Author Interview – Barbara W Klein

To paraphrase the Bard, some people are born writers, some become writers, and others have writing thrust upon them. I suspect today’s author, Barbara W. Klein, falls into the last category, since it was her family that persuaded her to write this book. It bears the unusual title of a glub glub and a shake shake, and is both a family recipe book and a family project, insofar as her editor is her daughter and my friend, editor and published author, Lisa Winkler. Lisa’s sister, Madeline Taylor  illustrated it. Not only does this book form a collection of recipes, but the stories behind them pass on the kind of family history that can fast be forgotten in these ephemeral times. Of course, I had a few questions for Barbara.

IMG_1122

GC: First of all, how did the title come about?
BWK: The title came about while I was describing a recipe to Lisa, she’d ask me how much of a certain ingredient was needed. One time I said, a ‘glub, glub,’ referring to honey. I’ve heard this expression before and it means an unmeasured amount, to taste. With honey, you turn the bottle over and it’s a ‘glub glub!’ A ‘shake shake’ is similar with spices. You shake a little over meats to taste.

GC: Clearly this book is a family effort. How did you work out who did what?
BWK:It was easy. Madeline is a great artist and has been drawing her whole life. Lisa compiled the recipes and prepared the manuscript for the book designer. All my children and grandchildren suggested recipes for the book.

glub

GC: The recipes come from several different cultures and countries. Can you give us a few examples?
BWK: Couscous is from Tunisia, adapted from our time serving there in the Peace Corps. There are many Jewish recipes that were made by my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law and I perfected them over the years. Lisa brought back the Anzac cookie recipe from Australia when she was an AFS student there.

GC: Who actually prepared the book for publishing? Did the illustrations make it more complicated?
BWK: Lisa’s book designer, Solveig Marina Bang, designed the book with input from all of us. She presented several cover and color options. The illustrations were easy to include in the pdf.

GC: If you could pick two recipes that are your family’s favorites, which would they be, and why?
BWK: That’s a hard question because everyone has their own favorites. If I have to pick two, I’ll say pot roast and matzo brei. But all my pies are top contenders, too.
GC: What was the most fun about doing this project?
BWK: Just remembering how the family got together and helped making meals.

 

 

Weddings…

The only people who were really happy about our August 6th, 1983 wedding were Jay and I, my mother, my sister Susan, and Jay’s best man, Carl. That’s why, on our wedding photos, we are the only ones smiling with our eyes. My son and daughter are scowling at the camera, as much as to say “You made us come from Chicago to live in Connecticut for this?” Jay’s two girls are smiling, but their eyes look sad. They’re pretty sure they’ve lost their father. Jay’s mother and her second husband are trying to look gracious, but there’s a hint of disapproval there.

It’s 29 years later and things have changed. We acquired two extra sons along the way when my sister Susan died 16 years ago. Then we were presented with two sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law and six grandchildren. Our six children look amazed when we remind them we’ve been married so long – it makes them feel old. Our six grandchildren have never known us as anyone other than Grampa and Grandmama.

Remembering our wedding days, it’s a miracle we got married at all. Yes, days, because we were married twice. We’d married first on a cool Spring day in May, without telling anyone. I wore a chain store dress, and our witnesses were two people we rounded up on the day: Jay’s landlady and her gardener.  I was living in Chicago, Jay lived in Connecticut, and my Chicago immigration lawyer told me that I needed to get married because my US work visa was running out. It seemed like a terrible reason at the time, but I didn’t really mind, so long as, at some point, we had an actual wedding, for our family to attend.

We decided on August 6th, because it was a Saturday, not realizing that it was the 37th anniversary of the day the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. We found out that morning when the radio news reminded us. It was a hot sticky day, and we had no air conditioning in the small cottage we’d managed to afford. We switched on the fans, but were glad to go out on the deck for the wedding itself. The sun had disappeared, and the Justice of the Peace (who’d married us in May and kindly agreed to do it again) was casting worried glances at the lowering clouds.

