Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I have been a fan of Richard Farnsworth’s work since I first saw him in 1980’s Resurrection. His portrayal of Esco, owner of a funky gas station in the middle of nowhere, won Ellen Burstyn’s admiration and mine. I loved him in The Grey Fox (which, for some reason,  isn’t available on DVD – or even VHS), and as Red Blow―the affable coach in The Natural, singing along with Wilfred Brimley in the dugout.
And so it comes as no surprise to learn that I loved him in The Straight Story; one of the few bio pics with a heart.

Richard Farnsworth had one of those marvelously well-lined, character-driven faces that photographers love to capture on film. He projected an image that was both gentle and genuine, and like Sinatra, he was extremely adept at phrasing.

He began his movie career in the 1930s, working as a stunt man in a series of iconic pictures like A Day at the Races and Gunga Din, and later, took on uncredited acting roles in much-loved classics like Gone With The Wind, Red River, The Wild One, The Ten Commandments and Spartacus. Later credits included a comedic turn as the sheriff in Blazing Saddles and far more serious roles, such as that of a slave catcher in Roots.

The Straight Story would be the last of his three hundred-plus credits, but certainly not the least. Cast in the lead role, he starred as seventy-three-year-old Alvin Straight, who in 1994, set out on an extraordinary six-week odyssey to visit his ailing brother. 

The fact that this is a true tale makes it all the more remarkable. Brought to the screen by producer Mary Sweeney, who co-wrote the script along with John Roach, it is one of those special films that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

Directed by Sweeney’s long-time partner, David Lynch, it is the story of Alvin and Lyle Straight: two brothers who, in 1984, fought a fight fueled by anger and pride and far too much alcohol. Things were said that were hard to retract, and even harder to forgive, and so the brothers, who had been extremely close all their lives, went their separate ways.  

The film picks up their story a decade later, when, after a sobering visit to the doctor, Alvin is forced to come to grips with the fact that time is no longer on his side. Learning that Lyle has just suffered a life-threatening stroke, he is overcome with the need to put pride aside and make peace with his brother before it’s too late.     

Far from a wealthy man, Alvin hasn’t the wherewithal to hop on a plane and make the 240-mile trip from Laurens, Iowa to his brother’s home in Mount Zion, Wisconsin. With aging eyes, and an unforgiving body that has him falling to the floor more often than not, he is no longer able to drive a car, or walk without assistance. But Alvin is determined to make the trip on his own, if not by car, then by tractor.

And so he takes to the road on a 1966 John Deere, after a false-start on an even older tractor. The bulk of the movie follows him over the course of six weeks, as he makes his way down the highway at a break-neck speed of five miles an hour, the tractor pulling a make-shift trailer filled with little more than a blanket, a couple of rusty folding chairs, an ice chest full of beef jerky and hot dogs, a change of clothes, and a few basic necessities.

As Indian summer turns to fall, we watch Alvin deal with the elements, the tractor’s and his own short comings, while touching the lives of the people he meets along the way.

I can’t think of another actor who could have pulled this role off―not in such a natural, truly believable way. Whether Alvin makes it to Lyle’s, and if so, if Lyle is still alive and wiling to reconcile when Alvin gets there, is certainly part of the story, but not at the very heart of it. For this is a character-driven film. And over the course of some 110 minutes we will get to know the man behind the wheel, and what has brought him to this place in time. 

We’ll also get to know his daughter Rose, (thoughtfully played by Sissy Spacek), who has had more than her fair-share of heartbreak, and rightly worries that her father and his tractor aren’t up to the trip. 
While, like many true stories adapted for the screen, some names (including that of Alvin’s brother) have been changed, characters melded, and events merged or created for a variety of reasons, The Straight Story remains a purposefully small film, and is all the better for it. Shot, in sequence, along the same highway that the real Alvin Straight traveled, it is a simple tale, told simply and beautifully.

To this I add a small caveat, Upon coming to a scene involving a distraught driver who unintentionally hit and killed a deer, I chose to fast-forward past it, even though I knew that no animals were harmed - let alone killed in the making of the film. That doesn’t mean that you should do the same, or keep you from renting or buying what I believe to be an exceptional piece of movie-making.

Richard Farnsworth would receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the seventy-three year old traveler, and rightly so, especially when you realize that he was battling bone cancer at the time, his inability to walk unaided, required no acting on his part. That he believed enough in the film’s message to take on such a demanding role, is a tribute to him and to Alvin Straight, who passed away in 1996. According to one source, a mower much like the one he drove to Iowa, led the funeral procession to the cemetery. Way to go, Alvin.

For Richard Farnsworth, there came a time in 2000 when he could no longer live with the unrelenting pain of his disease, and opted out. But if anything, this last work is a testament to life: a heart-warming, thought-provoking, and ultimately uplifting look at the power of love; family and the kindness of strangers.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Last time around, I introduced you to 84 Charing Cross Road, a lovely film about a bookstore. Crossing Delancey  begins where it left off time-wise, though the movies themselves and the characters within them couldn't be more different.

When I was a teenager, my uncle treated my grandmother and me to a matinee performance of an all-Yiddish show starring Molly Picon, an American-born actress who carved a career out of playing Eastern-European woman. I didn’t understand a word of that play, but no matter. I understood that it was a gift to my grandmother; her teenage granddaughter going along for the ride, and happy to do so.

I suppose part of the reason I am fond of Crossing Delancey has to do with my relationship with my grandmother, and the Yiddish theater that all but disappeared with her generation. I never did learn to read, speak or understand Yiddish, save for a few well-worn words and phrases that could be heard in so many Jewish households at the time. But I never outgrew my fondness for the Eastern European dialect my grandmother shared with millions of other immigrants, all of them, long gone now.

