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Am currently reading An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir by Phyllis Chester. True story about an extremely naive Jewish woman who marries an Afghani fellow student (they met at university here in the U.S.). He was very Westernized, yet when he has to return home to Kabul, with her – and live with his family, she virtually becomes enslaved. She kept a diary about it. The book is riveting. This took place in the 60s, and she eventually escapes – with no help whatsoever from the American Embassy. Her husband and his family finally allow her to leave to seek medical help (long story). During the time she lived in Kabul she was unable to contact her family. Period. The 2nd half of the book is more about the culture of Islam, and lack of women’s rights.  And about what she’s trying to do to work for change in the Islamic world.

Just finished The Interestings: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a group of mid-teens (both guys and gals) who become close friends at a summer camp, 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 fairly major roles, to their late 30s or early 40s 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. As I read it I kept hoping it was going to get better and it does, but I had to get half way through before I really wanted to keep going. It WAS a good read, though. With the exception of seeing some maturity develop amongst the characters, the book is kind of like a soap opera. The main character is a likable woman, thank goodness.

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 Salads, on December 20th, 2014.

spinach salad with roasted apples and apple cider vinaigrette

Of all the recipes from this last class I went to, I think this was one of the best. What made it special were the roasted apples, and the vinaigrette. Both are different – unusual – and very, very tasty.

If you look at the apple that’s nestled at the top (center) you can see that it’s different – you can barely discern that it’s been roasted. Hard to tell with the others. And, you certainly can’t see anything about the salad dressing except that the spinach leaves glisten with it. And oh, was this good. This isn’t anything close to an easy salad to make. It has 3 prep components: the dressing, the candied pecans, and the roasted apples. But you’ll be in heaven when you taste it. The roasted apples have a wonderful sweetness, but not overly so, and the dressing contains a bit of brown sugar and is made with a reduction of apple juice, so it does have more than a little bit of sweet to it. It would have been perfect with Thanksgiving dinner. But it would be delicious any time of year. Truly.

When I make this – and I will be making it – I’m going to figure out how to use apple juice concentrate so I don’t have to boil down the juice to get a reduction. I think – and I’d have to double check the frozen can directions – but I think if you used 1 T. of apple juice concentrate you’d be all done with that step! A tablespoon of concentrate mixed with 3 parts water would = 1/4 cup apple juice, right? So you’ve saved a bit of time right there.

The spiced nuts – oh gosh were they ever good. Very easy. The only ingredient I don’t have in my kitchen is Lawry’s garlic salt. I’ll have to make do with something else as I’m not going to buy that just for this recipe. When I make this I’ll probably make more than this recipe because the nuts would be so tasty to serve to guests. Probably not in the same meal, but as an casual appetizer. The recipe makes 2 cups, and 1 cup goes into the salad, so you’ll have a cup left over anyway. You’re going to like them, I assure you!

Do buy baby spinach for this – or you could mix some field greens with spinach, which would be fine. But you don’t want regular (big) spinach leaves. And the only other comment is that you must add the poppy seeds at the last minute – on top of the salad. If you add it to the dressing, the poppy seeds clump together. Not appetizing, for sure. So just have those sitting by your bowl when you’re tossing and sprinkle them on top when you add the nuts and apples. Ideally, you’ll want to plate this salad so everyone gets an equal amount of apples and nuts, but it would be beautiful on a big platter. If you wanted to serve this as a main course, I’d add some goat cheese to it and you’d be set.

What’s GOOD: every single, solitary thing about this salad is wonderful. The apples (so different to be roasted), and the apple juice/cider vinaigrette. Oh, and the spiced pecans. Everything good.

What’s NOT: this will take you awhile to make – don’t make the day of – if you’re doing a full-on dinner yourself, although you can make the dressing ahead and the nuts. The apples can also be made ahead – so if you do make this for a dinner party, do all those steps the day before. You’ll be glad you did.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spinach Salad with Roasted Apples, Candied Pecans and Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

APPLES:
4 each apples — Gala or Fuji (can substitute pears)
1/2 cup turbinado sugar — (raw sugar)
VINAIGRETTE:
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup canola oil — or grapeseed (use a neutral oil)
SALAD:
30 ounces baby spinach — or a mixture of field greens and spinach
1 cup of spiced nuts (below)
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
SPICED & CANDIED PECANS:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon Lawry’s garlic salt
1 pinch cayenne
1 cup pecans — or walnuts
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar — raw sugar

1. APPLES: Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with silicon or foil.
2. Arrange apple slices on baking sheet and sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar. If you don’t put too much space between the apples, you’ll get most of the sugar on the apples, not on the baking sheet.
3. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the apples are caramelized. Cool and set aside. Apples can be made ahead and stored in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
4. VINAIGRETTE: Whisk together the apple juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard and oil (don’t emulsify it in a blender – gets too thick). Can be made ahead up to 2 weeks. Whisk just before serving.
5. SALAD: In a large salad bowl mix the spinach and poppy seeds with some of the dressing until greens are coated. Place salad on individual plates and garnish with roasted apples and spiced nuts.
6. SPICED NUTS: Melt butter in medium-sized nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar, seasoned salt, garlic salt and cayenne and stir until the spices give off some aroma, about 1-2 minutes. Add the nuts and toss until well coated, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and place nuts in a glass bowl (for easier clean-up). Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the nuts and toss until coated. Cool completely, then store in a ziploc plastic bag. Store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 2 months.
Per Serving: 435 Calories; 33g Fat (64.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 176mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 17th, 2014.

Did you know there ARE rules about cookie baking. Uh-huh! Read on . . .

Christmas Cookie Rules…

1. If you eat a Christmas cookie fresh out of the oven, it has no calories
because everyone knows that the first cookie is the test and thus calorie
free.

2. If you drink a diet soda after eating your second cookie, it also has no
calories because the diet soda cancels out the cookie calories.

3. If a friend comes over while you’re making your Christmas cookies and
needs to sample, you must sample with your friend. Because your friend’s
first cookie is calories free, (rule #1) yours is also. It would be rude to
let your friend sample alone and, being the friend that you are, that makes
your cookie calorie free.

4. Any cookie calories consumed while walking around will fall to your feet
and eventually fall off as you move. This is due to gravity and the density
of the caloric mass.

5. Any calories consumed during the frosting of the Christmas cookies will
be used up because it takes many calories to lick excess frosting from a
knife without cutting your tongue.

6. Cookies colored red or green have very few calories. Red ones have three
and green ones have five – one calorie for each letter. Make more red ones!

7. Cookies eaten while watching “Miracle on 34th Street” have no calories
because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one’s
personal fuel.

8. As always, cookie pieces contain no calories because the process of
breaking  causes calorie leakage.

9. Any cookies consumed from someone else’s plate have no calories since the
calories rightfully belong to the other person and will cling to their
plate. We all know how calories like to CLING!

10. Any cookies consumed while feeling stressed have no calories because
cookies used for medicinal purposes NEVER have calories. It’s a rule!

So, go out and enjoy those Christmas Cookies – we only get them this time of
year! 

– – – – – –

This cute thing I’d never seen before. On Friday, this week, 2 girlfriends and I (and my cousin Gary who will be here and has agreed to take on Dave’s role of washing dishes) are going to bake cookies here at my house. So we’ll definitely need to re-read those rules when we begin!

Posted in Brunch, on December 16th, 2014.

mini_quiche_lorraines

Oh my gracious, was this ever delicious. I think I’m going to make this for Christmas morning. My cousin Gary will be here with me, and he likes eggs. And bacon. And cheese. I’ll make two apiece for us, although probably one would be enough. They’re rich.

At the recent cooking class I went to, Diane Phillips made this as part of a brunch menu, and oh golly, the cheese, that fabulous Gruyere, gives this the best flavor. Diane used thick-sliced bacon, cooked it just enough that it was “cooked” but not crisp – otherwise it wouldn’t curl around in the muffin tin. Then she mixed up the egg part (eggs, cream, salt, pepper, Tabasco, green onions and the cheese) and that is poured into the middle of the muffin tin. She filled the muffin cups clear to the top and during the baking they rose up higher than the bacon. They looked beautiful in the 12-cup muffin pan. There were over 40 people in the cooking class, so I couldn’t very well get up and go up to the demo counter to take a picture, now could I? Wished I could though, as they were really something to behold.

Diane explained that she sometimes uses some white Cheddar. She’s also used sausage, although you can’t really get sausage to hug the rim of the muffin tin. She’s also used Gouda and chicken, and cheddar and smoked sausage also. Another variation: Havarti with dill and bay shrimp added to the mixture.

The quiches can be made ahead and partially baked, removed to cool, chilled, then baked at 350°F covered for just 3-4 minutes to finish the cooking, or long enough to heat them through completely. So, there’s lots of flexibility with this recipe. It’ s a keeper.

What’s GOOD: for me, it was the bacon with the Gruyere that shined through in the complex flavors here. It was wonderful. Rich. Special. And it was beautiful to look at, besides that.

What’s NOT: not a single thing – loved this. There’s nothing about it, however, that isn’t high in fat and calories. So it’s a treat, that’s for sure!

printer friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bacon Wrapped Mini Quiche Lorraine

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 12

12 pieces thick-sliced bacon
8 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 shakes of Tabasco sauce
2 whole green onions — white part and a little of the tender green
3 cups Gruyere cheese — finely shredded

1. Cook bacon until cooked, but not at all crisp. This can be done in a 400° F oven for 7-8 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
2. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Stir in scallions, then using a flat whisk, add the shredded cheese. Cover and chill.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. Coat the inside of 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray, arranging the bacon against the wall of each cup.
5. Pour the quiche batter into the muffin tins, (they’ll be quite full) and bake them until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean and the quiche has puffed up above the rim of the muffin tin, about 15 minutes. NOTE: you can bake this about half way the day before, cover and chill (or freeze for up to 6 weeks), bring to room temp and reheat, covered with foil in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes. Can be served warm or an room temperature. SUBSTITUTIONS: you can use other cheeses and meat combinations: white Cheddar and ground sausage; Cheddar and smoked sausage or Havarti/dill cheese with bay shrimp.
Per Serving: 372 Calories; 33g Fat (79.8% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 12th, 2014.

egg_shells

Those of you who have been through this grief journey with me know that I haven’t cooked much for a long time. Nothing very noteworthy anyway. But because it’s Christmas, well . . .

Every year I bake a bread that has been a regular on our/my Christmas table. It’s not a new recipe by any means – in fact, I think I’ve posted about it twice. Bishop’s Bread. It’s packed with walnuts, bishops bread baked 540chocolate chips and halved maraschino cherries. I’ve made this every year (except one) since the 1960’s. And as I write this on Friday, December 12th, until this morning I hadn’t baked a thing yet of my usual Christmas goodies. But this morning, as it’s raining cats and dogs here in Southern California (blessed rain, thank you, Lord) I felt the urge to make this bread. I’ve managed to do it with my ailing foot. I may be resting it the rest of the day because of it, but 2 loaves are in the oven.

pool overflowing dec 08Christmas music is playing in my warm kitchen, the rain is pitter-pattering on the skylight here in the kitchen, and I can hear the oven fan going. And yes, I miss Dave immensely. He’d be right here with me, grabbing up the dirty bowls, spoons, measuring spoons and cups, and throwing out those egg shells, cleaning up after me. If I let myself dwell on that, or all the other wonderful things about him that I miss, it will make me depressed. So, I’m not going there.

In 2008 I took the photo above, at one corner of the big pool, as the rain had completely filled the pool and it was overflowing. That’s exactly what’s happening right now, but it’s still raining, so I’m not going out there to take a new photo. That corner of the pool is lower than the other – settling has occurred on the property over the years. So it’s the low spot.

Anyway, baking – I’m just glad that I FELT like baking. My friend Cherrie virtually doesn’t bake. She cooks everything else, even cookies, but she doesn’t do other kinds of baking, hardly. I asked her if she wanted a loaf, and she said “oh yes, PLEASE!” She loves Bishop’s Bread as much as I do. So, celebrate with me/for me that I feel like baking. And if you don’t like fruitcake (my hand raised here), then maybe this bread is right for you.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 12th, 2014.

smoked salmon spread

Want an easy-easy smoked salmon appetizer? This is it. Mix it up a day or so ahead of time, even, and serve with toasted baguette slices, or crackers, or little pieces of cucumber. It’s not overwhelming with salmon – as in “ooh, that’s too smoky or salty.” It’s just right.

Okay Kelli, this one’s for you! **

You’re going to be getting a whole bunch of new recipes.  My friend Cherrie went to a whopper of a cooking class a couple of weeks ago – 2 teachers, teaching together in tandem with 2 full menus, one a brunch, the other one a dinner. We went equipped with a few little plastic boxes and plastic baggies because there was no way we could eat all the food they prepared! Just about every single recipe we acquired at this class was good. And this one was really delicious. II made this a few days ago, and it WAS really easy. I put it in a cute little Christmasy container and served it with ciabatta slices that I toasted with a spray of olive oil on them.

Diane Phillips made this at the class. About the only important thing to know is selecting RIGHT kind of smoked salmon. Do NOT buy brined style, but do get dry smoked. Otherwise, making this is pretty cinchy easy.

**The other night I had a big group of book club friends to my home – annually we do a potluck – and it’s been at my house for at least 10 years. Anyway, one of my friends (Kelli, noted above) said she reads my blog (I didn’t know she did), but she said, “now, Carolyn, you really need to put some simple recipes up on your blog.”

Actually, this recipe does have 9 ingredients, so I suppose it doesn’t qualify as 5 ingredients or less, but some of them are pretty easy – capers, hot sauce, horseradish, so you can throw this together in no time at all. It needs refrigerating for awhile to meld the flavors. Do watch the sodium content on the salmon – the one I bought was quite high (well, they all are, but some more than others). You don’t add any (additional) salt to this recipe, so you don’t want the salmon to be over the top.

What’s GOOD: easy to make, very tasty, can make ahead, will keep for a few days, and can be frozen up to a month. See? Easy.
What’s NOT: maybe finding dry smoked salmon – just read the labels. Trader Joe’s has several. Sometimes dill is hard to find, and it doesn’t keep long.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Smoked Salmon Spread

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

1 pound cream cheese
1 cup sour cream (can you light)
1 1/2 teaspoons horseradish
1/4 cup red onion — very finely minced (in a pinch use chives)
5 drops hot sauce — (do not use Cholula)
Grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons fresh dill — chopped
6 ounces smoked salmon — dry smoked, not brined style, chopped or crumbled
2 tablespoons capers — drained
Toasted baguette slices, crackers or slices of cucumber to serve with, or under

1. In bowl of stand mixer cream together cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Stir in horseradish, red onion, hot sauce and lemon zest, beating the mixture until it’s smoothly mixed.
2. Fold in chopped dill and the salmon, stirring to blend it together.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days. Stir the dip before serving, and sprinkle top with dill and capers.
4. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices. NOTE: you can also mold this with your hands into a log (it would be a bit difficult but could be done) and roll the log in chopped toasted pecans or walnuts. Can be frozen for up to a month.
Per Serving (spread only): 287 Calories; 27g Fat (82.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 80mg Cholesterol; 372mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on December 8th, 2014.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Maple Sauce

These were actually the orange-fleshed type of sweet potato, some call yams (but they’re not, they’re just a different variety of sweet potato). They made a great side for our Thanksgiving dinner. Even though it says maple sauce, it wasn’t all that sweet, so don’t compare it to similar dishes that are loaded with brown sugar and/or marshmallows. NOT!

I can’t take credit for making this – my daughter-in-law, Karen, did, but the recipe is online. She said they were fairly easy to make. The sauce can be made ahead and just reheated before drizzling it on top. In the original recipe the sweet potatoes were left in big chunks, but Karen mashed them (probably because the little kids would eat more of them, and they did).

Note in the picture how there are the little niches/lines across the top – I’ve often seen Karen spoon pureed things into a casserole dish (potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots) and make those crevices – such a more attractive top than the way I might do them – plop them in the dish and smooth the top. She uses a big, flattish kind of spoon and makes thick rows with the crevice between each. So when she drizzled the maple sauce on top, that sauce was quite visible in those crevices. Pretty, huh? I thought so. Clever girl, my daughter-in-law!

If you’re taking this to someone else’s home, just bake and wrap it up tight, reheat the sauce at the last minute and drizzle on the sauce.

What’s GOOD: loved the flavor – not only the maple sauce (which isn’t all that sweet, surprisingly enough) but the pecans added crunch, yet there weren’t enough of them to distract from the potatoes themselves. Altogether delicious and very pretty too, if you do it with the crevices you see in the photo.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything. I wouldn’t use canned yams for this, but then, I’m partial to freshly baked things anyway.
printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Maple Sauce

Recipe By: Very slightly modified from the Food Network, Aida Mollenkamp
Serving Size: 8

2/3 cup chopped pecans
3 pounds sweet potatoes — peeled, cut into large dice (use either yellow-flesh or orange flesh)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Notes: we decided 3 pounds of sweet potatoes, included in a many-dish meal (like Thanksgiving) would serve a whole lot more people than the 4-6 noted in the original recipe. If you’re only serving this with a protein and a veggie, then it might serve just 6 people. We had lots left over. The original recipe added a dash of cayenne; we didn’t use it – but you can.
1. Heat oven to 450° F and arrange rack in the middle of the oven.
2. While oven heats, place pecans on a baking sheet to toast until they smell nutty and are slightly darker, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
3. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to coat. Roast until golden brown and tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 to 45 minutes. You may leave these in pieces, or mash to make a puree (and add a dash of cayenne if you’d like), place in casserole dish to keep warm. To do it as in the picture, spoon the potatoes in thick rows and create a slight crevice between each. Add the hot maple sauce when it’s served.
4. Sauce: melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it foams, stir in maple syrup and let cook briefly, about 1 minute. Serve sweet potatoes with a drizzle of maple butter and a scattering of pecans.
Per Serving: 295 Calories; 16g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 17mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on December 4th, 2014.

cranberry_shrub

Know what a “shrub” is? No, not that kind of shrub! The drink, silly!

A shrub: [according to wikipedia] popular during America’s colonial era, was made by mixing a vinegary syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water. The term “shrub” can also be applied to the sweetened vinegar-based syrup, from which the cocktail is made; the syrup is also known as “drinking vinegar.” Drinking vinegar is often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks.

Since I like sparkling wine (or Champagne) in almost anything, I knew I’d like this drink. And it was so very festive for Thanksgiving. Everyone who tried it, liked it. I liked it so much I had a second one (but then I didn’t have any wine with dinner).

When I went to wikipedia to look up the origin of the shrub, I read through it all. Very interesting. Here I’ve copied some of it, in case you’re interested in the history (underlining inserted by me):

The early English version of the shrub arose from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century. The drink gained popularity among smugglers in the 1680s trying to avoid paying import taxes for goods shipped from mainland Europe: To avoid detection, smugglers would sometimes sink barrels of spirits off-shore to be retrieved later; the addition of fruit flavors aided in masking the taste of alcohol fouled by sea water. As a mixture of fruit and alcohol, the shrub is related to the punch, however punches were normally served immediately after mixing the ingredients, whereas shrubs tended to have a higher concentration of flavor and sugar and could be stored for later use, much like a pre-made drink mixer. The shrub was itself a common ingredient in punches, either on its own or as a simple mix with brandy or rum. It was also served during the Christmas season mixed with raisins, honey, lemon, sherry, rum and other spirits. The shrub was sold in most public houses throughout England in the 17th and 18th centuries, although the drink fell out of fashion by the late 1800s.

The American version of the shrub has its origins in 17th century England where vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of berries and other fruits for the off-season. Fruit preserves made in this fashion were themselves known as shrubs and the practice carried over to colonial America. By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit—traditionally berries—which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days; afterward the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup. The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails. Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration.

The serving of vinegar-based shrub drinks became popular again in 2011 and 2012 in American restaurants and bars. The trend has also been noted in bars in Canada as well as London. The acidity of the shrub makes it well suited as an apéritif or used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails. Unlike cocktails acidulated with citrus, vinegar-based drinks will remain clear when shaken.

Recently I visited a cute little shop in my area called The Mixing Glass. It’s a tiny footprint of a shrub_and_co_cranberry_shrub_mixstore that carries a variety of more unusual alcohol types, drinking paraphernalia (nice gifts) and some mixes. I paused in the store to look around and I spotted this bottle (along with several other flavors, see above photo from their website) of a shrub mix. This one is a cranberry, but the small Berkeley-based company, Shrub & Co. makes a variety of flavors. Just click on the link and you can read all about them, and peruse their recipes. And read about where you can buy this in your area.

There were 12 people at our Thanksgiving dinner, and I think about 8 of them had at least one glass of this. Because the cranberry shrub mix is almost like bitters, but not as concentrated, you must add sugar, so the drink recipe below (provided to me by the shop owner) uses simple syrup. I bought Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine, which is a bit on the tart side anyway, so the drink wasn’t all that sweet. It was sweet, but not so much that people would be turned off by it. This recipe below isn’t on the company’s website, so I can’t give credit unless the store owner at The Mixing Glass came up with it herself. In any case, it’s really lovely.

The cranberry elixir also has Douglas fir in it. None of us could taste the fir or find the scent of it at all. But then, the drink recipe adds a sprig of rosemary to each glass, so perhaps it overwhelmed the Douglas fir. In any case, the drink was a success.

What’s GOOD: if you have the simple syrup made up ahead, chilled, and the bottle of shrub mix chilled, the drink will be nice and cold when you serve pour in the chilled sparkling wine. It’s a lovely, refreshing drink. Not too sweet, and not too tart. Perfect, we all thought. My daughter-in-law, Karen, asked me if I’d bring it to Christmas Eve at their house. So, I will, by all means! The drink uses very little of the cranberry mix (1/2 ounce per glass) so I have a LOT of it left. The mix would make a nice gift.

What’s NOT: only that you’ll likely have the bottle around for a long while – you don’t use much of it in each drink – and it must be kept refrigerated after opening. Fortunately I have a refrigerator in the garage, and that’s where it will stay until Christmas. I don’t know how long the shrub mix will keep – it doesn’t say – maybe forever. Don’t know. Oh, and I forgot to mention – the mix was $22.99.

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Cranberry Shrub with Sparkling Wine

Recipe By: From the owner of The Mixing Glass, Costa Mesa, CA
Serving Size: 1

1/2 ounce Shrub & Co. cranberry shrub mix
1/4 ounce simple syrup
5 ounces sparkling wine — on the dry side, rather than sweet
a sprig of fresh rosemary

1. Prepare simple syrup based on how many servings you’ll want to have available. Chill. [Simple Syrup: 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water – pour into jar with a good tight screw-top, shake vigorously and chill. It is not necessary to boil the simple syrup.]
2. Chill the sparkling wine and the Shrub & Co. cranberry elixir.
3. Into a champagne flute pour the cranberry mixture, then the simple syrup. Add sparkling wine, and a sprig of rosemary. Serve immediately.
Notes: The sweetness of this drink will depend on how sweet the sparkling wine is. The rosemary seems to create some kind of crazy foaming action with the sparkling wine, so add the wine very slowly – much slower than you would usually do with any sparkling wine to a champagne flute. If you add the sparkling wine first, then submerge the rosemary sprig, it will foam up immediately. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 2nd, 2014.

what_a_beauty

What a beauty she is! My DH just loved-loved-loved his boat. I took the picture at sunset.

A couple of weeks ago I told you that Dave’s sailboat is in escrow, and she has to have her sea trial this week, and some kind of an inspection to make sure she’s as seaworthy as I’m saying she is. I’m having lots of bittersweet feelings about selling her. Do I get seasick? Yes! So therefore, do I sail? No. Do I want to maintain her? Gosh no. Do I visit the yacht club regularly? No (too many memories there and it’s 90 miles away besides). And yet, selling her is tantamount to selling part of me, too. Dave and I bought this boat together. Me, for the entertaining aspect; Dave for the boat herself, to sail her, to go places on her (like the Channel Islands and Catalina). Whenever Dave got edgy, itchy, slightly grumpy (friends who knew him will say what? they never knew Dave as anything but up, always), he’d go to the boat and even a part of a day, or an overnight would put him back in tip-top mental shape. He’d come home with windblown hair (well, that was from driving his convertible with the top down) and the smell of the wind and the ocean in his sweatshirt. He liked to do almost all the work on the boat himself. You’ve heard the phrase, if you’re a sailor, the best day with a boat is the day you buy her and the day you sell her. I don’t think Dave would have agreed, but he did grumble sometimes about all the work on the teak. She has lots of wood up top and down below. Sea air does all kinds of rotten things, as well as the Southern California sun, to the condition of a boat.cockpit_crew

There’s the crew in the cockpit: Yvette (Joe’s wife) sipping red wine, my best friend Cherrie, John (Dave’s old friend who captained the boat, and yes, he was reaching for the wheel), me, daughter Sara, daughter-in-law Karen, and Sara’s husband John with his back to the camera.

Anyway, last Sunday I gathered my local family and Dave’s closest friends and we went out on a last sail on her. We had a nice lunch at the yacht club first. There were 12 of us, I think (more than the boat can really handle in comfort, but we managed). John, the captain that day, and his wife live aboard their power boat at the yacht club, but he and Dave used to race sailboats years ago. I was so grateful for John’s help. I suppose I might have been able to maneuver her out of the slip and to the ocean, but I’m not a credible sailor.

sailing_san_diego_harborIn photo at left, daughter-in-law Karen, Joe (the dear friend who visits me now and then and spend the night when he’s in Orange County for business), son-in-law John (the back of his head), Bud (Cherrie’s husband) standing in the companionway, up top is son Powell leaning over the mainsail, and grandson John mostly invisible.

Once we got everyone aboard, John started the engine. I was sitting in the stern, and that was the first (of many) times that I “lost it.” Just hearing the engine start up was emotional. How many times had I sat in the comfy cockpit over the last 30 years and watched as Dave started the engine. It’s a Yanmar (diesel, of course) engine, and Dave would probably say he loved that engine. It never, ever gave us any trouble. It’s a unique gutteral, deep-throated chug-a chug-a sound. I’d recognize that motor anywhere. Kinda silly to be emotional over the sound of a diesel engine, huh? But this grief thing – you just never know when you’ll be hit with a memory. That was one.

joe_crankingCaptain John got all the guys and grandson John to prepare to pull out the jib. This boat has a roller furling – so much easier to manipulate and maneuver than a full sail you have to stow down below. It rolls up on a special kind of main stay/mast on the bow of the boat. But when you’re underway, and there’s wind, it’s a job sometimes to get the sail out. In the photo at right is Joe, with Sara who was beside me, working the winch/crank, trying to get the jib out full. Finally got it. Son Powell was working some getting us out too. I was so proud of him – despite saying he doesn’t like to sail (it isn’t that – it’s that he doesn’t like the work required to own a boat) – he’s very adept at sailing and knows what to do and when. He was keeping his eye on Vaughan, though, their 7-year vaughan_at_helmold who doesn’t know a whole lot about sailboats.

Here’s a photo of Vaughan, though, at left, standing up next to me at the helm. Grandpa Dave used to let him captain a little bit. When he was about 3-4 years old, Dave let him do that for the first time, and Vaughan got real peeved when Grandpa had to grab the wheel. He was SO funny, “no, Grandpa, I’m steering!” He screamed bloody murder as Grandpa held on to avoid a buoy or some boat. On Sunday, he couldn’t wait to take the wheel, which he did for about 15 minutes, then he was tired of it. John was watching him every minute. Vaughan was looking for some building John had pointed to, that Vaughan needed to steer towards. He did a really good job! That’s me beside him.

san_diego_skyline

The downtown San Diego skyline. Wow, how that city has grown in recent years. It was absolutely plu-perfect weather on Sunday – 70° and a light breeze. Cherrie said Dave must have ordered it for us from heaven. He’d have been so happy to have all of us – most of his favorite people in the whole world aboard his boat!

coronado_bridge

We sailed down the harbor for about 45 minutes or so, to the Coronado Bay Bridge. Here we are just about to go under it. We made a u-turn after that and headed back toward Point Loma.

As soon as we turned around, of course the wind changed, so we tacked. We were going into the wind, so Powell had both of the kids lie down flat up on top of the bow. Then the sail began to luff and the sheets (the lines/ropes that hold the sail) began flapping all over everywhere. When you’re under sail, the noise of that can be deafening as metal fasteners and the lines themselves slap against everything in its way. Vaughan and John-John thought it was all very “cool.” Somebody had to crank the sheets to get the jib adjusted just right. No problem – we had no lack of manpower. We sailed back up the bay again and the boat heeled over some. Usually you don’t heel over much with only a jib sail up, but we heeled some because there was enough wind. If you’re a true sailor, you love to heel over, which means there’s plenty of wind!

sara_and_meThere’s Sara and me as we sat in the stern. We had just both had a teary moment. Doesn’t look like it, but we had. I shed a bunch of tears, some of them no one noticed because I was wearing dark glasses, and there were conversations going on all over the boat. We were having some good red wine – I’d gone down in the wine cellar here at home and selected 3 good bottles (we drank 2). We had one big toast to Dave (uh, yea, I had another teary moment over that as well).

yvette_cherrieOh, that’s such a good picture of Yvette and Cherrie, at left. Believe it or not, we weren’t cold. We all had on some light wraps – the wind made it a little cooler, but it really was a pretty day. That was taken as we headed back up the bay with the San Diego skyline in the background.

It probably took us another 45 minutes or so to sail back toward Point Loma. And as we approached the end of Shelter Island, a man-made drive-on “island,” we needed to take in the jib, so John gave orders to all the grunts and they cranked in the jib. It was hard, as we were in a fairly good breeze. Again, the sail flapped all over everywhere, with metal fasteners banging on the stays, etc. Very noisy. Normal. John turned on the motor and we motored in and easily docked with 2-3 of the guys who jumped off to make sure the boat stopped. There was little or no breeze in the marina, thankfully.

joe_johnPicture at right is Joe and son-in-law John. John the captain said goodbye to us all as we thanked him profusely for taking the helm for us. Yvette & Joe left, as did Bud & Cherrie. Then I asked everybody – yes, everybody – to go ahead and go, that I needed time alone on the boat. I don’t know that anybody understood, but I really did want to be alone, to say goodbye to the boat, to Dave, all by myself. So everybody left.

I went down below in the salon, and yes, indeed, I cried and cried. I let go. I let myself go, let myself cry my heart out. It was something I needed to do. I walked into every part of the boat – the forward berth, the head and shower, the galley, I looked at the beautiful teak floor (called a cabin sole), at the varnish on the table, at the nav table. Dave re-did the varnish on the boat nearly every year and it took him days. I touched surfaces everywhere, knowing that last summer (a year ago) he’d been hard at work on all of that. I thought about the hours of labor he put in, and again how much he loved the boat. I looked at the pillows on the settees that Sara gave Dave some years ago. I sat down and sobbed some more.

As I sat, because it was quiet outside (it was just about dusk), I just kept thinking I would hear Dave’s footfall as he would step on the boat from the dock. Or, I’d see him stand up in the companionway. I looked at everything. All the portholes, the TV, the cute rug on the cabin floor, the long cockpit seat cushions we’d stowed in the quarter-berth. The boat was quite empty of “stuff,” so it didn’t look  normal down below. Usually, Dave had a light amount of clutter on the shelves -winch handles, flags, cords, etc. In April we cleaned everything personal off and stowed any of the items that would stay with the boat so it would look clean for a new buyer.

companionwayFinally, I knew I needed to leave. I couldn’t stop crying as long as I was on the boat. So, I grabbed the wood slats that go into the companionway, took a couple of times to get them right (Dave always stacked them “just so,” so you wouldn’t have to guess which slat went which way, but that hadn’t happened when one of our group opened up the boat that afternoon). I pulled the hatch cover closed. I sat in the cockpit for another minute and stared at it. And cried some more. I said goodbye to her. Oh, it was so hard. How can a hatch be something to generate tears and sorrow? Well, it can, trust me! How many times had Dave’s hands grabbed those upper edges as he hopped onto the top step of the ladder to go below? Hundreds and hundreds. How many times had he stacked the slats? Pulled the hatch closed? Scrubbed that fiberglass? Washed the boat?

My family was waiting for me in the parking lot. Both Powell and Sara came to me and we hugged for a long time as I continued to cry. Finally, though, I explained I wanted to be alone – Powell would have driven me home (they were worried about me because I was crying), but truly, I needed to be by myself to mourn. Those of you who have been through this know that part. It was something about pulling Dave’s memory to me, me alone, because of the love and marriage we shared. I wanted to burrow down, fall within myself somehow and protect that last little bit of special sorrow that was there as part of saying goodbye to the boat. Sounds crazy, I suppose, but until you’ve been there, you just don’t know what that’s all about.

Posted in Brunch, Miscellaneous, on November 30th, 2014.

five_spice_fall_fruit_salad

five-spice fruit salad

It’s always nice, at a brunch, to have some kind of a fruit dish. You could certainly do plain, fresh fruit, but you can also make it special with this recipe that has some spice additions that are certainly a little off the usual list – five-spice and vanilla bean.

We had this lovely, fun brunch. We sat outside (a few weeks ago, here in California, we were still having full-on summer) so gathering on a Sunday, at nearly mid-day, we enjoyed the waning days of summer with a delicious mixture of brunch dishes. This being one of them. Peggy brought this one, a delicious marinated fruit mixture that contains some five-spice powder and a half of a vanilla bean. It’s marinated in a honey-based mixture, which also gave it a lovely sweetness. The recipe came from epicurious a couple of months ago. Peggy couldn’t find any figs, since they’re out of season, so she used peaches, the plums, and she added a few prunes to give it some alternate color. I think this dish could be very adaptable – use whatever fruit is in season, though not apples unless you cooked them a bit. Pears would probably work also.

The spiced honey syrup is made ahead, cooled, then poured over the fruit. It’s refrigerated for a few hours. It probably would be fine made the day before as well. I would think this could be made with less honey syrup – starting with 3/4 cup of honey is a lot. I might try making half the amount of honey and water (but use all the spices), marinate in a plastic bag, and turn the bag over several times in the refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: well, you know me, I like foods and recipes that have something different about them, and this definitely fits the bill here, with the five-spice (not overwhelming at all) and the vanilla bean. Of all the dishes we had at the brunch, this was the only one I went back to for seconds. Use fruit that have different colors to them if at all possible. The syrup could be used again – strain it, freeze it and use it weeks or months later.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – it was a really lovely fruit salad.

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Five-Spice Fall Fruit Salad

Source: adapted slightly from epicurious
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean — split and scraped
1 piece ginger — (1 inch) thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 plums — black-skinned, if possible, pitted and sliced
5 red plums — pitted and sliced
4 whole peaches — or fresh figs, if available

Notes: the original recipes called for 2 types of plums plus figs. If those fruits aren’t in season, substitute other – even cherries or prunes. If using apples, you may need to partially cook them; same perhaps with pears. Plums, figs and peaches are all soft fruits, so they lend themselves well to just marinating in the syrup. Try to vary the color in the fruit just because it looks nicer.
1. Place 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Add the honey, vanilla bean pod with seeds, ginger, and five-spice powder. Bring to a boil and stir until honey dissolves. Set aside to cool completely, and stir in lemon juice. Discard ginger and vanilla bean pod.
2. In a large bowl, pour cooled syrup over the sliced plums. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
3. An hour before serving, slice peaches (or figs) and gently fold into plum mixture. To serve, use a slotted spoon to ladle fruit into a serving bowl.
4. DO AHEAD: Syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. [My suggestion: save the syrup, strain it, and freeze to be used again.]
Per Serving: 166 Calories; 1g Fat (2.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on November 29th, 2014.

newport_harbor_3

This photo of Newport (Beach) Harbor, is almost looking west. If you don’t live here and haven’t studied a map, and even for some people who do but just don’t know better, the coastline in SoCal is almost east-west. There’s smog off in the distance, that pinkish haze just above the rooftops.

Before I went to a Thanksgiving Day dinner with family, I drove down to Corona del Mar. There’s a beautiful bluff there overlooking the entrance to the harbor, and at one place you can peek through the trees and shrubbery for a glimpse of the harbor itself (the photo above). There were a surprising number of boats out that day. I’d intended to go earlier, take my Kindle and read. I forgot the Kindle, and I definitely didn’t even think of taking a folding chair. There are cement benches dotting the park/bluff area, but every one was in full, intense sun – absolutely no one was sitting on any of the benches. It was in the mid-80’s and it felt blisteringly hot. I certainly hadn’t thought about putting on sunscreen! There were oodles of people out also and very few parking places.

newport_harbor_2That’s the breakwater where any boats entering Newport Harbor come in. I cropped the top as the sun reflecting on the water was just blinding! I think the beach you can see at bottom center is called “Little Corona.” It’s a very small beach and much coveted by beach-goers. I’m not sure there is car access – walking is how you get there. The people you see are way above the actual beach – you can just barely see a sliver of the beach.

Even though Dave hadn’t kept his boat in Newport for many years (he used to), I thought I’d feel some closeness to him if I went to the bluffs to watch the boat traffic. It might have been a sad time for me – and I was okay with that, but as it turned out, I never sat down anywhere.  Never had time for contemplation of this new status of mine: widow. I walked (slowly) a couple of blocks (my foot was okay for that much) and then back to my car. I drove some of the neighborhoods, trying to find another place to park my car in the shade – but where the water was visible. Couldn’t find any. Too hot to sit in the car. Best laid plans . . . . I finally found a shady spot on a side street and played Candy Crush. I’m stuck on level 123 (I hope you’re laughing).

newport_harbor_1

If that’s not quintessential Newport Beach, I sure don’t know what is:  sunshine, blue water, sand, palm trees, green grass, beach, ocean and boats.

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