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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on October 18th, 2017.

pear_walnut_upside_down_cake

It’s pear season, you know. Don’t let it slip by without trying this. Although, if you use Bosc pears (recommended) you can generally find those year around.

Since I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen, it was a given that I would try this when they made this cake on a recent program. My mother used to make a pear pie, and I always loved it, and seems like I don’t use pears enough. Here’s a good occasion to do so.

pear_walnut_pears_onbottomReally, I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I haven’t loved whatever ATK recommended and I’ve since made. This cake is much like the old standby, pineapple upside-down cake, but using pears here, and walnuts in the cake batter. Use Bosc pears if you can get them – they bake up just perfectly in this cake. They’re placed in the prepared pan in a spoke-shaped pattern, and it does take exactly 2 1/2 pears to do it right, providing you’re using a 9” cake pan (with higher sides, not just a regular cake pan). Amazon carries one – USA Pan Bakeware Round Cake Pan, 9 inch, Nonstick & Quick Release Coating, Made in the USA from Aluminized Steel for $14.99. I didn’t  used to have a cake pan that size, but bought one many years ago and I use it often, so have felt I got my money’s worth from buying yet another kitchen item.

pear_walnut_bakedTo make the cake batter you first start with toasted walnuts in the food processor along with the flour, salt and B.P. and soda. That’s set aside, and eggs are added to the processor and pulsed a couple of minutes until they’re pale yellow. Then you add in melted butter and oil and lastly, the walnut/flour mixture. That’s poured over the pears and into the oven it goes for a bit over an hour. It needs to cool 15 minutes or so (you DO want the cake to invert properly), then carefully turn it over onto a wire rack to cool completely. See photo at right when the cake came out of the oven. Mine was still slightly warm when I served it – I think it needs some whipped cream – I forgot to take a photo of it with the cream added.

What’s GOOD: everything about this was good. The pears still retain some texture and they add a lovely flavor to the cake. It’s really pretty to serve. The servings are not overly large, and probably a good thing as the cake tastes rich. This recipe is a keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing other than a few extra steps in making the cake batter, but well worth it.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pear-Walnut Upside-Down Cake

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen
Serving Size: 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar — packed (3 1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 whole Bosc pears — ripe but firm (8 ounces each)
CAKE:
1 cup walnuts — toasted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour — (2 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar — (7 ounces)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Notes: It is strongly recommended to baking this cake in a light-colored cake pan with sides that are at least 2 inches tall. If using a dark-colored pan, start checking for doneness at 1 hour, and note that the cake may dome in the center and the topping may become too sticky. Serve with creme fraiche, or lightly sweetened whipped cream.
1. TOPPING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300°F. Grease 9-inch round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Pour melted butter over bottom of pan and swirl to evenly coat. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in small bowl and sprinkle evenly over melted butter.
2. Peel, halve, and core pears. Set aside 1 pear half and reserve for other use. Cut remaining 5 pear halves into 4 wedges each. Arrange pears in circular pattern around cake pan with tapered ends pointing inward. Arrange two smallest pear wedges in center or cut the pieces to fit.
3. CAKE: Pulse walnuts, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in food processor until walnuts are finely ground, 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer walnut mixture to bowl.
4. Process eggs and sugar in now-empty processor until very pale yellow, about 2 minutes. With processor running, add melted butter and oil in steady stream until incorporated. Add walnut mixture and pulse to combine, 4 to 5 pulses. Pour batter evenly over pears (some pear may show through; cake will bake up over the fruit).
5. Bake until center of cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 1/4 hours, rotating pan after 40 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Carefully run paring knife or offset spatula around sides of pan. Invert cake onto wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet; discard parchment. Let cake cool for about 2 hours. Transfer to serving platter, cut into wedges, and serve.
Per Serving: 501 Calories; 29g Fat (50.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 111mg Cholesterol; 235mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on October 14th, 2017.

choc_chip_cookies_fireball

Have I mentioned that I like Fireball? So when I saw a recipe for chocolate chip cookies with bourbon in it, well, my mind just said, use Fireball (or Tennessee Fire) instead.

