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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, on May 22nd, 2007.

Are all cookies seasonal in your book? Certainly I have a few cookie recipes that I don’t make year around . . . like gingerbread men . . . or sugar cookies decorated with red and green. But otherwise, cookies are calendar universal. I had a bag of dried cranberries that needed to be used, and I remembered this recipe that’s become a personal favorite since 2000 when my friend Darlene brought them to a Christmas cookie exchange.

If you haven’t ever been to a cookie exchange, you should try it. These days, every woman’s magazine blasts ideas for how to streamline our shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking and entertaining during the holidays. Happily I’ve hostessed cookie exchanges for years. I had my first one in about 1971. And I’ve had them many times since – not every year, but every few. I love to have a variety of cookies to serve friends and family during the holidays, so what’s easier than inviting a group of baking friends to share everyone’s goodies. I can remember many times trying to figure out the math – okay, 11 people coming, everyone’s bringing 5 dozen, how many of each cookie do we take? Got it. Oh, one gal didn’t come at the last minute? Oops, change the number. Oh, another gal only got 50 out of her batch? Uhm, what do I change the number to now? Eventually we just took a bunch and if there were still lots of cookies, we’d make another turn around the cookie table adding a few more to our stashes.

I didn’t intend this to be a lesson in cookie exchanges, but one thing I’ve learned is that each different cookie needs to go into its own plastic bag and sealed. Otherwise, someone’s double mint cookies will infect all the other cookies in your container with mint. And all the bags go directly into the freezer after the exchange.

These Cranberry Noel cookies were the hit of the cookie exchange that year. Hands down. (Thank you, Darlene.) They came from Martha Stewart, but at the time they were the #1 winner of a Christmas cookie contest Martha had on her website. For this posting I did look it up and finally found it on one of Martha’s forums here. I know they were originally part of a cookie contest because I wrote it into my recipe program in 2000. Martha subsequently published it in a Christmas special issue, apparently. These are super simple – you mix up the batter, roll into two logs, roll the logs in shredded coconut, chill, slice and bake. And once they’re cooled they go into Ziploc freezer bags and back into the freezer.

So, just because these contain dried cranberries, pecans and coconut, that doesn’t mean you can’t have them in May! I had one yesterday in the mid-afternoon with my cup of Earl Grey tea. Delicious.

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Cranberry Noels

Recipe: Winner of MarthaStewart.com’s online Cookie Contest, 2000
Serving: 48    Preparation Time 15 minutes

1 cup unsalted butter — room temp
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or rum (I always use vanilla)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries (sometimes I chop them a little)
1/2 cup pecans — chopped
3/4 cup shredded coconut meat — unsweetened

1. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat until just combined. Gradually add flour, cranberries and pecans. Mix on low speed until fully combined.
2. Divide dough in half and shape each half into 8-inch logs, about two inches in diameter. Roll logs in coconut, pressing firmly to coat the outside of the logs, but without misshaping the logs. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about two hours.
3. Heat oven to 375°. Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4 inch thick slices. Transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet, placing about 1 – 1.5 inches apart. Bake until the edges are just golden brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.
Per Serving: 78 Calories; 5g Fat (57.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

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  1. Freya and Paul

    said on May 23rd, 2007:

    Yum, these sound great, Xmas or not! I have never made refrigerator biscuits and I think it’s high time I started!

  2. Anne Dovel

    said on December 20th, 2008:

    Oh! These are a favorite at our house every year! In fact, I’m making them today!

    You’re right – these are the “best.” Glad you enjoy them like we do. . . Carolyn T

  3. L Allen

    said on December 12th, 2009:

    I LOVE these cookies. They are always a hit. Had lost my recipe. So glad you had it here.
    Why does Martha do that? She has a Cranberry Noel recipe on her site, but it is ever so slightly different. Doesn’t even include the coconut.

    When my friend Darlene brought these cookies to a Christmas event, she said the cookies were a winner in a Martha Stewart Christmas cookie contest. They were first published in a Martha Stewart Christmas magazine (a special one, just Christmas stuff) that year. I found the recipe online (only then). Subsequently it disappeared from the website. Now I suppose Martha feels she owns it, maybe, and she had to change the recipe just a bit? I don’t know. Glad you enjoy these like I do! . . . carolyn T

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