We read our vows, which we’d written ourselves, and as the JP said “I now pronounce you man and wife,” the heavens opened with an almighty clap of thunder. We made a dash for the French doors, piling into the dining room in disarray.

After Jay’s family had left, we newly-weds, with Adam, Helenka, my mother, Susan and Carl, sat around, exhausted by the heat and the emotions of the day. Sweat dripped slowly down the back of my neck. We had fans on, but it was still humid, and wasn’t due to cool down ‘til later. I can’t remember who suggested it, but we all agreed with alacrity – we would go down to the beach for a moonlight swim. There was a moon by now, because the skies were clearing and we knew there’d be a breeze by the shore. We had the beach to ourselves – until a night watchman came up to demand what we were doing.

After we’d explained, he decided to turn a blind eye. He even wished us luck. We returned home, cooler and happier.

Our marriage has been like that. Sunshine and thunderstorms, family and friends, time alone and  time together, cool days and hot days. And through it all there’s been love, to keep us hanging in there.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But now I’d do it somewhere air-conditioned.

Time for the Christmas edition of this blog…

When I first started writing this “Christmas” letter it started “It’s November, and…. Then it morphed into “It’s December and…”

Fact is, you’ve probably noticed that, in fact, “It’s January and…although I’m sitting here looking at a deceptively placid and sunny lake, we’ve already had at least a foot of snow here in New Hampshire. And that was quite a shock for us when we returned from our longest vacation ever in early November. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I think I mentioned last time, Jay and I had taken a cruise to Alaska last year (2010) and Jay liked it so much he booked another for the whole family to go to the Caribbean in February. And so we went. Fifteen of us. Actually, Freddie and Bertie couldn’t make it, since they had to stay at their respective universities. When we said we would be traveling with six grandchildren, they seemed somewhat less disappointed to be missing the trip…

Here’s a picture of the band of seafarers, and considering it was taken at 11 at night, it’s a miracle that everyone looks more or less awake!

It turned out to be a great trip. We visited San Juan (very Spanish), Grand Turk (very sandy), and St Maarten, which Jay and his daughters had visited regularly in the 1970s. Determined to recreate this past paradise, Jay rented a truck (sorry, minivan) and we set off to find the fabled beach house of yore. After several wrong turns and dead ends, we found the beach.  

It was a stone’s throw from the airport, which in the 1970’s didn’t matter, because the planes were small and relatively infrequent. Now, the roar of jets probably drowns out the local birds. Still, the view was lovely, and Amanda (left) and Heather (right) had fun trying to decide which of the now huge beach houses had once been the cottage they rented.

Back on dry land (in Florida) Jay and I decided we needed a vacation, so we drove down to Key West, the most southerly point of the continental United States. Key West is famous for Ernest Hemingway (who spent most of his time in a local bar or fishing), Harry Truman (who spent his time gambling – either playing poker or taking important policy decisions) and Key limes. We ate a lot of Key lime flavored things – pie, of course, ice cream, barbecue sauce, dips, crisps, crackers, soap…oh, no, wait, we didn’t actually eat the soap. But you get the drift.

And talking of drift, our next stop was Sanibel Island, also off the Florida coast, and famous for its shells. When people told me they went shelling on Sanibel, I had visions of dangerous military activity, but the American verb, ‘to shell,’ means to look for shells. I dutifully did this, wandering up and down the beaches and coming home with a few bedraggled samples. Jay did much better than I did. He walked into the nearest shell shop and bought several magnificent specimens (probably from Thailand, of which more later).

From March to July, we more or less behaved ourselves, but we got itchy feet again in August, and decided, on the spur of the moment, to drive to Canada. We spent our first night in Ottawa, a city I had seriously prejudged. I think I expected it to be a completely modern city, purpose built to be the capital. I was probably mixing it up with Canberra or Brasilia. Anyway, it turned out to be delightful, historic (the changing of the guard with real Coldstream Guards) and beautiful. We’ll go back, I’m sure.

