Monthly Archives: July 2013

TGIW: My sort-of-Indian-chicken-recipe

by Libby Sternberg

First, a quick explanation: TGIW stands for Thank God it’s Wednesday. But you probably figured that out already. TGIW posts are meant to brighten your midweek….

The curry powder stands alone.

The curry powder stands alone.

My husband and I love to go to a little local Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal. It’s a one-room establishment in a strip shopping center, next to a mattress store and near a furniture shop. But once you’re inside, the atmosphere is…fun. A big plastic peacock statue, lit inside, guards the bar. Other pictures and tchotchkes evoking India fill the room. The staff is attentive and cheerful; I always feel as if they’re happy to see us and are eager to show off their cuisine. On holidays, they make dining special. New Year’s Eve brought out hats and beads for each customer, Valentine’s Day a chocolate dessert, other times live music provided by a fellow at an electronic keyboard. On Mondays, they offer a fixed price buffet–a great way to sample their food.

Anyway, I sometimes try to recreate a dish I had there, and I came close with the following. I didn’t write down the precise measurements as I cooked, so beware; use your own judgment.

LIBBY’S SORTA INDIAN CHICKEN

For two people (with enough for leftovers)

  • about a cup or more of cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • about a cup of broccoli florets
  • Olive oil
  • One chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 cup onion diced or sliced
  • 1/4 cup red pepper diced or sliced
  • 2 small cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about a cup of chicken broth or stock
  • about a cup of tomato or spaghetti sauce (I used Prego)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the following spices: ginger, cumin, ground coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika
  • (and, if you feel the need to smooth out the flavors, yes, you can use a little curry powder)
  • 1/2 cup cream

Heat the oven to 375. Spread cauliflower and broccoli on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast the vegetables until the edges are slightly brown, but be careful not to burn. They should be a little crunchy. (Roasting the vegetables is important because it imparts a different flavor than just tossing them in the saute pan.)

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, brown the chicken, onions, peppers, garlic in a little olive oil.

Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock/broth.

Add the spices.

Add tomato sauce and let simmer until chicken is done and tender.

Add the roasted vegetables.

Turn the heat down and when it’s no longer piping hot, add the cream, stirring until silky smooth.

Goes well over rice, Israeli couscous, quinoia (is that how you spell that?)

Next time I make it, I’ll try to note the precise measurements.

tajmahalpeacockBack to our Taj Mahal experience…I noted how they provide live music on special occasions. I love that they want to elevate the dining experience in this way, but sometimes I feel like telling the owners they should get a better musician. Oh, it’s not that the fellow they use can’t play. It’s just that what he plays is hardly better than piped-in music. And he seems to take a lot of breaks!

If you’re ever in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, craving Indian food, stop by this establishment.

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How easy it is to judge the past

by Libby Sternberg

hitlerland-largeI’m fascinated by the pre-World War II period of history. Or rather, by history of what was going on in Germany in the ramp-up to the war. My fascination springs from a desire to answer a question that many ponder: How could a civilized country such as Germany, home to writers, authors, composers of the highest cultural achievement, succumb to the savagery that was Naziism? A concomitant question that might arise in individual minds is: What would I have done, had I been a German at that time?

As with all history, it’s easy to look back at that time and think smugly that we would have recognized Hitler’s evil, even if we’re unsure of our inner courage to resist in the face of brutality. But what is black-and-white to us now had many shades of gray as it occurred, with bright minds looking past the horror to conclude that Hitler wasn’t a menace, that, to the contrary, he was a force for good.

My fascination with this period led me to the book Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski (Simon & Schuster 2013), recommended to me by my journalist son. This volume deals almost exclusively with American journalists who covered Hitler and his rise to power, with some stories of diplomats and other Americans’ experiences at the time, as well.

(The diplomatic story, by the way, was covered very well in Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, which I reviewed here.)

What’s striking about the Hitlerland story is how many journalists got it wrong, thinking, as the Baltimore Sun’s S. Miles Bouton did, for quite some time, that “Germans supported Hitler for the same ‘patriotic’ reasons, and Americans shouldn’t be swayed by the anti-Nazi accounts of his colleagues in the American press corps.”

The Bouton tale is revelatory because he was no rookie reporter sent to cover Germany just as tumult began. No, Bouton had been writing about the country since before World War I. He seemed to sympathize with the German position that the Versailles Treaty was retaliatory and cruelly punitive to the Germans, and he even seemed to believe that the real story that needed to be reported was how the Weimar government was attempting to silence the Nazis.

He, like others in the book, eventually came around to seeing Hitler and his Nazis for what they were, but his story begs the question: if a long-time paid observer of Germany got it so wrong at the start, how can one expect others with less information to get it right?

That question leads me to another book that I read several years ago called Defying Hitler by haffnerSebastian Haffner (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2000). This slim volume is the posthumously published memoir of a German who came of age during the Nazis’ rise to power. Because it was written when the author was young and passionate, it is also sometimes a rambling account of his life. But it is that very quality that gives it an immediacy, a you-are-there angle that allows you to experience with the author what it felt like to be German in the interwar years. Witness, for example, his crushing disappointment upon learning his country had lost the Great War when, due to propaganda efforts, he’d thought Germany would win:

“How shall I describe my feelings–the feelings of an eleven-year-old boy whose entire inner world has collapsed?”

