All posts by Liz Petry

Liz Petry is a writer of nonfiction, an editor. She takes great joy in conducting a workshop for military veterans.

Green Gazpacho

cilantroThis is a quick hit because I became entangled with various and sundry today and didn’t pick a topic until five minutes before I had to leave for the writers’ workshop. Then realized it would take me all night to pull it together.

La Tienda serves up wonderful stories about Spain, with an offering of products, and recipe ideas. I don’t buy much, but I do love reading about the cheese and the olives and the shrimp and the wine.

The recipe appeared a few days ago and seemed perfect for the onset of our steamy weather. It also appealed to my family’s way of measuring: a “handful,” in this case a “good handful” of ingredients. And it was a refreshing (in more ways than one) take on a summer favorite. Herewith the recipe for Cilantro Gazpacho with my variations/additions:

Soak half a loaf of stale bread in water. (I used the heels of some loaves that had been in the freezer and squeezed out most of the water). Put the bread, one clove of minced garlic and a “good handful” of cilantro, a “good splash” of vinegar (I used some serious Balsamic), 1/2 liter of water, and a pinch of salt into a food processor. (Lacking such, I used the blender). Emulsify until smooth. Add two tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream till completely blended. Chill. Serves four.

Having bought two bunches of cilantro instead of one, I used a sprig as garnish.


Mo’ Mojo

This is an edited because I went to hear “Guitar” George Baker tonight. A smaller but more appreciative crowd than before.

georgebI’ve heard more live music in the last few days than I’ve heard in a year. (This was from 2009). Baker is a hidden treasure, living in New Haven. He’s been around the music scene for years, having played with the Drifters and Melba Moore, and serving as Marvin Gaye’s musical director.

The man can certainly gig. Backed up by a bass guitar and drums, Baker played and sang blues and jazz – did a great rendition of “Dock of the Bay.” And his instrumental version of “Yesterday” was beyond compare. “Rising Sun Blues,” matches the best. Next time, outside on the patio! It’s a shame that he seems to have recorded only one CD. “Mojo Lady” is a definite addition to my CD, now streaming, collection.

Best Therapy

Via Reddit, I learned of a program that has therapists prescribing books for patients with depression and other mental/emotional problems. reports that the main texts are self-help and are meant to assist patients with OCD, anxiety, anorexia, and various phobias.

“Bibliotheraphy,” as it is called, should mostly include literature rather than one of the dozen works titled “Overcoming Depression” mentioned in the SmithMag article.

As Leah Price says in the Boston Globe article from with SmithMag got the idea, poetry and fiction offer a better source for help as readers can model themselves on a character who stands as an ideal for the person.

Not recommended: Moby-Dick, unless one’s aim corralling a group of oppressed strangers into satisfying one’s obsession. Also not recommended: Anna Karenina with serial adultery, various types of repression, suicide, and a climate almost as nasty as that on board the Pequod. And despite the suggestion from the therapists, I don’t think I’d prescribe Alice Munro’s stories, either. We have the uplifting themes of dementia, frustrated love, isolation, and child abuse, along with big doses of borderline poverty.

A quick side note: Comparing the stress-reducing effects of reading and tea drinking seems a non-starter: Just imagine the benefits of combining the two activities.


So what fiction would I recommend? Jane Austen, of course. Not because of the “happily ever after” endings – being Austen folk there will be bumps along the way after the novels end. No, I’d recommend J.A. because of her ability to examine her corner of society with an acute satirical eye. I will quote my favorite opening line from Pride and Prejudice once more: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” How can you help but laugh, thus elevating your mood? And if you can’t love Emma, you’ve got to love Clueless, the twentieth-century movie take.

The big winners in the bibliotherapy arena are libraries, where the patients go to fill their “prescriptions.” What a great way to attract new readers and to expand the horizons of existing patrons. Now if they would just serve tea!

