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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 Cookies, on October 22nd, 2016.

port_balls

The cutest, tastiest little buggers. Easy peasy to make.

As I mentioned a few days ago, my friend Cherrie and on a quest to make some different cookies for our annual cookie marathon we usually do in early December. This was a recipe I’d cut out of the Los Angeles Times – I had an old, yellowed clipping. It did require a trip to the grocery store for vanilla wafers; not something I stock in my pantry! I learned something on the journey . . . the recipe called for 12 ounces (a box) of the cookies. Those boxes are now 11 ounces, not 12. Lots of foods are now packaged in smaller quantities – I suppose it’s to avoid having to raise prices. I haven’t altered the recipe because of the loss of one ounce – they seemed to turn out okay. I wasn’t going to buy another box, and I assumed the cookie would survive that minor change.

Anyway, the ingredients are all whizzed up in the food processor – the cookies, Dutch processed cocoa (I used King Arthur’s Double Dutch Dark Cocoa) pecans, dark corn syrup, and the Port wine. The powdered sugar is used to coat the balls after you make them. I think Cherrie counted them – we got 47 balls. THAT would account for lack of the extra ounce of cookies. The balls are small – they’re rich – and when you taste them it takes just a few seconds to feel the warmth from the wine.

The original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. I’m sure at one time I had a bottle of that, but it’s been drunk in the past. I wasn’t about to make a trip to the wine store for that, so I substituted an aged Port instead. Do NOT use California Port – it’s a far cry and a poor substitute for a real, Portuguese Port. Many years ago I visited Portugal and learned to savor the many types of Port. If you visit Porto, the northern Portuguese port, you’ll likely visit the port lodges that sit right on the wharves on the south side of the Duoro River as it moseys out into the Atlantic Ocean. You’re in for a treat if you ever go there. On the same trip I also visited Madeira (it belongs to Portugal, but it’s located off the northwestern coast of Africa) and came to REALLY appreciate Madeira. I prefer it to Port any day, but Port was what was called for here, so I used some Taylor Fladgate aged Port for it.

Cherrie rolled these little guys into balls, dipped them in the powdered sugar and set them on a rack to “dry” and then we packaged them up. We both really liked them. I’d definitely make these again. An adult cookie, I suppose, but there’s not much Port in them, so even if a teenager or younger child ate one, I doubt they’d notice anything except the warmth in the tummy.

What’s GOOD: the overall flavor is very nice. The Port is subtle; so is the chocolate, actually. Maybe as they sit and “age” the flavors will be more pronounced. They won’t last that long, I don’t believe! They shouldn’t be frozen as the powdered sugar would disappear – though I suppose you could re-sugar them if you did.

What’s NOT: well, I suppose it’s not a very good family cookie. I’m not certain children would really like it anyway. I don’t know . . .

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Port Balls (Cookies)

Recipe By: Los Angeles Times, from many years ago
Serving Size: 48

11 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder — unsweetened
1 cup pecans
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup port wine — use good quality
1/2 cup powdered sugar

NOTES: Original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. That may be hard to find, so use any other good quality, but heavy-duty port wine. Do not use California Port. Original recipe also called for 12 ounces of vanilla wafers, but current boxes contain 11 ounces. Recipe seems fine with that quantity.
1. In a food processor, whirl vanilla wafers until they are fine crumbs, then add cocoa powder and pecans until the mixture is uniformly fine. Add corn syrup and port and whirl until blended.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar. Set on a rack to dry. Transfer to an airtight container. Will keep for a couple of weeks. Do not freeze.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 3g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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