A writer confesses, Book reviews

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid–sort of Graham Greene-ish

I took a break from Runaway, a manuscript I am reading for a writing friend, last night and devoted my reading hour(s) to finishing The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.  I had to.  Fundamentalist was a library book and it was soon coming due.  Not that I haven’t ever been guilty of 1. returning a book before finishing it or 2. returning a book after its due date.  But when a book is so excellently written, it would be a sin not to finish it.  How else can excellent writing be cultivated if it is not read?

Funda was sort of Graham Greene-ish.  It features a young, principled man trying to make his Horatio Algiered way in the world.  Changez possesses a sharp, steel-trap mind, a soccer player’s agile body, and oceans of politeness.  He hails from Pakistan, yes, but he is the right kind of foreigner.  Not the kind to embarrass.  You can bring him home to mom and dad.  He can represent your company’s “face of diversity.”

But what happens to such a hero after hijackers of roughly his skin color, subscribing to his religion and from, approximately, his part of the world, suicide crash planes into the World Trade Center? How does he change? How does the cosmos of faces around him  change? Is he still the guy you want to represent your company’s “face of diversity”? Really? What about if he starts sporting a beard? Are you sure you’re still on board with that? And are you quite sure you want to partake of that drink he just poured for you? Oh, that’s better.  He took a sip.  It must be fine.

My big confession about Hamid’s book? It’s “spin” ending.  It caught me by my U.S. of A. centric, white-biased views and sent me skidding.  Conclusion: it’s awfully difficult not to have my so-called open-minded view of the world biased by standard issue, U.S. of A. assumptions and presumptions.  Maybe it’s impossible?

Fortunately books like Hamid’s are out there.  I can at least check where I’m at and challenge myself to keep growing.

Hamid’s book was also of interest to me in another regard: Fundamentalist worked as a sort of measuring stick against which to compare my own delve into post-911 politics with Traveling to Palestine.


Urban Farming

Mock Bavarian Beer Beef Stew

Dear Neighbors Northers,

Before one can write or do the other things that need to be done, one must eat.  If one is fortunate to have one’s own kitchen, nothing beats making food to one’s own liking and specifications.


Lunch at Spiro's

Eating Out: another alternative to the home-cooked meal, especially during a heat wave.

Mock Bavarian Beer Beef Stew

The Urban Farmer is trying not to panic about the high temps this weekend, but… she kinda sorta is.  Yesterday she geared up.  She spent the entire day cooking.  She wanted to have lots of meals ready so she wouldn’t need to cook during the heat wave.  She cooked up chili, ratatouille, sourdough bread (which lately she is having extreme luck with—does she finally have the process down? Fingers crossed praising the loaf won’t lead to loaf failure), rhubarb crisp, soup stock, a double batch of marinara which she then used to make a double batch of lasagna.  Lastly she prepped beef stew meat for a batch of Bavarian Beer Beef stew, which morphed into Bavarian beef stew or maybe Belgian beef stew or maybe just stew?

The veering started in the beer aisle of the grocery store.  She didn’t want to pay 5 bucks for a bottle of Bav beer, which as it turns out the recipe didn’t call for anyway. The recipe called for Belgian Ale.  The Urban Farmer’s sis, who alerted the UF of Bavarian Beer Beef stew’s epic taste, told her the name of the beer she should get on the sisters’ urban walk the day before, Thurs.  Actually the Urban Farmer’s sis had two stellar Belg beers to recommend.  Way back in the Bush 1 era, she had been quite fond of them.

The next a.m., Friday, the Urban Farmer was standing in the beer aisle, on system overload, swamped by all the beer offerings.  Darn if she couldn’t remember what beer her sis had recommended.

For the Urban Farmer, the answer in such brain-tazing situations, is to square one things.  She skipped the beer entirely.  She would use what’s at hand.  (It’s her favorite kitchen technique.)

The Urban Farmer pedaled home with her onions, parsnips, and 2 and ¼ pounds beef.  She had plenty of things she could use for a marinade.

She splashed a good dose of sherry into the pot, then thought wait a minute gosh darn.  Why wasn’t she using the liquid leftover from making sauerbraten? One slap to the forehead later, she was digging the leftover sauerbraten liq. out of the freezer.  While that was nuking, she threw in a couple tablespoons kim chi liquid.  Lastly she poured in the leftover half cup of ginger-turmeric elixir.  The elixir had been sitting in the large Adams Peanut Butter glass jar for over a week.  The liquid level in the jar hadn’t budged.  It was getting on the Urban Farmer’s efficiency and fridge organizational nerves.

So, that was the marinade for the beef:

roughly 2 c leftover sauerbraten liq. thawed out in microwaver, plus about 1/4 c each of the following liquids: kim chi, sherry, ginger-turmeric elixir.

The Urban Farmer dutifully added parsnips and carrots—which her sister had raved made the beef stew so good.  She also sneaked in red cabbage because you can’t really make mock sauerbraten or mock Bav/Belgian stew or even unmock those things without throwing in some cab.

This morning the plan was to pressure cook the whole shebang in the InstaPot but the Urban Farmer got cold feet.  InstaPot works excellently for ratatouille, soups, and the cooking of legumes, but she’s had poor luck InstaPotting meat chunks.  Back in March there was the Corned Beef and Cabbage disaster.  All day she looked forward to C B and C with Co-hab and the sister.  But when the time came to pop the lid on the InstaPot, the meat, let alone the cab, wasn’t even close to done.  Who knows what went wrong.  Operator error? No matter, she threw the whole shebang into the old school slowcooker crock pot and voila, the next day she had succulent, yumalicious C B and C.  But, it was a day late.  On the 18th, not the customary 17th of March.