Crossing Delancey, starring Amy Irving and Peter Reigert, is one of the nearly forgotten romantic comedies of the 1980s – a shame, because it has a lot to offer. Irving plays Isabelle “Izzy” Grossman; a modern Jewish single who works in a small Manhattan bookshop; a job which is both intellectually stimulating, and enables her to mix and mingle with visiting authors. And while we find her in the middle of a decidedly non-romantic affair with a married man, she has put any thoughts of a serious committed relationship on hold.

Filmed in 1988, shortly before the big book stores and Internet giants took over the book business, the little shop is doing just fine, as is Izzy. But the shopgirl's grandmother (Yiddish theater veteran Reizi Bozyk) is concerned. When she looks at Izzy she sees a young woman who lives alone, and is getting older by the minute. And so she sets out to find her granddaughter a husband, with the help of a local marriage broker named Hannah Mandelbaum (Sylvia Miles).

A so-called "modern woman", Izzy is understandably put out by her grandmother’s insistence that she at least meet the man the matchmaker has chosen for her. But she does so, albeit, unwittingly.

The relationship between Izzy and her ‘bubbie’, and the way they each perceive life and people in general, adds to the charm of this old world-versus new world rom/com, 

Enter Sam Posner (Reigert): a hard-working, average-looking fellow who makes and sells pickles in the city’s predominantly-Jewish lower east side. Despite his charm, Izzy can’t get past the fact that he makes his living selling pickles. When her grandmother persists in her efforts to get the two together, Izzy replies, “Bubbie, listen to me…I don’t want a husband, and if I did, he wouldn’t be a pickle man.”

Finding best–selling author Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe) far more interesting, Izzy pursues that relationship, while setting Sam up with one of her single friends.  It’s only when her friend shows an interest in Izzy’s cast-off, that Izzy takes a second look, but by that time, Sam appears to have moved on.

Crossing Delancey is the personification of the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover" —an appropriate analogy for a book shop tale. While Irving received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in the film, some know her only as the woman who in 1989 received a reported $100,000,000 divorce settlement from producer Steven Spielberg. Look beyond the headlines and you’ll see a career that continues to this day.

But Irving is only part of what makes this film worth watching. A tight script and fine supporting cast are two more reasons to visit or revisit this pre-mega bookstore/pre-internet piece. Reigert is well cast as a regular guy, with no movie star looks to derail the tale. He particularly shines during a well-written sequence involving a hat. And though you may not know Jeroen Krabbe by name, chances are you’ll recognize the Dutch actor from one of many roles he has played as a charming but unpleasant and/or evil character in films like The Fugitive and The Prince of Tides

As for the rest of the cast, look closely and you’ll catch David Hyde Pierce in an early role and Susan Sandler, who wrote the screen adaptation and the play on which it is based.

Crossing Delancey would pave the way for such fan favs as When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail, the latter addressing the aggressive onslaught of the super-sized book store, and its effect on the industry’s independents. While its pace may be a bit slow for those who can’t remember life before the Internet, video games, and films loaded with fast clips and special effects, it marks a turning point, and for that reason alone, is worth watching.
As for its ethnic bent, I point you a famous ad campaign that declared, ”You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye”. The same can be said of Crossing Delancey. Even if you didn’t grow up with a bubbie, live in New York, are aware that Delaney Street marks the boundaries of its iconic Jewish neighborhood, or recall a time when the only place you could buy a book or meet an author was at small independent bookstore, if you’re old enough to vote, I believe you’ll enjoy this novel approach to romance.   

Thursday, July 23, 2015


One of my favorite films might never have made it to the screen were it not for a happy bit of happenstance. As actress Anne Bancroft recalled in her introduction to the 1995 edition of 84, Charing Cross Road, “Some years ago, as I was sitting on the beach on Fire Island, a man strolling by approached me. I didn’t know the fellow, so his exclamation―’I’ve just read something that would be perfect for you!’―took me by surprise.”

She went on to say that he returned the following day with a copy of Helen Hanff’s best-seller. “His enthusiasm seemed so sincere,” she wrote, “I couldn’t help but be intrigued.” 

It was kismet: a case of the right people being at the right place at the right time. Bancroft read and fell in love with the slim volume, which is nothing more or less than a thirty-year collection of letters between an American writer and British antiquarian bookseller.

Knowing how much Hanff’s book had come to mean to her, Bancroft’s husband―writer/ producer/actor Mel Brooks, bought the screen rights for her as an anniversary gift, and together they, along with an exceptional team of movie-making pros, would create what I can only describe as a love letter to friendship, the nearly lost art of letter writing, books, and the people who love them.

The film begins in the late 1940s, when television was new and based in Manhattan, where script writers like Helene Hanff eked out a living. When we meet her she is middle-aged single gal, living in a walk-up studio apartment in a Manhattan brownstone. Small though it may be, it is filled with the things that make her happy: photographs of loved ones, rows and rows of books, a cozy chair to curl up in, and a black manual typewriter, where we presume, she toils away reading and writing scripts for Ellery Queen and other now-vintage drama series, magazine articles and letters: lots and lots of letters.    

If she longs for a bigger place, we wouldn’t know it. When asked by perspective neighbors how many rooms her apartment has, she replies cheerily, “I have a work room, a sitting room, a dining room and a kitchen.” And with that she opens the door for the big reveal. “―And her it is!”   

