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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.

When I load a book onto my Kindle, I don’t keep a note about where or how I heard about it. Did someone suggest it to me? Did I read about it on amazon’s site? I wish I kept track. Hence I don’t know why I ordered Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter by Sara Taber. Probably the title intrigued me. And the book was interesting, I’ll give it that. Sara Taber grew up in places all over the world as her father, actually a spy, but commonly called a diplomat for the State Department, wherever he was stationed. Much of the book is about her inability to fit in. She was always the new girl in school, or the neighborhood. She was shy. Didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. She lived in Taiwan, Washington, D.C., The Hague, Malaysia (Borneo) and Tokyo. I probably missed a couple in there. She learned to love moving. She adored her father, and some of the story is about his career, though she only learns as a teenager what he really did for a living. Part of the book is her coming-of-age story, part angst about herself and yet she eventually finds success as a writer. And she is a very good writer – a kind of lyrical style. She repeats herself a bit too often and a few words were repetitive throughout. But overall, it was a very interesting read.

For years I used to read a travel column in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Spano. She wrote wonderful stories about her travels. I envied her life. One time she visited Paris for awhile, writing a series about eating and living in France. When that series ended, she didn’t want to come home. So she stayed. And she wrote for other publications. She’s written several books (one on divorce [hers] and another on divorce from the man’s point of view). This book, French Ghosts, Russian Nights, and American Outlaws: Souvenirs of a Professional Vagabond compiles some of her newspaper stories and she weaves in some new ones as well. She’s quite an outdoors woman – loves climbing mountains. I certainly admire that about her. One of the stories was so cute I read it aloud to my group of traveling buddies as we sat around in our Lyon, France flat having a glass of wine one evening. If you enjoy travel writing in general, you’ll enjoy reading this one.

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.

And lastly, and probably my least favorite, but it certainly tops many charts for its pulp factor, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. The premise, a letter written by the husband, is found by the wife, supposedly to be opened after his death, but he isn’t dead, and she opens it anyway. Out springs Pandora’s box. It’s like Peyton Place on steroids. Oh my gosh. How much calamity can happen in a few pages. I wasn’t impressed, but it made for a good airplane read, I suppose.

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).

 

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 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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