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Am currently reading The Interestings: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a group of college students (both guys and gals) who become close friends, and with nothing else to inspire them, they decide to call themselves “The Interestings.” The story switches back and forth from the early years, with alcohol, drugs and sex playing a fairly major role, to current day when all of the “interestings” have become adults, parents, successes, failures. It’s about their internal angst, or pride, or false-pride, and their jealousies of each other. It had been recommended by more than one friend of mine. I can’t identify with the characters very much, but it is good reading, I suppose.

I wrote up a blog post about my most favorite book of late, All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr. Loved this book from beginning to end. Takes place at the beginning of WWII, in France, about a young girl, a young blind girl, who lives with her father in Paris. He works at a major museum. As the Germans begin advancing, the curator of the museum begins hiding all of their art and valuables. The most valuable is a monster diamond. He has a glass-maker produce 3 replicas of the diamond and hands each of the 4 to valued employees and asks them to safeguard it for the war’s duration. The story is also about a young German boy, who comes of soldier-age in the late 1930s, who is noticed by some higher-ups for his skills with codes and such things. The girl and her father flee to St. Malo (on the Brittany coast). It’s a beautiful, lovely, sweet story. I loved it, as I said. Well worth reading.

Also read Lisette’s List: A Novel, by Susan Vreeland. I’m a fan of her novels, and I think this book may be one of her best. Her novels aren’t deep reading, but they’re a “good read.” A satisfying read. This one takes place in WWII era, in the south of France. Lisette is a Parisian, but terribly in love with her talented husband. His father is ill and so the couple move from Paris to Roussilion in Provence. And Lisette comes to love the village (eventually). Her husband goes off to war, the father dies, (not in this order) and Lisette is wrapped up in her father-in-law’s art collection. You get a real sense of what small-village life was like when the Nazis arrived in their village, and the political play between people, their desire for favoritism, or the resistance. A really good book.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Uncategorized, on November 19th, 2014.

grief_books

I wasn’t sure I should write a post about grieving, this close to Thanksgiving, but then I thought I should, but I will post this early, not just a day or two before the holiday. I don’t want my sadness to impinge on other people’s joy and thanks-giving.

As the months have gone by, my grieving has changed, as it is wont to do. If there’s nothing else you learn from this post, it is that everyone – and I mean every person – grieves differently, at different levels and for different lengths of time. Some grieve openly. Others do not. Some are so stoic and I’m amazed. I’ve always worn my emotions on my sleeve, as the saying goes. I still get teary-eyed sometimes at church, particularly over a very resonant hymn or hearing the choir sing a poignant piece of music (I’ve not been singing for awhile because of my cataract surgery, but am returning to it this week). I can shed a tear when someone comes up to me and tells me a story about Dave, or tell me they thought about him because of something or somebody else. Often it’s because they’d seen someone with artificial legs. Just the other day friends remarked on Dave’s “I-can-do-this” attitude because of being a double amputee. In grief, some people experience anger, which can be a stage of grief. I’ve not had that at all, not once. It’s been 8 months now and I’ve never had a moment of anger at him for leaving me. I know he wouldn’t have left if he could have made the decision. It was in God’s hands, I know it.

Some people whose loved one had a long, dreadful, lingering illness, grieve as a part of the process of the illness, and when the loved one goes, it’s a relief and a joy that they’re not in pain. That  survivor’s grieving cycle can be more rapid. Note the word can. My circumstances were different, as Dave was fine until the moment he had his stroke. We spoke very few words between then and when he died 9 days later. And he was in a coma during 6+ of those days. As I’ve said it here many times, he knew I loved him and I know he loved me. I wish I knew what it was he was trying to tell us (Sara, my daughter, and me) as they wheeled him into surgery on day 3. He had brain swelling, and the effects of the stroke were much more pronounced. He had very slurred speech and we just couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell us. We both hugged him as best we could on the gurney. They were in a hurry to get in there and relieve the pressure in the brain, so we had no time to try to talk to him. They had called me at about 6am to tell me they were going to have to do emergency surgery, that I needed to get to the hospital immediately, the surgeon was on his way. Sara and I got there just a couple of minutes before the surgeon came to talk to us. Anyway, we don’t know if Dave would have been able to converse – and we knew we couldn’t understand him. He seemed a bit agitated, but he might have been telling us to check his blood sugar or something very simple. We don’t know. So many unknowns. When my mother died in 1997, her heart just stopped. She was fine the evening before, had even driven to our house the day before. I’ve been selfish all these years in thinking that I never got to say goodbye to her. How silly is that? She knew I loved her, though.

The 13-week grief class helped me some. But I also found that each week, as we gathered together, we’d watch a video, talk about it, then go around the room and each person shared an update about their week (grief process) and provide their score (1-10, how are you feeling today?). In those conversations we’d hear the sad stories of the other widows and widowers, which left me even more sad than I already was. I’d go home and just be sad all the rest of the evening. That’s not enough reason to not take a grief class – I think it offered me insight (the class part). Some of the ladies and men in the group may not have had many friends and were very glad to have met a kindred spirit. But it’s not enough motivation, for me anyway, to take the class again, which often is recommended. I’m finding that even reading some of the books about grieving (I have many) now make me sad – sadder. More and more, I don’t want to read them because I always end up in tears. When I have a crying time, the effects of it last for awhile – sometimes a few hours, sometimes the rest of the day. So for now, that stack of books in the photo up top are tucked onto a shelf. I know where they are if I need them.

Gratitude figures significantly in my life right now – not only for my loving God, in whom I trust – but in my many Christian friends who have come along side me week by week, month by month. My friend Cherrie is the one I turn to first – I call her any time of day or night when I’m having a sad spell. She listens, comforts and sometimes even cries along with me. And gratitude for my family as well. I don’t see them very often, but they lead very busy lives and I understand that.

I’m in negotiations, as I write this, to sell Dave’s sailboat. My heart breaks at selling it, but gosh, the boat has sat at the dock for all these 8 months without ever leaving the yacht club. She’s cared for superficially, but nobody has taken her out. Dave was an excellent sailor. He began sailing when he was 8, and there was no turning back. He used to race in his younger years (20s and 30s). He owned a 27-foot Catalina that he raced for years and years. Then when I came into his life, we bought this boat together (a new 38-foot boat with a wide berth which makes for a very nice salon down below, a bigger cockpit for sitting, but isn’t sleek for racing) – not only for Dave to pleasure-sail her, but also for us to entertain on, which we did a lot, for about 15 years. Dave’s two best sailing buddies (Gary and Tony) died some years ago, so he had to teach some other people how to sail with him – Joe (my/our good friend who comes to stay with me every couple of weeks) was Dave’s most frequent helpmate on the boat. Joe’s wife Yvette went along sometimes. And Lindy, a sweet gal who was Gary’s girlfriend. She lives near the boat and Dave would call her once in awhile to go check on the boat – to make sure the lines were holding, the sail covers were all attached and not flapping – particularly after a windy or wet storm. She isn’t an adept sailor, but she learned how to help Dave.