Despite the financial uncertainty of life as a freelance writer (and a woman freelance writer at that), Ms. Hanff appears to be quite content, earning enough to pay the bills, buy a few small but thoughtful gifts for friends, and ‘good clean used copies’ of books she has read and loved for herself―if and when, she can find them.

And therein lies the rub. It seems that even in 1947 Manhattan, where small independent bookshops could be found on nearly every corner, finding the books on her wish list, is no easy task. Decades before the Internet and mega bookstores with their latte cafes and endless inventories, her only hope of finding these classics lies in an ad placed in the Saturday Review of Literature by Marks and Co., a small British antiquarian bookstore located on London’s Charing Cross Road.
With high hopes and a modest budget, Ms. Hanff writes the first of what will be many letters to the shop, asking if they can help her.

A dusty, throwback of a place even then, the shop at 84 Charing Cross Road is a study in understated earnestness, with stacks of books and prints unapologetically piled on large tables, and seemingly endless rows of gently used books lining its floor-to-ceiling shelves.

Frank Doel, answers Hanff’s letter, in a veddy British, impersonal tone that will warm over time as he, his co-workers and family slowly but surely become an important part of Hanff’s life, and she of theirs.  Formal salutations give way to more informal greetings, as bits and pieces of their lives are shared along with book requests and confirmations.

As the stranger on the beach predicted, Bancroft was perfectly cast in the role of the slightly eccentric Ms. Hanff.  Directed by David Jones, Produced by Mr. Brooks, and captured on film by David West, it boasts a stellar cast, music either written or conducted by George Fenton, and the look, feel and charm of a bygone era of movie-making.

I love the way this 1987 film is laid out; from the role the letters play, to the sets and bits and pieces of everyday living that give the viewer a real sense of the times. I love the simplicity of the dialogue and West’s cinematography: no quick cuts, no special effects, no four-letter words or hidden agendas: proof positive that good things do indeed come in small packages.
As previously noted, Anne Bancroft does a fine job of capturing Hanff’s gently sarcastic wit, genuine kindness and unabashed enthusiasm not only for British literature, but life itself. Anthony Hopkins, as Frank Doel, similarly fits comfortably into the role of the proper but genuinely decent British bookstore seller.
One of the joys of watching this 1987 film some twenty-eight years after its release is in seeing well-loved and long-established actors in small supporting roles. There’s Mercedes Ruehl as Helene’s actress friend, Veronica, a pre-Dame Judi Dench as Frank Doel’s wife, Nora, and a dark-haired, somewhat lighter version of Ian McNeice, cast as the bookshop’s cataloguer. Doc Martin fans know him as the series’ fumbling but good-natured plumber-turned-restaurateur, Bert Large.

One of my favorite scenes in the film features McNeice, as he and his great aunt (played with glee by the marvelous Gwen Nelson) enjoy a bit of tinned beef courtesy of Ms. Hanff. A holiday treat in post-war Britain, it’s part of a ‘CARE’ package of hard-to-get food stuffs the writer has sent to the shop’s employees. It is such small, well-written and acted moments that make the film a joy to watch.

As for the book that started it all; no one was more surprised at its success than Hanff herself. Published some two years after Frank Doel’s unexpected death in 1971, it would be developed into a small, two-person off-Broadway play before moving on to the “great white way” and the London stage in 1981. It was only when the book was turned into a film that the cast, sets, scenes and storyline were expanded, filling in the blanks with bits of conversation, charming us with on-location shots of New York and London, and taking us into the apartments, neighborhoods and cubbies of Hanff’s beloved bookshop.'

I was lucky enough to interview Helen Hanff a year or so before she passed away in 1997. I was hosting a radio talk show at the time, and had scheduled a one-hour interview with the author. Some twenty minutes in, a visiting nurse arrived at her bedside, cutting the conversation short. But in the time we had, she told of how the book had impacted her life, and noted that while the film may hint of an unfulfilled romance between the letter writers, there was none. What there was, was a real affection for not only Mr. Doel, but his family and the people who were the heart of the now long-gone bookshop. 
Should you travel to Charing Cross Road―as I did some years ago, you’ll find a plaque where Marks & Co once stood, its words marking the fact that the shop truly existed, forever remembered in print, on stage, and film thanks to the late Ms. Hanff.  It is a tribute the author, that, after reading the book and seeing the movie, people tend to head for the nearest used book shop, where they, like Hanff, look for good clean copies of books they read and loved, or meant to read.                                                                                                           
“I love the inscriptions on the leaves and notes in the margins, and reading passages someone long gone has called to my attention” Hanff wrote. A sentiment that is at the very heart of this film.

Those who seek action-packed, highly plotted movies with twists and turns and snappy this and that may get bored by this film. But those who love books, and have a special place in their heart for the 1940s and ‘50s, will find that 84 Charing Cross Road speaks volumes.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Welcome to the 2015 Food Find edition! It’s loaded with food products I, along with readers, friends, and family think are worth sharing; exceptional food products that are available at least regionally, or by mail. So let’s get started.


An email from Andi in Memphis begins, “I have three (really 4) new obsessions.” You’ll find the others in the yogurt section of the list.” But first things first, with a nod to breakfast fav ”AUSSIE BITES

and SUNRISE ENERGY BARS. which Andi buys at Costco.  She says she calls these organic treats her ‘birdseed bars’. “They are very nutrient dense and make a fantastic breakfast. There are slight differences between the 2 – one has apricots and the other has cashews. The trick is that they are incredibly popular and Costco usually only has one or the other. I buy 2 containers at a time and freeze one. I keep the other one in the fridge so that it lasts longer.” For more from Andi, head for the Yogurt section of our list.   

