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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished a very interesting novel, The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll. It takes place in the upper peninsula of Michigan, an area I’ve never been to, but I have friends who live there and have been trying to get me to visit them for years, having told me (and sent photos) of how beautiful it is. The story takes place at a remote little cottage enclave on a lake. It’s clique-y, in that generations of families have kept these cottages in the family, not wanting any “outsiders” to come in. A young woman, Jess, who grew up partly with a crazy gypsy-like mother, and a loving but stern grandmother (who owns a home in the enclave) has a romance in her youth during the annual trek to the cottage, but a long ago tragedy ripples down through the years to affect her. When her grandmother dies, Jess has lots of mixed emotions about returning to the cottage. She wants to, but doesn’t. Finding papers in the house, she begins to unravel events over the course of two previous generations of family with startling revelations all along the way. Good character development for Jess, Daniel, her long-lost love, her grandmother, Mamie, and her current boyfriend, Russ. And great descriptions of the landscape of the area.

Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas, another book I read recently. The author is very young, considering she’s written a memoir already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is read a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

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!

 

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 Veggies/sides, on June 18th, 2009.

noonday onions

DISCLAIMER: I don’t sell Noonday onions – they were a gift to me in 2009 from a good friend whose family lives in East Texas. If you want to buy some, my only suggestion is to go to this link: East Texas Grower’s Association. It’s their website including contact information with oodles of names and phone numbers. Perhaps one of them will be able to help. My friend’s relatives go to the farmer’s market in Noonday to buy them each year.

My friend Joan (of the Joan’s Pasta Salad on my blog, and the Baked Fennel with Parmesan) emailed me to ask if I’d like to have some Noonday Onions. Whah? Noon-what onions? Had never heard of them. If you’re a Texan, then nothing will do but Noonday (sweet) onions. And according to our friends, nothing holds a candle to Texas sweet onions (not Vidalia, nor any).

Joan’s in-laws, Tom & Dorothy, ship a big bag of Noonday Onions to each of their grown children every year around about June 1st. That’s high season for Noondays, you see. Now, Noonday is a SMALL town. Population 515 per the census in 2000, so I read online. Just in case you don’t know where Noonday is, like I didn’t, I had to look it up. Figured you’d want to be educated about it too. It’s halfway between Dallas and Shreveport, LA.

Joan’s in-laws live in Longview, an hour or so NE of Noonday. Joan’s husband Tom grew up in Longview. Over the years of knowing them, we’d heard stories about the famous barbecue in Longview. Never heard anything about the sweet onions. But about barbecue. From Bodacious. So one summer when Tom & Joan were flying home from a week’s visit to Longview (the family has an annual reunion every 4th of July week, with everyone attending including children and grandchildren), Joan phoned me and asked if I’d like them to bring a brisket from their favorite ‘cue place – on the plane – carefully wrapped in a cold pack. Who could say no to that, I ask you? We were having a big summer dinner at our house that very evening, and Tom & Joan landed in So. California just in time to change clothes and bring the barbecue brisket to share with all of our guests. What a huge treat that was. We had another barbecue dinner a couple weeks later and I actually phoned the “famous” Bodacious Barbecue in Longview and had another two briskets shipped by air so I could serve it again. I’ll vouch for Texas ‘cue, hands down. Good stuff. Texans take their ‘cue seriously, and Bodacious has been delivering (aka making) serious ‘cue for decades.

But, I got sidetracked there. Back to onions. I do know a bit more about East Texas than I did before. And I know that Noonday is a town that produces serious sweet onions. Just like Vidalia, and wine cuvees, you have to grow the sweet onions within 10 miles of Noonday’s city hall in order to qualify as Noonday onions. The reason Noondays are so good is because the soil composition is identical to the soil where Vidalias are grown in Georgia. If you’re interested, there’s a list of Noonday onion growers. If you don’t have your own private courier service like I did, there are phone numbers to call. Now is the season.

On to recipes. I was tickled to find out that Joan has been making my Baked Onions with (Red Wine and) Thyme for years. And that she uses Noonday onions to make them. She and Tom enjoy them so much that some years ago Joan sent my recipe to all of her sisters-in-law as a way to use the huge bag of sweet onions.