Frozen, Not Chilled

Secretary of State John Kerry described as “chilling” the prison sentences that an Egyptian court gave to three journalists for Al Jazeera – a total of twenty-four years. That’s not a chill; that’s a freakin’ iceberg perched over the head of every journalist who even thinks about setting foot in the country.

Left to right: Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed,   Peter Grest (credit
Left to right: Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Grest (credit CNN)

Authorities arrested the three men in December, accusing them of aiding a terrorist group. That group is the Muslim Brotherhood, which was running the country just months before and now banned after a military strongman took over. Reuters supplies a detailed account of the entire story.

The three journalists, one from Australia, one from Egypt, and one with Canadian-Egyptian citizenship, had the misfortune to work for a news organization that supported the Brotherhood, which of course had its own issues.

Reviled when it first launched, Al Jazeera has gained respect for breaking news around the Middle East in places where Western reporters had no access. And as in this case, it has hired numbers of journalists from news organizations that are cutting expenses (and coverage).

According to CNN, the “evidence” presented at the journalists’ “trial” consisted of video of old news reports from other countries. World opinion will, I hope, bring about reversal on appeal, or a pardon from the strongman.




I switched my iPhone from Safari to DuckDuckGo some time ago because I got tired of Safari following me around. Since I’m usually in a rush, I don’t look at Duck’s home page but decide to take a tour this evening. Here’s what I found:

  • From Time, the problem with pit bulls about the KFC’s request that a three-year old mauling victim leave the restaurant because her face was upsetting other diners.
  • From NPR, a story vitiligo, which causes the loss of pigment, and one woman’s handling it with humor.
  • From imgur, a photo of the snout and forepaws of a possum (?)  eating a carrot with caption “Saw this guy on our rug last night.”
  • Also imgur, “Tesla Headquarters updates their (sic) patent wall.”
  • A broken link to a letter from a Google employee’s daughter to his boss.
  • From Longform, a link to a New Republic article,”I Have Sinned Against the Lord and Against You! Will You Forgive Me?”
  • Also from Longform: “Porklife: How the modern pig farm came to be.”
  • From NYT: “It’s Official The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave.”
  • Original source not clear, but story appears on Reddit: “More Punk, Less Hell.”

And now back to more serious stuff, namely checking BBC news on what’s going on in Ukraine, Iraq, and limits on NSA spying.

Narrative Nonfiction vs. Memoir

Janet Barrett graced the veterans’ writing workshop with her presence last week. Someone asked her about the difference between narrative nonfiction and memoir.

Here’s what Janet had to say: “As to memoir vs. narrative non-fiction, I believe they can overlap. I’m thinking of Susan Orlean’s “Rin Tin Tin,” that certainly has a lot of both. What narrative non-fiction gives is the license to be as readable as popular fiction, yet weave in a lot of supporting material.  I liken it to driving down the main drag  (the central plot), and turning left and right down side roads from time to time.”

firstThe simple difference is that narrative nonfiction concerns the lives of others; memoir concerns the author’s life. So my first book, Can Anything Beat White?,was narrative nonfiction because it concerned the lives of my great-grandparents and their children. My second, At Home Inside was memoir because it concerned my relationship with my mother.

secondGreat examples of narrative nonfiction are Unbroken and Seabiscuit. Laura Hillenbrand applies fiction technique to factual stories, so there is a plot, setting(s), character development, conflict. As Janet Barrett observed, Sebastian Junger does the same with The Perfect Storm. Junger appears briefly, but his narrative includes all the elements of great fiction, except that the story is painfully true.