You’re hearing a lot more about boating than you might have wanted, but I’m feeling good writing about this. I’m needing to give Dave a lot of credit for his boating skills. Yacht clubs docks, or any docks and slips for that matter, are often very tightly packed and maneuvering a big boat in and out of slips can be challenging, especially if there is wind. A cross breeze is the most difficult. Dave was a wizard at it, and hardly anyone wanted to back her out or pull her in. Dave took over always. I think there was only one time in my recollection that he didn’t quite aim right and the wind was gusting and he bumped the next-door boat. But that’s why boats have protection (bumpers) for that. No harm done, except to Dave’s ego. If there was excessive wind, Dave would cell phone call one or two of his friends on other boats – or he’d hail them as he was motoring in – and ask them to come help tie her up. Boaters are a fiercely loyal lot – and with Dave being a double amputee, everyone was willing to help. God bless them!

There’s a very funny story – I don’t think I’ve ever told this one here on my blog – Gary, who didn’t own a boat – was a happy 60-ish bachelor who loved to sail but never wanted to own a boat himself. He was perfectly content to sail on other people’s boats. He loved Dave’s boat and he liked to help keep the boat maintained. He was a wizard with electronics and mechanical stuff, so Dave relied on him often to fix things. After his sudden death a few years ago, we finally learned that he worked for Naval Intelligence. We always wondered – we thought he might have been FBI or CIA. He worked for the Navy as a civilian (we thought that was his “cover”) but because Gary couldn’t ever tell us about the reason for any of his assignments, we figured it was top secret stuff. Sure enough it was. He was sent all over the world – he’d be gone for a few months with no communications at all – then he’d tell us he’d been in Panama, or Spain. Anyway, I can’t tell you how many girlfriends Gary had over the years. We met oodles of them, and most were not suitable as mates. Lindy would have been a wonderful mate for him. He always said he didn’t think he could be faithful to just one person, that he’d wander, hence he never married.

Anyway, because Gary worked near the yacht club, and because Dave had given him permission to use the boat when he wanted, he’d often take dates to the boat for a picnic dinner or a tryst. Occasionally he’d take the boat out for a motor around the harbor. Once he had a “fender bender” with another boat inside the dock area which caused some damage to both boats. From there on out Gary never took the boat out, but just stayed on-board at the dock. In the boat file in Dave’s desk I found a letter Gary wrote Dave where Gary promised to give Dave an endless number of hours of hard labor because of the accident he had. Dave paid for the repairs to both boats, even though it wasn’t his doing, but that’s kind of a rule of sailing/boating. Well, anyway, the story to tell is that one day Gary took a gal to the boat. Gary didn’t tell Dave, and it just happened that Dave decided at mid-afternoon he was going to go to the boat, stay overnight and come back the next day. He didn’t call Gary either. It was summertime – nice weather. Dave parked and walked out the docks to the boat, and there was Gary, with a girl aboard, as he was just about to back out of the slip. Gary saw Dave and said “oh, hi Dave.” Obviously he was embarrassed. He said something to his date like “that’s Dave, who helps me with the boat.” Dave realized that this girl thought Gary owned the boat. Dave said, “you’re going out for a sail?” Obviously, Gary didn’t want Dave to go along in any case. So, Dave sucked it up, and said “okay, captain, have a good sail.” Gary grinned from ear to ear and said “yea, thanks Dave.” So, Dave went into the yacht club and had dinner and waited for them to return, which they did several hours later. They didn’t encounter each other (Dave thought it best not to). The next morning Gary showed up and profusely apologized and knew he was in the wrong to try to imply he owned the boat. Gary often did that, he said, to impress the girls. But, I don’t think he ever did that again!

our boat aThe boat is so “Dave.” The plan is, whenever I do sell the boat, that the family and a few friends are going to go out for a one-last-sail in memory of Dave. I’ll be an absolute emotional wreck. We won’t go out in the ocean (which is what Dave most loved to do, to actually sail, not just motor – that’s why I rarely went with him) because I get seasick, but just motor around San Diego harbor, which is huge. I’m fine in the harbor. We’ll likely tell stories about Dave. There are lots of them to share. We will have wine – I’ll take several bottles from the wine cellar. We’ll all shed a tear, I know. We’ll take John and Renee along too. They live aboard their boat at the yacht club, and they knew Dave long before I met him. John is a great sailor – he’ll be an excellent captain. In a way I’m dreading doing this because it will be the last piece of Dave – a physical piece – that I’ll have to say goodbye to. It’s going to be heart-wrenching. I’m sure every widow or widower has similar stories. I’ve decided that I’m going to write a letter to the new owners to tell them some of these stories. I don’t want to sell her to someone who won’t take care of her – she’s a beautiful boat. He loved that boat so much. Sailing was really his own hobby and he took great care of her.  He was fiercely proud of her, too.

Sidetracked. That’s what I am . . . back to grieving. Holidays are a very rough time for grieving spouses. I managed to get through Dave’s birthday in July only because I wasn’t home (I was in Washington, D.C. with my granddaughter). I’m glad, in one way, that Dave died in March because it’s given me months to get used to his absence (as much as that is possible). Thanksgiving was Dave’s favorite holiday. For the last many years, we’ve had the big turkey dinner at our house or our house in the desert (we sold our desert house last year, thank goodness, or I’d be having that on my mind too). I cooked like crazy for days ahead of time, and Dave did lots of work too. But with me and my foot problem (my foot is better, by the way, but I still have a long way to healing completely) I knew I couldn’t do the big dinner as usual. Sara and her family are taking a vacation to the San Francisco area for most of the week. So my daughter-in-law’s sister Janice and her husband Julian are having Thanksgiving at their house and I’m invited. I hope I’ll be okay.

Christmas will be even harder for me.  Christmas is my favorite holiday. My cousin Gary will be here with me for a week or so (thank goodness, and thank you, Gary – he reads my blog). We’ll be at our son Powell’s home locally on Christmas Eve. They have a big family gathering (mostly Karen’s side of the family) for prime rib and a gift-giving game, the one where you can steal a gift up to 3 times. On Christmas morning Gary and I will do what little gift giving there will be between us, then we’ll drive to San Diego to spend the rest of the day with daughter Sara and her family. We’re going to do something on the 26th – maybe visit Seaport Village, or . .. I don’t know what. Maybe nothing. Don’t know. Gary usually flies home before New Year’s. Maybe I should plan a get-together with some widow friends on that evening. Good idea – I’ll think about that. Dave and I never did celebrate NYEve – it was a crazy time to drive anywhere, so we usually had a nice dinner at home and went to bed early. Probably Powell will have a New Year’s Day dinner. Or maybe Janice will. Don’t know. Can’t think that far ahead.  They probably haven’t, either.

