Author: kerrischuster

Flavors of Friuli – Review by Kerri Schuster

Little did I know when I picked up Elisabeth Antoine Crawford’s Flavors of Friuli that I’d be taking a mini-vacation in the middle of my summer break. Crawford’s beautifully photographed book is more than just a guide to cooking in the tradition of northeastern Italy. It’s a history and travel guide for the region. Divided into sections in line with the three main areas of this so-called “un-Italian” portion of Italy, the book offers a wide variety of recipes including hearty meats, delicate fishes, simple gnocchis and indulgent desserts. Each is inspired by the Austrian, Slavic, or Italian influences that make the region unique.

The author’s passion for this special place comes through even in the recipes themselves. Crawford takes instructions from chefs and books she discovered in her travels, sometimes needing to guess measurements and proportions along the way. Her diligence and time in preparing for the book have paid off as her directions are manageable for most home-cooks. The minimal ingredients allow the delicious flavors to stand on their own.

My own version of liptauer!

I tried a few of the recipes myself, beginning with the Insalata di Pere a Montasio (Pear and Montasio Salad). I was surprised to discover that the ingredients did not call for vinegar, but upon my first bite, I sensed that the outstanding flavors of this salad are in the arugula, pear, walnuts and cheese, not in the dressing. I also enjoyed the Liptauer (Austrian Style Cheese Spread), a tangy dip that took very little time to prepare and would make a delicious appetizer for company. A simple mix of gorgonzola and ricotta lightly flavored with mustard, capers, chives and parsley, the spread did not last long on our table.

Another reason that home-cooks will find Flavors of Friuli so enjoyable is Crawford’s frequent recommendations for additions and substitutions to her recipes. She acknowledges that some ingredients, especially the cheeses unique to the region, may be difficult to find in the United States. Therefore, she offers alternatives that are more readily available. In the Cavucin (Butternut Squash Purée), I was able to use pumpkins from my garden in place of butternut squash and ricotta salata in place of ricotta affumatica. The simple instructions will make most cooks feel comfortable improvising and experimenting.

At the end of the book, Crawford offers suggestions of restaurants, festivals, producers, museums and other sights for the prospective traveler. However, I look forward to even more evenings this summer at home at my own Friuli table.

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How to Choose a Church or Synagogue – Review by Kerri Schuster

For most people, polite conversation avoids all things spiritual.  Fortunately, Ruth Laker has no problem sharing with readers her honest and humorous opinions and observations as she searches for the perfect church in How to Choose a Church or Synagogue:  A Twenty-One Pew Adventure.

The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, wife of a “recovering” Catholic and stepmother of two boys involved in Quakerism, Laker herself is a potpourri of traditions.  Not entirely happy with the church she most recently attended, she embarks on a yearlong quest for a new place of worship.  She takes us with her to modern synagogues, palatial holy spaces and humble, no-nonsense places of prayer.  We join her on her personal journey but are welcome to come to our own conclusions along the way.  In fact, she half-jokingly includes a rating chart for readers to customize for their own spiritual shopping.

Each chapter describes an experience with a different denomination.  There is no church she’s not willing to give a chance.  She experiments with varieties of Judaism and with a range of Christian groups from conservative to liberal.  She enters each sanctuary with an open mind and tries to leave behind her preconceived ideas about the people she joins.  Therefore, she is often surprised by what she finds.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t bombard her with their evangelism.  The Presbyterians might have more money than God.  Some churches have convenient parking and clean bathrooms.

One common thread throughout the book is a concern about the role of women in each religion, and Laker frequently questions ministers, male and female, about leadership positions available to both sexes.  More than half the people who regularly attend religious services are female, and Laker seeks an environment in which women are welcomed as members of the clergy and not just relegated to duties in the Sunday school.  The writing on this topic is the book’s most clear, convincing, and heartfelt.

In an account that has the potential to take itself too seriously, Laker manages to write about religion in a way that is both sincere and entertaining.  She has many more positive experiences than negative and shows that choosing a church or synagogue does not have to be weighted down with the political and cultural baggage we might expect.  As she says near the end of the book, “…church people are basically pretty gosh darn nice.”

-Review by Kerri Schuster