A Florida reader sent a general shout out to BEEF BACON (as opposed to the pork). She didn’t mention a brand, but a quick check shows that OSCAR MEYER lists it among their products. According to the Beef Bacon Corporation (which takes credit for inventing the product), the cured beef is delicious, diet friendly, and a great choice for people who don’t eat pork. Our reader agrees.  


When I was growing up, there were processed cheese, along with a handful of cut-from-the-block standards like Cheddar, Swiss and Muenster. Today, specialty stores, websites, clubs and supermarket counters abound, all of them filled with all manner of cheeses from around the world.  Hanging around the Murray’s Cheese counter at my local Kroger store, a fellow who knows his cheeses recommended MIMOLETTE, which, he said, is as round as a cantaloupe, and as hard as a cannon ball. The color is a deep pumpkin, the taste, he says, __

The Murray’s rep – who happened to be there that morning, recommended the TOMME CRAYEUSE,  which, he said, people refer to as the “Tom Cruise” cheese. He said it goes amazingly well with wine. Given the fact that he stocks hundreds of cheeses and this was his pick, I added it to our list of ‘must trys’.

A New England reader suggests we try PAVINO cheese, which she found at Whole Foods.  I found it to be delicious.

A mid south reader sent in several tasty “FINDS” – among them, CLOUMAGE CREAMY FRESH CHEESE. According to the label you can use this spreadable, dippable cheese in sweet and savory recipes.
A last minute entry arrived by email from Andi – who had send in several finds earlier (thanks, Andi!). 

She told of her husband bringing home a wedge of MURRAY’S COTSWOLD CHEESE.  According to igourmet.com, this cow’s milk cheese hails from the Cotswold region of Great Britain, where it is known as “the Pub Cheese”.  “.. .commonly served with hard-crusted bread and a strong, dark ale,”, they say that it is“ wonderful melted on grilled chicken or chops, and delicious atop burgers.”  Writes Andi, “It was so delicious … we ate the entire block. It had onions and chives – so good!.” Murray’s has free-standing shops around the country (its flagship store being located in New York City, as well as shops within a growing number of  Kroger, King Scoopers, QFC, Fred Meyer and Ralphs Supermarkets in Ohio,   Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Indiana, Michigan, Alaska, Virginia, New Mexico, Illinois, Nevada, and West Virginia. Shop by mail at Murrays.com.                     
                                                                                                            Pass the cheese, please.


Over the years, several readers have weighed in on their favorite butters, and I’ve added a few of my own. This year’s offerings include New Zealand’s ANCHOR UNSALTED BUTTER,

and a nostalgic loaf of MINERVA DAIRY’S NATURALLY CULTURED AMISH ROLL BUTTER, much like our Murfreesboro reader recalls on his grandmother’s table. I’m a fan of their regular butter, which can also be found at FRESH MARKET, and which I featured in the third annual edition of this series.

Is this the year of the dueling butters? FARMHOUSE KITCHENS HANDROLLED BUTTER is another fan favorite. I found it at Kroger. It’s a hunk a hunk a hunk of butter– a large beautifully round roll that slices into light lemon-colored coins. Every time I sliced off a bit of this butter, I thought what a beautiful presentation a 1/2 coin of this butter or on a bread plate on beautifully set table. 

GINA MARIE OLD FASHIONED CREAM CHEESE. The consistency is more like cottage cheese than cream cheese; it spreads unevenly on your bagel or bread of choice.  Don’t waste it in a recipe, this one’s for spreading.

Both FOUNTAIN OF HEALTH ALL NATURAL HUMMUS and/or ROASTED RED PEPPER HUMMUS are just 70 calories for two tablespoon’s-worth of hummus, enough to spread over two or three of your favorite crackers, or pair with a few sticks of carrot, celery or similar crudité. The texture is smooth, the flavors are mild, and when you’re looking for something tasty and relatively healthy to tide you over between lunch and dinner, just the right, light bite.


George in Hot Springs, Arkansas sends word that HOUSE OF WEBSTER preserves and spreads are among his newest obsessions. He wrote to say that he’s liked everything he’s tried, “especially the ORANGE MARMALADE, RASPBERRY/BLUE BERRY/RHUBARB BLENDS.” But he says, he’s also a fan of ALDI’S’ line of JAMS, AND MARMALADES, noting that “Aldi’s spreads are superior to most – the blackberry and raspberry do not break down into a lot of liquid” like some of the other brands.  You can order House of Webster products on line at houseofwebster.com (where they sell a staggering number of different products), at their store in Rogers, Arkansas, and, according to their website, “at specialty grocery stores, farm stores, gift shops, amusement parks, hardware stores, museums and restaurants.”

A Melrose Park, PA reader told us about SARABETH’s ORANGE-APRICOT MARMALADE a few editions back, I tried it and loved it (It’s loaded with wonderful pieces of orange), along with SARABETH’S RASPBERRY KEY LIME PRESERVES. The lime off-sets the sweetness of the raspberries, to make one richly divine topping over buttered toast. I’m also fond of their MIXED BERRY and PLUM CHERRY (which is a bit sweater than the others) – all of them tasting better (for some reason) chilled. You’ll find their full line of products on their website, but they’re also available on Amazon.com and other sites, as well as at Fresh Market and Tuesday Morning stores. Tuesday Morning’s prices are excellent, but their availability and selection is limited, according to the season.  

