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Just finished reading Pied Piper (Vintage International) by Nevil Shute. Remember him? You’ve got to be over about 50 to even know his name. He’s most famous for his book On the Beach that he wrote in 1957. This book, the Pied Piper, he wrote during WWII. It’s a poignant tale about a rather elderly Englishman who decides to take a trip to the mountains along the French/Swiss border just before Germany invades. His goal is to go fishing – but he gets caught up in a bit of intrigue (not the spy novel type at all) when acquaintances he meets beg him to take their children, to get them out of France before they might be taken by the Nazis. Reluctantly he agrees when he realizes that he probably shouldn’t have made the trip at all and that he must return to England. Many logistical difficulties ensue, and more children are added to his little family. It’s a wonderful tale, heartwarming for sure. Shute is an excellent writer who draws you into his tales. He also wrote Trustee From The Toolroom, one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Also read Tracy Chevalier’s newest book, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel. I always love to read a novel that has me learn something concrete, as it tells a story. This one is about the friendship between two women in Lyme Regis (a town on the southern coast of England) back in the mid-1800s. From different social strata, they both share a love, a passion, for collecting and finding fossils on the beaches of their town. The education here is all about the fossils. Fossils from ancient times, with a great “to-do” over who owns them, crediting (or not) who found them, about the astute (not) experts who discredit these two women. The story is charming, sweet, and Chevalier did it again, for me, creating a story that was a pretty good page-turner. I’ve never been interested particularly in fossils, but they hold new interest since reading this book.

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.

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 Beef, on February 24th, 2015.

beef_in_barolo

 

Can’t you just tell how fork-tender that roast is? It cut like soft butter, and oh, was it full of flavor! It’s marinated overnight in a red wine mixture, then cooked on low, or in a slow cooker for hours and hours. Then the marinade, which was the cooking liquid also, became the sauce. Hope it’s okay that I use the word “yum.” Such a trite and over-used word, but, gosh it was.

It’s been ages since I’ve fixed a chuck roast. I mean ages. I have a recipe here on my blog from 2010 for a French pot roast, that’s just succulent and wonderful. Worthy of a company meal. I’ve been making that version for 40+ years – it’s on my list of favs, it’s so delish. This one is similar, but it’s an Italian version and done in the slow cooker. It uses Italian wine, pancetta, veggies and Tuscan herbs. And the sauce, oh my yes, that gravy was divine. I’d have liked to have that as a bowl of that gravy as soup, except it’s probably too rich for that. The recipe came from Diane Phillips, at a class my friend Cherrie and I took recently. Diane prepared recipes from one or more of her books. Diane has authored a whole bunch of cookbooks. She’s a blond Italian, and owns a home in Umbria that she and her husband/family visit with regularity. Every time she comes home she has a whole bunch of new recipes to try. I’ll be sharing several other recipes from the class. This was the stand-out, although everything she made was really good.

Cooking for one doesn’t lend itself very well to making this, unless I cut it way down in size and just ate it for a couple of meals. It would be better for a company meal. As I’m writing this, it’s been a couple of weeks ago that we went to the class and had this, and I’m craving it. Maybe I’ll have to plan a small group dinner and if I plan ahead, perhaps I can do it all. But really, this is done in the slow cooker, so how easy is that?

beef_barolo_1The meat is marinated overnight in a Barolo wine mixture with herbs and garlic. The marinade later becomes the cooking liquid and is also the sauce for it too. The meat is browned, then all the other stuff is added in (pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, dried porcini mushrooms [Diane adds this because she thinks a little bit of porcini mushroom bits – dried – add a lot of succulent flavor to long, slow cooked meats] and some demi-glace or a beef soup base. You can do this on the stovetop (instructions for both are given below) or in a slow cooker.

After the beef has become soft and tender, it’s removed, then  you make the gravy by adding a little beurre manié (butter kneaded with flour). If you like a thicker gravy, just make more of that mixture to add in and cook it a bit longer. Diane recommended this be served with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or some Tuscan white beans (recipe to come). I’d have liked to lick the plate if that tells you how much I loved this.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was wonderful. You do have to plan ahead since it marinates overnight. The beef becomes so tender, and the vegetables are still slightly visible (and colorful) so you can do with the meat/gravy, a carb and a salad or a vegetable, not both. Worth making and as I mentioned above, it’s elegant enough for a company meal. Doing it in the slow cooker makes it a no-brainer. The wine in this is the star of the show, really – it’s what flavors this throughout.

What’s NOT: only that you have to start this the day before.  And you’ll need to make the gravy at the last minute, but it will only take a few minutes.

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

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Italian Marinated Beef in Barolo (Slow Cooker or Stove Top)

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

MARINADE:
1 bottle Barolo — (Italian red wine) 750 ml
4 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 whole bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
BEEF ROAST:
4 pounds chuck roast — boneless, trimmed of excess fat
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta — finely chopped
2 large yellow onions — finely chopped
4 medium carrots — finely chopped
3 stalks celery — finely chopped, including some of the leaves
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms — crumbled
3 tablespoons Penzey’s beef soup base — or other soup base paste (or use demi-glace)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped

1. STOVE TOP METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Remove meat to a plate and set aside.
3. Add pancetta to the pan and allow it to render fat, then add onions, carrots, celery and porcini mushrooms. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the reserved marinade and soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Return the meat to the pot, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, until the meat is FORK tender.
4. Remove meat from pan and cover with aluminum foil to keep it hot. Discard the bay leaves (this is important as you don’t want anyone to choke on the bay leaf hidden in the gravy) and skim off excess fat – use a couple of paper towels gently scrunched but still kind of flat, and wipe the towels across the top of the liquid and it will pick up most of the fat. Discard paper towel. Bring the sauce to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the softened butter and flour in a small bowl and using a whisk, slowly add the roux to the liquid in the pan. Continue whisking until sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley – reserving just a little bit to sprinkle on top when served. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
1. SLOW COOKER METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large skillet (or if you have the kind of slow cooker with a removable metal pan, do this step in that insert) heat the oil and brown the meat on all sides. Place meat in the slow cooker. Add pancetta to the skillet, reduce heat to medium and cook until it renders some fat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and porcini mushrooms and saute for 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the marinade to the skillet, add soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to the slow cooker.
3. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-9 hours, until the meat is fork-tender. Remove meat from slow cooker and cover with aluminum foil. Discard bay leaves (important) and transfer the contents to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Combine the butter and flour in a small bowl and whisk mixture into the sauce. Continue whisking until the sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in most of the parsley. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. Sprinkle remaining parsley on top. If the sauce isn’t thick enough, add another small amount of butter/flour mixture until it’s thickened sufficiently. This can also be made with a beef brisket. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
Per Serving: 660 Calories; 46g Fat (63.8% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 149mg Cholesterol; 1681mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on February 20th, 2015.

cheddar_ale_soup_shallots_bacon

What’s more comforting than a hot, steaming bowl of creamy soup? This one would be right at home in a British pub. Some beer cheese soups are more broth-oriented. This one’s milk and cream with broth also, but it’s loaded with flavor from the onion, carrots, celery and shallots – oh, and how could I forget? The bacon! Of course, the bacon flavors everything. So does the ale. Make it you must.

Once in awhile I crave this kind of soup. It’s been awhile since I had beer cheese soup (years, actually), but when I saw this recipe in my to-try collection the other day, I decided it really needed to be made. Next month I’m hosting a tea for a group of lady friends – not a “real” afternoon tea kind of thing – this one’s a soup, scones, dessert and tea kind of lunch meal. And I thought since I’m going to teach these ladies how to make a proper pot of tea (that’s part of the event – it’s a fund-raiser – and I thought they all ought to know how to make a traditional pot of tea), I might as well make the menu a bit more British inspired. I’ll have to make this soup again when it’s time. This batch I’ll probably eat up in the next few days. It’s SO good.

Many years ago I wrote up an entire post about making a proper pot of tea – a “praw-per” tea, the British way. My dear friend Pamela (and her late husband Jimmy) befriended us, my DH and me, in a pub one evening in Ilminster, a small town in SW England, and we became friends. This was waaaay back in 1981. We stayed with them many times over the years, and on one occasion Pamela taught me how to make tea. She had a particular blend of tea that she combined herself. Her belief is that you must have some portion of a tea combo a smoky tea – like Lapsang souchong. [By the way, did you know that Lapsang Souchong is the oldest tea known and that it’s smoked over pine wood?] I’m not so crazy about smoky tea, and never all by itself. Pamela’s personal mixture was: 1/4 smoky tea, 1/4 English Breakfast, and 1/2 Darjeeling. That combination I like, though, so I may have to buy some of those varieties for my tea event – just so I can have everyone taste it. My guess is that most Americans (without a Chinese background or a very strong interest in tea) hardly know about smoky teas. I have all of those teas in my stash, but haven’t used any of them in years and years. Some websites say tea should be thrown out in 2 years, but some people have used tea more than 20 years old and they thought it was fine. A taste test will need to be done.

Pamela and Jimmy were very particular about their tea, so over the years I learned more and more about it. In years past when I had a lot of trouble sleeping, if I woke up in the middle of the night and would decide I had to get up, not just toss and turn, I’d quietly pitter-patter to the kitchen, bundled up in a warm robe and fuzzy slippers, light a fire in the fireplace sometimes, and I’d make a pot of tea, in the Pamela fashion. I might read, or watch TV, or sometimes I’d play games on my computer. I don’t think Pamela ever had Earl Grey (she would frown terribly at the thought, I’m sure, but it’s probably my favorite). She didn’t like floral-flavored teas. On one trip to England I bought some Lady Grey tea, which is a take-off on Earl Gray, but a little less bergamot (I think), the bergamot being the addition that makes Earl Grey distinctly different. For my event I’ll probably serve 3 kinds of tea, the above mix, Earl Grey and maybe an herbal tea for those who don’t like black tea or caffeine.

Well, I got sidetracked talking about tea. Let’s get back to the soup. With me – as I write this anyway – still wearing my special boot – I thought this soup would be easy to make. Well, it wasn’t hard really, but it sure took more time than I’d anticipated, so my foot was aching by the time I was done. I should have done the vegetable prep earlier in the day, but as it was, I was up and down about an hour. I used my Vitamix to puree it. First I tried my immersion blender, and should have done it BEFORE I added the cheese. It stuck to the immersion blender, which took a brush to remove once I got to cleaning it. I gave up on the immersion blender because it wasn’t doing a good job. Anyway, whatever you do, make it really smooth. After 6-8 minutes of using it the immersion blender, there were still lots of pieces of things in the pot, so the regular blender was the way to go.

The original recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma, but I altered it some, adding some things, and taking out some things. Bacon was my addition (oh, and a good one). I didn’t add the paprika called for, nor did I add cayenne. Could have, I guess. Another recipe suggested a couple tablespoons of sherry at the end, but mine was plenty ale-tasting already and I didn’t think it needed sherry. I think I added an extra carrot – no biggie. I purchased an 18-ounce bottle of ale – I had to carefully peruse the shelves for an ale, not just a beer. According to the write-up about the recipe, it’s the hops in the beer that’s needed, so I found one that said the hops were prominent. I’m not sure I’d do that part again – but then, I’m not a beer drinker. If you are, then by all means go for the hops-forward style.

What’s GOOD: well, the flavors first and foremost. You definitely taste the beer/ale, the cheddar and the BACON. Loved that part for sure. I used some sharp American cheddar and some Irish sharp cheddar (both white cheeses, not yellow, otherwise you’d end up with a very orange colored soup). You need to cook it long enough to get the booziness out of the soup, then add the dairy at the last. Altogether delicious. Don’t know that it will freeze – it might separate if you did that. So plan accordingly. The other things that make the soup are the garnishes – the bacon and crispy shallots. The soup doesn’t have any texture once you puree it, of course, so the bacon and shallots add a bit of that. You could also serve it with some croutons. That, too, would be a nice addition.

What’s NOT: nothing really – just plan about an hour of prep and cooking, then the pureeing, then the cheese and reheating. Have everything else all ready once you start the puree process. Or make it earlier in the day and reheat. That would work fine too.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cheddar and Ale Soup with Crispy Shallots and Bacon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe
Serving Size: 6

3 pieces thick-sliced bacon — finely chopped
4 whole shallots — thinly sliced
1 pound white potatoes — (if using red potatoes, peel them)
1 whole yellow onion
2 stalks celery
3 whole carrots — peeled
1 clove garlic — minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 ounces beer — ale, hops forward style
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
12 ounces Cheddar cheese — shredded (sharp, white – not yellow cheese)

NOTES: If you use a lighter style beer it won’t have the punch as much as if you use a hops-forward ale. Next time I might use a lighter style than the imported ale I purchased. Your choice! The original recipe called for more flour and less fluid, but I thought it was too thick, so have cut back on flour and added more milk in this recipe.
1. In a frying pan over medium heat, render bacon until cooked through and light golden. Remove to paper towel, but retain fat in the pan. Add the shallots to the bacon grease and cook, stirring once or twice, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes; chop the onion, celery and carrots and add to the pan along with the garlic. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, until the onion, celery and carrots have softened and the potatoes are almost tender, 7-10 minutes.
3. In a jar combine the milk and all-purpose flour then shake until combined with no lumps, then slowly add to the soup mixture, along with the heavy cream and the beer/ale, stirring as you do so. Bring to a simmer and cook until mixture returns to a simmer, whisking frequently. Add salt, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Allow soup to cook, keeping it still just below a simmer, if possible (it may separate if you actually boil it). Cook for 5-10 minutes maximum.
4. Puree the soup in batches in a stand blender. You can use an immersion blender, but it won’t get it completely smooth and it will take a long time. Reheat just until steaming. Add in the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese has just melted, 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasonings (salt) and add more broth or milk if you think it’s too thick. It thickens up as it cools.
5. Garnish with the crispy shallots and bacon and serve at once. If you want to be especially fancy, add some croutons on top too.
Per Serving: 511 Calories; 33g Fat (57.8% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 880mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on February 16th, 2015.

thin_pancakes_lemon_pwd_sugar

If you already know all about (thin) Swedish pancakes, then this recipe will be nothing new. You have to LIKE thin pancakes, though. Just so you know . . .

The other morning I got up at my usual time, did my usual thing of making a latte, sitting down at the computer to read email and to check the comments here on my blog. I began reading some other blogs I follow and time slipped away. I realized that I’d forgotten to defrost my usual single sausage link I eat most mornings for my breakfast (with some yogurt, blueberries and walnuts on the side). What sounded good was pancakes. But not those big, puffy types. I’ve never been fond of thick pancakes. Thin pancakes are my cup of tea, always have been.

Back in the day – my younger years – I kept a sourdough starter, baked lots of my own bread, and found other uses for the sourdough batter. I often made sourdough pancakes, and I preferred them thin and dollar-sized. I recently threw away the starter I had begun a couple of years ago because since my DH passed away it had languished in the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, unused.

What sounded good was trying a recipe I’d saved some years back, a Marion Cunningham one for yeast waffles. But I didn’t want to dig out the waffle iron – seemed so silly to do that for one little bitty waffle. Then I realized that batter would make thicker pancakes. Nope, didn’t want that. So I started searching for a recipe for thin pancakes. Found a great one that required buttermilk. Nope. None in the refrigerator. Another that required an overnight stay in the frig. Nope, no time for that. So I searched on the ‘net for thin pancake recipes. I ended up combining a couple of recipes and whipped up these Swedish pancakes. Super thin. Not difficult to make, but I did dirty-up a bunch of bowls and dishes in the process.

Do you own a crepe pan? I used to, but didn’t use it enough to keep it, so gave that away years ago. But I had out a 12-inch nonstick skillet I used the night before to cook a big batch of Brussels sprouts. It was perfect. I scaled the recipe to serve 2, which meant just one egg. So now I have two more pancakes for tomorrow’s breakfast.

There’s nothing special about the batter, other than it’s thin. You actually mix milk with a bit of water, an egg, a pinch of salt, and flour. Butter also. Cinchy easy, really. It’s a recipe children could make easily enough. The only tricky thing is picking up the pan to allow the drippy, thin batter to spread out in the pan. If you just pour and cook, these will be thicker (still thin, but thicker than you want here) than traditional Swedish pancakes.

For the first pancake I slid a little bit of unsalted butter around in the pan to moisten it, then poured in a couple tablespoons of batter, picked up that big sucker of a pan and rolled it in every direction to spread out the wet batter. (If you do this with children, you might want to do that part.) The pan’s got to be hot enough to cook, so the pan is pretty hot (medium-high). It takes about 30 seconds or so for it to begin to brown – just barely – then you slide a spatula under and flip it over for another 30 seconds. Done. Do put these out on a warmed plate or stick them in a low oven – they cool quickly. Finish cooking the pancakes. Meanwhile have ready the powdered sugar and a wedge or two of lemon.

Fold the pancakes in half at least – you can also roll them up (you could even put some yogurt and berries inside. These pancakes, by themselves, are not sweet – there’s just a tiny bit of sugar in them. As I ate these (which tasted wonderful, certainly satisfying my desire for a pancake) I dipped each bite into a tiny amount of yogurt.

What’s GOOD: loved the texture – thin and just a tiny bit chewy, but they’re also extremely tender too. It must be the egg that gives it that consistency. Loved the little dusting of powdered sugar and combining each bite with a little bit of the sweetened Greek yogurt. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: really nothing – dirties up a bunch of dishes, cups, measuring cups, bowl, whisk, bowl or pan to melt the butter, etc. Most of it went in the dishwasher, however. I’d definitely make these again.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Thin Pancakes with Lemon and Powdered Sugar

Serving Size: 4

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted (divided use)
Lemon wedges and powdered sugar to serve on top

1. Sift the flour, salt and granulated sugar into a bowl (with a pouring spout if you have one). Sifting assures there won’t be any lumps of flour. Make a well in the center and add eggs. Gently whisk a little flour into the egg, then gradually add the milk mixture and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, whisking in with the flour. The batter should be the consistency of half and half. Don’t over mix the batter.
2. Heat a crepe pan (or a very large nonstick skillet) over high heat. Grease the pan with some of the remaining butter. Pour about 2 tablespoons batter into the pan, quuickly tilting and rolling the pan from side to side to get an even coating of batter. Cook for 30 seconds, then use a spatula to flip the pancake. Cook the pancake for a further 30 seconds until pale golden and crisp at edges, then tip onto a plate.
3. Repeat with the remaining melted butter and batter, stacking pancakes on top of one another as you go. With a nonstick pan you may not need any additional butter.
4. To serve, sprinkle the warm pancakes with some powdered sugar and squeeze a little bit lemon juice over each one. Serve with some sweetened yogurt and berries on the side, if desired. If you make more than you can eat, separate them with waxed paper and store in a ziploc plastic bag. Reheat for 10-15 seconds in the microwave, one at a time, and garnish as above. They taste every bit as good as left overs as they do right out of the pan.
Per Serving: 296 Calories; 16g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 145mg Cholesterol; 101mg Sodium.

Posted in Books, on February 14th, 2015.

It was quite a long time ago Houghton Miflin sent this book to me, asking that if I liked it, would I mention it on my blog. I said sure. Then my DH Dave died, and the first month I could hardly read, period. Somehow or another I put the book aside, not in a place I noticed. Months went by. I was finally able to read again, but I forgot all about this book hiding under something in my office.

I’m rectifying that right now. I wouldn’t even mention it if the book wasn’t a good one.  I unearthed it and read it again. It’s a very good book. Mones did a prodigious amount of research about what Shanghai was like during the 1930s. And she wove a fascinating story in the midst of it.

Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones has a very interesting premise. It’s about a man – a black man – from the South – who is offered a job (hard to get in the best of times in the American South in the 30s) in Shanghai, to work at one of the more upper-crust Chinese nightclubs. Thomas Greene is an accomplished pianist, but a classically trained one, and this job is to play jazz with an existing musical orchestra, all African Americans. He knows next to nothing about jazz, but he agrees to go, and the powers-that-be don’t know he’s clueless about jazz. Black musicians in Shanghai, back then, were not exactly common, but black people in general were a bit scarce. And respected, actually. He is given the use of a house, with servants, and hardly knows what to do or say to them. He’s embarrassed to have them wait on him hand and foot.

Greene navigates his way through the music (that in itself, if you have an interest in music, is worth reading), the relationships with his orchestra (tenuous at first) and making friends along the way. There is much about the gritty side of Shanghai as well as the incredible wealth there too. Some I’d read before – from the nonfiction book called The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell.

My former father-in-law was, in his younger years, an entertainer. He was a pianist, an accomplished one, though not classically trained. He could sit down at any piano and just make music, threading known tunes with his own. He and a friend, a singer, also lived in Shanghai in the 1930s. He and his singing partner sang in nightclubs too, so this story certainly resonated with me, from hearing the stories my father-in-law tell the family about that period.

When I read Caldwell’s book a few years ago I was quite enchanted with what Shanghai must have been like. And that book was excellent. This book, although it’s a novel, is based on fact  – many black musicians lived and performed in Shanghai during that time. They lived high, drank high, played high. Drugs were rampant. Morals weren’t so cherished. But the visual descriptions of Shanghai are vivid – I felt like Mones was leading me by the hand, down the streets, up the stairs you see on the cover photograph, pointing out the opium dens, the food vendors, the laundry hanging out the windows. Reminding me not to go to certain areas (there were invisible borders within the downtown area and some weren’t safe to cross) because of crime. When the Japanese invaded Shanghai, the complexion of the city takes a whole new slant. Many expats escaped; some did not. Some stayed because they didn’t have the money. Some thought they could survive it. It’s riveting: the chaos, the fear, the inability to hardly survive if you didn’t have money. Greene loses his job and barely survives. It’s the story of his will to live, and the caring of friends too.

I’d read one of Mones’ other books, The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel. So I knew her writing style – detailed, and how it draws you into the story. I recommend both, but this new one was particularly enchanting. Highly recommended.

Posted in Appetizers, Fish, on February 12th, 2015.

shrimp_pesto_salsa_vere

 

Kind of a messy and drippy platter, huh? Yes, it was! However, the sauce it’s sitting in it scrumptious, and you can make the sauce ahead a few hours, then all you have to do is broil the shrimp and you have an appetizer all ready! You could also serve this – I think – on pasta. There was ample of the salsa verde (see the plate is almost swimming in it) so it could easy baste a nice mound of linguine. For sure, once you serve this, save all that goop on the plate and use it with the leftovers.

It used to be that “pesto” had only one meaning. Basil. But really the word doesn’t have to mean basil. It can be nuts, or almost any kind of a paste/sauce. Although we think of pesto as purely Italian in origin, it actually originated in India. The Italians adopted it as their own, and once they mixed it with garlic, pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, well, a match made in heaven. BUT, this is not about that kind of pesto. Salsa Verde and pesto have many similarities.

Salsa Verde (green sauce) could be a combo of so many things – herbs or even greens like kale. The phrase, salsa verde, can be French, Italian or Spanish. Here in Southern California, even English-speaking people know salsa and verde. In this recipe the green part comes from parsley, basil and cilantro in a combination, with parsley predominating. Then this one has toasted blanched almonds in it (not pine nuts, as in pesto), some garlic and red chili flakes, a jot of white wine vinegar to give it some zip, and then oil to hold it all together. Easy to make, and it surely will keep in the refrigerator for a day – but don’t add the vinegar until just before serving – it will dull all the lovely green in the sauce. After a day the cilantro will start to disintegrate, so I’d use it up fairly quick-like.

The shrimp – use any size you want, really – are tossed with a spice mix. You can use your own combination or you can buy such mixtures at most grocery stores. Paul Prudhomme has one in the spice aisle. See my notes down below in the directions about a spice combo you can make up yourself. The raw shrimp is then coated with some oil and broiled. You could serve these warm – I think I’d like them warm – but do let them cool a bit right out of the broiler because shrimp can burn your mouth if you really served it immediately. This came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter a couple of months ago.

What’s GOOD: it’s all about the sauce. The salsa verde. It’s really, really delicious. Easy to make – just make sure you have blanched almonds. I don’t stock those in my pantry, but Trader Joe’s usually has them. The blanched part means they have no skins on them at all. And they’ve been cooked (and normally salted). Each shrimp made one really tasty bite, I’ll tell you! And remember to save the left over sauce and use it on pasta or rice.

What’s NOT: not a thing – loved this one.

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Shrimp with Pesto-Style Salsa Verde

Recipe By: Salsa Verde recipe from Fine Cooking; combo from Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

SHRIMP:
24 medium shrimp — (raw) about 2 inches long, tails removed
2 teaspoons spice mix for fish (your choice – or make up your own)
2 tablespoons olive oil
SALSA VERDE PASTE:
1/4 cup blanched almonds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Italian parsley — packed
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves — packed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro — packed
2 medium cloves garlic — coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

NOTES: If you don’t have a fish-type spice mix, make your own using ground ginger (more of this than the other ingredients), ground coriander, paprika, salt, ground cumin and freshly ground black pepper.
1. SALSA: Heat the oven to 400ºF. Spread the almonds in a pie pan and toast the almonds in the oven until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
2. Place toasted almonds, parsley, basil, the cilantro, garlic, chile flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine on, gradually pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process until the mixture becomes a thick purée. Add more oil as needed to make it just barely fluid. The salsa verde may be made to this point a day ahead and refrigerated. (DO NOT ADD VINEGAR YET.)
4. Return the salsa verde to room temperature, if chilled, and stir in the vinegar just before serving to prevent discoloration.
5. SHRIMP: Toss the shrimp with spice mixture and olive oil. Place on foil lined baking sheet and broil until tender (don’t over cook them!). Cool to just room temperature. If there are juices on the pan, pour that into the salsa verde for added flavor.
6. Toss the shrimp with the salsa verde and pour out onto a serving platter and serve with toothpicks. You could also make a dinner meal with this – serve over pasta, or with rice on the plate – in which case plate the shrimp on top of the rice.
Per Serving (nutrition is inaccurate as you will not use all the salsa): 266 Calories; 26g Fat (86.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 43mg Sodium.

Posted in Salad Dressings, Salads, on February 8th, 2015.

arugula_greens_salad_oranges_peppered_walnuts

 It seems like most green salads, these days, are filled with all kinds of non-vegetable goodies. In this case, instead of tomatoes, or sugar snap peas, celery and carrots, this one has crumbles of blue cheese, peppered walnuts, some orange slices, and it’s tossed in a sweet honey and apple cider vinegar dressing.

A few weeks ago I needed to take a salad to a church event (a ladies luncheon). Most everyone brought a salad, a couple made dessert. I went through all kinds of salad recipes looking for one that interested me. Finally found one in a relatively newer cookbook I have called From Terra’s Table, featuring recipes from the author’s restaurant and some other San Diego restaurateurs. But I changed it all around. It called for arugula and radicchio. I couldn’t find the radicchio, so had to substitute greens that contained some radicchio and colorful red greenery. The recipe called for walnuts that were coated in a spice egg white mixture and baked. I decided to make my favorite Peppered Pecans, but instead of pecans (the way I usually make it) I used walnuts instead. I had mostly walnut oil for the dressing, but not enough to make this, so had to substitute hazelnut oil for part of it. I had some good Humboldt Fog blue which I did crumble in the salad, and just because I had a nice, big juicy orange in my kitchen, I decided to add that as well.

Hence, this recipe is not true (much) to the original recipe. I altered the dressing a little bit. I altered the greens. And I made different nuts. So, really, it’s almost a new recipe. I’m sorry my photo isn’t better above – I used my cell phone at the event and didn’t have the best light.

What’s GOOD: I really liked the dressing, but it is on the sweet side. I also enjoyed the orange in this, and the texture from the peppered pecans for sure. I used less of the blue cheese since I think blue can overpower a salad. I’d have liked some sturdier greens in this (maybe some Romaine, but not a lot) because those multi-colored greens are so very tender. I’ve changed that in the recipe below, but you can use your own judgment when you make it yourself. It’s very pretty – especially with the orange slices visible.

What’s NOT: nothing really, other than you do have to prepare the walnuts, the dressing, and at the last minute toss it all and peel & slice the orange. Not something I’d make for a weeknight dinner, but great to take to someone else’s home if this is all you’re making.

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Arugula and Radicchio Salad with Blue Cheese, Oranges and Peppered Walnuts

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe from (now closed) Terra Restaurant, San Diego
Serving Size: 5 (maybe more)

PEPPERED WALNUTS:
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup walnut halves
HONEY-WALNUT VINAIGRETTE:
3/8 cup honey
3/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup walnut oil — plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon shallots — minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme — minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
SALAD:
1/2 pound arugula
1/4 pound radicchio — sliced (or use multicolored greens)
2 cups Romaine lettuce — chopped
1/4 cup blue cheese — (I used Humboldt Fog)
1 whole orange — peeled, thinly sliced

1. WALNUTS: Place a baking sheet or jelly roll pan next to your range before you start.
2. In a small bowl combine sugar, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
3. Heat a large wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add nuts and toss until walnuts are warm, about 1 minute.
4. Sprinkle nuts with HALF of the sugar mixture and toss until the sugar melts. Add remaining sugar mixture and toss again until sugar melts, then IMMEDIATELY pour out onto the baking sheet. Spread nuts out and allow to cool. The nuts won’t absorb all of the sugar mixture – it caramelizes, but just throw out the extra. The nuts will keep, stored in a plastic bag, for about 3-4 weeks. (Allow pan to cool, then fill with hot water – I use a nonstick pan for this.)
5. VINAIGRETTE: Combine the liquid ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a jar, add other ingredients, shake and set aside (extra dressing will keep for 2 weeks, refrigerated). You won’t use all the dressing on this salad.
6. SALAD: In a large bowl combine the arugula, Romaine and radicchio (or greens). Add enough salad dressing so the leaves shine. Taste for seasonings, then add the crumbled cheese on top, add peppered walnuts and orange slices. Serve immediately.
Per Serving (incorrect as you’ll have dressing left over): 611 Calories; 53g Fat (74.2% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 377mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, on February 3rd, 2015.

bacon_tomato_jam_dukka_biscuits

 

Having never heard of Dukka before, I was intrigued. Even when we visited Egypt in 1997, I don’t recall anyone talking about Dukka, nor did I see it on any menus. Unfortunately I didn’t get to the spice market there, either. In the picture above you can’t actually see the Dukka because it’s on the biscuits.

Dukka is a spice mix. That’s all. It doesn’t contain anything all that unusual. But it’s as varied as saying “Italian seasoning,” which can contain a whole variety of herbs.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Dakka (also Dukka, or Duqqa) (Egyptian Arabic): is an Egyptian condiment consisting of a mixture of herbs, nuts (usually hazelnut), and spices.  It is typically used as a dip with bread or fresh vegetables for an hors d’œuvre.  Pre-made versions of dakka can be bought in the spice markets of Cairo, with the simplest version being crushed mint, salt and pepper which are sold in paper cones.  The packaged variety is found in markets that is composed of parched wheat flour mixed with cumin and caraway. [It may also contain things like]  sesame, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. Reference to a 19th-century text lists marjoram, mint, zaatar and chickpeas as further ingredients that can be used in the mixture. A report from 1978 indicates that even further ingredients can be used, such as nigella, millet flour and dried cheese. Some commercial variants include pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.

dukka_mixtureMost versions contain some kind of nuts such as cashews, pistachios, almonds or hazelnuts, with hazelnuts being a common one, also cashews. It sounds like every household cook has his/her own version of it, or maybe varies depending on which nuts and seeds are in the house at the moment. I found one other good-sounding recipe for dukka at Food & Wine.

The bacon-tomato jam is pretty straight-forward. Cook the bacon, drain, add everything else and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until it’s cooked down to a jam-like consistency. You can make this ahead, just reheat it before serving.

dukka_biscuits_bakedThe biscuits are all quite simple too – it’s a buttermilk biscuit, plain and simple. They’re dipped in dukka, though, before baking, and the tops are brushed with buttermilk and more dukka is added there. Cool the biscuits, split them, spread with the jam, and serve. Done.

What’s GOOD: I absolutely LOVED these appetizers. For me, it was the bacon that did it. The Dukka wasn’t all that prominent in the flavors, but then I didn’t do a taste test of just the biscuits and Dukka. I think Dukka, in Egypt for sure, is probably a next-to-the-stove condiment that’s probably made up in quantity and used on just about everything. Like we have salt and pepper – they have Dukka.
What’s NOT: a bit of preparation here – both the jam and the Dukka. The biscuits need to be made fresh – don’t make them the day before. Make maybe half an hour before you need to serve them. They’d be particularly nice served warm.

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Bacon Tomato Jam on Dukka Biscuits

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 10

BACON TOMATO JAM:
1 pound thick-sliced bacon — diced
2 pounds tomatoes — ripe, seeded & diced
1 medium white onion — peeled, diced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar — packed
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
DUKKA BISCUITS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces unsalted butter — chilled, cut into 1/2″ dice
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup dukka
More buttermilk for brushing on top of the biscuits
DUKKA SPICE MIX (makes about twice what you’ll need):
1/3 cup almonds or hazelnuts
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds

NOTES: The Dukka mixture can be made up in advance, and will keep for about a month in a sealed plastic bag or jar. The recipe for Dukka makes more than you’ll need for this recipe.
1. BACON-TOMATO JAM: Cook the bacon in a large saute pan until crisp. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and discard drippings.
2. Add tomatoes, onions, sugars, vinegar, garlic, pepper flakes and bacon, and bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and jam-like consistency, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. This can be made a day or two ahead. Reheat before serving.
3. BISCUITS: Preheat oven to 350° and position a rack in the center.
4. Pulse flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor until combined. Pulse in the chopped-up chilled butter. Add buttermilk and continue pulsing ONLY until the dough barely comes together.
5. Transfer dough to a work surface and pat and roll out to 1 inch depth. Use a floured 2-inch round cutter and cut out as many biscuits as you can.
6. Dip the bottoms into Dukka mixture and transfer the biscuits to a parchment lined baking sheet. Gently gather the remaining dough scraps and press them into a 1-inch deep round. Cut out more biscuits, dip them in Dukka and transfer to baking sheet.
7. Brust the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with additional Dukka.
8. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Split and spread each biscuit (cut side up) with bacon-tomato jam. This assumes each person will eat two biscuit halves.
9. DUKKA: Preheat the oven to 350°.
10. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until golden. Coarsely chop the nuts.
11. In a skillet, toast the seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until chopped along with the chopped nuts and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer the dukka to a bowl, add salt and pepper, and allow to cool. Store in a plastic bag or sealed jar. Will keep for about a month.
Per Serving (you’ll have left over jam and Dukka, so this is likely very high): 548 Calories; 32g Fat (52.6% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 1192mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on January 30th, 2015.

macadamia_butter_dried_cranberry_cookies

This was a Christmas cookie my friends Cherrie. Jackie and I made when we got together and baked nearly all day in mid-December. I still have cookies in the freezer from that. This cookie isn’t quite what you think – the macadamia nuts are ground up to a paste and become the fat, (in lieu of butter) in the dough, but they’re enhanced with dried cranberries AND chocolate chips. All things to like!

When Cherrie and I were planning what cookies we were going to make this year (we’ve been doing this for about 5 years, I’d guess), we have some favorites. Always we do the Chocolate Almond Saltine Toffee. It’s always #1 on our list. We make a double batch, although we do it one at a time because the caramel is hot and a bit unwieldy.  it’s our all-time favorite cookie. We usually make Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies for brandied_apricot_barsmy cousin Gary because he’s GF. We always make Cranberry Noels also – they’re #2 on our list, always. And we usually make Mexican Wedding Cookies too. This year, by special request from Cherrie, I made one of her favorite things, my Brandied Apricot Bars. You can see photo at right. I took new photos because what I had on the blog post was a really old and needed some updating.

Cherrie had mentioned to me that she had a can of macadamia nuts she wanted to use up, so shouldn’t we add a new cookie to our list. I said sure – found this recipe I’d saved from a few years ago. It was on Bake or Break’s blog. We decided to double the recipe. Hers made 30. We doubled it and didn’t get quite 60, more like 50 (obviously we made them a bit bigger than she did). We also added a few mini chocolate chips. Just because. They were sitting out on the kitchen counter, so we threw them in.

The cookies are easy to put together. But, there’s no butter in this recipe. As I mentioned above, the macadamia nuts, which are naturally high in fat, become the fat for these cookies. So they’re a bit healthier than some.

These do require a bit of chilling time. We let them chill for half an hour or so, but 10 minutes is all that’s required. I don’t know how much good 10 minutes does since it definitely wouldn’t read the middle of the chunk of cookie dough, but anyway, that’s what it says.

The little one-inch balls get dipped in granulated sugar, pressed down onto parchment-lined baking sheets with a fork and baked. That’s it. These are good. Different. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, or for a cookie exchange. Easy too.

What’s GOOD: they’re easy to make. Tasty with the dried cranberries and chocolate chips. You really don’t taste the macadamia nuts, just so you know. If I make these again I think I might add some chopped macadamias just because. I like their taste, and you don’t have any sense that you’re eating them in this cookie. Don’t, however, leave them in chunk form as the ground up nuts provide the glue to hold these cookies together. You’d need to substitute butter in lieu of the nuts if you wanted to change that part. These are very low in fat – only 3 grams per cookie.

What’s NOT: nothing, really.

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Macadamia Nut Butter Cookies with Dried Cranberries and Chocolate Chips

Recipe By: adapted a little from Bake or Break blog, 2011 (she adapted it from Cooking Light)
Serving Size: 50

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cups macadamia nuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg
1 cup dried cranberries — chopped
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Note: there is no butter in this cookie – the macadamia nuts are processed to a very fine grind and provide the fat.
1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
2. Place macadamia nuts in a food processor. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine processed macadamia nuts, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and brown sugar using an electric mixer at medium speed. Add vanilla extract and egg. Beat well. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Dough will be thick. Stir in cranberries and mini-chocolate chips. Chill dough 10 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 375°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
5. Place 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Lightly press each ball into sugar. Place cookie balls, sugar side up, on prepared baking sheets. Gently press the top of each cookie with a fork twice to form a crisscross pattern. Dip fork in water as needed to keep it from sticking to cookies.
6. Bake cookies (1 baking sheet at a time) for 9-11 minutes, or until golden. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.
Per Serving: 94 Calories; 3g Fat (31.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 53mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on January 29th, 2015.

sweet_sour_cabbage_beer_brats

A simple dinner, my old favorite sweet and sour cabbage, and I threw in a couple of beer brats during the last 5 minutes and that was my meal.

For awhile I haven’t given much of an update about me, my grief journey, or my foot injury. Or anything very personal. Here goes.

My foot: did I mention that I did have an MRI? Finally. Once I found out it could be done in an open MRI machine. Should-a done that a long time ago, because what it showed that darned sharp rock I stepped on tore my plantar fascia. Not just a strain or sprain, but a small tear, that’s 80-90% through the plantar fascia. So I’m back in the gosh-darned boot. Have been in it now for 4 weeks. Have another 2+ to go before I see the doctor again. I am, however, getting cold laser treatments to the area (from my chiropractor), which increases blood flow and, supposedly, helps cell growth (scar tissue, really) to grow/heal the plantar fascia. And I’ve only had 2 treatments so far and I swear, I can tell a slight difference. I was able to walk into the regular grocery store this morning and I did 3 aisles, came home and my foot doesn’t hurt like it did just 2 weeks ago when I tried that. So, I’m hoping that means it’s on the path to recovery!

My grief journey: it’s hard to say exactly where/how I am. I still, this being said at 10-months since my darling DH’s death, have rough days. I’m sure it’s not unusual. Most of my friends aren’t aware that I have bad days. They usually occur when I’m at home, on a day when I don’t have much planned. That’s when I miss Dave the most. That’s when I think about him more. When the house feels too big for me, and it’s too quiet. Memories come pouring in, and the tears flow out. Of when I’d see his smiling face as I came and went to my day’s activities. I miss him at our bible study group, when he’d make some very thoughtful comments. I miss him when dinnertime comes around, because I eat alone. And of course I miss his hugs and kisses. That goes without saying. I still haven’t been able to set the dining room table with 2 place settings and eat my dinner meal there without him. I want to, but can’t. I know he understands why. I miss him every night as I get into bed. But I try very hard not to dwell on it at that time because I don’t like crying myself to sleep. I get all choked up and it takes awhile for my sinuses to clear out so I can sleep. When I say my nighttime prayers I usually ask God to tell Dave I love him. Probably sounds kind of silly, but it comforts me. I know God answers prayers, so I hope he does that for me. Or sometimes, in my prayers I just speak the words in my head, directly to Dave, telling him I love him and miss him so much.

Dave and I used to go out to dinner (to nicer places) at least twice a week. I don’t do that anymore, and I miss it. I haven’t screwed up my courage yet to go to a nice restaurant by myself. I’ve read about women who do it, but I haven’t yet. Most of my friends are married couples anyway. I have some widow acquaintances, but none that I’ve bonded with very much –  yet. I need to work on that.

My life is so changed, now that I’m a widow. I still have lots of activities – I don’t sit at home day after day in a stupor – far from it. I’m busy. Almost too busy sometimes. And I wonder if I’m just masking my grief by staying too busy. Don’t know the answer to that. I suppose only a grief counselor could tell me. But nearly every widow I talk with tells me she’s managed her grief by keeping busy. Some widows have told me, just recently, that their 2nd year was harder than the first year. I still feel very married. Dave’s just not here. But he’s still my husband – in my mind. In the eyes of God and of the law I’m not married. Hard for me to accept, emotionally.

There’s still a lot of paperwork, meetings, trust tax returns, attorney visits, etc. regarding Dave’s and my trust. Nothing bad, just time consuming and it keeps dragging on and on. New bank accounts, closing old ones, etc.

My life is just different. I live solo. Nobody really cares where I am, that I’ll be home at 2:00, or greets me. No one really cares what I do with my time. I don’t feel like I accomplish very much anymore – my life doesn’t have the meaning it used to.  (I do have things I do – I sing in the choir, am in two bible study groups, I’m doing ministry in several areas, I’m in several organizations, have 3 book clubs I’m in, occasional lunches out with girlfriends.) I don’t think I’m depressed – I have days when I’m down – but most days I’m okay. Writing this, though, brings tears to my eyes because my emotions are right on my sleeve. My kids think I should get a dog or cat. I don’t think I should have a dog because I can’t walk much right now. A cat might be okay, but I’m taking some trips in coming months, and it would be a disservice to a new cat to get acquainted and then leave for awhile. I’m taking a trip to Europe with friends. Not for awhile – later this spring. My San Diego granddaughter is keeping her eye out for a rescue cat for me. I have a particular breed in mind (a Snowshoe) that’s spayed and de-clawed already. It would be an indoor cat completely. I live in an area not suitable for outdoor cats (way too many coyotes). I’d probably prefer a dog, but I’d have to drive the dog somewhere to take a walk (no sidewalks or areas suitable for walking where I live, a narrow 2-lane street that doesn’t even have curbs).

Which brings me to my mobility. I can walk, and I do. I’m able to go to and from places, short distances, and I spread my activities out over the course of the day (that’s what the dr. advised). But I can’t walk around a block even – that’s too much for now. I can drive with no difficulty (injury is to my left foot) thankfully. But I’m severely limited in how much distance walking I can do. I can’t go to a mall and visit 2-3 stores. I need someone to drop me off close to door so I don’t have to walk very far for anything. In a month, I hope I’ll be walking again, more normally, without the boot. I hope. I pray. If you’re a praying person, I ask for prayers for the healing of my foot.

Cooking? Well, there’s not a whole lot I do. That I can do. Simple meals I can manage. Standing up at my kitchen counter is the most painful thing I do, along with standing up in church to sing in the choir. After about 5 minutes of standing I can begin to feel an ache in my foot. So I spread out the dinner prep a little bit if I can, with a few sit-downs in between prep and cooking. I got a craving the other day for some sweet and sour cabbage. When I found the recipe some years ago that I’ve posted already (link up in first line) I’ve stuck with it. I like it. Just the right amount of sweet and tart. All I did this time was chunk-up some bratwurst (happened to be beer brats) in it during the last 5 minutes of the cabbage cooking time, and that was dinner. It was very satisfying. I had dinner out the other night with my friend Linda in San Diego, and I ordered an appetizer portion of mac ‘n cheese. And wings. That was dinner. Both things I rarely order, but oh, did they taste good. All comfort food for sure.

As I’m writing this I’m going to a new cooking class with my friend Cherrie tonight, so hopefully I’ll have some recipes to share from that class. I have posts that go out about 3 more weeks. I’ve managed to keep posting every 4 days or so. I still don’t know how long I’ll continue – I just take it one day at a time. Writing, I know, is therapeutic for me. Especially this post.

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 28th, 2015.

Many of you probably read Bon Appetit already. If so, you’ve likely read Andrew Knowlton’s annual article about what’s hot in the food biz (in his not-so-humble opinion that is). Just in case you missed it, here it is, culled down to the basics:

1. Gyros are in.

2. Cold brew coffee pulled from a tap like beer, infused with nitrogen so it’s a smoother, creamier drink.

3. Bacalao – it’s a dried fish ubiquitous to Portugal and Spain – you have to soak it in milk to get out all the salt and not-so-pleasant flavors – people are eating it on pizza, in sandwiches and ravioli. Hmmm.

4. Even top chefs put tacos on their menus – he mentioned four specific chefs/restaurants in NYC, Charleston, Chicago and San Francisco.

5. It looks like marijuana cooked in food will eventually make it onto menus (yes, really).

6. Shake Shack (burger and fries chain with global locations).

7. A grapefruit liqueur (Crème de Pamplemousse) is hitting every mainstream bar (it has mild sweetness and immense aromatics).

8. New restaurant names – lots will use some very weird methods to come up with a name. Knowlton says they’ll use something like – fill in the blanks here:  “your spirit animal” or “Grandma’s name” or your “favorite ingredient” PLUS words like “luxury, “provisions” or “luncheonette.” What you’ll get from that are things like: “Sea Otter & Sons Luxury,” “Anise Hyssop Provisions” or “’Ma Knowlton’s Luncheonette.” (I must admit that restaurant names have been more unusual of late – even I’ve noticed that.)

9. Bing Bread – had never heard of it until now – it’s Chinese, full name is shaobing –  it’s a flaky flatbread often eaten at breakfast with things like baked potato, bacon and scallion in/on it with sour cream on top.

10. Beef Tongue. ‘Nuf said. I won’t be having any; sorry. There’s something about the texture I don’t care for.

11. Upscale beer bars – yup – for beer nerds he says, featuring specialized glassware, sleek taps and very worthy food to go along with. He calls them “grown up bars.”

12. Cocktails from the 70s like Long Island Iced Tea, White Russians, Grasshoppers.

13. Kolache (koh-laa-chee) – it’s a Czech inspiration – but American chefs have taken the filled pastry to new heights with fillings like jalapeno, cheese, sausage, black beans, corn and chorizo. Traditionally kolache are sweet pastries, and the best ones are yeasted. At the moment these savory styled ones are in Houston, Austin and Brooklyn.

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Knowlton also wrote an article in the December issue about the things he didn’t like in 2014.

A Few Things I [Andrew Knowlton] Didn’t Like:

1. Seeing the same damn menu items all over the country (deviled eggs, oysters, carrots with yogurt, steak for two).
2. The thought of paying for prime reservations.
3. Being told how to order.
4. “Everything will come out when it’s ready.”
5. Uni-exploitation. [excuse me, but what IS that? I found no explanation on the ‘net.]
6. Too-many-ingredient cocktails.
7. The Wall Street-ification of bourbon.

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