All of that being said, my mental wanderings, just know that people in grief need extra care – extra love, extra hugs, extra kindness, and especially understanding and patience. Don’t ever say to someone in grief – even if it’s been way too long, you think – “hey, get out of your depression/grief” or “get past it.” It doesn’t help. It only hurts. The emotional loss is deep, and it’s only brought more to the surface at holiday time. Doesn’t matter what holiday, or a birthday or a wedding anniversary. Be encouraging. Call a friend who is a widow and take him/her out to lunch, invite them to your home over the holidays, even if they weren’t regularly part of your family. This is especially important for grievers who have no local family. Just food for thought. If you do have a fully intact family, be thankful. Praise God. Say grace every time, but especially before your Thanksgiving feast. Tell your loved ones you love them. Please. Don’t do it for me, but do it for yourself or for that friend in need. You just never know what could happen tomorrow. Thank you for listening . . . . if you feel so inclined, you can say a prayer for me that for Thanksgiving and Christmas I will be able to celebrate the joy of life with my family, and not dwell on my significant loss of my dear husband Dave. I wish for all of you that you have a very special Thanksgiving with someone you love or care about.

Posted in Books, on November 17th, 2014.

Each year one of my book groups gets together (this year at my home) and we go around the room and each person shares something about a book, or more than one, that they think might make a good Christmas gift. All the women are 60+. I love this particular meeting because we aren’t there to discuss a specific book we’ve all read, but just to share ideas. I love to give books as gifts – not only because I try to nurture reading as a pastime to everyone I know or meet, but sometimes the ideas that come from this group get me outside my box. Also a good thing. So, I thought I’d share this year’s suggested books. Understand, please, I haven’t read but a few, and I’ll say so below.

If you’re anything like me, you can’t really keep up with all the books that get published. It’s overwhelming. To keep track, I use an app on my phone called Evernote, a note-taking app. One of my note-taking sections on Evernote is “Books.” This is where I add a title or an author when I’m out and about. Perhaps someone has told me about a book. I know I’ll never remember the title, so I just whip out my iPhone and add it to Evernote. That list is SO long, I wonder if I’ll ever winnow it down. Why? Because I keep adding more and more. It’s enough that I try to keep up with the reading in 3 book groups. If it weren’t for the fact that some reading in the 3 groups overlap, I’d never be able to manage it. Generally, now, I read when I go to bed, for about 30-45 minutes. Unless I’m stuck at home for some other reason, I don’t read books during the daytime. Unless I’m under the gun and need to finish something before one of the meetings.

The links below go to amazon, and if you happen to order a book, amazon gives me a few cents. It’s no big deal one way or the other. Once in awhile I get a dollar or two – it’s by month, I think, and orders have to reach some minimum threshold (most of the time I don’t meet the minimums), then they credit my amazon account. So, here’s the list:

A Redbird Christmas: A Novel by Fannie Flagg. It’s not one of her newer books, but it’s apparently a very cute story and a red bird figures significantly in the story. There’s faith in the book. It takes place in the American South.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford Novel (A Mitford Novel) by Jan Karon. Two of the gals were currently reading the book and loving every page.

Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. This is her newest one. It was passed around our group, and even though I don’t need another cookbook, I just may have to get it anyway.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. He writes the most interesting narrative books. Several in our group had heard of it, and also mentioned that their husbands had read it and liked it a lot. This isn’t a new book.

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. I’ve read two of O’Reilly’s books, and been very impressed. Most of the research is done by Mr. Dugard, a history wizard as far as I’m concerned. Two in our group had already read this and liked it very much. It’s all history. Period. It’s not political, even though O’Reilly is a political commentator.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Hillenbrand. What a book. You could hardly have existed without hearing people talk about this book. Great book for a man, too. I read it some months ago. I wish Dave had read it – he would have loved it.

Mean Streak by Sandra Brown. Although her books have some romance to them, she also weaves, always, a very good mystery in with it. Light reading.

Gray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham. Two in our group had already read this one, his newest. Always good for a page-turning read.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel by Nancy Horan. I’ll for-sure have to get this one on my Kindle as I really liked her other book about Frank Lloyd Wright. This one is about Robert Louis Stevenson and his love, a woman 10 years his senior.

Mud Pies and Other Recipes (New York Review Children’s Collection)- this is a children’s book (5-9 year old girls it says). Originally written decades ago, it’s been re-published by, as you can read above, the New York Review Children’s Collection. It has stories, but also some “recipes.”  It has a 5-star rating on amazon.

Peter Pan Picture Book: Shape Book – also a children’s book. It’s for very young readers, or even pre-readers. One of our members brought the whole collection of these books. They’re short, maybe 10-12 pages each, and this is just one of them. If you’re interested in others, google “shape book” and you’ll find the others in the series. If you’re an artist, you’ll really appreciate the exquisite 4-color art which are reproductions from old nursery rhymes and stories of old. Very sweet book.

For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxes – the title is pretty self-explanatory. Was mentioned as a good book for a man, though the gal said she liked reading it very much herself, then she passed it on to her husband.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life As this book was discussed, the gal who recommended it explained that this book is often suggested to people who are not-so-sure they believe in miracles  – or even for people who are non-believers. The author (who also wrote the recent definitive book on Bonhoefer) is analytical, yet he’s a believer. There’s a scientific element to this book which might appeal to some. One review read: “ . . . will blow your mind with stories of phenomena beyond anything we might classify as merely natural. And he will bless your heart with what can happen in your life personally as you read stories of people (very smart people I might add) who “extra-ordinarily” encountered God’s majestic purpose converging with their daily lives, stunning and humbling them forever.” I’ll be buying this book, probably in hardback just for my own reading.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympicsby Daniel James Brown. I read this book several months ago and wrote it up on my sidebar. One of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. Great book for men and women. The one word description: teamwork.

An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir – Phyllis Chesler is a PhD and Jewish. She married a Westernized Afghani who was attending graduate school with her. She did it with eyes closed (obviously), trusted him and his family when she moved to Kabul. At which point she lost everything – her American passport and any form of freedom. Not a book you’d give every woman as there is certainly a message here, but it’s an eye-opening reveal about day to day Islamic life. She escaped eventually, but she’s forever scarred.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. This is a book I recommended. Not for every reader. My friend Darlene gave me the autographed book for my birthday. It’s a dense book about the history, the botany, and the uses of every kind of natural flora and fauna which contribute to the making of spirits. So, for instance – agave, juniper, grains of paradise (a very special pepper), casava, prickly pear. Very interesting reading. If you don’t drink spirits, I’d not buy this. If you’re a gardener and interested in such things, it would make a good read or a gift. Amy Stewart has also written several other books about poisonous plants and about the life of the earthworm. Just google her name on amazon and you’ll see them all. If you have family members who are particular interested in bugs, there are a couple that would make a great gift.

Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home by Marcus Samuelsson. I think I wrote up something about this on my blog already. This is his most recent cookbook and it’s chock-full of stories about all the recipes. For being a native Nigerian, but raised in Sweden, Marcus has certainly embraced our American foods and I’m glad of it! The recipe for the mac ‘n cheese that my granddaughter ate at his restaurant in Harlem when we were there in July, is in the cookbook. Haven’t tried it yet.

Christmas Memories Book – one member of the group forgot to bring it, but she shared with us about a gift that she bought many years ago when her first child was born. It’s a method of keeping memories alive of every Christmas in your family. You fill in who was there, what was special that year, gifts given, what you had for breakfast or dinner, and other little bits of trivia that contribute to your family’s Christmas traditions. And a place for a photo or two. The link is to the only one I found on amazon that seemed to be similar to hers which she purchased 30+ years ago. She has completely filled the book and had to move on to another one, different size and shape because she couldn’t find one like the first one. Anyway, it was a sweet idea, particularly for a young family, just married or on the arrival of their first child.

Photo at top from The Guardian, found through Google images

Posted in Salads, Veggies/sides, on November 15th, 2014.

butternut_squash_kale_salad

Kale Salad with butternut squash and a warm cider vinaigrette. Delicious!

Has kale salad reached its zenith? Perhaps. And waning? Or not? I really don’t know. We realize, because it’s shouted from the magazine rooftops, that it’s one of those super foods, so very good for us. And there are recipes by the gazillion on the internet for it. So, here’s one more!

There are 4 couples of us – oh, see, there I go – I still think of myself as part of a couple – probably always will – so there are 3 couples and me, the widow, who meet for a gourmet dinner, lunch or brunch every few months. We have plenty of good laughter, conversation about food, travel, sports, etc. You know, the usual, when any group gathers. Except that this group says a prayer before every dinner, which is really nice. And we have wonderful food. So I’m sharing the recipes for a couple of the dishes from that last gathering. It was a brunch. This salad is served cold, not hot. Hence it’s a salad, of course, not a hot side dish. Silly me! Anyway, Dianne made this salad and we all loved it. It’s a slight riff on an Ina Garten recipe. Ina’s called for arugula, and her version is tossed with the dressing just before serving.

This riff on Ina’s salad is made with baby kale (if you can find it – it’s a bit softer and not quite so chewy) and Dianne allowed the dressing to sit on the greens for awhile (so technically it’s no longer a “warm” salad dressing) to help soften up the kale, then she added in the other ingredients and garnished with shaved Parm.

What’s GOOD: loved the color, for sure. The slightly bitter, from the kale, and sweet, from the squash, made a lovely taste in the mouth. A different side dish. Very nice. I liked it.

What’s NOT: nothing really – finding baby kale can sometimes be a challenge (I’d  use arugula if you can’t find the baby kale, but if you really like the regular kale, go for it).

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from an Ina Garten recipe
Serving Size: 6

1 butternut squash — (1 1/2-pound) peeled and 3/4-inch) diced
Good olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
3/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces kale — baby kale, if possible, or use baby arugula
1/2 cup walnuts — toasted
3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated or shaved

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries to the pan for the last 5 minutes.
3. While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
4. Cut out the ribs of the kale, cut into small bite-sized pieces and rub/massage it just a little bit – it helps break down the toughness of kale. Place it in a large salad bowl and add most of the dressing an hour or so before you’re going to serve it. Then add the roasted squash, the walnuts, and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then taste it to see if it needs more dressing and add if necessary. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan on top. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 274 Calories; 9g Fat (28.3% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 228mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on November 11th, 2014.

halloween_bundt_cake_3

Yes, I know, it’s way past Halloween, but it’s not too late to make pumpkin cake. Just leave off the tarantula, okay?

My friend Cherrie, nearly every year, throws a pre-Halloween lunch for her friends. She is a consummate hostess. She sends out printed invitations (from her computer). She usually does some kind of theme (this year it was witches’ hats), and she always does a bang-up menu. This year she did a delicious and rich crab and pasta casserole, green salad, croissants. She had an appetizer that we halloween_table1all enjoyed on her spacious back deck. It was a beautiful and pleasant day. She set a gorgeous table (did I tell you she has boxes and boxes and boxes of house decorations for every single holiday of the year?).

There at right  below, you can see one of the table settings. halloween_table_settingShe loves doing this – she gets such gratification from the fun time we all have at her house. She cooked for days. She, who has a broken foot and is still wearing a boot (similar to mine, other foot, different injury), yet she cooked a big meal and set this lovely table. We had champagne and other drinks ahead of time, wine with lunch if we wanted it. Then she served dessert. Her friend Karen made the cake, which was just lovely. It’s a light textured cake (my favorite kind), rich with pumpkin pie spices, and has a really nice creamy frosting. The gingersnaps are really only on the top of the cake (none IN the cake) but if you get a little bit of gingersnap crumbs with each bite, you can definitely taste them.

My advice: if you’re going to keep the cake several hours, don’t add the gingersnap crumbs until just before serving, so they’re still extra crunchy. I think Karen said it’s only about 4 gingersnaps – you probably could add a few more. You could also serve this with some ice cream (a bit of calorie overkill, though). The recipe came from Taste of Home.

What’s GOOD: Karen said the cake was cinchy easy to make. She decorated it with Halloween paraphernalia – not in the picture above is a big black “BOO” that was up above the tarantula, stuck into the cake with 2 long picks. I liked the tenderness of the cake – I’m not into dry, firmer cakes, that’s for sure, and this one hit all my favorite pumpkin/fall taste buttons.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. A lovely cake, great to take to an event and if you’re so inclined, decorate it with fall or Halloween trinkets. But don’t forget the gingersnaps. They really added a lovely touch.

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Gingersnap Pumpkin Bundt Cake

Recipe By: Taste of Home, via Cherrie’s friend Karen
Serving Size: 12

15 ounces pumpkin puree
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup canola oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
ICING:
4 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup butter — softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
5 gingersnap cookies — crushed (or more, maybe)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-in. fluted tube pan (bundt).
2. In a large bowl, beat pumpkin, sugar, eggs and oil until well blended. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, pie spice and salt; gradually beat into pumpkin mixture.
3. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until blended. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Frost cake; sprinkle with crushed cookies. (My note: if you’re gong to keep the cake for several hours, crumble and crush the cookies and garnish the cake at the last minute, lightly tapping the gingersnaps into the frosting. You could also sprinkle more crumbs on each plate – I thought the gingersnaps really added a special flavor to the cake.)
Per Serving: 551 Calories; 28g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 72g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 91mg Cholesterol; 411mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on November 9th, 2014.

I’ve had a request to post some pictures of the view from my house.

march 08 sunset

There’s the view at sunset. Catalina Island is the small set of mountains way out there. The gray stuff below that mountain range is the ocean. It’s about 10 miles away, and it’s 25 miles from the coast to Catalina.

Dave and I moved to this house in 2003. I think I’ve told the story before . . .  we lived in a house about a mile from this one, and we were trying  to figure out how to add a wine cellar. So, I suggested we go look at some newer homes, more high-end ones that would have a wine cellar – but purely to get ideas for how we might add a wine cellar to our existing home. We started at new sub-divisions nearer the ocean from where we lived (it’s about 10 miles as the crow flies). We looked at a few and yes, they had lovely, really big wine cellars, the kind you might entertain in. I mean, who does that when a wine cellar is supposed to be kept at 56° for heaven’s sake? Unless you have a warmer room that’s surrounded by refrigerated, glass-fronted cases. I shudder to think about the electric bill on that one. Anyway, none of the wine cellars were something do-able for our home in Dave’s opinion. We weren’t looking to buy a house; besides the homes were very pricey, out of our league, for sure. Maybe the basic house was attainable, but with all the add-ons they do these days in new-builds, well, it would have been way too much money.

We had talked about building an underground cellar in our backyard at the old house. I don’t think we were ever serious about doing that, but we did talk about it. Our backyard wasn’t all that big, but we might have been able to find a space that would have worked. But Dave also wanted to add a walk-in closet to our master bedroom. We did have 2 fairly good-sized regular closets, but we both were cramped without enough space for clothes. Dave tried to figure out if he could combine a wine cellar entrance inside the master bedroom closet.

patio and spa 1

That’s an old photo and the view isn’t all that great because it was a hazy day, but out there at the horizon is the ocean. It’s just that it’s so far away you can’t see the water. The only time the ocean is visible is when the sun reflects off of it. My house is about 750 feet above sea level.

Anyway, we started looking at homes (still with the idea of researching wine cellars) in our area and when we saw this house, it was love at first sight. It had a wine cellar.wine cellar

It wasn’t all that pretty. The cellar was quite basic, though it was air conditioned properly. The photo above was after we remodeled the wine cellar. Anyway, when we saw the view from this house, well, I think we just said okay, guess if we’re ever going to live in a house with a view, now would be the time. Dave was about 64 then and I was 62. Now I’m 73 and Dave is in heaven. I think about Dave a lot when I go out on the patio to look at the view – I walk out there quite frequently. This time of year is beautiful – the sunset especially. And I do love the view.

kitchen view

The view from the kitchen. Most of that foliage has been chopped back so there is more “view” visible. You can see some of the view out the left window. Those palm trees are also gone.

When we remodeled the house and added on the big kitchen (in ‘06) Dave asked for a view from the kitchen sink (remember, he did ALL the dishes), and by golly, he got the best view possible!summer sunset jul 08

There’s another view. Those are the same palm trees that have been removed and that’s a view looking more northwest in the winter when the sun sets more to the north. Bad haze that day.

Posted in Fish, Miscellaneous, on November 7th, 2014.

tarragon_sauce_salmon

My friend Cherrie called me recently and said, “I fixed your salmon with tarragon sauce last night.” My mind went blank. Salmon with tarragon sauce?  “Are you sure it was my recipe,” I said? Yes, indeed, she even had my MasterCook print-out that said it was from Gourmet Magazine back in the 1990s. Hmmm. It took me awhile, but I found it in my recipe collection – a search revealed it was under “tarragon” not “salmon.” Obviously I haven’t fixed it in a loooooong time!

Cherrie was nice enough to give me some of it, as it makes a bunch – enough for 8 servings, and there are only two of them. I had it the other night on a nice piece of steamed salmon, along with Brussels sprouts I cooked in garlic, onion and a dash of maple syrup stirred in at the last minute, and some really ripe Plumato tomato slices. A lovely dinner, and a really tasty sauce. I think the sauce could go on chicken also, but it’s ideal for fish. (See, I am cooking a little bit, and my foot managed with me standing at the counter for about 15 minutes. That’s progress.)

In my notes, it says salmon is the best fish for it, and the recipe suggested placing a pool of the sauce on a plate and then adding the salmon on top. I chose not to do it that way – thought being on top would make it more photogenic. The original recipe called for mayo, but at the time I made this, back in the 90s, I was into using lower fat stuff – so you can use your own judgment – full fat or low fat, but don’t use nonfat mayo, okay? What is does require is a bunch of tarragon – 2 bunches. That’s a LOT. It also contains chives, shallot, parsley, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and a bit of Dijon. That’s it. Easy to make. And since Cherrie gave this to me a week ago, it obviously keeps awhile. But eventually fresh herbs will begin to disintegrate and get oozy, so do use it within a few days if you can. I think Cherrie told me she didn’t quite have enough mayo, so she substituted a little bit of yogurt, which should be just fine.

What’s GOOD: it’s really easy to make – providing you’ve got tarragon. I don’t seem to have much luck raising tarragon in my kitchen garden. Don’t know why, so I usually have to buy it. You will need 3/4 of a cup of loosely measured tarragon leaves if you make this batch for 8 servings.

What’s NOT: nothing other than it tastes much better if allowed to sit for a few hours (chilled).

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Tarragon Sauce for Salmon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Gourmet Magazine recipe, July 1998
Serving Size: 8

2 bunches fresh tarragon — (to measure 3/4 cup of loose leaves)
1 bunch chives — loosely chopped
2 large shallot — chopped and blanched
1/4 cup Italian parsley — loosely chopped
1 cup mayonnaise — may use some low fat if preferred, or substitute some yogurt
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Pick off the tarragon leaves to measure about 3/4 cup without packing them down. Wash and drain briefly. Add to the bowl of a food processor along with the chives, parsley and shallot. Pulse until those ingredients are finely minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients (except salt and pepper) and pulse until smooth. Taste it and season with salt and pepper. Chill the mixture for a few hours, if possible.
3. Allow sauce to warm up (at room temp) for about 20 minutes before serving. You may spoon it onto a plate and place the fish on top, or the other way around. Garnish the fish with a sprig of Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 202 Calories; 23g Fat (97.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 173mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on November 5th, 2014.

I’ve been meaning to post pictures of the patio since it’s finally completed. As I stood out there the other day taking these, I just choked up, big time, that Dave didn’t get to see it. Although I suppose he probably has/does, if he/we can see down here on earth, once we get to heaven. I know he would have been pleased with it. We had agreed on what we were going to do, and the construction started the day Dave had his stroke. I could have stopped it easily enough, but I did want the patio re-done and know it will be an asset if/when I ever decide to sell the house. My home is still where I feel the most comfortable. It’s a safe haven. I love my home. I don’t much enjoy the headaches that go along with owning an old/big home, but so far it’s do-able.

table_fireplace

Remember, I live on a hill, so that view is looking back into the side yard/patio, with the hill at the back. The garages are back around to the right with a big retaining wall that holds up the hill! The sitting area is down there on the right, nestled in next to the family room window and the north view is visible from there out to the left, on the far side of the fireplace. The gas log fireplace has a nice raised hearth. It’s all new furniture except for the table, which was newly powder-coated in a smooth stippled black and chocolate color. The cushions are not a Sunbrella fabric, but a new sun-resistant outdoor fabric. I find that they do get dirty very easily – am not sure I should have chosen such a light color, but they all have zippers so I can wash them if needed. All the cushions got wet in our rainstorm the other day – I had covered up everything with towels, thinking we’d just get a “shower,” as the weather experts predicted. No, it was a short deluge, so everything got wet. They’re all drying in a standing-up position at the moment.

table_to_view

There’s the real “view” although it was not a very clear day when I took these pictures. It was gearing up to rain, actually. The outdoor countertop you can see on the left – it continues on around the corner. The windows on the left are the kitchen. The bar-height table we already had, but it got newly powder coated also. Want a laugh? The umbrella you see there on the right is actually sitting – the marble base – in the jacuzzi. (Thanks to my cousin Gary who helped me get it in there this year.) Dave had figured out how to do it, with rope (“line” in sailing parlance) tied just so on the handle. We’d done this every year for several as it works like a charm – in the early summer months the sun beats in there and you can’t have a dinner meal without being blinded, so the umbrella gets put up and tilted so it makes it bearable! The big pool is out at the far left. My friend Bill (husband to JoAnn, and a couple in the evening bible study group that’s been going for 18 months or so) is going to help me get it out of there this week. He’s been SUCH a big help to me – he offered soon after Dave passed away – that if I needed anything done, he’d be happy to do it. And oh, gosh, has he ever! I am ever so blessed to have many, many friends.

patio_countertop_grill_view

There you can see the kitchen countertop a bit better. I have some drawer storage and 3 compartments underneath to store stuff. Note the ultra-cute outdoor chandelier. Found it online. IT was relatively inexpensive! But, it only cost me about $800 to have the electrician get a watertight plug mounted up there. Dave would have had a FIT about that expense, though he would have liked the finished product. Outdoor lighting (as in the chandelier) like that has little glass bowls that lock in place over the bulbs – to make it watertight. The BBQ is there in the background, with the gray cover on it. The door on the right is the dining room. A little hard to see. I also bought an outdoor table lamp that’s on a table in the seating area at the back. I haven’t taken the cellophane off of it because one of the glass bowls broke in transit and it just got plugged in out there. And now it’s time to take all that stuff into the garage – well, the cushions and the 2 outdoor fixtures anyway – until next spring.

Posted in Brunch, on November 3rd, 2014.

pineapple_french_toast

An age-old recipe of mine – the easiest French toast you’ll ever make, almost. You just have to have some of that King’s Hawaiian bread on hand, and a can of pineapple. Along with milk, eggs, butter and brown sugar. I sprinkled the top with cinnamon.

Years ago, 2007 to be exact, I wrote this up on my blog – during a time when I’d actually broken a bone in my foot and had to use crutches and/or a wheelchair. I wrote up some posts during that 12-week period but didn’t have pictures. I just wrote up the story and provided the recipe. I located some photo on the web that kinda-sorta looked like it. So, I’m giving you an updated post about it and oodles of pictures. I expect most readers don’t go back into the ancient writing here on this blog anyway. I never fixed this for Dave, my DH, because he was a diabetic, and this was just loaded with sugar. Is loaded with sugar. But oh-so-good.

kings_hawaiian_bread_wrapperDo grocery stores across America have King’s Hawaiian bread? I have no idea. It’s a very sweet, but super-tender eggy yeast bread, sweetened some with pineapple juice, so it is believed. There are any number of copycat recipes on the web if you’re interested – see this one if you want to try to make the bread from scratch. Otherwise, buy an eggy bread or Challah, and add more sugar to the recipe below. I used the mini sub rolls. hawaiian_sweet_breadPicture of the actual roll is at left. My grocery store only had hot dog buns and these.  Some markets have their sliders, or their regular loaf bread, or nice dinner rolls. King’s Hawaiian makes any number of different types of bread shapes. Glancing at the package I assumed (correctly) that one package of these sub rolls, placed cut side up would be just right for a 9×13 pan full of this french toast. And it fit perfectly, with just a tiny bit to spare.

pineapple_mixtureThe brown sugar, butter and pineapple gets heated up on the stovetop, just until the sugar melts. Then it goes into the Pyrex dish (no need to butter it). That’s the photo at right. Then you mix up the egg-milk mixture and dip the bread into that mixture and place them just so in the dish on top of all that pineapple. My recipe called for baking it immediately, and that’s what I’ve always done. But this time, I was taking it to a Sunday brunch, and would not have time to french_toast_ready_to_bakemake it that morning, so I mixed it all up and left it in the refrigerator overnight. I still had some of the milk mixture left over, so once I got to our hostess’ house, that got poured in on top and after sitting out for about 45 minutes I baked it.

Ideally, when serving it, you’ll use a spatula and scrape up a lot of the pineapple and you can serve it upside down – or right side up. No matter, other than the plain top isn’t all that exciting. Hence I sprinkled the top with a tiny bit of cinnamon. Not in the recipe . . . but I did it anyway. If  you have a crew of hungry kids, this won’t serve but about 4-5 people, but as part of a brunch, with other foods, this will serve 6-8 for sure.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make. Overnight chill? Fine. No time to chill? Fine too. Feeds a crowd of people providing you have other food available (fruit, smoothies, bacon, sausage). Doesn’t even need anything on top of it – no syrup or sauce or anything. You could serve it with maple syrup, but I almost think that would be sugar overkill! Kids adore this, I guarantee it.

What’s NOT: only that nothing in this is good for you – maybe just the milk and canned pineapple. It’s sweet, lubricated with butter and egg. But gosh, it’s ever so good!

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Pineapple Upside-Down French Toast

Recipe By: Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, back in the 1990s, I think.
Serving Size: 8

1/4 cup unsalted butter — (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
3/4 cup crushed pineapple — pack & drain well (I use 2 of the short cans)
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 cups milk — combo of low fat and full fat is fine; just don’t use nonfat
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 slices King’s Hawaiian bread — or egg bread or Challah (I used 6 mini-sub rolls)
2 pinches cinnamon — to sprinkle on top

Notes: If making this with Challah or egg bread, add some sugar to the milk-egg-mixture. You can use fake brown sugar, some egg substitute and low fat milk if desired. Obviously it won’t be quite so tasty, or decadent, either!
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and stir in sugar and pineapple, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
2. In a shallow bowl whisk together eggs, milk and salt.
3. In a baking dish, 9 x 13 inches, spread pineapple mixture evenly over bottom. Dip bread slices into milk mixture in batches and arrange in one layer on top of pineapple mixture. (I place the rolls white side up.) If you have extra spaces in the pan, just mush the bread a little to squeeze in some more slices. It’s also fairly easy to mix up a little more egg/milk mixture to make the dish feed more people if you have more bread than you thought. Sprinkle the top with just a couple pinches of cinnamon.
4. Bake French Toast in middle of oven for 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the bread), or until bread is golden brown. Cool in pan for one minute and serve. The French Toast will have risen up high (puffy) and it’s really nice to serve this before it deflates, which it will do as soon as it cools down. You can serve this with maple syrup or with sweetened fresh fruit, but the pineapple is the flavor you want to shine through. It really doesn’t need any embellishments.
Per Serving: 264 Calories; 12g Fat (39.8% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 97mg Cholesterol; 237mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on November 1st, 2014.

halloween_coffee_potSo, I wasn’t home for Halloween. I drove to San Diego to spend a few days with daughter Sara and her family. Got stuck in a gosh-awful traffic jam that had the northbound freeway completely closed down for over 12 hours. I was already en route southbound when I heard about it on the radio and within about 5 minutes my side of the freeway was creeping along at about 5-10 mph for about 15 miles. Two lanes were closed on my side because the big-rig that jackknifed not only went over on its side, but it hit the center divider (thank goodness for that as it might have kept going across 4 more lanes!) and sent debris into 2 lanes of the southbound lanes. . . .  . photo at left is my friend Cherrie’s coffeepot – she doesn’t use it – it’s just for decoration.

The traffic jam, though not fun to go through, didn’t seriously affect my drive other than delaying it by about 45 minutes – I had dinner with my friend Linda. We went to a favorite restaurant, Blue Ribbon Pizzeria that I’ve written up here on my blog long time ago. It’s in Encinitas. Every time we go there we order the same thing – the Signature (white) Pizza (fresh ricotta, lemon zest, basil, oil) – and we ask for their home made fennel sausage on it as well. Then we order the BLT Salad with the buttermilk dressing. So good. My friend, Linda, recently had heart valve replacement surgery, and I was so glad to see her up and around and looking great. She can’t drive yet, so she was happy to get out of the house.

Later in the evening I drove to Poway to stay with Sara and family. On Friday (yesterday) we drove to Point Loma to show Sabrina (granddaughter) my alma mater (the campus itself). It’s now a college called Point Loma Nazarene University, but when I went there in the 1960s, it was California Western University. Anyway, the campus has grown a lot, but the basics are still there. The dorm I lived in is still there, so I pointed out to Sabrina where my room was the 3 years I was there (I graduated from college in 3 years, by taking 20-22 units per semester and going to summer school, double sessions). We drove past the buildings where I attended most of my classes. We drove down to the beach (well, within about 600 feet of the cliffs there) too. Sabrina and her mom walked the “mall,” the long path that wanders through the middle of the campus. It’s not a huge school.

We had lunch at Dave’s/my yacht club where Dave’s sailboat is still sitting, waiting for the right people to buy it. Sara and I just couldn’t walk out to the slips, the docks, to see the boat – too emotionally tough for both of us – from the clubhouse we couldn’t see it. Probably a good thing. I would have broken down in tears, I know.

saras_sugar_cookies

Returning to Poway after lunch, Sara needed to make chili for a group of friends who were coming over for dinner that evening, and between us we made these sugar cookies. Sara told me she’s been making these for years and years and years. I must admit, I’m not much of a sugar cookie fan. To me, they’re just blah. Sugar, flour, baking powder, shortening and salt. Maybe some vanilla. Kids love them – maybe because they’re bland, but also because they’re a blank page upon pumpkin_cookie_cutter_rolling_pinwhich to decorate. I’m not even much of a fan of sprinkles, but gosh, nearly every kid I’ve known loves them.

BUT, these sugar cookies are a bit different than most – these contain egg and milk, so they produce a more tender cookie. Sara had mixed up the dough the night before, so she rolled out each section (4), cut them out using a pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter, and I (from a bar stool so I could rest my foot) decorated them with – you guessed it – sprinkles.

Do watch the baking time – as you’ll read in the recipe, if you roll the dough thinly, you’ll end up with thinner/crisper cookies. I prefer them that way, but if you want softer cookies, merely roll the dough thicker and bake them longer, but don’t over-bake them. You’ll need to use a bit of trial and error. When you take them out of the oven they’re still soft, but within a few minutes they’ll firm-up. They really should be cooled on a rack, but just be gentle with them as you use a spatula to get them off the cookie sheet. They take 8-10 minutes, or more depending on the thickness or the size cookie you cut.

What’s GOOD: well, they’re sugar cookies. If you’re a fan, you’ll love them. I liked them a lot, considering that sugar cookies aren’t something I ever make, or order, or even take from a plate of cookies if they’re offered. But these – they’re good. Tender yet crisp. You can color them for whatever season you’re in and cut any kind of shape.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. Easy to make. Easy to bake. Easy to decorate if you’re into that. Do start the night before if possible as the dough does need to chill.

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Sara’s Sugar Cookies

Recipe By: From my daughter, Sara, and she got it from her friend Stephanie.
Serving Size: 36

2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
4 teaspoons milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Cream together shortening, sugar, vanilla, egg and milk, until fluffy and light. (If you want to color the dough, do so at this point – in this case it was orange – a mixture of red and yellow.)
2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Fold into creamed mixture. Chill dough several hours or overnight (covered).
3. Cut dough into 4 sections and roll out on floured board and cut into desired shapes. Place on cookie sheets, decorate as desired and bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes. Cool cookies on a rack. If you want softer cookies, roll the dough a bit thicker. If you prefer more crispy cookies, roll the dougth a bit thinner and bake them until you can barely see a hint of golden brown. Definitely do not over-bake them. The yield is an estimate – it depends on how thick or thin you roll the dough, and what kind of cookie cutters you use. We got a yield of about 36 3-inch wide cookies.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; 4g Fat (43.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 38mg Sodium.