A few nights a week I pour myself a little bit of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee Fire (a bourbon like Fireball) over ice, and add a little splash of Rumchata. It’s my drink of choice lately. Even more than having wine. I sit down in my family room and listen to news. Or I watch a recorded episode of Tiny House Hunters, The Incredible Dr. Pol, maybe Nova, or CBS’s Sunday Morning (a favorite). I have 2 DVRs (one in my family room, the other in my study upstairs – the room where I always watched TV when my DH was alive). He and I had different tastes in TV viewing. I recently had that room remodeled (was called “the office,” but now, because of what I’ve done, I’ve renamed it “the study”).

study_library_wall

That’s my new bookcase all along one wall. There is red grass cloth wallpaper behind all the shelves and the lamps. And you can see all the cat accessories on the floor. I think I mentioned that I gave away about 400 books a few months ago because this room was going to be re-done. And that is about the only place I can now store books. And Darci has told me I may NOT stack any books horizontally on top of books. Sigh. That means I can’t buy very many more books.

If you’re new to my blog, you may not know that I have always wanted my very own library, maybe looking something like a room at Downton Abbey, with a rail and ladder. Dreams. Where I could read Faulkner, Yeats, War and Peace, and definitely the Bible. Alas, that kind of room is not in my future.

But this one was attainable. Darci, my decorator, designed the wall’s profile, although I saw the lamp (they’re wall mounted, with a half-shade on the front) in the Bay Area about 2 years ago and sent her a photo of it and said “I want those somewhere in my house.” She designed the wall around the lamps. I now have 4 of them, 2 in that bookcase and 2 on the opposite wall, where I have 2 very comfy chairs. The floor is hard wood now, and there’s a gray area rug kind of centered. A mirror is going on the back corner behind the table lamp, and I haven’t hung much art in this room yet. My kitty cat spends lots of time in this room with me, lounging on the carpet, sharpening his claws on the cardboard box scratcher, or dragging his toys around. Since he’s blind, he hasn’t discovered the shelf up above – he could reach it if I taught him, but I don’t want to. I’d like him to stay off of it!

study_window_chairs

That’s the opposite wall, with the view window looking northwest. The shades have a remote control (LOVE that) so I can lower them if the reflections outside are too much for TV watching. I sit in the left chair with my feet propped up on the ottoman. I’m there many evenings. The drapes (long overdue because the fabric came from Europe) have just been installed. Kitty (Angel) perches on the top of the chairs, or even on the top of my desk chair. He sleeps often on the desk chair at night as he leaves furry evidence behind!

study_desk_wall

And lastly, there’s my desk. It was a regular closet in this room. Had the doors removed and the space framed in properly. The back is grass cloth wallpaper, and they’re both the same color (above shelves and at desk level) but the fluorescent lighting underneath turns red a bit blue! The top one looks orange, but it’s not. Photography doesn’t always make colors true. When I’m working there, my kitten cat thinks he HAS to be up on the desk with me, getting into any kind of mischief he can find. Like cables behind the monitor, a pen or pencil to bat around, or book corners to chew on. The file drawer on the right (below) I can open and he loves to slink in behind the files and lay on top of a stack of empty file folders I have there.

How did I get off on this tangent, I ask you? Well, onward, and back to these cookies. I hadn’t made any cookies in ages, and having seen the recipe at Bake of Break, I began, but I did make two changes. I used the Tennessee Fire instead of regular bourbon and I substituted walnuts for the pecans. Otherwise I followed Jennifer’s recipe. They certainly satisfy my craving for choc chip cookies (they live in my freezer and I eat them straight from there), and the flavor is lovely. You can’t taste the bourbon (there’s not enough to do that) but there IS a little elusive taste. Perhaps it’s the cinnamon (which is part of the Fireball profile), but it’s not noticeable either. Very nice recipe.

What’s GOOD: there’s hardly any chocolate chip cookie out there that I don’t like – except store-bought. This one is very good! And will keep me in cookies for a few more weeks. Yes, I’ll make them again, and I might add just a tad more Tennessee Fire.

What’s NOT: nary a thing.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fireball Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts

Recipe By: Adapted from Bake or Break
Serving Size: 48

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter — softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons Fireball whiskey — or Tennessee Fire
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts — chopped

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the bourbon and vanilla.
3. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
4. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Or, you can make them immediately.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
6. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared pans (use a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop). Bake, one pan at a time, 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are browned. Refrigerate the remaining dough between batches.
7. Cool the cookies for 5 minutes on the pans. Then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
Per Serving: 134 Calories; 8g Fat (49.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 77mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 11th, 2017.