I am still in deep mourning over the unavailability of my favorite Australian honey, and last year I told you about some excellent honey from Mt. Hermon. But the latter has gotten increasingly expensive, while the size of its jar is nearly half as tall as its former self.  DOBROVA ACACIA HONEY is a very decent substitute. Whole not amazing, this German import is leaps and bounds ahead of the stuff found in those plastic teddy-bear containers, and other supermarket brands.  Now I must admit that I do not generally like a rich, full-bodied honey, preferring the orange-flower, lemony-colored and mildly flavored honey that doesn’t overtake whatever you’re pairing it with.  If you want something heartier, you might check your local Farmer’s Market.  Your local bee-keeper will be happy to tell you why his or her honey, is a honey of a honey.

Recently I was at a cheese tasting, where a local cheese maker paired his goat cheese with three ingredients, two of them highly unlikely. The first was cream cheese. Cream cheese goes with everything. The second – less obvious choice, MAMA LIL’s GOATHORN  PEPPERS IN OIL, which are described as “sweet, tangy and garlicy”, and available in olive bars and in jars.

The third ingredient, DALMATIA FIG SPREAD from Dalmatia, one of over 1,000 Croatian islands.

Don’t gag. Blended together into a creamy spread, and topped on a mild, postage-stamp-size cracker, it was delicious. When I asked about it, the person who was handing out samples of the spread on tiny, thin, square crackers, handed me a recipe card, saying that the original recipe called for using peach preserves. But I tell you true, I wouldn’t change a thing. If you can’t find the spread or the peppers in your local market, both of these products are available by mail on line. I’m including the killer recipe from the card they handed out at the tasting, at the end of this post.  


A loyal Eads, TN. reader wrote to say that she and her husband had picked up a shaker of Avery Island Tabasco Salt last year on a trip to Louisiana, but having finished their stash, they were distressed to find that they couldn’t find it in their local markets. Logging on to the company’s website, she found, much to her distress, that their country store wanted as much or more than the product cost, to ship it. After a little on-line digging, I found a couple of suppliers that offered free shipping, and passed the info on.
Produced by the McIlhenny Company, known for its Tabasco sauce, KURTONATOR SPICY SALT can be found on eBay through southernjewlelstreasures, where a five-ounce container will cost you a cool $7.29, shipping included. Spicy salt is, says our reader, a heady combination of two of her husband’s favorite things: sea salt and ground red pepper.  Our reader sent word that while she was at it, she had ordered the company’s tobacco-seasoned wood chips as well, to which I say, chip chip hooray!    


Several of our readers wrote to suggest that we check out Fresh Market’s various breads. I was already a fan of their SEEDED RYE, with the all-important crispy crust, and deep-seeded flavor. Eaten fresh out of the bag some good butter, or toasted and slathered with some good butter, it is as close to the Philadelphia rye bread of my youth as I have found in these parts.

Two different readers in neighboring cities were in love Fresh Market’s AUTHENTIC FRENCH SLICED BRIOCHE, which they import from – France. A sweet, perfect-for-making French toast - brioche, that according to the store’s manager, has been flying off the shelves – or in this case, baskets. It also comes unsliced and loaded with ribbons of chocolate, and is labeled FRENCH CHOCOLATE SWIRL. Be still my heart.

While it’s tough to beat bakery-fresh bread, you can’t go wrong with this gigantic loaf of PANE TURANO ITALIAN BREAD.

 I first saw it some years at Fresh Market, a bit pricey, but a well worth-it occasional treat. And then, and then… ALDI’S started carrying this beautiful 2-lpound loaf for just $3.95! I don’t know if you can tell from the photograph, but it is huge―-

double the size of the usual loaves you see on your market’s shelves. Don’t be put off by its size – it freezes easily, and produces the most wonderful toast.  I generally freeze half, in bags of 4 or 6, and then take them out as needed.  Served warm- moments after it has popped out of the toaster, and slathered in good room-temperature butter with, perhaps a bit of your favorite jam, it is hard to beat.  


Paula, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma,  reccomends GLUTINO ROSEMARY & OLIVE OIL CRACKERS.  “They’re gluten-free and they don’t taste like cardboard!” she writes, adding that you can eat them alone, or use as you would with any cracker.

Last year, or maybe it was the year before, a Memphis reader introduced us to a different flavor of BLUE DIAMOND NUT THINS . This year,  the company’s ARTISAN FLAX SEED CRACKERS, fortified with brown rice, almonds and Flax seeds, caught another reader’s attention. Wheat and Gluten-free, they are tasty all by their lonesome, or paired with your favorite cheese, spread, veggie, or protein.

ATHENS MINI FILLY SHELLS weren’t designed to eat as is. Rather, they were designed to be filled with something, sweet or savory, animal, vegetable, and everything in between. I have enjoyed many Greek dishes and pastries over the years that feature fillo, and loved all just about all of them. But the thing that makes these little cups particularly attractive is that they require very little work, to make a spectacular beginning or finish to meal or cocktail party. 

They come frozen, in little trays, which are perfect for transporting the finished product to – say, a holiday pot luck. You can thaw and use them as is, or, as I prefer, bake them for just a few minutes, until they crisp up, and let them cool (which takes no time), before filling. I have filled them with lemon pie filling  made from scratch, but have also saved a lot of time and effort by using teaspoons of KOZYSHACK TAPIOCA PUDDING in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, and then topped them with tiny pieces of kiwi, strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. I’ve paid a slice of banana at the bottom and then filled them. I’ve sprinkled them with powdered confectioner’s sugar, or served them with just the fruit. Fill them with Nutella, apples and caramel, you just can’t go wrong.  
I’m planning to bring them to a friend’s birthday party this coming weekend, filled with tiny bits of smoked salmon (lox) and cream cheese and sprinkled with chives. savory garlic-herb spread, bits of sundried tomatoes, and other savory delights that need no baking or reheating. If you have access to an oven at your host's home, the choices get even greater. They make for the perfect hor dourve, in that they are easy to eat/neat, require no utensils, and are small enough to consume in one or two bites.   Crunchy, munchy, flaky, and light, they are my go-to, to-go bite.

