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This is another Nora Roberts gem. The protagonists are interesting and likable, the love interests builds slowly enough that it’s believable, the murder mystery holds water (mostly). The pace could be a bit better – I found the build up of the suspense as to who the murderer was a bit too long, but that also depends on my mood :) . The secondary characters are interesting for their own sake. Also, the descriptions of life in Alaska are very interesting, and made me want to visit Alaska myself ;) 4.5 stars

Northern Lights. Taken from theguardian.com. Photograph: Daniel J Cox/Corbis

The only jarring note is Roberts’ attitude to psychiatric illness. There was something similar in Angels Fall, but here it’s even more pronounced: “[Medicines] make me edgy or jumpy or out of myself. I can’t do the job on meds…” or “pills he’d stopped taking because they made him feel less of who he was than the depression or anxiety or insomnia“. It has now been my privilege to know four people who took psychiatric medicines, and I found the exact opposite was true: The anxiety and depression made them less themselves, and the medicine made them more themselves. If your pills make you edgy or jumpy or out of yourself, you’ve got the wrong medicine or the wrong dosage. If her characters pull out of depression because they fell in love or went on a trip alone they probably weren’t clinically depressed anymore, as depressed people are simply not capable of these actions. Like suggesting that someone suffering from double pneumonia should just apply willpower and get going right now to a warmer climate. First take the medicines and get better; then you can spend some convalescence time in the sun.

OK, rant done.

Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of AweEvery year I try to read something meaningful in preparation for the days of awe. In addition, I try to join at least one lesson live in WebYeshiva (My personal favorite teacher is Rabbi Yehoshua Geller, check him out!). This year I found myself on Rosh Hashana without anything new to read. So I thought I’d reread Rabbi Soloveitchik’s On Repentance, which is an excellent book, if a bit long to manage in 10 days. But then I found this gem that I bought last book week and forgot about: Erica Brown’s Return: Daily inspiration for the days of awe (in English, even though it’s at the Hebrew book week :) ). This is divided into 10 chapters, one for each of the Days of Awe, so excellent for starting late (yet better late than never ;) ). It’s thought-provoking, yet each chapter is short enough to read in half an hour. In addition, each chapter has “life homework” with concrete things you can do or decide to make you a better person this year. Each chapter also has some additional study material from the sages with some questions for your own personal study.

I found this book absolutely amazing. It showed me different ways of looking over the past year, and helped me enormously in my own private introspection and resolutions. It brings ideas from the bible, modern psychology, modern literature, and day-to-day life. It never talks down to you, yet is very scholarly. It brought me closer to Judaism and closer to true repentance. I’m going to read this during the year to refresh myself on what is really important; and I recommended to all people who are interested in looking over their lives, Jewish or not, during the Days of Awe or not. It captured, in 10 chapters (+ prologue and epilogue) the struggle we are all going through, our hope and fear of changing, and our imagination. I’ll be looking for more books by Erica Brown. 5 stars.

Shana Tova!

On Rosh Hashana Eve, I wish you and your family a year of sweetness, laughter, joy, fullfilment, personal growth, nachas, and good tidings.

And to help you on your way, here are some videos:

The Maccabeats, excellent as usual, with tradition and laughter:

Sia, for those moments when you need a helping hand. We all have them sometimes.

And Shimon Peres knows how to laugh – and to get the message across. May his vision come true and we will know true long lasting peace, Amen.

Shana Tova Umetuka!

Front CoverI’ve noticed that the further back I go, the less I like Nora Roberts. There is a saying in Hebrew – “there is no one so wise as he who has experience”. While it isn’t always true, it certainly seems so in this case. When comparing this to gems like The Witness or the Chesapeake Blue series, I got the impression that she batted this story out in one evening while suffering from the flu. Song of the West was published in 1982 (gosh, I was two years old then!).

Where to start? The heroine is typical “passionate yet innocent” type. The hero made me want to knee him in the balls. Maybe 30 years ago it was considered romantic to catch hold, not let go when asked, say in a deep and masculine voice “I want you and I’ll have you” and leave, but I just found it annoying, intrusive, and creepy.  There was the obligatory damsel-in-distress scene. The barrier to true love was so artificial it was ridiculous – maybe instead of assuming idiocies you could, you know, ask? When the first actual meaningful conversation between the two happens in the next to last page (in order to solve all problems) it makes you wonder why they didn’t have the conversation before. In short, don’t waste your time. 0 stars.

* Older Nora Roberts books don’t seem to have violence at all, no swearing, and no explicit sex scenes. Again, it’s difficult to believe these books are all written by the same person.

I find it ironic that a bit after Passover, when most of Israel eats gluten free, my son was diagnosed with celiac. It took some time for the final result, but it’s final: my son has celiac. So I started searching for a dairy free easy chocolate cake with no margarine that’s also gluten free. It took some trial and error, but here it is! It’s from the book “pashut lelo geluten” (simple without gluten) by Myriam Mor Yosef, with a few tweaks.

Ingredients:
180 ml oil
5gr baking powder
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, unpacked (originally 240 gr white sugar, way too much brown)
1/2 cup potato flour (55 gr)
1/2 cup cocoa powder (55 gr)
1/2 cup ground almonds (40 gr)
1 tsp vanilla

Baking dish of size 27×33 cm

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C. Mix everything together using a mixer. Pour into baking dish and bake for 30-40 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Easy peasy, and so tasty!

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Note: I haven’t written in a while as my computer died, phone problems, trip abroad and not least a shooting war. May we all have peace, amen.

Edited: Cake would sometimes fall flat, changed to 160°C and halved amount of baking powder thanks to excellent suggestions from my SIL who bakes like a dream. Thanks for the tips!

Mourning

I look back over the last year, and many problems we had were solved, or are at least in progress. My toddler broke her leg, but within a month she was running. My eldest had serious trouble in school, but after going to a bazillion therapists and psychologists we seemed to have found something that makes him happy.  My middle boy is suffering from stomach aches and is undergoing testing for celiac, but if he’s celiac we’ll manage – I love baking, after all, and nowadays you can get practically everything gluten free (for a price…). And at least he won’t be in pain all the time.

But my brother is still dead; and nothing can bring him back.

Simple Comforts

I’ve been going at full speed the last few days, so today I took things easy and worked from home. One of the perks of working from home, for me, is to take the time to make and eat a proper breakfast, with a cup of earl grey and milk, and a good book.

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The epitome of peace

So we have a mushroom, herb and cheese omelet, toasted whole wheat bread and butter. For some reason, I  never pack a butter sandwich, or a cheese omelet to take to work.  For me, this is the essence of taking it easy.

Mushroom, herbs and cheese omelet 
Heat oil (can also be olive) in a frying pan. Place sliced mushrooms in one layer in the pan. When browned, turn over and pour eggs mixed with milk, a dash of salt and some snipped herbs (I used parsley and dill, use what you have). Wait until firm and brown on the bottom, then flip over. Place two slices of cheese on half the omelet, wait a minute the fold in half over the cheese. When cheese is melted, move to a plate and eat immediately.

If I’m still hungry, another small pleasure I usually don’t take time for is a tomato and cucumber salad, cut small, with a large splash of good olive oil, a small splash of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Simple, but I’m the only one in my family who eats this so I make it only when I’m eating at home alone. You can imagine how often that happens. ;)

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So simple, so good

Sometimes the simple things are all we need…

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