I’m thanking my lucky stars, and praising God that my home is intact. You may have read or seen clips on TV about the fires here in California. The Northern California fires have been far worse (homes, shopping centers and many people still missing and many lost) than our one here in Southern California, but devastating nonetheless. I was evacuated on Monday. They finally lifted it last night (Tuesday). I actually returned home late Monday night because I felt safe enough to return, although technically I was in a mandatory evacuation area. The road I used to get home wasn’t blocked off as many others were. I live south of that red blob above and as the fires spread, destroying homes and stables and outbuildings in an area called Orange Park Acres, they extended the evacuation zone, and I was in it. I grabbed a few things: 3 of my paintings, some valuables, my kitty, some clothes, my favorite pillow, medications, passport, cat food, litter box, kitty’s favorite blanket and went to stay with my daughter-in-law’s sister and her husband, who live about 15 miles away, south and west, far from the smoke and raging fire.

I stayed put at home yesterday, all day, watching news reports and refreshing the online fire map on my computer. If I’d left, I wouldn’t have been allowed back to my house. This fire spread so fast, they couldn’t update the maps fast enough. Dozens of my friends were evacuated also, and they’d spread far and wide to friends so they didn’t have to go to a shelter. High praise goes to all the firefighters who risked their lives to save homes. I think I heard that only 8 homes were totally destroyed, but hundreds are damaged and partially burned. The fire started up at the top right corner of that red zone (cause unknown at this point). It was a hot day, we had Santa Ana winds (high winds that blow in from the desert), the temperature was in the low 90’s, and the humidity was under 10% – prime conditions for a brush fire, perhaps from a thrown cigarette butt, since the origin was just beside a freeway, a main east/west artery in our region. The fire is still raging, but it’s going east, into the Cleveland National Forest, off to the right of that red blob. A favorite wilderness park was totally destroyed, along the eastern edge of the red blob. It’s a favorite for hikers and walkers. There is still residual smoke in the air

So, I lost more than a day in my quest to put away stuff from my termite tenting. I’m going to get on that today, I hope. But I’m feeling quite overwhelmed, actually with that task. And to make matters worse, my hot water heater that supplies hot water to my kitchen, has died. My plumber is going to install a small tankless one, but not until next week. Sigh. So I’m keeping my electric tea kettle going as I need to do dishes. Paper plates are the name of the game this week.

Thankfully, I’m fine, and my house is fine. My kitty still feels a bit discombobulated, though, as he’s “off” his food a bit and wants more attention than usual. But we’re alive and well, all things considered.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 8th, 2017.

termite_bagging_food

So, the tenting for termites is done. My kitty and I stayed at a pet-friendly hotel for about 48 hours while the poisonous gas did its job killing all the mini-critters. Hopefully it also killed the ants that have been plaguing me all summer! My kitty, Angel (remember, he’s blind) was not happy in the temporary quarters. In fact, for 2 days he barely ate anything. He slunk around the rooms (living room and kitchen combo, bathroom and bedroom) trying to find places to hide. The last 4-5 hours before I left there he’d finally adjusted a little bit – he’d learned his way around all 3 rooms and knew where his litter box and water bowl were, although he still wouldn’t eat anything. The first night he woke me up innumerable times yowling. Fortunately, the 2nd night he had adjusted enough that he didn’t wake me up much.

Once they removed all the tents, I was able to get back into my house, close up all the doors and windows, then release the kitty from his cage. Then I turned on the A/C (it was about 90 yesterday).

termite_bagged_freezerWhen you do have to tent for termites, all foodstuffs have to be specially bagged (picture above and at left). They provided me with the heavy-duty, gas-impermeable bags, and anything that is edible must be double-bagged. I had a couple of cleaning ladies who helped me pack up the refrigerators and freezers. And my pantry, PART of the contents in the photo at top. Canned good and jarred things with a seal can be left out, as the gas can’t penetrate them, but everything else must be bagged. I have a big walk-in pantry. It was a must when I designed my kitchen 11 years ago, and I still love the little room, but it was absolutely jam-packed with stuff. Those 11 bags you see in the picture are only SOME of them – there are another 5 bags in my foyer.

Because the exterminating company was going to charge me $100 if I used another box of the bags, I decided at the last to move a lot of things into my car. A friend took my big box of chocolate I use for baking (about 20 pounds worth, I’d guess) and I unloaded about 30 plastic boxes and bins in my neighbor’s garage (boxes full of pasta, grains, herbs from Penzey’s, and bins for pastry flour, self-rising flour, oatmeal, cream of wheat, risotto rice, etc.). The remaining is in the back seat of my car. As I write this (Sunday), my car is still packed.

In the 2nd photo, that’s my kitchen freezer. Some shelves removed and all the contents piled into bags and stuffed back into the void. I haven’t even started on that yet. Last night I did get 3/4 of my kitchen refrigerator unpacked and replaced. Still 2 bags in there that are so darned heavy I don’t know if I can lift them out to unpack them.