I don’t know how I missed telling you about these wonderful vegetable chips before, but while I’m talking Fresh Market, I’ve got to clue you in on these beautiful bits of veggie goodness. For starters, these FRESH MARKET VEGGIE CHIPS look beautiful in a serving bowl – dehydrated versions of long green beans, slices of sweet potato and squash, all crispy and delicious, and munchable all by themselves, or next to your favorite picnic fare. You’ll find them in the bin section, or packaged in individual tubs and/or bags nearby. This low-sugar, sodium and cholesterol chip mix is dairy and egg free, and certified Kosher,  It’s hard to believe that anything this good is good for you as well. And they’re available in store or no line. Four stars.


I fell in love with these beautiful red PEPPADEW PEPPERS some years ago. Grown domestically in New Jersey, these sweet piquant gems are native to the Limpopo province of South Africa (Had to look that one up!) They come in both golden and red varieties, and can be found in most middle and high-end olive bars. They add sparkle to a salad, and give it that extra something that makes it incredible. You can also stuff them with cream cheese, or add them to your pimento cheese, goat cheese and other recipes that call for peppers. Bon Appetit Magazine featured them in recipes for Pimiento mac and cheese, Roast Pork sandwiches with sweet peppers and arugula, and savory spinach feta and Peppadew muffins  

I tried with no luck to find them bottled on any number of grocery shelves, but alas, could not. You can buy them from the farmers who grow them in New Jersey, but you have to buy a peck of peppers (well, 12 14-ounce jars) to order by mail (Starting price, $29.00 with free shipping), or make a visit there –farmstand style. They are marinated, and do best in oil and vinegar dressed salads. Once tasted, there’s no turning back. Go to peppadew10@gmail.com for more information.

Now don’t confuse the Peppadew with the cherry pepper. They are two different animals, well, peppers.  As a child, I can remember our family always having a bottle of the sweet cherry peppers in the frig, and as a teen, made my way to the supermarket to fetch a jar, after someone spilled one in the trolley car on my way home from school. The scent took me back to my childhood, and I couldn’t wait to taste one again. While at the market to photograph this next bit of deliciousness, I snapped a photo of MEZZETTA’s SWEET CHERRY PEPPERS, in hopes that you’ll try them as well.

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to get through several decades of my life without knowing about giardiniera. Then, one day I was watching the Food Network, and a very chipper Rachael Ray was making what turned out to be the most delicious savory pie, I had tasted in years.  The key to its intoxicating flavor was giardiniera…or what I knew as pickled vegetables.

Since then I have come to understand that several cities in the U.S. (New Orleans and Chicago among them) think their giardiniera is the best. But for this Philadelphia native, I find that the bottled DELALLO MILD GIARDINIERA works well in Ms. Ray’s recipe, and as an occasional side bar to fried catfish and other delights. Try the hot version if you dare.

Rachael Ray’s recipe is available on the Food Network’s site, where it’s listed as “Antipasto Pie”.  It makes a great party dish, and travels well. It has a long list of ingredients, but it’s the kind of a recipe that can be adapted to your taste…especially when it comes to the Italian cold cuts.


An Oklahoma reader sends along this photo, and word that HUNGRY JACK ORIGINAL DINNER STYLE HASHBROWNS  are as good and as easy to prepare it gets. No peeling, slicing or dicing needed.  

She is also partial to HINODE JASMINE THAI HOM MALI RICE. Soft, fluffy and fragrant, “It’s like adding a dash of Thailand in every bite.” (so says Hinode’s website.) Just go to that website and type in your zip code, to find out where it’s available in your area. Kroger carries it in this area.

The first place I go when I enter my supermarket is the Bent & Dent section, where bent, dented, crushed, nearly outdated, discontinued, over-ordered and undersold products are heavily discounted, but perfect. Thanks to that section I have been able to sample pricey or unknown products without putting a bent or dent in my budget. Some of my favorite food favs were found on those shelves, leading me to buy them at their regular price, later on.

HEMISFARES’ TAGLIATELLE di CAMPOFILONE ITALIAN FLAT EGG NOODLES were one such ‘find’.  According to the box they came in, these noodles come from the village of Campofilone in the Marcha region of Italy, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and date back to the 1400’s. I took their advice and paired my first bath with olive oil, tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmigiano Reggiano. Soooo good! Luckily, I bought two boxes- as seen through their cellophane window, the pre-cooked noodles looked like they were going to be something special. Thankfully, they were.


Dena, a loyal Trader Joe’s east coast reader sent along three of her favorite  Trader Joe’s brand products. The first, TRADER JOE’S CHICKEN SERENADA, which by its name and ingredients, appears to be of Spanish original. Among those ingredients listed on the sleeve: fire-grilled boneless skinless chicken breast meat, sweet peppers, Pablano chilies and green onions, in a Euro-Asian style sauce seasoned with soy, ginger, pineapple and a touch of coconut.  The two-serving portion easily feeds two, and costs about $6.99.  It’s also an appealing 290 calories per serving. As we don’t have a Trader Joe’s in our area, I went to the Internet, where there were multiple rave reviews, many of which touted the more than ample-sized pieces of chicken, and enough sauce to save for another time over pasta. Dena says that it is both delicious and trouble-free (oven or microwave oven, which takes 8 minutes plus 2 minutes cooling time. Can’t beat that combination.  

