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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

Tasting Spoons

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

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Posted in Uncategorized, on November 3rd, 2013.

dpt 509 1My husband Dave and I have been married for over 30 years. The happiest years of my life, as I’ve probably mentioned before. It’s a 2nd marriage for us both. We each had a teenager living with us when we met, and it’s a long story, but we managed to weather blending a family and even had all 3 of the children living with us for some years. When we met, I was 38 and Dave was 40.

After we met, a 3+ hour blind date for lunch, I invited him to a brunch I was throwing the following Sunday for a group of my friends. After the brunch we went to the beach near us to walk, and ended up at his house because he offered to fix dinner. (My daughter was home with a girlfriend of mine who was staying with me at the time; Dave’s son had been away for the weekend and returned just in time for dinner.)

After we arrived at his house, I asked Dave if he liked to cook, and he said “sure.” Thrilled that I’d met someone who enjoyed cooking like I do, I sat back with a glass of wine in my hand as he cooked a fairly simple dinner of steak on the grill, baked potatoes and all the trimmings, plus a green salad with bottled dressing (Catalina dressing, if you remember that one). I didn’t offer to help (he remembers this). For such a simple meal I thought two cooks in the kitchen might be a bit much.

In the subsequent weekends when we got together, usually at his house, he prepared 3 more dinners (I remember this) – grilled country ribs with bottled barbecue sauce, salad and garlic bread. The third meal he made a big stovetop dish of chicken (in his new set of orange Le Creuset). It had onions, peppers and zucchini cooked with it. And he also could grill chicken with the same said bottled barbecue sauce. In that time I think I’d fallen in love with him. As he tells it, it’s a good thing because those four meals exhausted his repertoire of cooking. Period.

As I learned within a short time . . .when Dave’s son came to live with him (when he was 11, about 9 months or so before I met Dave) he really didn’t cook. He had a job that required a lot of after-work schmoozing with customers, and happy hour food was Dave’s dinner of choice. He was in electronics sales and had an expense account. Most weekdays he took customers or distributors out for a very hearty lunch. Dinner didn’t need to be big, so the happy hour food was fine for him. But with a hungry 11-year old boy at home, he had to figure out something. He learned to do hot dogs (maybe hamburgers), and those 3-4 dinners I mentioned above. They lived on that, in constant rotation, having left overs on the nights in between, and going out at least once a week. Out of desperation, his son learned to cook some himself. In fact, he really got into it, and one weekend I was visiting HE made eggs Benedict, which were really good. I was impressed.

So, the rest is history. I took over the cooking. Really, as I learned quickly enough, Dave doesn’t even know how to cook. He enjoys good food – the eating of it – but even after all these years, he still doesn’t know the how of cooking. He does help now and then, especially if we’re entertaining – if I show him how to do something, he’ll chop onions, or watch a pot or stir something. He’s a whiz at washing dishes. He puts everything away (not always where it’s supposed to be, but at least he finds a home for every item I use). I’m very grateful that he doesn’t mind – in fact he loves washing dishes.

Last week I was reading Charmian Christie’s blog about her and her husband’s 11th wedding anniversary, and she told a cute story about discussing with him what his favorite foods were when they’d met – steak, turkey, scalloped potatoes and apple pie. Then she asked him what his favorite foods are now, and he rattled off a list – all things she makes and things he’s crazy about.

Therefore, after reading about that, I turned to Dave and said: “Honey, what were your favorite things you liked to make and eat when we met?” He looked at me. And stared. And said “uhm, steak, I guess.” I said “that’s it? Steak?” I waited, and there were no additions. So, I went on. “Okay, so after 30 years of marriage, what are your favorite things I cook?” He looked at me again, blankly. [I was expecting him to rattle off half a dozen things that I make that I know he loves.] At that point, we actually had a short discussion about his perception of our meals – he thinks that because I write a food blog I never cook anything twice.