My vow, when I start putting things away in my pantry, is to get rid of a lot of the stuff. Some things have been in there too long and need to be jettisoned. Probably the same thing for the freezer. I still have a freezer in the garage to do also and a refrigerator/freezer in the garage, all of them full. You’d think I was preparing for a plague.

One bag I discovered the ladies had put into my kitchen refrigerator was actually freezer contents, but fortunately, lots of it was nuts and they’re still sitting out on my counter, waiting for me to unpack the freezer so they can be put away. There were only a few pounds of ground beef, ground Italian sausage and 2 servings of Mexican Lasagna that I can’t re-freeze. I’ll need to use (cook and eat) those things in the next few days.

It’ll still be days until I can get back to normal, but I thought all of you cooks out there would laugh at me if you could see my stash of food. Pray you don’t ever have to do this! Usually houses are empty when they tent, but the termites were doing a lot of bad stuff to my inaccessible attics. My house has a mansard roof and although I do have 3 attics, they’re not big and the termites had found many other places to feed. When my general contractor walked my interior roof area, when I had my house re-roofed last year, he was the one who found all the termite damage that would be invisible to even a termite inspector.

Posted in Soups, on October 6th, 2017.

chilled_yellow_sq_soup_thai_flavors

Do you like Thai food? I sure do, yet I don’t have it often. There’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near me that serves very authentic (I think) Thai food with whatever degree of heat you can handle.

In this little Thai restaurant the husband works the front, and the wife does a lot of the cooking. I need to go there more often. I love their Pad Thai, probably the most common American Thai restaurant specialty. Lots of carbs, however.

So, I digress . . . I had decided to make some more yellow squash (cold) soup, and when I began I wanted to use up some fresh ginger I had, semi-withering in a kitchen counter bowl. With that, my mind turned to the Thai green curry paste I have in my refrigerator. Love the flavor it adds to things. So rather than repeat what I’d made before, I decided to make this version a little Asian. A little Thai.

The soup was so easy to make – onion in oil, added the squash, some garlic, Thai green curry paste, the fresh ginger, then some chicken broth (or you could use coconut milk) and I let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash was super-tender. Cooled it on my countertop for a little bit, then whizzed it up in my Vitamix blender until smooth. I added in some salt, pepper, lemon juice and sour cream. That was chilled down overnight and as I’m writing this I had it for my lunch today, that little bowl up top. Actually I had 2 bowls of it. It was so refreshing for a hot summer day. It’s still summer where I live in SoCalifornia.

You could use any kind of garnishes – cilantro is a must, however, then you could add toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Or no seeds at all. Whatever floats your boat. The sour cream adds a lovely silkiness to the soup. You could add milk, or soy milk instead. Or some Greek yogurt too. Any of the above. This soup is versatile. I like just a little bit of texture to the soup, but not much. Use your own judgment about that too. If you’d like to, cut off the stems of the cilantro and add those into the soup at the beginning. It will add flavor without the green from the leaves. I didn’t think of it, or I would have! Altogether lovely soup. The curry paste doesn’t add enough flavor that you can distinguish curry (honest) and the ginger adds just a tiny bit of flavor AND a tiny bit of heat. Or maybe the heat was from the green curry paste. I’m not sure. Altogether good, though.

What’s GOOD: this soup is so easy to make, though it’s best if it’s refrigerated overnight. It will meld the flavors and get it plenty cold. Use your own choice of garnishes. This is not a thick, heavy soup at all – probably wouldn’t satisfy for a dinner, but it was fine for my lunch with a cookie afterwards. Low calorie, even with the sour cream. This soup isn’t going to knock your socks off with flavor – by that I mean the soup is subtle, mild, as you’d expect using yellow squash.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. You could serve this warm, but if you do, make sure you do NOT bring the soup to a boil – the sour cream will separate and make the soup curdle. Not attractive!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Yellow Squash Soup with Thai Flavors

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion — chopped
3 pounds yellow squash — chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves — minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — diced
5 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon green curry paste
1/2 cup sour cream — or full-fat yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup cilantro — minced
1/2 cup sunflower seeds — or pumpkin seeds (optional)

1. Saute onion in olive oil for 3-5 minutes until onion has softened. Add squash, garlic, green curry paste, fresh ginger and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender.
2. Set aside to cool for 15-20 minutes. Add sour cream and lemon juice, then pour the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. Taste again for more salt or pepper, then pour 1 1/2 cups (each serving) into a bowl and garnish with cilantro and seeds, if desired. If serving warm, do not boil the soup or the sour cream or yogurt will separate and curdle.
Per Serving: 238 Calories; 16g Fat (58.4% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 657mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on October 2nd, 2017.

me_aviara

At the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, in Carlsbad, CA. I’m squinting, because I’m looking toward a bank of windows facing the ocean.