Dena’s second “Find”: TRADER JOE’S WILD MARINATED SOY GINGER COD FILLETS. Turns out, it too is one of the chain’s most loved products, which, according to one article I found, was created marinated-first. Before it found a home in cod-land, it is an intoxicating blend of Asian ingredients, including soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger and miso paste. Bake, microwave or pan-fry or gill them, and, offers the company, serve over rice. Dena says she’s prepared them every which way, with equally satisfying results.

She’s also fond of TRADER JOE’S  SLICED ROAST TURKEY BREAST, which, at just 100 calories a serving, is a healthy, versatile, tasty time-saver. “You can serve it on salads, make sandwiches with it, or bake it,” she says. “it’s really easy, and really delicious.”

Jackie K, a Bartlett, Tennessee reader, is high on  GIOVANNI RAMA RANA SPINACH & RICOTTA RAVIOLI. She says they’re good tossed in olive oil or Alfredo sauce, and are available in several different varieties. Not only are they good, they’re quick, being table-ready in three minutes. ABC’s Clinton Kelly of The Chew recently put together a clever lasagna that avoided most of the fuss by substituting ready-made ravioli for the noodles and filling. He layered spinach-ravioli, tomato sauce, shredded Mozzarella and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano in a 9-by-9 baking pan, and covered and baked it in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for forty-five minutes. He then removed the cover and baked the lasagna for another fifteen minutes or “until bubbly and brown.” While I don’t believe this short-cut version will produce the same results as the longer, homemade version, I think it’s a great way to produce a satisfying family-sized meal in little more than an hour. You'll find them at Walmart in the front - in a refrigerated case near the fresh fruit and vegetables, and deli. " I tend to keep mine in the freezer" she writes, and then straight into boiling water [as needed.]."


The latest ‘obsession on Andi (of the breakfast bars and Aussie-style yogurt fame) is MAMA CHIA BLACKBERRY HIBISCUS DRINK. “Chia seeds are kind of strange. If you haven't had them, it’s kind of like the squishy seeds in a tomato. I happen to like that, so I was on board with these drinks.”  Andi also notes that she buys chia seeds at Kroger, and adds them to cranberry and grape juice for an extra bit of goodness. 

The concept of frozen 1-serving alcoholic drinks has really caught on, and with good reason. Last year’s list featured a couple of Seagram’s’ versions. This year the choices have multiplied. All of these drinks are made with malt, but you wouldn’t know it. I’m not a drinker, and so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed SMIRNOFF’S RASPBERRY BLUE LEMONADE.  The color is out-of-this-world gorgeous, and on a hot spring afternoon not long ago, it was thirst-quenching delicious. You’ll find all of these one-serving pouches either on a rack or stacked near the beer portion of your market.

They come unrefrigerated and cost just $2.00 each. Take one or two or more home, pop it in the freezer let it do its thing for at least 5 hours, take it out, give the now slushy drink a 2-second massage, and pour that icy goodness into a glass. Think of it as Kool-Aid for grown-ups, but not nearly as sweet


PERRIER PINK GRAPEFUIT SPARKLING NAUTRAL MINERAL WATER, in a slim, stylish can, is, I think, the perfect beverage to serve over ice at a dinner party in a good crystal glass. Or you can forget the dinner party and the glass and the ice for that matter, and drink it right out of the can. The natural grapefruit flavor is far from overpowering; but it’s a true grapefruit flavor, rather than some chemical tastes-like concoction.  It quenches the thirst, looks a beautiful light pinky-peach in the glass, has zero calories, and would make for a wonderfully cool addition to a summer picnic basket.

TY-PHOO TEA, is a straight-forward, satisfying tea from Great Britain.

Along with PG TIPS, which I recommended in a previous edition, it is the most versatile tea I know.  Though there was a time when I shunned tea bags, collected tea pots and strainers and ordered lose tea from far-off places, today, I am happy to forego the ceremony in favor of a quick, easy and equally-satisfying outcome, free of those annoyingly stray bits of tea leaves floating in my cup.

Kroger, Walmart – and I’m quite sure other markets and dairies, has added something new to their refrigerated milk products: HOMOGINIZED, EXTRA PASTURIZED MILK. I was looking to buy a small container of whole milk for a recipe I was making, and took one of these white-colored plastic bottles home with me. I usually look at the ‘best used buy’ date when I’m at the store, but it wasn’t until I got home that day that I noticed what I thought was surely a mistake. The BUB date being a good two months away.  I called the company’s customer service line, and found that it wasn’t a mistake at all. The milk is pasteurized in such a way that it has a super long shelf life –which is great if you don’t drink a lot of milk. Those, white plastic bottles protest the milk from “prolonged visible light”. This ‘extra pasteurized” milk tastes exactly like “regular” milk, but is a real plus, if you, like me, has had to throw out milk that has soured all too soon. 


COTTON CANDY GRAPES? When a Philadelphia reader said that they were not to be missed, I must admit I was a bit skeptical. She’d found them at her local co-op, taken them home, and been happily surprised at how good they were.