Next we visited our best man and his wife in Toronto. I had always told Carl that I thought he might actually have been the best man, but that since he was already taken… We had a wonderful time before we set off for Niagara Falls, which Jay and I had never visited together. All the hotels there now have windows facing the Falls, which meant we had a terrific view, and even though I managed to prevent Jay from shopping in Niagara itself, he managed to discover the tiny town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, from which he came away with armloads of Christmas presents for the family.

On the way home, I noticed we weren’t travelling in the right direction. I put this down to the fact that Jay’s sense of direction leaves something to be desired, and hinted that if we travelled east rather than south we might get home sooner. “Hall of Fame,” he muttered under his breath. And I thought he’d forgotten. He knows it has been a lifelong dream of mine to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, and so he was taking me there. Wasn’t that sweet of him?

After we returned I was off again for my third visit to my indomitable 91-year-old mother in London. Bertie decided to come too, and due to our impeccable talent for organization, we left on separate planes one day apart. We saw each other briefly in London, but while we were there, Hurricane Irene terrified the airports into closing, and we ended up flying home two days late. And in fact, we flew home to Montreal (about three hours drive from New Hampshire) because there were no flights available to either Boston or New York. Jay drove the three hours to meet us, which was noble of him, and the four hours back, since we got lost in Montreal’s one way system for an hour on the way out of the airport…

September saw us at a Yankee Red Sox baseball game in Boston. This is dangerous turf for a Yankee fan (Jay) especially if he’s taken there by his daughter Amanda, her partner Barb and their family (avid Red Sox fans). The Yankees had been losing all season long, and I had prepared myself for a stressful game by downloading a copy of War and Peace onto my cell phone to read when the going got tough. To my surprise, Napoleon had barely decided to invade Russia when the Yankees started to win, and continued to do so until the end of the game. Rejoicing ensued, especially on my part, since I would have had a two hour drive home with a despondent Yankee fan, and that’s no fun.

Just as the leaves were turning their usual gorgeous colours here in New England, we left for Indochina. Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, to be precise. Now that we’ve got the cruising thing down, we decided to try a couple of different kinds of boats, One was a junk on Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, a unique part of the world (UNESCO says so). Another was a trip down the Mekong River from Cambodia to Vietnam in a new river cruiser, something like to paddle steamers of old to look at, but with all mod cons. (Air conditioning, hot water, fitness center – where, by the way, people stuck their heads in to laugh at me as I desperately tried to shed the pounds I seemed to be gaining on board). It was a good thing we were traveling by boat – Cambodia and Thailand were both suffering from the worst floods they’d had in a long while. It was a fascinating trip and we were glad we’d been able to see Vietnam and Cambodia in particular, before they become industrialized and their old way of life is lost.

Jay was thrilled that we managed to get some clothes made in 24 hours, and that he succeeded, after much haggling, in buying two huge marble lions, which he expects will be gracing our front doorway any time now.  Ernest and Mabel are shown at left…

It turns out that Jay is a firm believer in feng shui – no, I didn’t know that, either – and the lions are going to improve the chi flowing into our home. So long as they keep Jay from breaking anything else, that’s okay with me. Maybe it’s working already, since this is the second break-free year in a row!

In Thailand, we went to visit some elephants, and soon (rather too soon, in my opinion) found ourselves riding them bareback around a large paddock. The mahouts were kind to us and didn’t laugh too much, though they did take quite a lot of photos, which was rather mean, since we looked incredibly silly. The high spot, however, was painting with the elephants.

Hearing about this, I visualized the elephants slapping paint on a large wall, with us looking on and feeding them the occasional Danish pastry. Au contraire. They painted with paintbrushes, watching our hands as we sketched the design on an easel, and copying it with the paintbrush. Jay got a bit carried away as you can see here. I am not even going to attempt to explain what it’s meant to be.

While in Vietnam, we hit the first of November. This is significant, because I had signed myself up to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November, and if I were going to succeed I’d have to start on vacation. So there I was, in the back of the bus, typing away on my laptop. Unbelievably I did it. I now have a printed copy entitled Horrible First Draft. Funny title for a novel, you might think, but I maintain it has a certain ring to it. And maybe the next version will be called Slightly Better Second Draft.

