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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 Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave. I bought it because it’s about Sebastapol, a cute little town in California wine country, in Sonoma County, although it’s on the fringes of the more mainstream wineries. A daughter of a friend of mine recently moved there, and when I visited her a few months ago, I was charmed by the cute downtown and the small village feel to it. Anyway, although the backdrop of the entire book is about the winery, the wines, the fields, the processes of wine making, it’s more about the family relationships. It seems that everyone (mom, dad, 2 sons, wife of one, a daughter [who is the protagonist] and her fiance and his ex-girlfriend) is in the midst of extreme turmoil. I swear, when I think about authors as they toil away in their aeries writing, they compile a big long list on a huge whiteboard of all the different awful things (divorce, affairs, fistfights, love lost, love gained, screaming and yelling, public drunkenness) they can make happen in one book and they pick and choose, yet make every effort to pack in as many of them as they can. No one in this family is immune from high levels of emotion and action or acting out about something or many things. I enjoyed the book despite those character flaws which occur on nearly every page. You have compassion for each one of them. Yet they’re a close family nonetheless. I haven’t read any of Laura Dave’s other books, but I suspect this one will be a winner. It’s not on any best-seller lists, but amongst book club readers, I believe it’s a strong contender.

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!

You may have heard about this woman, Marina Chapman . . . she was kidnapped at about age 4 in Columbia. She was eventually discarded in the jungle. This, just a few days after her capture. No humans. No help. She learned to survive in the jungle and was taken in by a large Capuchin monkey family. She had no language, much, except sounds she learned amongst the monkeys. She lived for some years in the jungle, all alone. Eventually she saw some humans and followed them, was made a slave. Terribly treated, nearly starved, and was being primed as a prostitute, but she escaped that too. Her story is harrowing, and yet uplifting. She did escape eventually, in her mid-teens and grew up from there with a kind, loving family in Bogota. Her adult daughter helped her to write the stories – most of which she wanted to forget. The book is The Girl With No Name: The Incredible Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys by Marina Chapman and Lynne Barrett-Lee. National Geographic highlighted her story awhile back, and she appeared on some morning TV shows when the book came out in 2014. The author is writing a sequel, about Chapman’s life after she was rescued. I’ll be watching for that as this book leaves you hanging – only knowing that she was rescued and went to Bogota.

Just finished reading a very unusual book, certainly not on everyone’s radar – Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life by Tass Saada. It’s about an angry young Palestinian. He felt wronged; he felt despised; his father didn’t understand him. He escaped his family’s plan for his life and became a PLO sniper. He killed many people. He killed Israelis and was elated. He was sent to the United States and big plans were in store for him, he thought. And then he discovered a new life as a Christian. It didn’t happen overnight, and he had many questions along the way. His family disowned him, yet he persevered. He met an American woman, married her, and had children. And he became an activist for change. It’s a fascinating story. He now speaks around the world, for peace and understanding about the Palestinian problem(s). It’s quite a book, and I’m glad I read it.

 

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 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.
printer-friendly PDF

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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