I found them at Fresh Market a week or so later. While I can’t tell you that the carnival midway favorite will be immediately called to mind, I will tell you that they are sweet and juicy, their pale green skin infused with a bit of pink. They apparently have a short season, so be on the lookout for these dandy little grapes.
Florida friends Jan and Jeff have been generously sending me holiday boxes of fresh Florida citrus for some years now.  Last season, there was something new amongst the regular assortment. So good, and so sweet were they, that I actually called the grower to ask what they were called. Their flesh looked like blood oranges, which is to say, it was as pink as a Texas red grapefruit, but there was nothing bitter about it. I was told that they called the orange BIG REDS, but that in stores, they were generally known as CARA CARA ORANGES.
I savored each and every bite, and when the box was empty, went in search of the noble CARA CARA. Heretofore, my favorite orange had been the sweet sweet TEMPLE, which has a very short season – and in fact, never made it to mid south produce bins this year. But luckily, I found CARA CARA NAVEL ORANGES in bags at the FRESH MARKET, and the larger fruit in bulk. The season ran from autumn through winter, with a few CARA CARA’s still in FM’s bins towards the end of April. Sweet and Juicy, they are the best eating orange you’ll find outside of the elusive Temple. And at least in my experience, the bigger the sweeter…the boxed version carrying the biggest, best and prime examples of this marvelous Navel.


I love figs , and until the winter’s chill killed it this past season, I had my own fig tree in my side yard. I was (and still am) in mourning over its loss, but was given a lit when I discovered these adorable, bite-sized EXTREMADUA, SPANISH FIGS are tiny little bites of concentrated figgy goodness. The skins are thinner than their larger Turkish cousins, so they’re easier to chew, sweet, moist, and loaded with flavor.  Eat them, as I do, all by their lonesome, or pair them with cheese, or your favorite combo. They come by the pound. I found them in the cheese section of Kroger.



I fell in love with their ice cream years ago, so it came as no surprise that their gelato would be delicious as well.

This tasty concoction is dotted with smaller chocolate chunks than the others, each containing a bit of liquid chocolate in the middle.   Very rich, and very very good.

Remember Andi, who kicked things off with her “birdseed bars” ? She wrote that she had three new obsessions, and NOOSA YOGURT is one of them, NOOSA LEMON, RASPBERRY, PINEAPPLE and COCONUT YOGURT being among her favorites. “This is hands down the best yogurt I have ever had,” she writes. “No bite. No tang, and really smooth and creamy. It’s like a dessert.” NOOSA’s recipe is of Australian origin, and produced in Colorado, and available at Target, Costco, Kroger, Fresh Market and other retailers throughout the country.   Among NOOSA’s other flavor offerings: mango, blueberry, tart cherry, honey, and strawberry rhubarb.

With the hot days of summer making an early appearance this year, I was happy come across YASSO COCONUT GREEK YOGURT BARS in my supermarket’s equivalent of its non-perishable bent and dent section. The box was a bit crushed, but the pops inside were pristine. They’re a little larger than half of one of the old Popsicle ice pops, and loaded with coconut. At just 80 calories, they pack a flavor punch. Ingredients include nonfat milk, Greek Yogurt, sugar, and coconut, among other things, and are gluten-free. But most of all, they are really good.

Two last minute "FiNDS" came in shortly after posting. The first, from Paula in Oklahoma, who had sent in an earlier "FIND" found in the cracker sections. She has fallen in love with SO DELICIOUS DAIRY FREE COCONUT MILK MINIS, which are mni versions of ice cream sandwiches. She says that while she isn't generally crazy about coconut, these little bars only hint of it, and are absolutely delicious. I logged on to the company's website, where they have a slot where you can type in your zipcode and find out what stores in your area carry SO DELICIOUS products. In my area, they're available at Kroger.

The second last-minute "FIND" cmoes from Ruth in Warrington, PA. She writes, " I recently found a yummy yhogurt at Whole Foods. BROWN COW GREEK YOGURT. I buy the fat-free kind, and they have a salted caramel to die for." Ruth sent a second email to say that she also likes thair almond milk, and chocolate and chocolate mint ice cream, while her husband enjoys their chocolate-covered pops.  


When I was growing up,  the Sunshine Company made a cookie that was flat, and came attached one to the other in three. It had raisins in it, and it was very tasty. They stopped making it years ago, and over time I have seen catalogues offering a British version of same, the readers have reviewed as being far drier than the original.

The Vermont Country Store, where, it seems, ‘everything old is new again”, prides itself of having the foods, clothing and household goods you remember so fondly. Among them, GARIBALDI BISCUITS, where a set of packages will cost you $17.50 plus shipping. Customers gave them a 4.5 out of 5 stars, although some felt they were a bit drier than the Sunshine ‘biscuits’ of their youth. They’re calling to you at vermontcountrystore.com.

I found a slightly ‘cookier’ version―KHONG GUAN SULTANA BISCUITS― in Kroger’s International section. While they don’t have quite the same consistency as the ones I remember, they are tasty, and at $2.29 a package, reasonably priced.    

And that’s it for this year. I hope you’ll try some of these great, often unexpected FINDS, and let us know if you find some more of your own.

Here’s that recipe mentioned in the antipasto section of this post.   


8 ounces goat cheese 6 ounces, cream cheese, 1 cup Mama Lil’s Peppers, drained, 1 cup apricot preserves (They substituted Dalmatia Fig Spread for the preserves at the tasting) , and salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix goat cheese and cream cheese together. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a 5’ by 8-inch baking pan.

In a small bowl mix pepper with preserves. Spread the resulting pepper jam over the cheese and bake for about 5 minutes or until warm. Turn on the broiler and broil until the cheese starts to brown (about 2 minutes.)                  

Serve on a cracker.   

My apologies to those whose 'finds' got lost in the shuffle, or whose photographs didn't make the cut. all being even blurrier than some of the above. I appreciate each and every "FIND", as well the loyal DVD and Foodies who take the time to support this blog.

Till the next time…