From there, you live with him as he watches his family deal with hyperinflation, immediately cashing the father’s paycheck and heading to the market to buy as much as possible before their money lost more value.

And then it’s on to leader after leader briefly on the political stage, knocked off or assassinated outright. When Hitler and his Nazis finally do come on the scene, you at last understand how even this bright young man could view them with a certain cynicism or at least nonchalance, expecting them to topple like the others gone before, or at least be as meaningless and useless.

But topple they did not, and eventually Haffner confronts the oozing evil that Naziism has unleashed. One of the most moving scenes in the book is when he realizes that, by answering a simple question, he has betrayed his conscience. As a young law clerk, he is at work studying briefs when brown shirts disrupt the office, throwing out all the Jews.

Meanwhile, a brown shirt approached me and took up position in front of my worktable. “Are you Aryan?” Before I had a chance to think, I said, “Yes.” He took a close look at my nose–and retired. The blood shot to my face. A moment too late I felt the shame, the defeat. I had said “Yes!” Well, in God’s name, I was indeed an “Aryan.” I had not lied, I had allowed something much worse to happen. What a humiliation, to have answered the unjustified question as to whether I was “Aryan” so easily, even if the fact was of no importance to me! What a disgrace to buy, with a reply, the right to stay with my documents in peace! I had been caught unawares, even now. I had failed my very first test.

He left Germany in 1939 and went on to write several books about Nazi Germany, including the insightful volume The Meaning of Hitler, well worth the time.

Both Hitlerland and Defying Hitler are absorbing stories, providing useful background for the questions I posed at the outset of this essay. For those who think it would have been easy to first recognize and then fight the threat posed by Naziism, they make for uncomfortable reading.

But if you still think you’d have been one of those who wouldn’t have succumb to Naziism, go on over and read this 1941 article by Dorothy Thompson, one of the journalists covered in Nagorski’s Hitlerland.  Its title, “Who Goes Nazi,” describes a parlor game she regularly played, trying to decide, based on her experience in Germany, who at a dinner or cocktail party would be likeliest to rationalize away the brutality of National Socialism and go along with the crowd. Read to the end of this politically incorrect piece. Her conclusions might surprise.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest book, After the War, is available in print and digitally.

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No, Cokie, Weiner’s no Harlequin hero

by Libby Sternberg

ImageDisgraceful, offensive, insulting to women…No, I’m not talking about Anthony Weiner’s latest sexual peccadilloes. I’m referring to Cokie Roberts’s comments about same. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe program this past week, the ABC News political commentator had this to say: “(his) tweets… were so pornographic, and, by the way, so bad. They were like some Harlequin novel.”

I know Harlequin novels, Ms. Roberts. And Anthony Weiner’s tweets are no Harlequin novel.

Well, let me edit that—I’ve not actually read Mr. Weiner’s tweets, but if they reflect his actions of assuming false identities to talk pornographically or expose himself to women, they are no Harlequin novel. I should know. I’ve been published by Harlequin and I’m familiar with a lot of their books.

Harlequin publishes a wide range of what is called in the book business “women’s fiction,” stories that deal with family, love, children—tales where the target audience is women looking for a good, satisfying read.

In the romance end of this spectrum, books range from sweet “inspirationals” that contain absolutely no sex or cursing (but do contain Christian faith references) to steamy tomes where sexual attraction pulls hero and heroine together, and the authors are fearless in describing it. Romance authors are talented women who know how to tell a story well, are in touch with women’s concerns, and who work hard to convey the enduring strength of requited –and monogamous—love.

And therein lies the reason for the distinction between Weiner’s tweets and romance authors’ expertise: Weiner is no hero.

Already disgraced by similar actions that in 2011 led to his resignation as a congressman, Weiner now faced the public with his wife Huma Abedin beside him, attempting to convey to the world that he’s reformed and forgiven. A real hero wouldn’t do that to his wife, and romance authors write real heroes.

In romance novels, the formula is simple: hero and heroine meet, fall for each other, can’t be together for some reason, decide they love each other, have a “black moment” where all seems lost, and then a reconciliation and HEA (happily ever after).

Before you laugh into your Dom Perignon Rose 2002, let me point out that this formula might be familiar to those who think of themselves as lovers of Great Lit-rah-chure.

It’s the plot of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, for one. And hundreds of other well-respected novels.

Jane Eyre’s template, in fact, offers a useful analytical tool for determining the difference between a Wiener story and a true romance tale, where heroes might be flawed and tortured but redemption and transformation don’t come cheap.

Rochester literally endures a cathartic fire (in which he attempts but fails to save his mad wife) before his redemption is complete, and his Jane returns to him.

Jane herself is the archetype for today’s romance heroines—independent, feisty, strong. They might forgive their Rochester heroes, their alpha-males gone astray, but they respect themselves too much to be degraded by anyone. And in the end, it is that quality that makes them most appealing to the heroes of these tales.