This last weekend I stayed at the resort for 3+ days and nights to attend a conference held by Wycliffe Associates. They’re known the world over for Bible translation. In years past, translating the Holy Bible into somewhat obscure languages involved a missionary couple (usually) immersing themselves into the village of a remote tribe, then spending 10-20 YEARS learning their language well enough to then translate it and get it printed.

Now, there is an altogether new method – innovative for sure, called MAST (mobilizing assistance supporting translation) – created by a brilliant guy at Wycliffe Associates who designed a 2-week training which includes a small group of Wycliffe volunteers, a bucketload of Android computer tablets, then bringing together volunteer tribal people who are (usually) literate and they translate  some or all of the New Testament in that 2-week period and get it onto a tablet for anyone to read (or read out loud for those who are illiterate, but it’s in their home language). It’s amazing. Absolutely amazing. They’re also using the same technique for translating oral languages as well as beginning to work on sign language translation too.

You know me mostly for my cooking/writing/reading face, the things I share here on my blog. I don’t much talk about my churchgoing life, which is vitally important to me. I’m a Presbyterian and have been a member of my church for about 35 years. I’m active and involved in many things at my church. I’m not singing in the choir at the moment – after Dave died my heart wasn’t in it because it was something we did together. I co-lead a bible study group in my home, and I volunteer to help at memorial services whenever there is one held at our church, and I also volunteer in the Samaritan Care Center – calling people who are ill, grieving, house-bound or those who just need a word of encouragement.

Anyway, this conference was so very important, and I’m committed to helping Wycliffe Associates financially to accomplish their goals of translating the Bible into many – hundreds and hundreds – in the next year. By 2025 they hope to have translated the Bible into every known language in the world. There are many other bible translation organizations who are doing translations the old fashioned way. This is just a new method and light years faster!

More update – – – I’m having my home tented for termites. Oh, what a job it is, getting ready for that to be done! Everything in my house that’s consumable (except canned goods, jarred food, my wine cellar contents and other items with a sealed lid) have to be put into special bags. I do have to do everything in my 3 refrigerators and 2 freezers and my big walk-in pantry. Huge job. I just don’t think I’m going to be able to blog for a bit, which is why I thought I’d write this post, explaining why you probably won’t hear from me until late next week sometime.

After I returned from my driving trip last month, I came down with an intestinal bug (doctor said it was bacterial). I was really, really ill. For 7 days I was prostrate and was eating the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast). While all that is fine, what’s not fine is that you’re not getting any protein, so I was really weak. It’s now been 2 weeks, and I’m back to normal (my doctor put me on an antibiotic which worked). But during that 7 days I didn’t do any blog writing, and still haven’t, sorry to say. I haven’t even begun working on my photos from the trip. But I will – – – it’ll just be a bit delayed. I think I have one more post in my “post bank” from a cooking class I took a couple of months ago. I’ll probably get that one up, then you’ll just have to be patient until I can re-group and get back on track. I’m feeling fine now, and thoroughly enjoyed all the good food at the Aviara, but I’m pressed for time working at bagging up stuff in my house.

So, we’ll talk . . . . .stay tuned.

Posted in Books, on September 30th, 2017.

Image result for my reading life

If you’re not a reader, you may want to skip on over this post, as it’s all about a book. A marvelous book. However, If you aren’t a reader, but know someone who IS a reader of literature, then buy the book as a gift.

Pat Conroy was not exactly a prolific writer – he wrote a number of books, but they took him years to complete as he threw so much of himself into all of his writing. There was always travail and angst with each one. Sadly, Pat Conroy died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer. His wife collected a bunch of his writings, speeches, articles, etc. and published a book posthumously, A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life I’ve ordered that one, but haven’t read it.

To understand Pat Conroy means a journey through a very tumultuous military brat childhood being abused both emotionally and physically by his tyrannical father, a Marine fighter pilot. His mother and most of his siblings received the same. He wrote a novel about his upbringing, about his father –The Great Santini: A Novel – which angered legions of people in his life, including his family, because up to that point they’d all been stoically silent about the father’s abuse. To understand Pat Conroy means watching how he elevated himself out of the miasma of his childhood, not always successfully. He suffered from depression. He had a hard time writing sometimes, though he was gifted from the get-go. Teachers took him under their wings, mentors mentored him. He was married three times, and he suffered terribly from the breakup of the first two.

