Get updates sent to you for free by RSS, or by email:


Currently Reading



Sara and me

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Just finished reading A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). She was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book, which is made  up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between and man and a woman was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  She was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? When I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3)by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. W

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.


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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Travel, on April 28th, 2015.


Do you keep a travel log when you take a trip? Especially if I’m abroad I do. I just kept a short running commentary of notes about what I did each day and what I had to eat.

At the Masseria Cervarolo, we enjoyed two wonderful dinners; multi-course gastronomic enjoyment. I can’t tell you exactly what I ate, and some of the photos were way too dark to enhance.

But, what I am going to tell you about is fava beans. I can recall, growing up, at Italian festivals in Rhode Island. I lived there from about age 14-16, and I ate some marinated fava beans. The kind that you squeeze between your thumb and forefinger and out pops a nice big kernel of bean. It was good. But here in California I almost never see jars of fava beans. You can buy plain, canned fava beans, though. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen fresh fava beans.

So, enter Puglia in the picture, and fava beans played a very frequent dinner role. We had fava beans multiple times while we were there. And what they do with them is cook them and puree them into a kind of mashed potato consistency. I suspect they add garlic, seasonings (although only once did we see anything like herbs in the puree), some broth or water and most likely some amount of olive oil. And then they cook some kind of bitter greens to put on top. I did find a recipe online that looks much like the dishes we had in Puglia. It seems that this fava bean dish with cooked chicory is unique to Puglia. I think (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that when fresh, fava beans are very green – so I think this was dried fava_bean_escarole_red_onionfava beans, which turn a light brown once they’ve dried and hardened up. For certain it was chicory season, so that may be why we had it so often.

At right is a photo of the first one we were served. And I wrote escarole on the photo, but I think it was chicory (same family). They drizzled a bit of olive oil on top. For awhile we didn’t know what that mound of puree was – we thought mashed potatoes until we tasted it. Definitely not potatoes. Finally one of the waitresses explained about fava beans.

We all cleaned our plates it was SO good.

The next day we ventured out to a city 20-30 miles away and our group went on a walking tour. I decided not to do that only because I was concerned about overdoing it with my foot. After their tour they came and got me and we had lunch out at a  trattoria a few blocks away. IMG_0606We ordered fresh grilled vegetables, which were plentiful in nearly all the trattorias. I couldn’t get enough of them. They prepared eggplant, peppers, onions, leeks, zucchini, tomatoes, sometimes mushrooms, sometimes sun dried tomatoes, all grilled and drizzled with olive oil. And guess what? They brought us a plate of fava bean puree that was done just slightly differently. This one was more chunky (see left). Still chicory on top, but they served it with garlic croutons on top. We also had a platter of salami (salume or salumi in Italian) and cheeses too. We couldn’t believe it when we were done – we’d eaten nearly everything they brought out. All with lots of bread. bread_and_snailsBread is the staff of life, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I ate more bread in those  3 weeks than I’ve eaten in the last year. It was so fresh, so yeasty, so tasty. None of us could stop eating it.

There at right was a small basket of bread with the little snail-things in the middle. Those are a frequent cracker. I can’t remember what they call them – snails, shells, or worms, or something like that. We ate those too. They’re crispy like crackers. The grilled breads were the best, by far. And a bottle of olive oil was nearby so you could drizzle some on top. No butter.

fava_bean_garbanzo_pastaHere is yet another fava bean dish. This one had a mound of it in the center of the plate, but then they’d made a sauce with onions, I think, garlic, garbanzo beans, mushrooms and some little flat pieces of pasta. All that poured over the puree of fava beans you can seein the middle. It was absolutely scrumptious, and I had to talk to myself out of eating the entire plate. This was one of the courses at the Masseria.

fava_bean_greensHere again, at right, is another fava bean dish with a piece of mushroom plunked on top, and 4 lovely mounds of greens around the outside. This one wasn’t my favorite – the puree was too thick. I ate all the greens, though, and they were good.