Two weeks after our return I was off to London again, which is one reason this letter is so late. My mother is battling on, living on her own, criticizing the Tory government and attending the vicar’s coffee mornings and afternoon teas. The assistant vicar got married while I was there, and my mother and I went to the wedding. But only after she’d insisted on having a new hat. Well, one must dress for a wedding, it goes without saying.

Then came Christmas and the New Year. My daughter Helenka and her children went back to Connecticut, and our other daughters Amanda and Heather and their families came for New Year’s weekend. So it was a very busy week (meals for 12 every day…)

However, my reward for this virtuous life was that we left on January 5th for a cruise through the Panama Canal and on to South America and Machu Picchu. I had my fingers crossed that Jay wouldn’t fall off this fabulous Inca ruin high in the Andes. And told him he’d better not buy a llama, either, no matter how nice a pet it might make. Progress report next year, or sooner if you sign up to follow this blog. 🙂

Here’s hoping you have a very happy and healthy 2012!

A Landfill Waiting to Happen

You’d think it would be easy. The plastic, glass and cans go in there, and the newspaper, card and junk mail goes there. The men I live with have a dozen (more or less) university degrees between them. And yet, when it comes to recycling, it’s harder to get them to do it right than it would be to put socks on an octopus.

Let’s take my husband. Please. I can’t deny he’s getting a bit better, but it’s taken me at least ten years to explain that cardboard you can bend (like cereal packets) is, for the purposes of recycling, paper. He still takes the card to the dump inside a corrugated cardboard box, where he proffers it proudly to the tired man who’s given up trying to explain.

Please don't squeeze...

As for plastic – when the town started recycling, it would only take plastics 1 & 2, but it seemed to be beyond my husband to find the symbol on the container. I tried to make it easier for him by explaining that it meant clear plastic like milk containers and water bottles, and colored containers from dishwashing liquids and other household cleaning products. After a while, I gave up and started weeding out the yogurt pots, the paper milk cartons, Styrofoam coffee cups and used flowerpots, and putting them in the trash.

As for washing things before recycling – it seems a concept that’s completely alien to my men. Not only do they not wash their soda bottles, but they twist the bottle caps on so tightly that I can’t open them to wash out the bottles myself. Aaargh!

A few months ago, the town started recycling almost everything, telling us that we could put all the paper together and all the plastic, glass and cans in a separate container. You might be thinking that this surely made it all easier – but I’m afraid that the only difference is that I’m now retrieving all the yogurt pots, Styrofoam cups, and  flowerpots from the trash, washing them, and recycling them myself. As for milk cartons, the middles of toilet rolls and paper towels, egg boxes and the like, my men just can’t seem to grasp that they are made from paper of differing thicknesses. Paper bags covered in grease from the Chinese take-out, on the other hand, are squashed into a ball and lobbed at the recycling bin.

Last week, the Good Men Project, http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/is-recycling-for-girly-men-naaaah/, an online men’s magazine that I write for, ran an article intimating (the way I read it) that women were much more likely to recycle than men. I don’t think that my guys assume  recycling is a woman’s job. But I do think they don’t seem to understand the value of it, even though our town dump tells us how much money they’re making by recycling. It’s on a huge sign that gets updated regularly as you drive in.

A landfill waiting to happen

Maybe it’s because my husband doesn’t quite believe in global warming.  “We had more snow than ever last winter,” he says, and of course, our tiny part of the world is the entire globe to him, so it must be getting colder. My sons believe in global warming, but don’t care enough about the planet – they’re already planning to colonize Mars. All I can hope is that they end up with women who do care – or Mars will be a landfill before they know it.

Red Sox, Brown Armchair

We went to the Red Sox Game last night. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. But in fact, this is something we do only once a year, when one of our lovely daughters and her partner buy tickets for my husband Jay’s birthday present. In a way, this is a backhanded gift, since they are avid Red Sox fans and have even indoctrinated their poor misguided 6 year-old son. And they know that Jay is a rabid Yankee fan. With the Yankees current record, we were going to drive two hours to be humiliated.

