This year marks the 100th anniversary of Calumet, Mich.’s, infamous Italian Hall disaster. On Christmas Eve 1913, hundreds of striking copper miners and their children gathered for a holiday party, which was cut short when a man appeared and shouted “Fire!” — a false alarm. In the crowd’s frantic attempt to escape down a flight of stairs and out onto the street, more than 70 people were trampled, most of them children.
In his expanded second edition of Death’s Door: The Truth Behind the Italian Hall Disaster and the Strike of 1913 (Momentum Books, $24.95), author Steve Lehto chronicles the tense political climate that preceded the tragedy, as well as the “slanted reporting” and “twisted justice” that emerged in its aftermath. The case is still open, but Lehto offers the identity of the strike-breaker who shouted the false alarm to disrupt the gathering, and debunks the myth that the doors leading to the street opened inward, causing the pileup of bodies. His revelation prompted the Michigan Historical Commission to alter the language on a memorial marker at the disaster site in June. The plaque now omits mention of the doors.
Lehto served as a consultant for a PBS special marking the event that airs Dec. 17. – Ben Curry
On Bread — and Faith
The epigraph of a new locally published book about bread is telling of what’s to come.
“Given honest flour, pure water, and a good fire, there is really only one more thing needed to make the best bread in the world, fit for the greatest gourmet ever born: and that is honest love.”
Those were the words of famous American food writer M.F.K. Fisher, and what flows from there in author Lynne Meredith Golodner’s The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads (Read the Spirit Books, $14.95) is a tribute to the simple abundance of bread across cultures and religions.
Of course bread — and certainly the act of baking it — can seem complicated. When I lived in India, for example, seeing the buttery layers of a paratha, an Indian flatbread, come to life over an open flame was like magic — and something I thought I could never master.
Golodner doesn’t deny the “magic” of bread, but it seems she’d want someone like me to appreciate its less complicated place in the world with her take on the ancient staple and select classic recipes from the world’s major religions.
“Bread is a timeless food that, when nothing else is available, keeps people going,” writes Golodner, a Southfield-based journalist and PR professional who says one of her “greatest pleasures” is baking bread for her family.
Some of the recipes Golodner shares are familiar, like the one for hot cross buns, a sacred bread rooted in pre-Christian Europe. Golodner, who is Jewish, not surprisingly pays homage to classic challah bread, a hallmark of the Sabbath.
But Golodner also details her trip to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, where bread is a spiritual career for a dozen women who work in the mosque’s commercial kitchen. Every year their breads (the exact recipes are a secret) yield about $200,000 in revenue, helping to keep the mosque alive.
Golodner tempers these religious aspects of bread with more whimsical examples. She points to Emily Dickinson, the famous American writer whose affinity for bread making was better known than her poetry while she was alive.
In 1856 Dickinson won a bread-baking contest in Amherst, Mass. Golodner provides a recipe for Dickinson’s coconut cake, which the poet hand-wrote on the back of one of her works. And Golodner notes that Dickinson had told a friend one time that “if you don’t know how to make the staff of life to learn with dispatch.”
Have some of us lost this special affection for bread in modern times? Golodner thinks so, making The Flavors of Faith as much a case for the pure enjoyment of food as it is a love letter to flour and water. She wonders about those who would shun bread in the name of health, writing that when people are willing to adulterate, say, a bagel by scraping out its “pulp” to save a few calories and carbs, they are missing out on the “basic foundation of sustenance and spirituality.”
Bread. We all eat it. We all crave it. And no matter how it’s prepared, Golodner writes, it has a way of complementing our simplest, yet most important needs — family, friends, and love. – Monica Mercer
Politics and corporate America can be an insular world. To sit still — to understand the experiences of people who are different — may seem impossible. One local executive with deep Washington ties who has traveled the world fought against these modern paradigms, producing a small book of poetry based on his interactions with people who inspired him to see things in new ways. With Words to Nourish the Soul (Otis Press, $10), Jeffrey Lewis, chief operating officer of EHIM, Inc., artfully distills the hopes, dreams, and fears of the strangers he met on his journeys. Staying regularly in business hotels, which “would have been a prison,” Lewis says his willingness to talk to waiters, managers, and others helped him see the beauty in his peripatetic routine. The former Republican staff director to the late Sen. H. John Heinz III, Lewis is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from the book to the United Way of Greater Detroit. “There is no magic to this,” Lewis says of the poetry collection. “Just one man’s desire to share words that became poetic stories.” To obtain a copy, send $10 to: The United Way of Greater Detroit, c/o Otis Press, 5851 Upton St., McLean, Va., 22101. – Monica Mercer
The Magic of Cooking
Eating a five-star meal is easy. Cooking one takes a lot more practice. But Johnny Prep, a Birmingham chef who wants to “bridge the gap between classical culinary training [and] the needs of the home cook,” is letting everybody in on a little secret: Good broth works wonders. Not only can well-executed broth provide the basis for classics like butternut squash soup, but it can also instantly elevate dishes like Frenched double pork chops with Vidalia Dijon cream sauce or beer-braised short ribs — recipes included in his newest book, The Magic of Cooking with Really Good Broth (amazon.com, $18.75). Learn a selection of versatile broths and stocks, and then integrate them into nearly 70 of his recipes for added gourmet punch.
Also included are tips about keeping organized — the art of “mise-en-place” — monitoring the nutritional value of food, and getting kids involved in the kitchen.
Prep says that knowledge of culinary arts can add value to anyone’s life. For those who want to step up their cooking, or for those who are just starting out, this book provides an excellent point of entry. – Ben Curry