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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 22nd, 2007.

choc kiss treasures

Oh, this cookie recipe is a keeper. It’s from a cooking class I took with Tarla Fallgatter. I don’t know where she got the recipe – I didn’t find it on the internet, so perhaps it’s a family favorite of hers. They’re not difficult – but there are a few steps: chilling the dough, rolling into balls and coating with hazelnuts, making depressions in the dough balls, then the chocolate kiss or nonpareil pressed into the hot, just-baked cookie, then letting the tray cool before you remove them from the baking sheet. But they’re really, really GOOD.

You must know by now that I like chocolate. This cookie satisfies fully in that department. Tarla said when she makes these for children, she always uses chocolate kisses (Hershey’s) but for adults, she uses the nonpareils. This batch pictured was done with the latter, half of them with the white up, others down. When you press the candy onto the hot cookie, it slightly melts the chocolate so it sticks to the cookie top. But of course! Add this to your cookie list.
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Chocolate Kiss Treasures

Recipe: Tarla Fallgatter
Servings: 30

4 ounces unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 whole egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 whole egg white — lightly beaten
1/2 cup hazelnuts — finely chopped
30 whole Hershey kisses — or nonpareils

1. Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add yolk, milk and vanilla and beat in.
2. Mix flour, cocoa and salt together and add just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350.
4. Roll scant tablespoons of dough into balls, then coat with egg white, letting excess drip off and roll in nuts to coat.
5. Arrange balls as coated, 1 1/2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Press thumb into center of balls to flatten, leaving a depression. Bake in batches in middle of oven until puffed slightly but centers are still soft, 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press Kiss (or nonpareil) into the center of each. Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool.
Per Serving: 107 Calories; 6g Fat (53.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 26mg Sodium.

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