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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Oh my goodness. When one of my book groups met to discuss this book, we all talked about the crying we did at the end. Oh yes, me too. This is a novel with a point to make (somewhat like Jodi Piccoult’s books). In this case it’s the right to die issue and it’s cloaked in a fast-paced page turner. A young woman who is a bit at loose ends, accepts a new job as a caregiver, something she’s never done before, to a young man who had recently become a quadriplegic. There are numerous sub-stories (about her family, her relationship with her sister, her boyfriend and her relationship with him, the patient himself, who is grumpy, and his relationships with his mother and father and ex-girlfriend). And, it’s about his wish to end his life. During the last 100 pages I could hardly put it down. I don’t want to jinx the story. It’s a romance of sorts. It’s gritty in a way, but charming. Loved the book. Now I’m going to order the sequel, the book the author never really intended to write, but so many people wrote her asking for one. I’m right there too. This book is being made into a movie.

Also read A Year on Ladybug Farm by Donna Ball. It’s a selection from one of my book clubs. An easy – very easy – read. Not a deep book by any means. It’s a story about 3 middle-aged women who decide to buy an old ram shackled house (maybe mansion) in the South and devote a year to fixing it up. There are many twists and turns with numerous people (a ghost, a vagrant, a handyman, and many neighbors) entering into the story. Much calamity ensues with house repairs and all 3 women questioning their sanity when they bought the place – Ladybug Farm. It’s cute. No swear words. No sex. Just a very pleasant story about friendship and an old house.

Probably the most in-depth book I’ve read recently is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. If you decide you want to read this, make sure you get THIS one by Weatherford – there are many books out there with “Genghis Khan” in the title. What I knew about Genghis Khan before I started reading this book could be put into a very small thimble. We’ve heard the descriptions of his viciousness and slaughter of thousands of people. Well, what you learn is that that kind of behavior was typical of the warring tribes of the time. His story was fascinating. Believe it or not, I found the book a page-turner. Weatherford has a gift for writing a good story – it reads more like a novel, but it’s a biography, an easily read one. The last third of the book is more about his son who took over the kingdom after his father’s death, and it’s every bit as interesting. A definite good read – and makes for interesting talk around the water cooler.

Oh, I can’t forget another monumental tome, The Accidental Empress: A Novel by Pataki. It’s about the Austro-Hungarian Empress and wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. From amazon: The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry. And he marries Sisi, a little known 15-year old. The book is her story. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a good one. Loved it.

Another good read: The High Divide: A Novel by Lin Enger. Takes place in the late 1800s in remote Minnesota. It tells the story of a young family, husband, wife, and 2 sons. The husband, without work, suddenly leaves his family with no explanation. The wife is left back at the homestead with her 2 sons with next to nothing to carry them through. The 2 young boys decide they have to go in search of their father, and very ill-equipped to do so. Then the mother also heads out to find her boys. She believes her husband left with good intentions, but she doesn’t know. You do learn a bit about the husband eventually. Made for a very riveting story if you enjoy that time in history, with a complex family relationship that is tested by the weather, the moral codes of the time, and by the meaning of family. Good story.

Another fascinating book I just finished is Three Daughters: A Novel by Baehr. It covers a part of the world and time that I’ve never encountered in my reading of fiction. From amazon: From the fertile hills of a tiny village near Jerusalem to the elegant townhouses of Georgetown, Three Daughters is a historical saga that chronicles the lives, loves, and secrets of three generations of Palestinian Christian women. It begins around 1900, near Jerusalem. There are a whole lot of family secrets that play parts in this book (adultery mostly) that certainly makes for an interesting read. If you overlook the immorality involved (which continues, in secret through the generations) you’ll find the story quite riveting. It’s a HUGE book, though, so don’t go further if that overwhelms you. It didn’t bother me a bit as I could hardly put it down.

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.)
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.
printer-friendly PDF

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.

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
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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