Anyway, now the Bav Beer Beef Stew that really isn’t, but more like some kind of hybrid, foods-of-the-world stew, is slowcooking.  And not in the house, but outside, just off the back door where a convenient extra outlet is located.  Fingers crossed the liquid is quietly burbling away, slowing morphing something ‘licious.

OK, enough on food.  Now, back to T to Pal.


A writer confesses

Oh, Grammar, will I ever know you?


Pilgrimage to the Poetree.  Writer Katz asks: are Poetree and Grammar friends, frenemies, or enemies?

Dear Neighbors,

Work on T to Pal continues, aided muchly by the inspiring work of Ibtisam Barakat.  I encourage you to check out her memoirs about growing up in the West Bank.  She writes with much heart, in an unpretentious poetical style.  Meanwhile, a writing friend and I  are having trouble deciding whose relationship with Grammar is more tortured.  Who takes the “ungrammar prize,” she or I.

Oh, grammary graham-crackery Grammar, will I ever know you? You continue to vex and torment me. I try to capture you in my butterfly net, but you wriggle free or fly off, one-winged.

Shouldn’t I have you down by now?

I want to know once and for all when to use your colons and semi-colons, how to bridge your dashes and hyphens, build pyramids with your question marks and quotation marks, and fly to outer space with your paragraph breaks and dot dot dots.


A writer confesses

I will not write about Traveling to Palestine

Pocketing the nettle

Nettles? Maybe this is another thing K might write about.

Dear Neighbors Northers,

I know.  Strange, isn’t it.  No posts in months, then two in one week? All these months you haven’t heard boo from me, I’ve been working on Traveling to Palestine, a novel I first-drafted ages ago in the Obama era.  The political event–disaster?–of Nov. 9, 2016 compelled me to take T to Pal out of the drawer.  T to Pal is about a young woman navigating an America she didn’t think was after her father is deported back to Iraq.  Her story intersects with three other young women impacted by war: Rachel Corrie, Jessica Lynch, and Lynndie England.  Below are musings on how the writing work is going.  Think of it as my most recent confession.

I will not write about Traveling to Palestine

For this hour I will not write of Traveling to Palestine.

I will write of other things.  Or nothing.

How my ink fades on the page.  Maybe I will write of that.

I will write of rhubarb, blindness, and the young men in sharkskin suits who shake their legs while tapping laptops.

I will write of people who go to jail for protesting wars, people who cut through chain link fencing and spill vials of their own blood.

It seems like I have so much time, when I don’t.

And I am not sure I will solve the problems in Traveling to Palestine.  Perhaps I will not.  Perhaps I will be dragged down by them and never come back up.

Book reviews

The best response to oppression and injustice is love.

Dear Neighbors Northers,

On Saturday, I finished reading Ibtisam Barakat’s first memoir, Tasting the Sky.  A week plus earlier I read Ibtisam’s second memoir, Balcony on the Moon.  Ibtisam hails from the Ramallah area of the West Bank, but these days makes her home in the U.S.  Ibtisam’s memoirs have been stamped with the YA sticker, but they really should carry the ALL AGES sticker.  


Ibtisam Barakat

On the evening of June 5, 1967, after an Israeli bullet nearly took Ibtisam’s mother’s life steps from the family home, Ibtisam’s family fled.  It was Day 1 of the Six Day War.  Ibtisam was three.  Ibtisam’s mother commanded her three children, ages three, six, and seven, to find their shoes and put them on.  Ibtisam’s mom carried Ibtisam’s infant sister.  Her father’s arms were full as well, with bedding and food. In the chaos and darkness, Ibtisam couldn’t find her shoes.  (It wasn’t a simple matter of flipping a light switch and behold, there was light!  The Barakats had no electricity.  They relied on a kerosene lamp.)

Ibtisam’s family charged off without her.  Ibtisam set off after them, one shoe on and one shoe lost.  She had no idea if she would ever set eyes on her family again.

She wandered through the night and didn’t find her family until the next morning.

Over the next several months, the Barakats sheltered in various places.  While housed temporarily in an elementary school, Ibtisam made Alef’s acquaintance.  Alef was the stick figure-like first letter of the Arabic alphabet.  With a simple scratch of chalk nubbin to blackboard, Ibtisam brought Alef to life.  On occasions when chalk wasn’t available, a stroke of stick point to patch of dirt would do.  With Alef, and eventually, Alef’s 27 friends (the other letters of the Arabic alphabet) Ibtisam could venture anywhere.  She could connect to the world.

You can sample Ibtisam’s poems and short stories at http://www.ibtisambarakat.com/

I recommend Poem 10: A Poem Made of Bread.  Click the button and listen to Ibtisam read her Bread poem aloud.

I hope you love the cadence of her voice as much as I.  Listen closely and you’ll hear the tiniest hint of an accent.  It adds a fragrance bottle’s atomizer’s worth of “other countryness” to Ibtisam’s poem.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War.  Ibtisam has a thought-provoking article about that as well as her experience of growing up under Israeli military occupation in today’s Nation magazine.   www.thenation.com.

Below are links to Ibtisam’s website


and Ibtisam’s memoirs: