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Carolyn

Sara

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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.

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Posted in Desserts, on July 28th, 2019.

red_hot_cool_strawberries_serving

Oh goodness. Was this dessert ever the hit of the party. If strawberry season is still available where you live, this will have you swooning.

Having invited 8 friends over for dinner last night (9 with me included), I began working on the menu. Because, as a widow, I’m doing all the work myself, I’ve learned that I have to choose things that are do-able for me. Definitely not the more elaborate menus I might have done when Dave was alive. He was a huge help to me when we entertained. Yes, I miss him for that and many other reasons, but getting ready for a dinner party was one of his favorite things!

Since I knew we’d be eating outside, that meant at least a couple hour’s work – cleaning up the patio to be ready for guests, setting the table, cleaning the outdoor countertop where I serve buffet style, getting ready to grill, removing all the towels that drape across all the outdoor furniture when I’m not out there, plus shopping and preparing all the food, of course.

So, I’d already decided to do my easy favorite, the Grilled Salmon with Watercress Salad that has been a part of my cooking repertoire for at least 25 years. Only one store in my area still stocks the full grown watercress (not the puny one in the root ball), so that was about a 25 minute drive just to get there. A separate stop for the salmon and peppers to grill with the salmon, and then another shopping trip for everything else.

So. Dessert. Since strawberries are still available, I’d seen a recipe for a strawberry compote kind of thing where the strawberries are cooked with chile de arbol and served with a refreshing whipped-up sauce of yogurt and cream cheese. It just sounded SO different, I had to try it.

Image result for chile de arbolThe strawberries were cut up into about 1/2” pieces. Meanwhile I cooked, so to speak, the dried chile. First I removed the stem and seeds from 2 chile de arbol. See photo at right. They’re long, skinny. And dried, of course. They’re low on the Scoville scale, although I might be readjusting this recipe to use a little LESS of the chile. I think the package said they’re a 9500, roughly about twice as hot as a jalapeno chile. I kind of flattened the chiles and put them into a medium-high heated ceramic pan and let it absorb the heat. It never got to the point of smoking, but the recipe indicated until the chile was slightly browned. I couldn’t really tell if it was browned, necessarily. I did it for about 4-5 minutes, I’d guess. The chiles were cooled, then put into a mortar and I ground it up into a fairly small bit of chile dust. You could use a spice grinder for this, also. My hands felt the heat, however, from handling them. Even a couple of hours later I could still feel the heat around one of my fingernails.

hot_strawberriesI cooked the strawberries with just a little bit of sugar (and the chile dust) until they’d begun to slump and lose their shape. The recipe I started with suggested cooking 15 minutes. No. Lot less than that. I think I stopped at about 8 minutes and as the strawberries cooled they cooked even more. Definitely you should undercook them. Those were cooled and then chilled. You could definitely make this a day ahead.

Well, then. So I tasted them. Oooh. That chile de arbol has an afterburn. In the interim, however, I’d made the sauce it was initially to be paired with – a mixture of yogurt (I used coconut yogurt) and cream cheese. But having tasted the strawberries, I knew immediately that the little bit of yogurt sauce wasn’t going to be enough to temper the heat. So, I revised my plan altogether and made a kind of Eton Mess. Here on my blog you’ll find a recipe that I’ve made for years that’s a riff on the English college’s favorite desserts, a way to use up some berries or fruit.

red_hot_cool_tray

There’s a photo of the tray of them. I had my friend Cherrie help me putting them all together. First, though, 30 minutes before I was planning to serve the ice cream, I moved the tub of vanilla ice cream to the refrigerator. I read this hint recently for easier scooping. It worked like a CHARM!. I’ll be doing that little trick from now on. Just don’t forget to put the remaining ice cream back into the freezer!

First, into the bottom went a nice ball of ice cream. Then chilled berries on top (don’t use them all because you put more on top later). Then the drizzle of the yogurt/cream cheese mixture, a few more berries, then a big dollop of sweetened whipped cream. Trader Joe’s stocks a vanilla meringue cookie – it literally never gets stale – my tub of them has been in my pantry for at least 2 years. A couple of those were crushed up and just a tiny sprinkling of the meringue went on top of each serving. Top with a mint sprig AND a shaving of dark chocolate. You could put another berry on top too, if you’d like to. I like the dark green to be contrasted with the cream, however. The original recipe came from a recent issue of Food and Wine, but I made so many changes to it, it hardly resembles what was in the magazine.

Then these beauties were served. I warned everyone that there was some heat to the dessert – I think I saw some frowns at the table. Like whaaat? Then everyone began and there was stunned silence at the table. Just the clink of spoons in the glass compote dishes. Then began the oohs and aaahs. I think 3 of my friends said “is this going to be on your blog?” Obviously I needed to say yes. I’ll also be posting the pasta salad I made too. I didn’t eat any of it, but I heard raves all around about it. As people were finishing up, several said, oh that dessert was just the best part of the dinner.

What’s GOOD: oh, gracious. Every single solitary morsel of this was beyond wonderful. I have some leftover berries – I’ll be having them over some ice cream. (And no, regular ice cream isn’t on my diet, but I’m having it anyway.)

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything . . . you do need to make the berry compote ahead of time, with time for it to chill. And you’ll need to find chile de arbol. I had considered using a big, fat jalapeno chile in it if I hadn’t found the dried chiles. Obviously, do NOT serve this to people who don’t like spicy, chile-induced heat.

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

Red, Hot, and Cool Strawberries – riff on Eton Mess

Recipe By: Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe
Serving Size: 8

2 chile de árbol — stemmed and seeded or similar chile
14 ounces strawberries — hulled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or coconut yogurt
4 ounces cream cheese — softened
8 scoops vanilla ice cream
3 small meringue cookies — crumbled
2/3 cup heavy cream — whipped, with sugar and vanilla
Fresh mint leaves — for garnish

1. Heat a small skillet over high; add chile, and cook, tossing occasionally, until toasted and a nutty aroma is released, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from skillet, and crush in a mortar and pestle.
2. Stir together crushed chile, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and syrupy, about 8-12 minutes. (Strawberries should mostly keep their shape; if they start collapsing, remove from heat sooner.) Remove from heat, and let strawberry mixture cool completely, about 25 minutes. Chill.
3. While strawberry mixture cools, whisk together yogurt and cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
4. Scoop ice cream into bottom of each serving dish, spoon on some of the strawberries, drizzle with yogurt mixture, add more strawberries, then spoon whipped cream on top. Grate a tiny bit of bar chocolate on top, then garnish with mint leaves, and serve.
Per Serving: 321 Calories; 21g Fat (58.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 81mg Cholesterol; 115mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 29th, 2019:

    Oh dear, three things that I cannot eat with equanimity – Strawberries, Chilli and Cream – they all spell disaster to me, and have done since I was a child. Cake and custard though – oh yes, I managed those fine!

    You’ll laugh, Toni, but I thought about that as I was writing up the post – – “oh, I know Toni won’t like this one.” My other friend Donna likely won’t fix this either as her husband and son don’t like anything with heat.. . I loved it. Will be having the leftovers of it tonight. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on July 30th, 2019:

    You got it right, Carolyn. I would dearly love to try this–it sounds awesome. As you remembered, my husband doesn’t like any heat at all; my son actually does enjoy some spice, but he would think chile in a dessert was weird. I can’t think of anyone else to make it for either, and I’m trying to behave myself as far as desserts go! However–I’m thinking I could do this without the peppers for the others and just doctor up a small portion of the strawberries for a mini-dessert just for me! It would be a really easy recipe to customize that way. So we’ll see–I’ll let you know if I try it!

    The last of it was eaten last night. Oh gosh, did I love that dessert. I’ll make it again next summer, for sure. . . carolyn t

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