So it was with some trepidation that I got into the truck in New Hampshire for the trip to Boston. Truck, you ask? This is Jay’s red pickup truck, with the number plate MY TOY. (They allow this sort of foolishness in New Hampshire, where we legally reside.)  Our youngest son had texted just that morning, wondering whether we still had the Pier One sofa (circa 1991) that had been languishing in the basement. If so, he pleaded, could he possibly have it for his new student apartment at BU? I saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone. If the Yankees were to be ignominiously slaughtered in the Fenway amphitheatre, at least one positive thing would come out of it – Son would be comfortable.

I found the sofa in the basement, and even a matching armchair. No problem to get them up to ground level and into the truck. They were made of foam and some sort of balsa wood and weighed less than a bag of mulch… I suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to strap the furniture down, but this was met with a firm “No” from Jay, who was sure that nothing could budge these objects. (Jay failed physics in High School, I suspect.) And off we went.

We were 20 miles down I-89 when Jay asked me to look and see whether the armchair was still on board. I turned round and giggled. I am not by nature a giggler, and this was by way of a nervous reaction.

“Nope,” I said, “it’s gone.” Jay smiled indulgently. He thought I was kidding. “No, really,” I repeated. Language ensued.

Jay made an illegal U-turn and started back up the highway. “Keep an eye out for it,” he said.

New Hampshire being a rural state, there were forests between us and the opposite lanes, and the armchair was brown, so I knew there’d be no hope of seeing it. But I shut up and kept an eye out as directed. It seemed the armchair had decided to Live Free or Die. It was Jay who decided we should go back to the beginning of our trip, and it turned out he was right. (This happens sometimes…) About half a mile from where we’d joined the highway was our armchair, sitting sedately by the side of the road, its cushion next to it, and one of its feet lurking nearby. It was the work of moments (more or less) to tie the thing down, although we were hampered somewhat by having no idea of how to work the ratchet thingies on the straps and in the end resorted to the scouting knots of our youth. In the event, it took another two and a half hours to reach Boston, and we ditched the truck outside Fenway stadium, having contacted Son to come and drive it to his flat.

And then came the game. It took three hours and forty minutes before I could persuade Jay to leave, and we hadn’t even got to the top of the eighth (I believe that’s the expression – second half of the eighth inning, right? For foreign readers, eighth out of nine) He didn’t want to leave because the Yankees – unbelievably – were winning. Jay, of course, immediately claimed credit. On the way home he was planning our trip to the next Yankees game, wherever it is. Because, he says, they obviously can’t win without him. This could become very expensive, even if I don’t go with him. I’d rather deliver armchairs.

My husband, Technotwit

This was first published by The Good Men Project.

My husband Jay is the only person I know whose computer has been stabbed. I wish I could say that it was like one of those incidents in wartime where the bullet lodges in the pocket bible and saves the guy’s life, but it was nothing so exciting as that. No, Jay checked his laptop on his way home from a business trip to somewhere quite innocuous. I know. I know. He hasn’t checked a computer since then, obviously. But when he unpacked his laptop, there it was. A stab wound that reached right inside and through to the screen. We stared at it, disbelieving. Neither of us had seen anything like it.

I tried to console Jay by pointing out that now he could have a lovely new laptop with masses of great features that would make his life much easier. It was when I mentioned the company in the Midwest that could try and recover his data that the awful truth began to dawn on him.

“You mean that all my information has gone, too?” He was tearing at the remains of his hair.

“Maybe,” I said cheerfully, “but let’s not panic. We don’t know if you can turn it on yet.”

Jay pushed the power button, looking as though he expected the laptop to explode. It cranked into life, but the screen looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.

“I’m doomed,” he said, “The damn things just don’t like me.” Language ensued.

