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While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

When I load a book onto my Kindle, I don’t keep a note about where or how I heard about it. Did someone suggest it to me? Did I read about it on amazon’s site? I wish I kept track. Hence I don’t know why I ordered Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter by Sara Taber. Probably the title intrigued me. And the book was interesting, I’ll give it that. Sara Taber grew up in places all over the world as her father, actually a spy, but commonly called a diplomat for the State Department, wherever he was stationed. Much of the book is about her inability to fit in. She was always the new girl in school, or the neighborhood. She was shy. Didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. She lived in Taiwan, Washington, D.C., The Hague, Malaysia (Borneo) and Tokyo. I probably missed a couple in there. She learned to love moving. She adored her father, and some of the story is about his career, though she only learns as a teenager what he really did for a living. Part of the book is her coming-of-age story, part angst about herself and yet she eventually finds success as a writer. And she is a very good writer – a kind of lyrical style. She repeats herself a bit too often and a few words were repetitive throughout. But overall, it was a very interesting read.

For years I used to read a travel column in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Spano. She wrote wonderful stories about her travels. I envied her life. One time she visited Paris for awhile, writing a series about eating and living in France. When that series ended, she didn’t want to come home. So she stayed. And she wrote for other publications. She’s written several books (one on divorce [hers] and another on divorce from the man’s point of view). This book, French Ghosts, Russian Nights, and American Outlaws: Souvenirs of a Professional Vagabond compiles some of her newspaper stories and she weaves in some new ones as well. She’s quite an outdoors woman – loves climbing mountains. I certainly admire that about her. One of the stories was so cute I read it aloud to my group of traveling buddies as we sat around in our Lyon, France flat having a glass of wine one evening. If you enjoy travel writing in general, you’ll enjoy reading this one.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

And lastly, and probably my least favorite, but it certainly tops many charts for its pulp factor, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. The premise, a letter written by the husband, is found by the wife, supposedly to be opened after his death, but he isn’t dead, and she opens it anyway. Out springs Pandora’s box. It’s like Peyton Place on steroids. Oh my gosh. How much calamity can happen in a few pages. I wasn’t impressed, but it made for a good airplane read, I suppose.

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).

 

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 Cookies, on December 6th, 2007.


If you’ve never done a cookie exchange, you should. I’ve done more of them than I can count, and these days I try NOT to have too many cookies around, because then, guess who eats them? We don’t have floods of friends or family in the house during December like we used to, unless we host a party ourselves, so it’s best that I just make a few of our family favorites and call it quits with the cookie baking.

These cookies are just as pretty as the picture and would make a great cookie exchange contribution. They look like you’ve slaved, but you really didn’t. They aren’t hard to make, although they do take a bit of patience to roll up. It’s a 2-step process to make the dough (the cookie dough and the filling), then you have to create the rolls, and freeze them. You defrost the rolls a bit before slicing and baking. It’s a good cookie to make over a 2-day period. Make the dough and filling, roll them up and freeze them the first day, then the next day slice and bake them. Only one caution: don’t over bake the cookies. If you do, the chocolate filling turns into hard candy and is not easy to eat or very tasty either. You need to allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet. If you try to remove them early, you’ll smear the filling and they may break apart. (Trust me, I know this from experience – grin.)
harlequinpinwheelscollage
Clockwise top left: the filling melting in bowl over hot water, the filling spread on top of the cookie dough, the finished rolls ready to freeze, and the dough with nuts, before rolling up.

A former employee of mine, Vicki, brought these to our office cookie exchange many years ago, and from then on, each year she had to bring them again. She wasn’t much of a cook or a baker, but this was her mother’s favorite Christmas cookie. It’s become one of mine, too. They’re not decorated, and they’re not prissy or fancy. Chocolate? Yes! They don’t keep long once baked – I stick all my cookies in the freezer once they’re baked so I don’t have to worry about the shelf life of the cookies. But because the filling becomes almost candy-like, you need to defrost these for 10 minutes or so, before eating them.
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Harlequin Pinwheels

Servings: 72
NOTES: If sealed well, the frozen dough will keep for several weeks. The dough is fragile, however if it dries out. When I made it this time each of the 3 balls of dough weighed 10 1/2 ounces. It helps to have them all the same size.

COOKIE DOUGH:
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 whole egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup unsalted butter — softened
FILLING:
18 ounces chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
12 ounces sweetened condensed milk
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups walnuts — chopped

1. Cookie mixture: Using a mixer, beat together the brown sugar and butter, then add egg yolks and vanilla. Combine the flour and baking powder, then add to mixture and beat until smooth. When finished, the dough is a bit on the dry side, so use your hands to pull it into a solid piece.
2. Divide the dough into 3 parts (use a scales to make them equal) and roll each between two pieces of waxed paper to an approximate 12″ x 7″ rectangle. Each piece needs to have its own waxed paper. If you have a Silpat, position the dough, on its paper, on top of the Silpat. It helps to keep it from sliding. Do not try to make the dough larger – measure if you need to. Cover with waxed paper or a damp towel while preparing the chocolate filling.
3. Filling: In a heatproof bowl or large measuring cup combine the chocolate chips and butter. Place over a simmering pot of water. The bowl should be OVER the water, not in it. Cook until chocolate chips are just barely melted. Add the sweetened condensed milk and 3 teaspoons of vanilla. Stir well.
4. Spread the chocolate mixture over the 3 pieces of cookie dough. Leave one long side with little chocolate so you can sort of seal the edge. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly on the dough – while you go chop up the nuts – then sprinkle the tops with chopped walnuts and gently press them into the filling. Roll up, starting along the 12″ side, lifting gently with the waxed paper. Do not peel off the waxed paper, but use it to help you make the full round. If you remove the waxed paper, some of the dough may crack where it’s not supported by the paper. Wrap them carefully with aluminum foil (with the waxed paper) and freeze.
5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°. Allow dough roll to sit out for 10-30 minutes, then remove waxed paper and foil, before slicing into thin rounds. Cut all cookies in uniform thickness, and cut with the edge on top, so you can hold it together as you slice. Otherwise, the outside cookie may fall apart. Place on foil covered cookie sheets and bake approximately 10 minutes. Do not over bake – allow them to get just golden brown. The chocolate part continues to cook after you’ve removed them from the oven. If you over bake these, the chocolate parts become more like candy (hard). You can remove the foil sheets to a rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the foil.
Per Serving: 120 Calories; 7g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 19mg Sodium.

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