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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On a recent road trip, I listened to 2 books on CD that I checked out of the library. With long stretches of highway with nothing to occupy my time, I love doing books on CD. The better of the 2 was definitely Frances Mayes’ new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. She narrates the story herself, and I just loved hearing her southern accent all the way through, her lilting, slow manner of speaking. She tells the story of her youth, from as young as she can remember to about age 25 or so, with most of it her coming-of-age in her teens. Her parents were alcoholics. Her older sisters were away at college. She wasn’t from a wealthy family exactly, but there was some money, a maid that she loved dearly who protected her from her parents sometimes. A grandmother figures large for some of the years. Her thought processes are normal, although she says from the get-go that she always felt she was different than most people, not a traditionalist for sure. Having read her other books, I never picked up on all the angst she experienced as a young woman, a girl, really. I absolutely LOVED the book. Mayes has a gift of prose – of a kind you don’t often read – she uses amazing language and phrases, adverbs and adjectives. Describes scenes so well and with such detail you just know you’re right there beside her.  Didn’t want it to end. As I reached across to the passenger seat to pull out the last CD I was sad, knowing the story was coming to an end. Because she ended it at about age 25, I suspect there may be another book in her future. For several days after I listened to this book I could hear Mayes’ southern accent in my head (like I hear memorable music when I attend a concert or sing a hymn or praise song at church). Her voice resonated in my head. If you enjoy memoirs, and reading about a kind of a crazy family, AND you like Frances Mayes, well, then, you’ll like this book for sure.

The other book, that I am sorry to say I cannot recommend is Sue Miller’s book, The Senator’s Wife (Vintage Contemporaries). Reading the back of the CD box I wasn’t sure, but I took it anyway. And at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to it (when the young woman digs into her neighbor’s personal letters when she’s supposedly taking in the mail and watering plants), then got engrossed in the story. It’s about a young couple who move to a new house, part of a duplex in New England. Their next door neighbor is the aging and somewhat estranged wife of a Washington Senator. The young woman is far too curious about her neighbor and her neighbor’s marriage, what there is of it, although she cares about her neighbor a lot. The chapters switch back and forth between the young wife and the aging woman next door with their personal daily trivia, interspersed with some drama on both sides. The Senator is a philanderer, hence the partial estrangement. The young woman has a baby and consequently spends lots of time at home, overwhelmed with motherhood, hoping for something to change her life. When the Senator has a stroke and returns “home” for his “wife” to care for him (her choice) the plot thickens. The young wife is asked to babysit, so to speak, for an hour or so once a week for the old man, and that’s when, something happens that sickened me. I disliked this young woman and felt her behavior was just so disappointing. I couldn’t continue. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe you’d like the book. I was on the last CD when the story took this turn, and I was sorry I’d wasted so many hours on it to get there. Friendship isn’t about betrayal – it isn’t a friendship then. If any of you have read this already and want to comment, send me an email. Go to my contact page above.

Read Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

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.

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.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house 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, Desserts, on February 26th, 2009.

baileys-brownies

After I baked these brownies, I went to my recipe files to make a comparison of this recipe (from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody blog) to my old standby, Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies, a recipe that dates back to the 1960’s. Sure enough, they’re really similar except for the Baileys. Peabody’s recipe has more bar chocolate and chocolate chips, the Bailey’s, of course, and she added a Bailey’s glaze on top too.

We had invited friends over for dinner because Bob is renovating their kitchen, and Peggy just struggles to create things to cook when the kitchen is in such a mess. They were SO happy to go out. So, even though we had a 5-hour power outage at our house yesterday (some kind of maintenance thing), as soon as the power was turned back on I quick-like-a-bunny started dinner. Made a slow-cooker tamale pie, which had just enough time to do its thing. I had some leftover veggies from the other night which were sufficient for nibbling before dinner, made a big green salad with everything but the kitchen sink in it, and I had just read Peabody’s post about these brownies. I had the cream cheese, had the Bailey’s, so quick-like I made them too.

baileys-brownies-2

The swirled brownie batter in the pan

You make two batters – the vanilla and Bailey’s one, and a larger amount of chocolate/brownie one. They’re layered in a pan, then lightly swirled with a knife to mix them up a little. Oh-so very pretty, I think. Then once they’re baked and cooled a little, you add a Bailey’s glaze on top, cool completely, cut and serve!

These are RICH. And SWEET. As I said, they have more chocolate than in the older recipe, so I’ve reduced the amount of sugar in both batters below. But overall they’re delicious. If you’re a Bailey’s fan, you’ll adore them. I served them with just a little slurp of Bailey’s on the side. Yum. If I’d had vanilla ice cream I’d have served that with it too.
printer-friendly PDF

Bailey’s Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Recipe: Based on a recipe by Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (blog)
Servings: 16
Serving Ideas: Would be especially good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
NOTES: I’ve altered this recipe by reducing the amount of sugar in both the Bailey’s swirl batter and the brownie batter. If you like things sweet, add another tablespoon or two to each.

BAILEYS SWIRL:
3 ounces cream cheese — room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream
BROWNIES:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter — room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips — (I think 1/2 cup would be plenty)
GLAZE:
4 ounces sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Bailey’s Irish Cream
milk to thin out (amount will vary)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 8-inch square nonstick baking pan. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in medium bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in egg. Mix in flour, Bailey’s, and vanilla. Set mixture aside.
2. Stir baking chocolate and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Cool slightly. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in chocolate mixture and extracts. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Spread half of chocolate batter (about 1 1/4 cups) in prepared pan. Just do the best you can to spread it out. Using rubber spatula, spread cream cheese mixture over chocolate batter. Using a spoon, drop globs of remaining chocolate batter over top of cream cheese mixture. Using tip of knife, gently swirl through batter, forming marble design. 4. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes.
5. Make glaze. Combine powdered sugar and Irish cream. If too thick thin out with milk. Pour over warm brownies and spread out as well as you can to the edges. Allow to cool completely and cut into about 16 pieces.
Per Serving: 250 Calories; 16g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 83mg Sodium.

A year ago: Potato & Onion Cakes (a side dish)

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