Sunday, December 30, 2012


As the end of 2012 approaches, I 've  re-assessed the books I read throughout the year. 
Some of the books I read were biographies  of  Cleopatra  and  Audrey Hepburn, an
assortment of business books, a  self-help book and a fairy tale about a girl who saves
her eleven brothers.   None of those books is mentioned on this list, however. 
Furthermore, only two of the books on this list were previously reviewed on this blog. 

Lastly, the  list includes Walter Isaacson’s  biography of Steve Jobs.   Though  this blog is
about women authors/subjects, I chose to make an exception of  Steve Jobs as he was 
such a cultural icon—changing all of our lives, including my own.

1.      Ali in Wonderland  by Ali Wentworth—This book  is a candid,  witty,  heartfelt,
at times amusing take on TV/media personality Ali Wentworth’s life (especially when  
she finds herself in absurd situations).  Ali in Wonderland  begins with the author’s
break-up with her fiancé (who had proposed in an Irish castle).  She left him
Imagine her distress when, six weeks later, she discovered a  message on his answering
machine that implied that he’d gotten married and was departing on a trip to the

2.      Married to Bhutan  by Linda Leaming--the author's well-written memoir of a
year-long stay in Bhutan, which is—according to  Leaming--“a tiny Buddhist country”
that borders India and China.  There she taught English, learned and struggled with the
Bhutanese language,  got acquainted with their customs and met and wed her husband.

3.      My Berlin Kitchen  by Luisa Weiss—My complete review may be viewed at

4.      Sempre Susan by Sigrid Nuñez--I really enjoy Sigrid Nuñez' writing.  She has a
thoughtful, cultivated--one might say, intellectual—approach to writing.  She rarely
chooses the obvious word.  I like that.  The night I was reading this book, I had
to look up ungemutlich--although I spent a summer trying to learn beginner-level
German, years ago.  It's a German word for messy or nasty.   So I learned
something new (though I doubt I'll EVER use this word).

Moreover, no one should be put off by the title.  "Sempre" just means always (in
Italian).  That said, the book is a memoir of Nuñez' non-romantic relationship with
author/writer Susan Sontag.  Nuñez was Sontag's personal assistant, even as she
dated/lived with Sontag's son, David.

A well-crafted and bittersweet tale, Sempre Susan is a sort of "All About Eve" for the
literati or literary set.

5.      Steve Jobs  by Walter Isaacson--I'd been a fan of Steve Jobs from the time my
mom bought our first family PC (an Apple).   So when this book was published, I felt
compelled to read it.  I got to re-live Steve Jobs' brilliant meteoric life.  Also, the dark
moments.  Though I did not know him personally, I liked Steve Jobs.   But--as with
every biography I’ve ever read--the subject (Steve Jobs) is revealed as flawed and
imperfect. Nevertheless, I loved this book.

6.      The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin--I read and really liked this book earlier
this year.  My complete review is posted at

--Yolanda  A.  Reid


Copyright  ©   2012-2013 by Y.A.  Reid

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


"I was born in Berlin in 1977, back when it was still known as West Berlin"--so writes
author Luisa Weiss in her memoir, My Berlin Kitchen.   That Berlin bore
"the pockmarks from mortar fire in the façades of many buildings and the air
smelled of coal smoke."

Three years after young Luisa was born, she and her father returned to Boston.  For years, she
traveled intermittently--spending “summers  in Italy with my mother’s family,” and winters
in Boston.  At age ten, she moved back to Berlin to live with her mother, attended high
school, then returned to Boston for college, then went onto Paris for graduate school.

It is an eclectic, international, peripatetic  life.  "So I looked for home in [my] kitchen."

As a child, Luisa spoke Italian with her mother, English with her father and the nanny--
while speaking German to the outside world.  As an adult, she speaks four languages
and seems remarkably well-adapted, flexible, and self-aware.

 "As I grew up," she writes, "moving around from Berlin to Boston to Paris to New York,
I discovered that cooking was the reliable way to feel less alone."

