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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished a very interesting novel, The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll. It takes place in the upper peninsula of Michigan, an area I’ve never been to, but I have friends who live there and have been trying to get me to visit them for years, having told me (and sent photos) of how beautiful it is. The story takes place at a remote little cottage enclave on a lake. It’s clique-y, in that generations of families have kept these cottages in the family, not wanting any “outsiders” to come in. A young woman, Jess, who grew up partly with a crazy gypsy-like mother, and a loving but stern grandmother (who owns a home in the enclave) has a romance in her youth during the annual trek to the cottage, but a long ago tragedy ripples down through the years to affect her. When her grandmother dies, Jess has lots of mixed emotions about returning to the cottage. She wants to, but doesn’t. Finding papers in the house, she begins to unravel events over the course of two previous generations of family with startling revelations all along the way. Good character development for Jess, Daniel, her long-lost love, her grandmother, Mamie, and her current boyfriend, Russ. And great descriptions of the landscape of the area.

Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas, another book I read recently. The author is very young, considering she’s written a memoir already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is read a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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 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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