As in many places, it’s hard to get enough vegetables when you’re eating out all the time. At the Masseria, roasted_grilled_veggieswe did have a course of grilled vegetables. Picture at left. We had eggplant, zucchini, leeks and chanterelles. It was really delicious and since we all knew we weren’t getting enough veggies, we ate most of it. Yet we knew we had several more courses to come.

caprese_sandwiches_AlberobelloMore than once we ordered caprese sandwiches – they’re very inexpensive and almost always the trattoria served them with a bowl of local olives. It was fresh mozzarella, always, and slices of fresh tomato, all very tasty and ripe, and a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a slice or two of fresh basil leaves, or sprinkled with some dried Italian herbs.

gnocchi_tomatoes_peas_masseria_cervaroloI think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of gnocchi. Well, at the Masseria one of the courses was gnocchi, and I looked at the plate, thought “oh dear.” I didn’t want to not eat it at all, so I thought I’d pick at it, move it around on the plate as children do, but I did take one gnocchi. OMGosh. This was unlike any gnocchi I’ve ever had. All I can tell you is they tasted like little pillows of pasta softness. They were absolutely fantastic. The peas and tomatoes along with it was a perfect pairing. I ate most of it. I’ve never had gnocchi that were so good.

On occasion in the mid-lauren_gelatoafternoon we’d all have a craving for a little something – maybe a gelato, as you can see in the photo at left of Lauren with a double scoop. She fell in love with gelato (doesn’t everyone?). That particular day Lauren was the only one who had room for any as we’d just had a big lunch. espresso_masseria_cervarolo

One day I craved an espresso, so at the Masseria they had a lovely espresso machine and I made myself one and dipped into the jar of cantucci (little cookies) that Italians like to accompany an espresso.

If you’ve ever watched Italians standing at an espresso bar – most of them are stand-up only at a tall counter –  it’s just a place to get an espresso, throw it down and leave. First they pick up the sugar dispenser (no packets, this is the real thing, a big glass jar with a special spout) and they pour in about 1/4 CUP of sugar, stir it around and down it in one big gulp. cornetto

At the Masseria, they offered a huge table of breakfast food, full of cold cuts, salami, a daily frittata (room temp), hard boiled eggs,masseria_cervarolo_latte several fresh breads and jams, fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, fresh ricotta cheese, the wonderful cornetto (Italian croissants) and at least 2 dessert cakes. When I asked for a latte, they always brought it in a tall glass. It was lovely. If we’d really eaten our fill, we could have gone from breakfast until dinner without additional food, but we never did! We breakfast_plate_masseriaalways needed more food around 1:00 or so.

There’s my breakfast plate at left – from the top: tomato, ricotta, ham, mozzarella, frittata and then a slice of the lemon layer cake topped with powdered sugar. On another plate I cut fresh bread and had a croissant. So much food. Way too much food!

I have more food pictures but I think this post is long enough. Hope you haven’t been bored. . .

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Get Recipes by Email, Free!

  1. hddonna

    said on April 28th, 2015:

    Bored? Not a chance! Now I’m wanting to head for Global foods to pick up a package of fava beans, grill a big batch of vegetables, make some fresh ricotta…I did buy whole milk this week for the express purpose of making some ricotta, so maybe that’s where I’ll start. I love hearing about your food adventures!

    Thank you, Donna! Appreciate your comment. See if you can find some fresh chicory??? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, have you?. . .carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on April 28th, 2015:

    I don’t believe I have seen chicory, but Global Foods has quite a large selection of greens. It would be interesting to see if they carry it.

  3. hddonna

    said on April 28th, 2015:

    Guess what? I’m sure you have seen it, and so have I. I just learned that there are two salad versions of chicory, “the narrow leafed version is also called curly endive, and the broad leafed variety is also known as escarole.” ( Does that jive with what you had in Puglia?

    Well, somebody on the trip said that chicory was in the same family as escarole. It definitely was NOT curly endive, though. It was very dark green with more green leaf part than curly endive offers. So maybe chicory (the green leafed type) IS the same as escarole – that is in my markets sometimes. Thanks for the sleuthing. . . carolyn t

  4. Toffeeapple

    said on May 1st, 2015:

    Not boring at all. I was amazed at how many vegetable dishes you had, very unusual for Italy. Fava beans or, as we call them, broad beans are bright green, right inside, see here:

    I love it when the new seasons crop comes in; if you grow them you can eat the whole thing, pods and beans together when they are very young. Not long to go now and asparagus isn’t far behind!

    We had asparagus in Italy and in France. Oh yes, in Switzerland also. It was just great. And they’re available in profusion here in California at our markets right now. I didn’t know fava were the same as broad beans. I’ll have to look and see if we have them by that name here. . . carolyn t

Leave Your Comment