So I’m happy to provide the family with another good onion recipe for sweet onions. One that I hadn’t made in many years. A recipe given to me by a good friend, Ann H. from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Ann made these one time, years ago when they lived here in California, with sweet onions, when they kind of first came onto the onion-scene. Probably in the late 1980’s. These are rich (they do have 1/4 cup of cream added at the end), but the star of this dish is the Madeira.

Here’s a travel story . . . I’ve actually been to Madeira. Years ago. It’s a long way from anywhere – off the northwest coast of Africa, but it’s part of Portugal. A friend and I took a trip there, and since I was planning the trip mostly, I thought hey, we’re all the way over here, I’ve always wanted to GO to Madeira. Here’s my chance. Well, let me tell you – those of you who have been there will identify with me here – flying into Madeira is sheer terror. They cut short a runway out of the side of the mountain (Madeira is nothing BUT mountains, short but steep), and approaching by air you think you’re going to crash. You know you’re going to crash in the water or into the mountainside. And suddenly there’s a runway under the plane. A short runway. Yikes.

There isn’t a whole lot to DO on Madeira, really. Roads are treacherously curvy, with no big towns particularly. But the island produces Madeira for the world. My friend and I went on a couple of Madeira tours (wine type), so we learned all about the process and the different types – there are several, but mostly we only know the rather sweet fortified wine. But I did learn to tell the difference, and usually when I buy Madeira I buy good stuff, Bual. 15-year old Bual if I can afford it. It’s worth it. A bottle lasts years and years for me since I don’t drink it often. This dish has a few dashes of Madeira. Don’t buy anything but real Madeira from Madeira, okay? You can’t substitute sherry, really. You probably could substitute port, but only if you use a medium-sweet port, not the extra sweet. I buy good port too because I also learned the difference in that wine also. But that’s a story for another day.

madeira onion ingred
Ingredients: sweet onions, butter, Madeira, heavy cream and some parsley

madeira onionIt’s time for the recipe. Get yourself some sweet onions (just don’t tell any Texans that you used Vidalia or Walla Walla Sweets, okay?) and try this luscious onion dish. Not having had these for some years, my hubby said – oh my, these are to die for. Does that give you a clue as to their good-ness?
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Madeira Onions

Recipe: From my friend Ann H, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Servings: 6
NOTES: When my friend Ann made these, she left the onion slices nestled together, holding their shape. She cooked them in-position all the way through. She was very careful with them, even through the caramelizing process, to not dislodge the solid rings. Then she served them on a plate just that way. Made a beautiful presentation.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large sweet onions — peeled, sliced
1/2 cup Madeira
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream — or half and half
1/4 cup fresh parsley — finely minced

1. In a large skillet (with a lid) heat the butter until it’s starting to sizzle. Add onions. Cover, reduce heat and cook over low heat for about 25 minutes, until onions are cooked through.
2. Uncover pan and stir in the Madeira and salt and pepper. Cook under medium-low heat until the wine has evaporated, then continue to cook until the onions have begun to caramelize.
3. Add the cream and parsley and stir to combine. Heat through and serve hot.
Serving Ideas : These go well with a simple grilled meat. Don’t serve this with anything that competes with the subtle onion flavor – you want it to shine through.
Per Serving: 151 Calories; 11g Fat (75.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 9mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Pork Tenderloin with Mango Sambal
Two years ago: Mister Charlie (a delish ground beef casserole)

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  1. Donna Babcock

    said on June 10th, 2010:

    I grew up in the town of good old Mount Pleasant, Texas and moved away to Abilene, Texas this past year when I married. I use to always go and get the Noon Day onions and cannot find them here and am not satisfied with any, what they say are sweet onions, around here. HELP Where can I order some? I miss them and good old East Texas!

    I don’t know of a source, Donna. Sorry. All I can suggest is doing a web search and see if you can find someone willing to sell them. Maybe they have them in the local grocery store in Noonday? I really don’t know! . . . carolyn t

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