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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 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.

Printer friendly PDF

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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