He meant the computers, of course. He’s in that generation that grew up thinking that the way you typed a letter was to put your secretary on your lap and dictate it to her. (Mad Men, indeed.) So when he retired and became a consultant, the horrible realization that his adoring spouse (me) wasn’t going to replace his secretary, came as something of a shock.

“Listen, darling,” I told him, “you went to Andover, Yale and Cambridge. You must have some sort of capacity for learning. You’ll get the hang of it in no time at all.” And so it has proved. At no time, ever, has he managed to exert control over the infernal machines.

“I’m snakebit,” he says. By which I believe he means that his computers are trying to kill him. And maybe they are.  Death by apoplexy is what the certificate would read. Because only my husband has email that suddenly disappears or whose mailbox fills up in a few weeks. Only he can actually manage to lose the home page on his browser. Since his home page has all the Yankee scores, this can border on disaster.

Mind you, I’ve tried to suggest that if he made an effort to love his computers a bit more they might start to love him back. I mean, if you were his laptop, how would you feel about being run over by Jay’s car? My point exactly. I’m not saying it was deliberate, but maybe something in Jay’s subconscious led him to leave his laptop behind his car instead of in the trunk. And then to back over it.

Language ensued. And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth, of course. Back we went to Best Buy, for laptop number 3, or was it 4?

The salesman persuaded Jay to buy the latest model. It would not only deal with email, and word processing, but could take photos, phone a friend, play music and movies – it sounded great. Jay never got past the email. Getting to grips with Outlook was so traumatic that he never had time to type his memoirs or watch a movie. He did learn how to click on a link to You Tube occasionally, and has seen more cats that look like Hitler…

Yesterday, the laptop died. Again. After the language died down, I wandered into his office and offered to help.

“It’s useless,” he yelled. “I’ve tried everything. I’ve turned it off and now it won’t start up at all. I’m going to take this *@#*ing computer, drive it out into the middle of the lake and throw it into the deepest part!”

I murmured something about environmental disasters, but he wasn’t listening. Edging round the desk I took a look at his laptop. Not plugged in, but the power button was still showing faint traces of life. “Where’s the cable?” I asked.

Jay all but threw it at me. “It won’t work,” he insisted. “It never does.” He sat down abruptly and put his head in his hands. I ignored this piece of drama and carried on. I plugged in the computer, and held down the power button. It switched itself off. Turning it on again, I took a chance and let it reboot normally.

“How did you do that?” Jay said with what I like to think was gratitude and admiration. I tried to explain, but he had started swearing at Outlook again. I tiptoed out of the room. One of these days I may have to stab this laptop, just to get some peace and quiet.

A podcast on behalf of Drugfree

Drugfree used to be the Partnership for a drugfree America. Remember their ads? This is your brain (picture of an egg) – this is your brain on drugs (fried egg). Back in April they interviewed me for a podcast about being the parent of  a bipolar son, who also used drugs before he was diagnosed to self-medicate.

I forgot all about it until this week, when I ran across it when Googling myself (trying to find this blog…what an embarrassment – I couldn’t remember my own link).

If you’d like to listen to it, here it is:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/drugfree/2011/04/18/podcast-qa-with-gabi-coatsworth

Um…er…Here I am…

It was inevitable, I suppose. I’m on Scribd and Stumble and MouseMuse and…I’ve been encouraging other people to write blogs. I’ve been commenting on their blogs. I’ve been tweeting their blogs. I’ve been Facebooking their blogs (is there such a thing?)  They’ve been clamoring for my blog.

Perhaps clamoring is a bit of an exaggeration.

But here it is, anyway. I write. Not as much as I ought – given the fantastic amount of stuff I have to share with the world. I write about my bipolar sons, my husband’s ongoing and hilarious battle with computers, my childhood in England, and why I don’t really want another dog, just yet. I suppose I ought to have a theme. If there is one, it’s probably ‘Unfinished’, or maybe ‘First Draft’. That sort of sums up my life.

Which is a nuisance, because I hear that life can’t be edited after it’s happened. Oh, well. Back to the keyboard.