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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

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); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

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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