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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 June 1st, 2009.

ranger-cookies

It was about 25 years ago that Ranger Cookies hit my cooking radar. Aunt Harriet and Uncle Orville used to make them and store them in tall coffee tins in the freezer. Orville became the expert at making them, and when I’d visit them in Eugene, Oregon, they were able to convince me that because they contained some wheat-type cereal and oatmeal, therefore they were HEALTHY. Yeah, right. But every now and then I crave them.

After years of not making them, I looked up Epicurious’ recipe and decided to try theirs. My friend Debbie was visiting for a couple of days, so I asked her to be the cookie maker and baker. She gladly obliged. We both stood at the cookie dough bowl and needed to do several general taste-tests to make sure the dough was good enough (she and I both are fans of cookie dough . . .). Lots of quality control going on, you see. You know about that kind of rationalization?

The dough is nothing but easy. We used corn flakes (organic –  see – more healthy stuff), rolled oats (more organic healthy stuff), dried flaked coconut (unsweetened) and chopped walnuts. But then we fell off the health wagon and added chocolate chips. If you bake these on the lower side of the 8-11 minutes, they’ll still be very, VERY soft when you try to use a spatula to move them to a cooling rack. But they continue cooking and dry/cool to perfection. These took 8 minutes on the convection bake setting. If you want crispy cookies, by all means bake a bit longer. Actually I reduced the oven temp to 360 because they got a bit too brown before they were cooked through. I also reduced the sugar quantity in this recipe, and it’s just right to me. Even using unsweetened coconut too.

This recipe makes large cookies – next time I’d reduce their diameter to about 2 inches. We made 40 HUGE cookies, so a smaller size would make maybe 55? A guess.  Most of these went to my friend Norma, whose potassium has come down to a normal level, so she’s able to have nuts and chocolate again.
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Ranger Cookies

Recipe: adapted from Epicurious | November 2001
Servings: about 40 large, 55 smaller

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter — (1 stick plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) slightly softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening [not hydrogenated]
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups corn flakes — crushed
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts — (5 ounces)
1 1/4 cups flaked sweetened coconut — (about 3 1/2 ounces) [I used unsweetened]

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. Or, use silpat liners.
2. In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and shortening until lightened. Add the brown sugar and sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until evenly incorporated. Beat or stir in the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, corn flakes, walnuts, and coconut until evenly incorporated. Let the dough stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until firmed up slightly.
3. Shape portions of the dough into generous golf-ball-sized balls with lightly greased hands. Place on the baking sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart. Using your hand, pat down the balls until about 1/3 inch thick.
4. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the upper third of the oven for 8 to 11 minutes, or until tinged with brown and just beginning to firm up in the centers; be careful not to overbake. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks. Let stand until completely cooled.
5. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month.
Per Serving: 180 Calories; 11g Fat (52.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 55mg Sodium.

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  1. Marie

    said on June 1st, 2009:

    Hi Carol. I remember making these for a snack to take to my middle son’s pre-school way back when! They were very popular. Of course this was way before nut allergies etc.!! Carol I wonder if you would mind checking out my new page and giving me some feedback? I would really appreciate it! TIA
    http://theenglishkitchen.blogspot.com/

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on June 4th, 2009:

    I love the way it’s all healthy until you hit the chocolate, makes me giggle every time. I don’t eat much sweet stuff, I’d rather have savoury, but I do love the way you write about it. Thank you.

    Thanks, T-A! Gotta make this chocolate consumption sound a bit more healthy, even if it really isn’t! . . . carolyn t

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