Memoir may contain elements of fiction as well but often also involves a more limited scope. Ellen Gilchrist’s The Writing Life contains descriptions of a great many books, but she writes about them all in the context of her personal reaction to the text or to the writer. She includes journal entries about the writing classes she teaches, letters to her students, and essays. Here’s a sample opening paragraph, from the essay entitled “How I got Stronger and Smarter instead of Stupider and Sadder”: “As I approached the age of forty, four things happened that changed my life dramatically. I went into psychotherapy. I stopped drinking. I ran a marathon, and I started writing again for the first time in seven years.” She’s set up give her readers an eight-page “Alice down the rabbit hole” sort of view of a small part of her life. By the time one is finished, one cannot chart the arc of her life, nor even say much about many of the other people in it. This is memoir at its most refined.

After I wrote the above I came across a great video snippet in which the lecturer says that memoir involves a personal story plus time and reflection, meaning that the person has some distance to gain perspective over the subject matter. .

Behind the Fallout

The video is outrageous and fun. The fallout is just outrageous. The Seattle Symphony on June 6 hosted hometown guy Sir Mix-A-Lot. He made a big name for himself in the 1990s with “Baby Got Back.” When Sir Mix asked for a little help on stage, the entire front portion filled with mostly young women, who mostly did not “got back” except for the lady in the black dress.

The You-Tube video now has more than two million hits. Likes out number dislikes by a ratio of better than one hundred to one.


So what was not to like? Well, some people are still dismayed about the lyrics. So close your ears. The words are a whole lot less offensive than the misogynist stuff that’s come down the pike before and since. Mix LIKES women, is not threatening, and is having a good laugh.

Classical purists didn’t like the hip-hop/rap overtones. Hey, the arranger was no less than Sergei Prokoviev’s grandson. He more than succeeded in getting people to talk about the place of classical music in contemporary culture. To the critics: Get ova yo’selves. After her first visit, the lady in black said she’d picked up a schedule for the orchestra and could well return.

Thanks to Puget Sound Business Journal  for info and links, and for a minimal number of butt jokes.

Before Our Time


This is for my friends on “You Might be from Old Saybrook if …” I was sorting through photographs for a project and came across this old tyme postcard. Mother must have given it to me, and I think she said that the man in the photo is Mr. Maynard. I don’t know if he was the one  who lived across the street from her family at 151 Old Boston Post Road, meaning his house would have been where the Nuhns (sp?) lived when the “older” folks on YMBFOS were kids. It’s the house on the southwest corner of OBPR and Trask Road.

I love the card because it shows a time that is long gone. I doubly love it because the back of the card reads “Printed for the James Pharmacy, Old Saybrook, Conn. Copyright by Howard B. Welch, New Haven Conn. Printed in Saxony.”

Further information is welcome.

My Brag


Legendary Locals has come to Middletown, and I’ve got to brag. Larry’s family is all over the place. That lady in the mortarboard and the big smile is Aunt Vivian McRae Wesley, the second African American teacher in the city. She was so popular that the board of ed jumped the school naming convention. Thus we have Wesley school, so named just two years after her death.

Larry’s grandfather Edward Jackson served in the Middletown Police Department for nearly thirty years and was one of the first three to make rank, retiring as a captain. And Larry’s uncle Willard McRae achieved a number of firsts and still continues to advocates for children and the disenfranchised. The photo of him as a little boy is beyond adorable.

Here’s a list of the other pre-eminent folks that I know or have met:

  • Continuing with firsts, my friend Maria Madsen Holzberg was the first woman to serve as mayor of the city. She was elected in 1995, so Middletown was reasonably progressive.
  • I didn’t know Mike Cubeta (the youngest person to serve as a chief executive in Connecticut) when he was in office but have since met him through Maria.
  • Scott Bishel is the fourth generation of his family to operate the hardware store Smith and Bishel.
  • My neighbor Susan Bysiewicz was the secretary of the state who honored my mother with a dedication in the State Register and Manual in 1999.
  • My neighbor Jerry Augustine, a dedicated member of the veterans’ writing workshop, has run up the steps at the Empire State Building EIGHT times and has come in in the top three for his age group every time. The picture of him as Mr. New England/Mr. Northeast America is worth the price of the book!
  • The most faithful member of the veterans’ writing group, Bob Fralick made his name as a scout for Major League Baseball, but he also has a great sense of humor and can still flirt at age 89.
  •  My neighbor Guy Vecchitto is maintaining his family’s tradition of supplying Middletown and environs with the best lemon ice on the planet.
  • Vincent Amato was an institution here and in New Britain with his toy stores until his death in 2012.
  • Bill Pomfret, also known as “Mr. Middletown,” played multiple sports and was responsible for making American Legion baseball an institution in town. The traffic jam for his wake in 2010 (he was 93 when he died) stretched down the street and around the corner.
  • Anthony Braxton, a world class wind and piano player, has taught at Wesleyan for years. We’ve crossed paths a couple of times, and I’m always intimidated.
  • Anthony Sbona, mayor of the city, was always unfailingly generous with his time when I called with a question – or ran into him in the course of my rounds.
  • Sebastian Garafalo, ditto as mayor, ditto in his treatment.
  • Lillian (“Reba”) Moses was one of the first people I met when I came to Middletown. She was part of the bedrock of Middletown her entire life.
  • Phil Cacciola has boundless energy and dedication to the causes of military veterans. Larry and I love him and his wife, Marie, and wish that their various activities permitted us to meet more often.
  • Lawrence McHugh. Who within a hundred square mile radius doesn’t know him?
  • Without Mark Masselli and Jen Alexander a great many local folks would be dead or more seriously ill than they are, and a great many children would be lacking a safe and creative place to play and explore.


Happy Father’s Day

Here’s my tribute to my dad:

Charcoal by Elton Fax; photo by my friend John Clarke Russ
GEORGE DAVID PETRY, Charcoal by Elton Fax; photo by my friend John Clarke Russ

He featured in the very first blog post that I ever posted, “Where’s Alfred E. When You Need Him?” It opened with a commentary on the New Yorker cover with the Obamas in full Afro mode. It provoked a firestorm of outrage. I thought it was the sort of thing that Mad magazine would feature. As I noted in the post, Daddy introduced me to the magazine when I was about eight or nine. It shaped – some would say warped — my sense of humor, which now includes “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” the radio show whose humor veers from juvenile to sophisticated.

Daddy was also indirectly responsible for the recently posted  ‘Memoir Title Roulette” because of his rabid interest in the Mafia and the blog entry “What’s in a Name?” The finale was putting his name into the Mob nickname generator. He’s George “the Jury Tamperer” Petry.

One thing that I’ve only come to appreciate recently is how much knowledge of plants I absorbed tagging behind him in the garden, picking up worms and garter snakes and later helping him drop Japanese beetles into cans of kerosene. I never asked him about it, but I suspect that whatever knowledge he learned down on the bayou from his own father was pretty much useless in Old Saybrook with its frigid winters and sandy soil. He kept two huge books, one was Vegetable Gardening by Charles H. Nissley. The other (I think) had the name the Gardening Encyclopedia.

Plus he learned a great deal from the old Yankees across the street. These two men, brothers-in-law, had lived in the area all their lives and  were both descended not from the Mayflower people but the wave that arrived shortly afterward. In other words, New England bedrock had been part of their family trees for generations.

The only time I saw Daddy with gun, he borrowed a rifle (?) from one of the old Yankees to shoot a skunk that he caught in a Have-a-Heart trap. Got the critter with one shot.

Things he succeeded in teaching me: kitchen prep the restaurant way from his days as a manager of his brother-in-law’s place in NYC; a number of great recipes including jambalaya and hoppin’ john; electrical wiring up to the point of knowing when to call in someone with a license; basic plumbing (unless it requires actually lifting a toilet); an appreciation of the New York Yankees.

Things I didn’t learn: math, physics, football.

Daddy, I’m sure you didn’t think I appreciated you enough when you were alive. I do now. Happy Father’s Day. With love.