous hot chicken depends on cayenne and other spices. It’s a pepper red chunk of fried chicken served on white bread with dill pickle chips. You tear apart the chicken and gnaw. Clearly, I did not have the right technique. My friends caught on fast.

Recipes are carefully guarded, or so they say, but the Sterns describe a brine of buttermilk and spices, dredged in flour with more spice and double-fried. Then, fresh out of the hot oil, the chicken is slathered with a buttery paste of lard. Inside the shell one should find “sweetness, juiciness and an umami richness.” By the time we stumbled down the ramp and headed toward our two cars (one with a new battery – thank you Triple A and Lana) we were chock full of chicken and other stuff like greens and mustard sauce. And the line now stretched way down the block.

I did not think the chicken I was trying to eat had ever been bathed in buttermilk brine. Sure enough when I got home and turned to that fountain of information – the internet – and found two recipes for Hattie B’s Hot Chicken courtesy of Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman at Food Network Magazine and one from Aida Mollenkamp editor of Salt and Wind, Hattie’s chicken is dry brined. Chicken pieces are tossed with salt and pepper, covered and refrigerated overnight or up to 24 hours. Then on with the dipping, the frying (hot sauce and spices) and then the spicy coating: lard, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, salt pepper, paprika, garlic powder. You see the dark red brown that is the result in these pictures from the internet. My tenders described as Southern Chicken were lighter, but most of the chicken around the table was very dark brown.

I guess now-a-days you can order and eat spicy hot chicken around the country. But it is still one of Nashville’s prime attractions. Before too long I’m expecting to be on my way to a place that serves chicken tenders, brined in buttermilk, and so tender even a tooth-challenged person can eat and enjoy. A place where the cutting is easy. I can always ask for more hot sauce.

Hot chicken lovers go right ahead and salivate waiting for you next chance to eat this distinctive treat. Before I visited Nashville, I’d never seen any chicken like it. When you get the chance, grab the greens and gnaw away.


SO MUCH FUN in Nashville. Picture taking suffered. Thanks to all of you who keep viewing and reading this blog.

Nine readers correctly identified the city of Nashville.

Here are the winners of lightly used fiction. Books will be mailed next week.

Judith Vitali – Connecticut
Susan Cebelinski – Minnesota
Mary Ann Krengel – Michigan
Jan Heystek – Michigan
Nancy Skadden – Florida
Mary Ann Phimister – Michigan
Karen Kozian – Michigan
Judy Tolley – Alaska
Nellie Moran – Michigan