I don’t remember which of his books I read first. It might have been Beach Music: A Novel. Then I read several of his other books. I even owned his cookbook, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life, but I think I discarded it in my last iteration of giving away books (one of about 400 last year). His cookbook was fun to read, but I found that the Southern cooking style he used was too heavy and fat-laden for me to experience much in my own kitchen. But his novels. Oh my goodness. What treasures they are.

And this book, My Reading Life, is a treasure beyond compare. What Conroy did in this book was tell stories about the people in his life who influenced his reading. It began with his mother, who never got to go to college, but she was a reader and instilled it in her children. One of Conroy’s sisters is a poet and poetry looms large in this book too (sadly, I’ve never been much of a fan of poetry except for Billy Collins).  And it included early teachers, then later on men and women who came into his life and recommended books. As an example, he said that the first page of Look Homeward, Angel was the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. That got my attention and I’m going to look for a used copy of that book soon. The Russians also captured his attention – War and Peace (Vintage Classics) was a particular favorite of his because of the writing style. He read that book over and over during his life, gleaning gems to help him in his own writing (as have countless other authors). Conroy was a master story-teller. About his family and even his closest friends. I laughed out loud so many times as I read this book. I attached little plastic flags in many places so I can go back and re-read them. One was about a praying mantis he observed and his mother’s very clever one liner. Oh so very funny. Then about the Japanese man, Mr. Hara, who’d had his passport stolen (this was in Paris while Conroy was trying to finish one of his books) whose English was “velly bad.” I roared reading that one. And about a librarian in a Beaufort elementary school who was not a mentor (Conroy escaped into the library at lunchtime because he knew no one and wanted to hide – – and yes, he wanted to read). He got the last laugh with her too once he became a teacher at that school.

I just can’t recommend enough that everyone who enjoys reading, should read this book. I must thank my friend, Jean P, who recommended we read this book in one of my 3 book clubs. I’m so sad that cancer has stilled Conroy’s voice forever.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on September 26th, 2017.

baked_portobello_mashed_potatoes

Maybe it’s just that I love mashed potatoes, and I feel guilty every time I eat them! And yet these are somewhat redeemed because they’re blended with a lot of spinach (healthy) and mounded on a big portobello mushroom (healthy!).

In either case, this is a dish you will want to make. I can’t wait for the weather to turn a little cooler and I’ll be making this as my dinner entrée. It was served at a cooking class alongside a steak, but I was just taken with the mushroom. If you served a whole mushroom, it could easily be your dinner as I expect to do it that way.

You probably already know that when preparing portobellos (they’re also called baby bellas) you need to remove all those black gills on the under side. They contain a dark ink I’ll call it – and it turns anything that touches them black and ugly. So, use a spoon and scrape out all those gills until you get down to regular mushroom flesh. Do that first!

Then, next in order is to make a batch of mashed potatoes, and at the last you throw in a bag of baby spinach (cooked briefly) along with some grated Parm, sour cream, butter and milk. The potatoes and their accompaniments probably aren’t all that healthy, but everything else about this dish IS. The mushrooms are brushed with an oil/balsamic vinegar mixture and broiled briefly, then seasoned with salt and pepper. You do need to mop out the juices in the mushroom when you broil it on its underside (up). It creates too much fluid and would make the potatoes soupy. Just use a paper towel to remove the liquid that oozes out. Then you pile in the potatoes, top with green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes to heat them through, but still leaves the mushrooms solid enough that you can move it with a spatula. You could also sprinkle with some more green onions. Delicious. For a mushroom meal, use a big honkin’ mushroom, but if serving as part of a dinner, I’d buy smaller portobellos if you can find them. Otherwise, cut each big portobello in half to serve.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors in this dish are ever-so-tasty. But then, I am a sucker for good, flavorful mashed potatoes. The spinach gives it some pretty green speckled color, and some healthy elements. The mushroom is also a great “plate” for the potatoes and if you buy a big mushroom, it will easily be a meal.