"...By summoning the flavors of Berlin and the foods of my loved ones, my kitchen became
my sanctuary, the stove my anchor."

Major themes of Weiss' life and character are flux--movement from city to city,
constantly adapting--and a "perpetual  homesickness."  The author acclimates herself
in each new city through food.  "And just like in Paris," she writes, "whenever I needed
some quiet time alone, I'd head to the grocery store."

From the recipes at the end of each chapter, one sees that Weiss often favors rustic
food with peasant origins.  Her favorite dish as a child was a potato vegetable soup—
"Braised Artichokes and Potatoes"--from Italy that her grandmother used to make.  Then 
there's “Depression Stew,” her father's concoction.  

Two kinds of pizza--Sicilian and Neapolitan--are featured, as well as recipes for "Tomato 
Bread Soup," "German Pea Soup," "Potato Salad" (which they seem to eat quite often in 
Germany).  Also, "Flammkuchen” or flatbread, "Apple Tart," "Quark Cheesecake," 
and "White Asparagus Salad."

My Berlin Kitchen introduces us to German cuisine.  Snacks, foods, lore, customs.
How Berliners celebrate Christmas--with lots of Christmas cookies, fruit bread, goose, and
plum cake.  Their surprising friendliness and reverence for neighbors.  How Berliners 
gorge at breakfast time.

German cuisine?  Previously, my knowledge of German cuisine was that I'd eaten
sauerkraut and hot dogs as a kid, I'd heard of wiener schnitzel  and have a faint childhood
memory of biting into liverwurst and not liking it.  So this is foreign territory for me. 
But as I read My Berlin Kitchen, I found myself thinking of trying out some of the yummy 
recipes (despite the fact that cooking is not my forté).

Moreover, I had the sense that the foods and recipes and love story comprised a modern-day
German fairy tale--in which Berlin is a romantic city, filled with Quark and Flammkuchen.

 To  Weiss, Berlin is "the linden-scented city."

She writes, "When the days start to lengthen and the trees bloom and the air fills
with the scent of linden blossoms, warming earth, and budding leaves, it
comes as such a relief, such a much-deserved reward for having survived another
bone-cold winter, that one could almost believe that Berlin was an equatorial paradise."

A beautiful portrait of the author's life emerges alongside the formerly beleaguered Berlin—
"with its overcast winter skies and inescapable history often gets the short end of the stick
when it comes to capturing the imagination of food lovers and romantics."  

To the skeptics, Weiss answers:  Berlin is romantic and a food lover's delight.  

After all, she found  two loves: Sam (who believed  true love was "a fantasy") and Max 
(whom she met in high school in Berlin, fell in love with in Paris, and wed in Italy).   
Ultimately, Weiss found  happiness, fulfillment, friends and true love in Berlin--
by following her self-declared  motto, "Be brave."

At one point,  chameleon-like Weiss discusses breakfasts as they differ in each country.
"Italians eat dry little cookies [krumiri] for breakfast," she writes.  In Boston, she eats
Raisin Bran "bathed in cold milk" or "hot cream of wheat for breakfast."  In Berlin—
where a  smorgasbord of ham, Quark, liverwurst, cheese is the norm--she eats German
"sourdough bread" shaped like "a dozen Princess Leia buns fused together in a pan."

My Berlin Kitchen  is beautifully written, poetic as well as introspective.  As readers,
we become privy to Weiss' feelings and thoughts as she decides, for example, to leave one
wannabe-fiancé (Sam) because she was unhappy.  And, of course, there is the food--
at once sumptuous and exotic and rustic.

In  summation, "When you grow up all mishmashed like I did, with an American passport 
and Italian citizenship and a birth certificate issued in West Berlin it might take a little longer 
than usual to figure out your place in the world.  You're this strange little hybrid of a person, 
easily adaptable, fluent in many languages, an outsider everywhere."

My Berlin Kitchen would go on my list of  Best Books of 2012.

---Yolanda A.  Reid

Check out Luisa Weiss' blog at and her photostream of
the many cities in My Berlin Kitchen at