Surely, I needed to correct him about THAT. So I went to my Carolyn’s Favs list on my blog and asked him about most of the recipes. Some he doesn’t recognize by the title. But, yes, as soon as I listed some or explained something about this one or that one, he said “oh yes, I love that.” “Yes, that too.” “Sure, that’s a really good one!” He finally agreed that yes, there are lots of favorites, but when put to the test, he absolutely couldn’t name them. He loves to barbecue, and he thinks he’s pretty good at it (I agree). As I read the items, I made some scribbled notes. I thought it might be worthy of a blog post – to tell you which things I prepare are HIS favorites. Only the first one (steak) is in order of importance:

ribeye_steaks_with_amazing_glaze

Ribeye Steaks with Amazing Glaze – indeed, steak is still his #1 favorite dinner. And it’s really the meat he’s after, not necessarily the sauce, but yes, he remembered the sauce.

baked-onions

Baked Onions with Thyme – very easy baked onions with red wine and dried thyme. They’re a family favorite over the holidays, particularly.

BLTsalad3

BLT Salad – Love this salad, especially in the summer when tomatoes are at their peak. Dave loves all the bacon in it. I think.

butternut_squash_soup_apples

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Apples – For several years I made this soup every Fall. It’s on the sweet side, and is not a quick one to make since the squash, onions, apples, etc. all must spend time in the oven to reach some caramelization.

cabbagepatch4

Cabbage Patch Stew – one of my favorite soup-stew type things too – this one goes back to the 1960’s; has a scoop of mashed potatoes on top. Very simple to make. With ground beef and kidney beans.


calabacitas

Calabacitas con Crema – There is something unique about corn, zucchini and poblano chiles all mixed up with a jot of cream in it. Dave’s favorite “veg” is corn.

corn_green_chile_cheese_dip_casserole_thumb

Corn, Green Chile and Cheese Dip – Dave could easily make this his entire meal. He professes to not like Mexican food very much, but he loves this stuff. It’s hot and you dip tortilla chips or Frito scoops in it.

cranberry_relish

Cranberry Relish – Dave didn’t think he’d like this when I first made it for him (our first Thanksgiving together), but oh yes he does! Since he’s diabetic, he can’t have much of it (I use part Splenda) but he enjoys every morsel with turkey or on turkey sandwiches.

cream-of-cucumber-soup

Cream of Cucumber Soup – COLD – He surprised me with this one – I haven’t made it in a couple of years, but as soon as I mentioned it he said yes, he really liked it a lot.

crisp_apple_pudding

Crisp Apple Pudding – I make this 2-3 times a year, for sure. My mother’s recipe. I use part Splenda for Dave’s sake. It’s not so sweet you couldn’t even have it for breakfast. It has a crispy dough top, no oatmeal or crumbly stuff. Lots of cinnamon.

crumbled_asparagus

Crumbled Asparagus – he actually DID remember this one as soon as we discussed veggies. Dipped in mayo and Parmigiano cheese, roasted at high temp. Very easy and absolutely addictive.

fr-hamb-plated-540

French Hamburgers – this is a Julia Child recipe. It’s not put in a bun, but pan fried and served with a red wine and butter sauce. This recipe is THE most re-pinned recipe from my Board on Pinterest.

garlic-green-beans

Garlic Green Beans – this recipe came from a friend of Dave’s (Meredith, a beau from college days). It’s her recipe, and it’s an absolute winner. My friend Cherrie makes this all the time, too.

greek_lamb_ragu_thumb

Greek Lamb with Pasta – this is a recent recipe in my repertoire. What makes it is the Feta cheese sprinkled on top. It’s a sensational dish and feeds a bunch of people (8, with just 1 lb. ground lamb). Dave loves lamb any time, any day.

ham-and-egg-cup

Ham and Egg Cups – A great brunch dish – thin slices of deli ham, an egg, some fresh tomatoes and a dollop of pesto. Baked in the oven. Very easy.

kurobuta ham

Kurobuta Ham – you might think a ham is just a ham, but even Dave knows now that Kurobuta (Berkshire pork) ham is something else again. He loves the mustard sauce that goes with it too.

lemon velvet

Lemon Velvet Ice Cream – I’ve tinkered with the original recipe a bit, but it does remain one of our very favorites – primarily because we have 2 lemon trees on our property and the Meyer lemon juice is just so good in this.

monterey-scalloped-potatoes-450

Monterey Scalloped Potatoes – I only make this once or twice a year because it’s so rich and decadent. Made with Monterey Jack cheese. Not difficult.

pastasaladjoan

Joan’s Pasta Salad – Our friend Joan makes a wicked basil-scented pasta salad. Not difficult. Has Feta cheese in it. Relatively healthy as well.