What’s NOT: nothing really – a bit of fuss to make the mashed potatoes – but that’s about it!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Portobello Mushrooms with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Susan Vollmer, 2017
Serving Size: 8

4 pounds Russet potatoes
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 pound baby spinach
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup olive oil — use an herb flavored one if available
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 large Portobello mushroom caps
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large green onions — minced

1. Peel potatoes and cook them in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain, then return potatoes to the saucepan. Add butter and milk and mash the potatoes.
2. In a large skillet, briefly cook the baby spinach in a little bit of olive oil so the leaves are wilted. Add it to the potatoes, then add the Parm and sour cream. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a measuring cup, combine the oil and vinegar. Set aside.
4. Preheat broiler. Clean the mushroom caps of gills and stem. Brush the mushrooms lightly with the oil/vinegar mixture and season with salt and pepper.
5. Broil the mushrooms for about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the oven and use paper towels to mop up any brown juices in the center of the mushroom cap. Fill each mushroom cap with potato mixture and place in a baking dish. Reduce oven temp to 400F.
6. Top all of the mushrooms with some of the green onions and bake for 10-15 minutes just to heat through. Serve within about 5 minutes.
Per Serving: 462 Calories; 26g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 47mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on September 22nd, 2017.

green_minestrone1

Just plain vegetable soup, but all green, and with a modicum of Italian seasonings. And good Parmigiano cheese on top.

When I got home from my road trip a week ago, I didn’t crave salads (my usual lament) because I’d had lots of salads on the trip. What I craved was soup. And vegetables. Eating out almost 3 meals a day (a couple of times Cherrie and I had an ice cream cone for lunch when we’d had an ample breakfast) you learn soon enough that most restaurants don’t serve vegetables. A few here and there, but mostly restaurants serve carbs along with protein. We ordered a side veg a couple of times (to share) and often Cherrie and I shared an entire meal (a salad and entrée both) which worked really well. We enjoyed dessert just a couple of times, aside from the aforementioned ice cream cone treat we had twice.

So, once home, a trip to the store gave me all the makings of a green minestrone, a soup I’ve been wanting to make forever.

This soup – I had it once, in northern Italy, at least 25 years ago. I’d gotten a bout of food poisoning, actually, and was really quite sick (from some fresh mozzarella at a roadside diner). I visited a pharmacy and they’d given me something which helped, but they confirmed my food poisoning diagnosis and suggested it would take about 2 weeks to work itself through. About 10 days later, we got to Northern Italy, and I finally thought I could tolerate some soup, and the waiter suggested their green minestrone. Oh my, was it ever delicious. Except for 7-up, toast and yogurt, I’d hardly eaten a thing, so maybe it was my frame of mind, or just that I was feeling slightly better. That soup – that glorious fresh green taste – has stayed with me all these years. I’d researched green minestrone recipes some years back and found a couple, and just hadn’t gotten around to trying either of them. Until now.

green_minestrone2As is usually the case, when I start making soup, I improvise. I used the recipe only as a guide to add my vegetables of choice. Maybe this soup should be titled Green and White Minestrone, because there are lots of white ingredients in it (onion, nearly white carrots, fennel and the mostly white leeks).

parmesan rindsOne thing that’s unique in this recipe is the addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds. You save those, don’t you? I have about 2 years’ worth of them in my cheese bin (probably better to freeze them, but I might never find them again if I did that), and two of them went into this soup. Once they’ve expended their lovely essence to the soup, you scoop them out and throw them away.

I tried to time the vegetables so they’d all be perfectly cooked through (barely). Generally it worked – if you are so inclined, remove the vegetables when they’re nearly done, then add the others, until you have everything to the perfect point of done-ness, then add them back in just long enough to warm through. There’s a little bit of pasta in this soup – you can add however much you’d like. I guessed mostly at the quantities of each item. I like the frozen peas to be bright green – they add a nice fillip to the top of the soup – I always add them almost like a garnish. If you rinse them under the hot water tap, they’ll all defrost and be warmed through.

Once you’ve scooped portions into bowls, add the hot peas, the minced parsley, the grated cheese, and lastly a little drizzle of EVOO. Perfecto!

What’s GOOD: well, if the flavor wasn’t good, I wouldn’t be posting it – I loved all the green veggies, and the broth was extra special because of the Parmesan rinds in it. Just remember – a vegetable-laden soup will be only as good as the broth you cook it in. I use Penzey’s chicken broth concentrate, which I think has tons of good flavor. Altogether good soup. Even though it’s still like summer here in SoCal, I gulped down the hot soup and savored every bite. I love the toppings too.