In fact, Bronte’s heroine had no moral scolds to answer to—her immediate family was either dead or estranged—but she demurred when Edward Rochester tempted her to be his mistress after the “black moment” when it’s revealed he already has a wife, albeit a mad one hidden in the attic. Jane refuses, despite compelling arguments from the pitiable Rochester, now tormented by the thought of losing his one true love. Here is how Bronte writes Jane’s inner struggle:

“…soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? Or who will be injured by what you do?

 

Still indomitable was the reply—“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. ….”

The heroines in romance novels are all heiresses to that legacy. No hero would dare ask such a heroine to be his prop in a press conference where he’s admitting to continuing the downward spiral that got him into trouble in the first place.

So, no, Ms. Roberts, Mr. Weiner’s “writing” is no romance novel. Far from it. In a real romance novel, he’d be the lecherous villain the hero and heroine together fight off.

This post originally appeared at Liberty Unyielding. Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest book, not a romance novel, is After the War.

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What the NSA would find in my Google searches

by Libby Sternberg

I’m innocent! I swear, officer!

Well, yeah, I was looking up stuff online about weapons and explosives and getaway cars and….

But if I don’t get it right, my boss will be awfully mad, see? They double-check our work all the time. No, no, my boss isn’t involved in anything nefarious. I’m telling the truth here! Yes, I had to get accurate info on Colt 1911s and 9mm guns and powerboats and Humvees for her. I wasn’t intending harm at all. Just the opposite…. Yeah, Plexiglas, too. I confess—I looked that up. No, no, I had no intention of…  Well, yes, I do keep referring to Chicago. No, I’m not planning to go to Chicago. I live in Pennsylvania. Image

I’m just a suburban housewife, I swear, with no ties to terrorist….well, yes, you’ve got me there – I was Googling al Qaeda recently. And, yes, I did look up information about Navy SEAL operations. But I wasn’t building any connections or networks or…. I don’t even know how to speak the terrorists’ language, for crying out loud!

Uh, what’s that? You have records of me using online translation software to look up some Pashto phrases and some Spanish ones, too? Um, yes, I’d forgotten about the…but, hey, since when is it a crime to speak Spanish?

As I said, I’m just a housewife…a grandmother, for Pete’s sake!  Well, uh, yes, I admit it, I also searched more than once for information about SIG SAUER guns! But…I couldn’t remember if the name is hyphenated.

No, hyphenated isn’t a weapons-making process! It’s a dash, see, like an en-dash… No, en-dash isn’t a code. It’s a typography designation for, well, something like a hyphen. Oh, good grief, I just told you that the hyphen doesn’t mean anything! No, “hyphen” isn’t the code word giving a green light to some plot to take down a Chicago building.

Chicago is the Chicago Manual of Style, see? No, no, it’s not some handbook for terrorist plots. It’s a book for copy editors. Like me. I copy edit novels, and some of them are suspense books, thrillers, and…we use Webster’s 11th, too.

No, no, Webster’s 11th isn’t a special cadre of bad guys. It’s a dictionary! I swear. Look it up!

Anyway, these are our tools—copy editing tools! Not real tools! For the love of…. And sometimes I need to refresh my memory to see if words like powerboat are closed compounds or open compounds or hyphenated….

No, no, I’m not talking about compounds for training terrorists! I just told you about hyphens, right? And that’s part of being a copy editor, making sure you have the compounds right…. Oh, Lordy, can’t you understand, I’m a writer! And an editor! Nothing important!

When I research Colt 1911s, it’s to see if it’s a semiautomatic, as the author indicated. When I look up SEAL training, it’s to validate the author’s description of those programs.

And Plexiglas…I bet you thought that was an un-trademarked word spelled “plexiglass,” didn’t you, mister? Nope, trademarked. Lots of common words are—Band-Aid, Dumpster, Jacuzzi, Formica, Styrofoam, even Realtor….  Yeah, that’s right. Realtor. Start uppercasing it, buddy. And lowercase the “x” in x-ray when you use it as a verb. But uppercase it when it’s a noun. Got that?

And dash that dash in lighthearted—it’s a closed compound while light-headed is hyphenated…Write it down so you don’t forget, sweetheart. And when you’re taking down a suspect’s words, use hyphens to indicate stuttered letters, but em-dashes—longer hyphens—to indicate stuttered words, okay, bub? And watch out for those dangling modifiers, Smartypants, you with your “Googling all this violent stuff, we need to ask…”  “Googling all this” has to agree with the subject of the sentence, see, which you meant to be me. Get yourself some Strunk & White and memorize that section, Muscle Head. And stop using “like” when you mean to say “as if.” I might seem as if I’m engaged in suspicious activity. Not like I’m engaged in same. Got it, Officer Krupke? Don’t get me started on punctuation, either, junior. We take the Oxford comma very seriously around here….

Are you yawning?

As I said, I know you found all these things on my computer through random NSA searches, but I swear, I’m not a terrorist. I’m nothing! Really. Nothing. I’m a copy editor. Nothing…..

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. She also copy edits for a major romance publisher. Her latest book, After the War, is now available in print and digitally.

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