pork-apricot-glaze

Pork Loin Roast with Apricot Glaze – what makes this is the apricot sauce on the side. It’s intensely apricot-y. Dave loves pork roast, but this one especially because of the apricots.

salmon-watercress-450

Grilled Salmon on Watercress Salad – Dave just loves this dish and often asks me – if he spies salmon on the counter – if I’m going to make it with the watercress. He particularly likes roasted red, yellow and orange bell peppers alongside. Makes a great presentation.

sheppie3

Shepherd’s Pie with Chipotle Sweet Potatoes – truthfully, I haven’t made this in a couple of years – and every time I do fix it, Dave raves. Make 2, and stick one in the freezer. It’s standard shepherd’s pie, but uses sweet potatoes flavored with chipotle to give it a kick.

tomatopiewhole_thumb

Savory Tomato Pie – or, another version I did more recently – Tomato Corn Pie – make one or the other when tomatoes are in the peak of flavor. Contains mayo (I think that’s what Dave likes about it, although you can’t tell the mayo is there, exactly).

watermelon_feta

Watermelon Salad with Feta & Mint – I just made this last night and we both dug into the bowl for more, even after we’d finished dinner. There’s something about the salty Feta and the sweet watermelon in combo. Last night I used basil, but it’s best with mint.

zucchini-gratin

Zucchini Gratin – An Ina Garten recipe. Not difficult to make, but does require a whole lot of slicing. It’s the topping that makes it, and that’s what Dave loves about it, I think.

What I haven’t pictured or listed here are the standard salad dressings I make all the time. The ones with asterisks are my regulars that I make in erratic rotation. He loves all of them, including the ones that contain blue cheese, although if you ask him he’ll tell you he’s not a fan of blue cheese dressing, or blue cheese in general.

I enjoyed writing this list, and read the entire story to Dave (to make sure I hadn’t veered from the truth anywhere – I didn’t). I asked Dave about that chicken dish he used to make in his new Le Creuset pan. I decided to go hunting – would you believe I found the original plastic spice mix bottle that Dave used to use in that dish? It means it’s at least 30 years old. I was shocked when I opened it to find that it still has a nice scent. We’re going to make it tomorrow, so you’ll hear all about it. Maybe I’ll get Dave to make it – that would be especially fun for me! I’ll take pictures. I have a brand new pan that will be perfect for it. If it’s all that good, I’ll order more of the seasoning mix, which is still available.

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  1. Kathleen Heckathorn

    said on November 3rd, 2013:

    Carolyn, what a lovely post! And the list of manly favorites is just in time for the holidays, where the majority of my guests will be male! (Remember, I have three brothers!)

    Oh, good, Kathleen! Hope you (and they) enjoy the choices . . . carolyn t

  2. Charmian @TheMessyBaker

    said on November 3rd, 2013:

    Oh, I love that your husband couldn’t name the dishes but knew and loved them once prompted. If it makes you feel better, the only dish my husband can name other than ranch dressing is No Butter Chicken. Beyond that it’s “those green beans I like” or “that pie you made for my birthday.”

    Congratulations on 30 years together! Hoping you enjoy many more.

    Well, that DOES make me feel better, Charmian! Actually, since I wrote up the post, he’s “remembered” a couple more I should have added to the list. I’ll save them for next time. . . carolyn t

  3. Melynda

    said on November 3rd, 2013:

    Very sweet story, may you enjoy 30+ more wonderful years together!

    Gosh, I hope so, although we’re getting up there in years. My DH has diabetes, of course, but he also has some heart issues as well. You’d never know it if you spent time around him, so we just never know, do we? . . . carolyn t

  4. Kalyn

    said on November 10th, 2013:

    Congratulations on 30 year! You two are a great couple.

    Thank you, Kalyn! . . . carolyn t

  5. yvette

    said on November 10th, 2013:

    Hi Carolyn,
    I really enjoyed this post. So heartwarming. I can just picture in my mind you and Dave having this conversation about his “favorites”.

    It was pretty funny – glad you got a chuckle out of it! . . .carolyn t

  6. Sue

    said on November 10th, 2013:

    Hi Carolyn,

    What a charming post! Loved the stories and recipes, some of which are also my favorites. Congrats to you and Dave, two of Lynn and my “favs.”

    Hugs, Sue

    Hi Sue – I knew our friends who might read this story would get a kick out of it – glad you did too! . . . carolyn

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