What’s NOT: hmmm. Lots of chopping and mincing, I suppose, but get someone to help and it’ll be done in no time.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Minestrone

Recipe By: Loosely based on several online recipes for this kind of green minestrone
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks — white and pale-green parts only, chopped
2 large fennel bulbs — finely chopped
1/2 large yellow onion — finely chopped
2 celery stalks — thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds zucchini — trimmed, diced
1/2 pound brussels sprouts — cleaned, quartered
12 ounces fresh asparagus — trimmed, chopped
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 Parmesan rinds — (for flavoring)
2 small carrots — use yellow, if possible
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
1/2 cup pasta — your choice (small)
1 cup frozen peas — defrosted
1 1/2 cups Italian parsley — (lightly packed) very finely minced
Shaved Parmesan (for serving), use ample
A drizzle of EVOO on top

1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook leek, fennel, yellow onion, and celery, stirring occasionally, until softened but not taking on any color, about 5 minutes. Add broth and Parmesan rinds, then add the dried oregano, brussels sprouts, zucchini and carrots; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are not quite tender, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus and pasta and cook for about 5 minutes.
2. Taste vegetables to make sure all are tender; season well with salt and pepper. Remove Parmesan rinds and discard. Rinse the frozen peas under hot water and add to the soup, just long enough to warm them.
3. Taste soup for seasoning, scoop 1 1/2 cups per bowl and garnish with fresh parsley and lots of grated Parmesan. Then drizzle the top of the soup with EVOO.
Per Serving: 172 Calories; 6g Fat (24.9% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on September 18th, 2017.

cherrie_and_me_sooke

That’s me (on the right) with my friend Cherrie, in British Columbia, having breakfast.

A few days ago I got back from a road trip. A 2+ week, 3500 mile road trip. I had posts all set up while I was gone (so you wouldn’t miss me). I have a new car, and I wanted to take her on a nice, long “spin.” Originally I was going to go by myself, because I had lots of places I wanted to stop, to do my own thing, but the end destination was to stay at Sooke Harbour House, in Sooke, British Columbia. This inn, an elegant, old, cozy place holds a warm place in my heart because Dave and I stayed there at least twice, maybe three times over the years. It has a nautical theme, situated right on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, facing south, toward the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It’s on Vancouver Island, about 20+ miles west of Victoria. The inn has a lovely old knotty-pine trimmed dining room overlooking the views. There are lots of places to sit around the property (providing it’s warm enough and not raining), and most rooms have a small deck or patio to enjoy the view, to listen to the bird calls, with distant fishing boats plying the waters. All the rooms have fireplaces, and many have hot tubs on the decks, outside, or somewhere close by. It’s a very romantic place to stay.

To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t sure how “happy” I would be staying there. By myself, without my DH. In this very romantic place. But, I really did WANT to go. Dave and I had been planning a trip up the West Coast for a few months off, when he had his stroke and died so suddenly. That’s been 3 1/2 years ago now. I thought I was (maybe) ready to do that kind of trip.

But when my BF Cherrie heard about it, she said she’d like to go with me. Oh, happy day! She and I travel well together – we’ve done numerous trips over the  years (twice to England without our husbands). I knew I’d have a grand time if she shared it with me. And indeed, we did have a great trip.

We drove from where we live in Orange County, California, up the west coast to San Luis Obispo, then Paso Robles, then we kind of whizzed through the Bay Area (except to have lunch with my cousin Gary) and went to Santa Rosa (to eat at a specific restaurant), then we drove to the coast, Old Highway 1, and stayed on it all the way to Port Angeles, Washington. In that interim of northern California, Oregon and Washington coastline we encountered terrible air from the forest fires still burning in many places. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the ocean (part of the reason for the Hwy 1 slow road). Eventually we took a ferry across the Straits to Victoria.

After our stay at Sooke, we took a different ferry through the San Juan islands to Anacortes, and onto Whidbey Island. It’s a place I used to live (in a former life) and I wanted to revisit what I could of where I’d lived there. We stayed at another old, charming inn, before taking another ferry off the south end of Whidbey to Mukilteo. We bypassed Seattle except via freeways and headed for Portland. Stayed in an AirBNB there (more on that later) and just went all over there, enjoying the good food and Powell’s Books. Cherrie flew home from Portland since she’d been gone for about 12 days by that time (and her husband missed her!), and I did the rest of the trip by myself. I drove down through Oregon and stayed with a friend of Cherrie’s JaneAnn, in Rogue River, then hightailed it to Placerville, where my daughter Dana lives with her family. Two days there and then I did another straight shot home.

I’ll be sharing more of the trip in the next week or so, but just thought I’d give you an overview of what we did. I’m very happy to be back home, in my own bed, enjoying my own shower, and petting my kitty, Angel.

When Cherrie and I were up north, it was cool, even a little drizzly in a few places, and we both talked about how we couldn’t wait to get home and make some tummy-warming soups. That’s my goal today (I’m writing this on Thursday), to make some vegetable soup. I have it in my head that I want to make a green minestrone – a soup that I had once in Italy, and I have a recipe for one, but just haven’t ever gotten around to making it. That’s going to happen today, so if it’s as good as I remember, I’ll share it here!

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