Posted in Equipment, on October 25th, 2014.

thermapen

If you’re one of those people who likes to give just ONE, really nice Christmas gift to someone special, please do consider this. The ThermoWorks Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer, Perfect for Barbecue, Home and Professional Cooking. Disregard the long name, that’s just how amazon markets, with just such long info-bulging product titles. . . . photo from King Arthur Flour. These little gadgets are pricey, I know – about $96 on amazon – but I’m telling you true – you will not regret it if you can afford to buy one. Presumably it will last you for decades. This tool is one of my favorite tools in my cooking arsenal.

Last weekend I was visiting my son’s home and he and his wife, Karen, were busy preparing a lovely dinner. I dutifully sat on a bar stool resting my foot. I’d made a green salad here at home and took along a jar of homemade salad dressing that’s been in my frig for about a month. Making the salad took little time standing on my ailing foot, and once there Karen mixed it up at the last minute.

They were making grilled pork chops, on the indoor (stovetop) grill. Did I mention that they bought a quarter of a Berkshire pig during the summer? From my/Dave’s friend Fay who still helps 4H clubs with raising farm animals near where we live. Powell & Karen are very enamored with the Berkshire meat now and have already requested another one, perhaps a half a pig next time (next summer this will have to be).

The pork chops weren’t very thick, which makes for a bit more tricky and risky cooking time. Powell scoured in a nearby drawer for the meat thermometer and extracted just the wire. No base unit. He went outside, thinking it was in a drawer out by the barbecue. No. Karen finally found it and they gently probed the meat to test the temp. We had a brief discussion about what the temp should be. Their thermometer was telling them it was a lower temp (not done), and as the minutes went by, and the chops got browner and browner, they decided to disregard the probe’s results and serve the pork. Good thing, as the chops were likely past the ideal temp. But they were delicious anyway. Likely the meat probe was faulty.

But it got me to thinking about one of my favorite kitchen tools, the Thermapen. I’ve mentioned it here many times, mostly when my DH was barbecuing and I’d give him instructions about grilling a roast, or chicken, or whatever. I gave it to him as a Christmas gift, I think. Or maybe not – I might have bought it for myself, knowing to ask him to get it for me wouldn’t happen – he’d never have gone to the trouble to look it up online (I have no idea where to buy it in a brick and mortar store). My recollection is that he looked at it and said “huh?” I told him to “trust me.” That was marriage code for the two of us – mostly it was code I said to him, not the other way around, that I knew from which I speak. And sure enough, that little doo-dad became one of his favorite things. I use it for meat, of course, but I also use it to test warmed-up leftovers in the toaster oven, or quick breads, or yeast bread. Even cakes too. The Thermapen is a treasured item in the pockets of many top line chefs. Sous chefs too.

Last year I gave one as a gift to my friend Cherrie, for Christmas. She likely wouldn’t have purchased one at the price they are – I have mentioned, haven’t I, that this tool is expensive? On amazon they’re $96. That’s a heck of a price for a thermometer, I know. There are so many other brands out there at 1/5 the price, or 1/3 the price. But they can’t work as well as the Thermapen. Some months ago Cherrie told me that her husband, Bud, has basically confiscated the Thermapen and it lives out by their barbecue. He kinda-sorta thinks it belong to him now, ever since he began using it last Spring. So Cherrie knows, when she needs it, she has to walk out near the ‘que to find it. They both love it and have thanked me numerous times for it.

So, I’m going to buy one for Powell & Karen for Christmas. Or maybe just for Powell since I’ll bet it’ll live out in their new outdoor kitchen drawers. (Yes, I know, I still need to take photos of my new outdoor kitchen – before I take it all down for the winter.)

So what’s unique about this thermometer? Well, for one, it’s one of those instant-read ones. It does take about 3-4 seconds for the temp to settle in and reach temp, but that’s about as instant as you can get, but it is very legible on the big screen. Another nice thing is that when you fold the probe against the base, it turns off automatically. Press in? Off. So much better than most of the others that require you to press a itty-bitty tiny button to shut it off. Or, what if you forget and leave it on. One of my older probes has a boxy base and it’s not easy replacing the batteries in it. Hated that one. It was cheap. No wonder.

The Thermapen can fit in a shirt pocket or a pants pocket – just don’t forget it there and send it through the washing machine – that’d likely finish it off. It’s big enough you’re not likely to forget it’s there. You can’t drop the unit in water – that’s a no-no, but when it is time to clean it, open the probe and just rinse and/or wipe off with a soapy sponge. Fold back the probe and into the drawer it goes. Mine is now about 4 years old, I think, and the battery is still going strong.

Update on me: my doctor says my foot is better. She pressed and probed with her thumb in my heel/foot and I didn’t jump off the table in pain, so now I’m doing daily exercises (several). She also gave me another cortisone shot, and that has helped also. You can have 3 in a year. My funky bright tennis shoe is all I wear on that foot. They’re Brooks brand. Brooks Women’s Glycerin 11 Running Shoes, Color: Aqrs/DrsdnBlu/Blk/Slv/ShckOrng. That’s a link on amazon for the shoe in case you’re interested. I was going to take a photo of my electric blue shoe, just to give you all a laugh, but I’m too lazy. My doctor glanced at the shoe sitting on the floor next to the exam table and said – wow, you have the very best athletic shoes out there – good for you. I go to a shoe store that specializes in comfortable shoes, called Comfort Shoe Loft, on El Toro Rd in Lake Forest, CA, in case anyone wants to know. The owner there is the one who sold me these shoes telling me that for plantar fasciitis, this was the best shoe out there. (And I have a very high, firm arch support in it as well.) It’s nice to have the doctor confirm that claim. Anyway, I still have months to go before my heel is well, but the doctor gave me some suggestions – space out my outings over the course of the day – don’t do a marathon of errands. That’s do-able. Do the exercises several times a day and finish with rolling my foot over a frozen water or juice bottle to help chill-out any inflammation caused by the exercises. Also do-able. Also to take an anti-inflammatory if I wake up and my foot is squawking at me more than usual – but take just one, just one day. Okay. Do-able. She also told me – when I asked – to NOT push through the pain. She said that could reverse all the healing I have done. She said in this case when my foot squawks, it IS telling me something – that I need to go home and rest. It’s been 3 1/2 months of this – I know well how to do that part. Not that I’m happy about it, however.

Oh, and I thought I should mention a disclaimer – when you click on an amazon link in my posts, it takes you to amazon through a different portal (called amazon associates), but if you should buy a Thermapen, I earn a few cents. Most months I never even reach their minimum threshold, so it’s been rare that I ever “make” anything from amazon sales. But it might keep my website up for awhile longer . . .obviously these links are a marketing tool well used by bloggers. I wouldn’t do this unless I recommended the product as I am with the Thermapen and my athletic shoes.

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